Excursion to Atlassian



What’s it really like to work in IT? This is one of the questions we hope to answer in the Stage 5 elective course, Information and Software Technology (IST). One of the best ways to find out is to actually do site visits. Last year, we went to Google and Microsoft. This year, it’s Atlassian, one of the most successful Australian software start-ups which is now an international company.

Atlassian head office is in the heritage-listed Westpac building near Wynyard. The stark juxtaposition of the old and new is evident as soon as the lift doors opened. Enjoying free jellybeans washed down with free drinks, year 9 and 10 IST students listened to two Atlassians talk about what it’s like to work in IT, primarily as software engineers or coders as they prefer to call themselves, but also other roles such as UI designers and project managers. These women were inspirational as they spoke passionately about bursting stereotypes from a young age through to high school, university and then now, at work. They highlighted how software programming was a portable skill that could be applied in many industries as well as countries, paving the way for international travel and work opportunities.

After a quick Q&A, the coders left and were replaced by designers who ran a zoo-design activity that simulated the Agile Design approach they use at work. The girls were split into 2 Designer groups and 1 Customers group. Working with playdough, construction paper, markers, pipe cleaners and strings, the Designers set about creating their zoos, in 5 minutes. The Customers drew up a huge list of requirements which the designers attempted to meet. Customers also get to vote for the best design. After 2 iterations with more complex requirements and designs, the girls had a real sense of what Agile Design was as well as what the roles they also study about in IST entailed: Designers, Architects, (software) Construction workers and customers.

Finally, we were treated to a tour of two of several Atlassian floors. Teams corresponding to product suites sat together in one huge open space. The walls were used as meeting and writing spaces and anyone could add feedback long after the meeting had finished – a great idea that is sure to make its way into my classroom. There were also plenty of smaller meeting rooms with geeky names like TARDIS, Serenity and Death Star. There were plenty of breakout spaces including a pool room and dining room with the biggest bean bag and an area for playing board and video games. The video conferencing units were a literal nod to Portal much to the delight of one student who was a Portal fan.

The site tour showed a balance of work and play as well as a love of technology.  The values of being an open company and teamwork came across really strongly.  The tour concluded at the kitchen area where IST students helped themselves to a vast array of free food and drinks, including ice cream.

A few asked about work placements. Several felt the excursion was too short. Most saw the connections to concepts and skills learned in the elective, including UI design and programming in Python and JavaScript. All came away with a better idea of what it’s really like to work in IT.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably know that I used to work in IT. I’ve only worked in banking, finance and manufacturing industries, however; nowhere near the cool factor of Atlassian. That said, I did enjoy some of the perks mentioned, i.e. good pay, exciting problem-solving work, variety of roles, international travel, flexibility in work arrangements and portability of skills – stuff I could still draw upon now as an IT teacher.

Google Excursion

I spent more days at Google this week than I did at school, 1 day for excursion and another 2 to attend the Digital Technologies Curriculum Summit. I took away heaps of ideas and inspiration but here’s one that stands out: Google has a lot of initiatives to promote Computer Science (not just coding/programming) at school, uni and industry levels. Let’s just say that, from a Design process perspective, I’m hopeful that my question of why it’s so hard to get girls into computing is shifting from ‘understanding the problem’ to ‘ideation’ – generating some possible solutions.

This post will focus on the excursion as I’ve promised a few of you that I will share how I got there and suggest how you could do it, too.

How it happened

It all started with a question in the NCSS Challenge forum (yet another perk of joining the challenge – do eeet). I noticed that one of the tutors, Sam Thorogood (@samthor), worked at Google so I asked about the possibility of an excursion there. I’ve since found out through Sam about Google’s culture of do-ocracy and what people might actually do for their 20%. Sam helped me arrange to get this happening including enlisting Lisa Zhu and Valley. I get to do the fun part of following the protocols of school excursions (oh joy!), find another teacher (lucky that @townesy77 said yes), arrange public transport (a story and half, right there) and announcing it (using Python just for fun).

What was it like?

There were 4 agenda items: Computer Science workshop, site tour, Q&A panel, lunch with the panelists.

Lisa was the MC as well as facilitator of all of the above. Sam and Valley were there, too, helping things run smoothly; it was really good to meet them. Lisa used a few activities on binary and hexadecimal numbers, from the CS Unplugged resources (a free open-source gem which was a key part of the Summit, but more on that at a later post).

The site tour made it evident that Google values creativity by providing different spaces for people to chill out, escape, and/or work. Sorry, no pics of this one but trust me, you will want to see for yourself.

The Q&A panel consisted of female engineers. This session made it evident that Google values degrees/careers in STEM and diversity in the workplace.

Morning tea and lunch were yummy though some of my students thought these were too gourmet-ish. Having panelists join us extended the conversation at a more informal level. It was evident that Googlers do enjoy working at Google and the food there is yummy.

My students and I and @townesy77 all had a wonderful time. We learned heaps as well. It was affirming to have current IT professionals (as against ex, i.e. me) say things I’ve been saying in class. And yes, we also got Google merch – a delightful surprise. There was no spruiking of Google products at all – I guess they don’t have to; they know the students there use Google for searching, YouTube for videos, Maps for directions, etc.

How you could go there, too

Apart from not having time to write this post straight away, another reason why I delayed writing was figuring out exactly how this excursion could be replicated. I have 2 answers, in fact, though there may be another option as there was another school there when we went and they had even more students…a coach-load as against my 17.

You could wait until Sally-Ann Williams (Engineering Community and Outreach Manager) comes out with a scalable program to make excursions easier to organise with set agenda (maybe several options). I have no doubt that this will happen since at the Summit, it was clear that Google is committed to scalable practices as a good approach to making Computer Science more accessible.

You could also contact Sam (@samthor) who kindly reminded me of Google’s do-ocracy culture. Depending on what he can pull together, the agenda may be different from the one I mentioned above.

Here are a few pics which, I have to say, hardly captures the day…sorry about that. Do go find out for yourself, arrange your excursion!
photo4 photo3 photo1 photo

Excursion to Microsoft

Today I took my year 10 IST students to the Microsoft headquarters in Sydney. This was the first school excursion I’ve ever organised and after jumping so many hoops, I was really hoping it’d all be worth it.

The free event was organised by 2realise, a government-funded initiative to help students explore career pathways. The pitch was promoting careers in IT for women and this was good enough for me to jump the hoops to take my girls.

The event ran for 2 – 1/2 hours, comprising of an overview of career pathways in Microsoft, a Q and A session with a panel of women employees from various divisions, a tour of the office and finally a session on gaming (er, Interactive Entertainment Division), including playing Xbox Kinects.

The Good

All-up, I think the event was a success in enthusing students about IT, in general, and the potential of careers in IT. One student said, “I thought that I really couldn’t work in an office environment but I could work in that office”. Microsoft had funky furniture in different configurations, shapes and colours – meeting hubs, workspaces, etc.  Employees had cool lockers – because they have no desks. Each floor had a kitchen/dining area where employees could get free hot and cold drinks. There were also chill zones for relaxation or playing Xbox, table soccer, etc.

Panelists spoke passionately about their different roles and how they loved the flexible work arrangements, travel, opportunities for professional learning and career advancement. The graduate program sounded really good. They all seemed to love what they were doing and genuinely loved working at Microsoft (maybe I should go back to IT and work for Microsoft).

My students were a-buzz and the de-brief on the way home indicated that they really enjoyed the experience…. I even got a ‘thank you’. (Aside: I’m sure I read a while ago that students remember excursions more than what they learn in the classrooms).

But then

The downside, I think, was that there were no panelists who were “real” techies – the geeky side of IT. It’s not a real surpise given that Microsoft research and development are all outside of Australia (maybe I won’t go back to IT or work for Microsoft, after all). The focus in Australia is sales, marketing and technical support.  All good professions, I’m sure, but not for me.

I felt disappointed every time a panelist said that they’re not a techie as I felt they were saying they were not good enough for it. Maybe they’re too cool to be a geek? OR maybe, I’m just reading too much into it? However, I felt short-changed for not hearing techie stories of women thriving in a techie world.

It was certainly good to hear that the company is working towards further raising the current 29:71 ratio of women to men. I do wonder though if that ratio is higher in Sales and Marketing and so the disparity and stereotypes continue?

Here I am trying to enthuse my girls to get excited about IT research and development. Yet, how much of that actually happens in Australia? Are exciting IT jobs off-shore?

So then

So, was it worth it? I am not so sure yet. But hey, I’ve learned how to organise excursions. The class feels closer and I’ve also got something concrete I can refer back to in future lessons.

Hmmm, where can I take them next?  Requests are in for Apple and Google. How hard can it be to score an excursion to these places?