Tomorrow’s Tech Workforce Focuses on Leadership at TSA National Conference

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CompTIA AITP, the association's executive committee and CompTIA participated in the Technology Student Association’s (TSA) National Conference held in Atlanta, June 22-June 26. This year’s event, which marked its 40th anniversary, drew more than 8,000 high school and middle school students for five days filled with competitions, educational sessions, inspiring keynote speakers and opportunities to connect with tech-savvy kids from around the country.

As an organization dedicated to teaching young people to lead in a technical world, TSA’s membership includes over 250,000 middle and high school students from approximately 2,000 schools. TSA is supported by educators, parents and business leaders who believe in the need for a technologically literate society. TSA chapters take the study of science, technology, engineering, mathematics beyond the classroom and give students the chance to pursue academic challenges and interests. Together, members work on competitive events, attend conferences on the state and national levels, learn about career paths and form friendships along the way.

According to Jessica Strait, the 2017-2018 TSA national vice president and incoming freshman at Penn State University, the organization gave her both broad and deep knowledge in a variety of technological fields. “I had no idea what I wanted to do when I was younger, and I had an advisor who told me about TSA. She got me started as a sixth grader. My first year, I did a web design competition. I learned a lot, things I never would have learned in the classroom. So many TSA competitions are career-based, it’s like a trial run.”

CompTIA AITP staff and executive committee members were thrilled to experience the high-energy 2018 TSA National Conference, judge competitions, and provide leadership-focused career sessions to up-and-coming tech professionals. Here are just a few highlights from the event:  

CompTIA CEO Todd Thibodeaux Keynotes Opening Session
The 2017-2018 TSA student officers kicked off the National Conference on Saturday morning, recognizing the conference’s 40th birthday before introducing keynote speaker Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of CompTIA.

 student officers

Todd encouraged the students to tell their tech story—why they joined TSA and why they love tech. He then entertained the crowd with a stroll down memory lane as he shared how he cultivated a passion technology over the course of his childhood. From Lincoln Logs to Legos, sci-fi books to Atari and engineering electronics, Todd’s formative years were filled with gadgets and hands-on technical learning. But despite an interest and knack for technology, his career path wasn’t always clear.

He began a career as a welder after high school, but decided to change directions and head to college where he received valuable support and career guidance from professors. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in economics, Todd found himself at a technology association, which set him on a path that ultimately led to CompTIA. He shared with the students his recipe for building a successful career in technology, which includes grit, persistence and a willingness to try anything, think big, work hard and never stop learning. Todd also announced that CompTIA would be partnering with TSA in the years to come with scholarships and programming to help teachers and advisors stay on top of the latest tech skills and industry trends.

Sessions Highlight Leadership and Careers in Tech
During the conference, students were able to attend sessions aimed at educating them on careers in tech, inspiring them to be strong leaders and empowering them to successfully enter the tech workforce.

Spencer Bone, director of CompTIA AITP marketing, and Colleen Loeffler Phonwiang, director of CompTIA AITP membership, led the session Navigating the Ocean of Tech Jobs, which busted multiple myths about careers in tech. They also discussed the importance of business and soft skills and how CompTIA AITP tools like TechTalent can help students make informed decisions about their career options.

Several other CompTIA staff and executive committee members presented during the National Conference, including a session on cybersecurity and a drone demonstration. Eric Larson, senior director of IT Future Labs and Creating IT Futures, presented Learning the Lesson of the Chair, a session focused on how soft skills at work and in life can make all the difference. He illustrated his point using a story about a chair that wasn’t built to a client’s specifications. “When we do work for anyone it’s really easy to get personally invested,” Eric told the students. “You want to care, but at the same time, the chair is not you and if someone criticizes something you built, if you can separate yourself and hear the criticism of the chair, then you can go back and make the chair better.”

21st-Century Leader, an engaging session facilitated by Paul Cronin, founder of Cronin Corp and member of CompTIA AITP executive committee, began with students participating in a networking activity that required them to ask one another open-ended questions. Paul went on to discuss the qualities of strong leaders. “Leaders create energy, and people want to be part of something that has energy,” said Paul.

On Sunday, speaker, author and military veteran Shannon Huffman Polson shared her insights on leadership in the session Attaining Your Goals. Shannon used her experience as one of the first women to fly the Apache attack helicopter in the U.S. Army to impart valuable lessons about what it takes to lead others. “Leadership is always going to be about heart. The only good use of increased power is increased responsibility to take care of your people. Missions get done because of people. And the only way to take care of your people is to get to know them,” said Shannon.

Students Compete in 60+ On-site Competitions
The TSA National Conference features on-site tech competitions—a big draw for students who have been preparing and competing at the state level in preparation for these events. More than 60 tech-focused competitions range from subjects such as architecture, animation, fashion design and video game design to engineering, essay writing, forensic technology and much, much more.

The competitions challenge students to use and improve their technical skills in both team and individual events. All competitions are aligned with STEM standards; the 10 core leadership skills (communication, creative thinking, critical thinking, decision making, ethics, evaluation, organization, problem solving, self-esteem and teamwork); and give students hands-on experience in a variety of technical careers.

Fashion Competition


See a full list of the winners from this year’s competitions.

Building Soft Skills at the TSA National Conference
TSA not only ensures middle and high school students are tech-literate, the organization also focuses on building students’ soft skills, such as teamwork, communication and leadership. Students are given the opportunity to practice these skills throughout the conference during competitions, social events, such as the popular pin exchange where students trade pins representing the state they are from, and the Meet and Greet event during the conference.

“I think the biggest skill I’ve gained in TSA is the genuine ability to connect with people. It’s very important for college and for my career,” said Simon Jolly, the 2017-2018 TSA national treasurer and incoming freshman at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “As a TSA member, I’ve had a chance to interact with adults in professional settings since sixth grade. I’ve also had to learn how to speak in front of thousands of people. That’s not an opportunity a lot of middle and high school kids get.”

meet and greet

Students are also able to take on larger leadership positions, within their chapters as well as at the state and national level, and electing the incoming TSA national student officers is another major aspect of the annual National Conference. Students who are running for office must campaign for votes, give campaign speeches at a general session and set up tables where other students can ask them questions at the Meet and Greet event during the conference. Congratulations to the 2018-2019 student officers, including Alexander King, the 2018-2019 president. 

See You Next Year!
CompTIA AITP is looking forward to the next TSA National Conference in Washington, D.C., June 28-July 2, 2019. Learn more about TSA, the National Conference and how middle and high school students can get involved.