This week I had the pleasure of presenting at my daughter’s school for career day. I have given plenty of presentations during my 15 year career, so I was not worried about presenting. The problem I had was that I did not know my audience. I had never presented to a group of 9 year olds. How does one describe software engineering to children?

The school tried to be helpful in saying to go over education and what your day is like. So I started in that direction. Thankfully, the career day sessions were 25 minutes long, and I would have three groups. I felt bad for the first group, as they had to deal with a long intro about what education is needed and a positive spin on what a typical day is like. For better or worse, I had listened to the recommendations of the school and I almost lost the attention of the kids. To “show” what software engineering was like, I figured a very basic introduction to building a web site would be a good start. My basic introduction ended up being too complicated for the kids as well, but they got the idea or at least I got some good reviews afterwards.

The second and third groups had the benefit of experience, and me understanding better what my audience was like. Children at age 9 are into computer games, the internet and sports. So, I did include a few minutes on the introductory information, but most of the time was spent asking questions and trying to build the basic structure of a web page. Sometimes simplicity is the answer, and it did work very well. By asking about games and sports, we built some basic tables in html, and I could expand the conversation into databases. When they started asking about things like Club Pengiun and the internet, I could extend the conversation into things like Facebook and the types of engineers required to build these types of sites.

The reason I am talking about this is that I was prepared for something that the kids were not going to be interested in. The school had good intentions, but the kids wanted a more interactive session where they could ask questions and only listen to me talk for a minute or two at a time. Part of the preparation for any presentation should be to be prepared to go completely off topic. Thankfully, I am familiar with several areas of software engineering, so I could take questions about game programming, and lead them back to the heart of the presentation.

Since I was talking to children, I will go to the moral of the story 🙂 Know your audience, and be prepared to wrangle questions a little outside of the topic. If you are successful with these two ideas, you have a good chance to have a successful presentation.

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