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College Students Entering Tech: Interview with Darcy McLaughlin, Villanova University

Tara M. Clapper
College Students Entering Tech: Interview with Darcy McLaughlin, Villanova University

College graduation season is upon us! Join SEMrush for New Grads Week, which features Q&As, podcasts, blog posts and surveys on how technology has changed in our personal and working lives since we left school. Join the conversation on social media with #NewGradsWeek.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Philly Women in Technology Summit with SEMrush Community Manager Kathleen Garvin and Marketing Associate Anneliese Sparks. We encountered a variety of women in technology including Darcy McLaughlin, a Villanova University senior graduating this May. Darcy studies management information systems with a minor in accounting.

Tara M. Clapper: What is your desired field and dream job? If you could work for any company right now, what would you pick?

Darcy McLaughlin: Information Technology as an analyst. I'll be working for Precision Castparts Corp. starting this summer. They are "the world leader in structural investment castings, forged components, and airfoil castings for aircraft engines and industrial gas turbines."


TMC: In what ways has college prepared you for this job field?

DM: College has prepared me for this job by allowing me to realize what I truly want to do. I originally thought that I would work in marketing. Then I was convinced I would work in accounting, but fortunately I realized that MIS was the right path for me. I was introduced to the field my sophomore year when I took a Strategic Information Technology class.

My professor encouraged students to either major or double major in MIS. The course was an introductory information technology course that allowed me to use SAP, Microsoft Access, and Microsoft Project. I was introduced to the importance of IT in business and the many ways it can be used to benefit people and companies. The Villanova School of Business offers Database, Systems Analysis and Design, Emerging Tech and Programming classes for MIS majors to name a few. I have been well equipped through my experience at VSB.

TMC: What essential skills do you feel like you still need to learn?

DM: I think it's important to constantly challenge yourself and learn something new. I would like to master Javascript. Since I only used it in one course two years ago, it's a programming language that I would like to use more. Along with improving my programming skills, I would also like to learn on the job how to apply what I learned in college to my job. I'm going to have to stay up to par with my colleagues.

I think a major skill to learn is communication. I think I've done a good job thus far, but I'm going to have to adapt my communication skills to the people who will be working alongside me.

TMC: A lot of 'entry level' jobs ask for 2-3 years of experience. Do you feel like you have that through previous jobs or internships? How do you intend to tackle this expectation?

DM: Fortunately, I have been interning at SPS Technologies for 3 summers in their Accounting and Human Resources departments. I was able to work at their plant, Hi-Life Tools, in Shannon, Ireland this past summer in their IT department. Internships are crucial to gaining on the job experience. Along with experience comes observance. It is so important to constantly observe and ask questions while you are interning because that is the best way to learn about potential jobs that you might like to do in the future.

VSB offers an internship credit program where you can earn credits for your internship and make it an active learning experience by setting objectives with your supervisor and preparing a log of your daily activities. I took advantage of this opportunity during my internship and I was able to see how much I really learned because I had to write a paper about it. I encourage students to start looking for internships at least for the summer of their freshman or sophomore year. It is so beneficial to intern in the same industry or for the company you see yourself working for in the future.

TMC: We met at the Philly Women in Technology Summit where we discussed how women are still a minority in technical fields. How do you prepare to handle the potential sexism you may face in the industry?

DM: I plan to be aware of its presence, but I refuse to let it negatively affect my work performance. I think it's important for women to ask for the same opportunities that their male colleagues have presented to them. I'm currently reading Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In. In the book, she encourages women to be persistent and ask for what they desire. She talks about how women are encouraged from an early age to take a step back, but she emphasizes that the best way to combat that is to keep your hand raised when someone asks a question and to go to your boss. You need to have a clear plan to ask for what you want or you'll either never get it or take so much longer to get where you want.

I intend to adopt the philosophies that she encourages in women and maintain a positive attitude no matter what challenges I face as a woman in my field.

TMC: What assets does your generation have to offer in the tech/digital field?

DM: I think Millennials definitely have an advantage when it comes to the technology field. We started using computers from a much earlier age than some of our colleagues. I've witnessed a lot of changes in technology. Of course, that doesn't automatically make us better at technology, but it does help us in terms of familiarity with technology and openness to the constant changes with it – we're used to rapid changes and growth.

TMC: What's your advice for high school graduates entering college who are interested in the tech industry?

DM: My advice is to constantly challenge yourself, but to also have an open mind. Just because one of your parents is a CIO or a software developer, doesn't mean that you have to be one too. There are many emerging jobs in tech. As technology changes, so do the challenges and directions of IT departments and careers. There's a show out now called Silicon Valley about a group of friends who program and are trying to make it big in Silicon Valley through a startup. I feel like startups are becoming a more common venture for my generation; it's becoming easier to make your own path. That's what I mean by having an open mind. If you have an idea and you think it's pretty unique, you could pursue that and make your own company.

I look at people like Mark Zuckerberg and Evan Spiegel with high regard. They're young people who took their idea all the way to fruition. Don't stop because someone tells you "no." You will fail so many times until you get it right, but keep trying because there are so many platforms and opportunities to get out there in the tech industry and truly thrive.

Best of luck to Darcy in her career! You can network with her on LinkedIn.

Do you have additional advice for Darcy and other recent grads in tech? Please comment below.

Tara M. Clapper is Technical Editor at SEMrush and Senior Editor at The Geek Initiative, a website celebrating women in geek culture. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Tara M. Clapper

A veteran community member.

Tara M. Clapper is Content Development Specialist at Express Writers and Senior Editor at The Geek Initiative, a website celebrating women in geek culture. Tara is a prolific content creator and an accomplished editor, having written and edited thousands of blog posts, small business websites, and other inbound marketing content through the course of her career. Tara enjoys blogging about SEO copywriting, content management, corporate culture, personal branding, networking and LinkedIn. She has over a decade of experience in digital publishing. Connect with her on Twitter @irishtara
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