Stop Giving Swag

In Canada, Engineers receive a jagged iron ring as part of their graduation ceremony. The ring is designed to be uncomfortable and scratch against things as a reminder that a calculation error could easily result in a bridge collapse, or 150 million database records leaking.

Today I hosted thirty 6th Grade STEM students. We ran through some exercises and challenges, and at the end I pulled out a bowl filled with little hexagonal nuts on chains. I told them about the iron ring, and how when I was a kid I had a Microsoft keychain, and how happy I was the day I landed a job there.

Normally we give away swag or prizes, but this time I spent very little money. These were completely worthless. The value was the meaning behind it: that it was a token reminder of their aspiration to one day get an iron ring.

I was so impressed with how many of then wanted one. A mom who was chaperoning later mentioned to me that she'd been in IT but then l decided to stay at home to raise the kids. She told me her daughter grabbed one of the chains and said "Mom, you need to now follow your dream too."

It just goes to show, the value of a gift isn't in the price you pay, but the meaning in it.

My goal is to now always keep a bowl of these chains at my desk, and gift them when appropriate.


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