Diverse experiences are something we at Deloitte Digital value. We believe it sets the stage for all the creative problem solving our clients trust us with. Recently, Salli Talmadge, QA engineer in Seattle, visited a class of at-risk youth to talk about how diverse experiences can bring value to an early career, and be an asset—not a drawback—to their future employers.

When a company says that they’re devoted to innovation, it can mean a lot of different things. Throughout Deloitte, one big way we set the stage for innovation is through encouraging diversity in the workforce. We don’t only mean your traditional, check-in-the-box diversity, but also diversity of thought and diversity of experience.

Salli Talmadge, QA engineer from the Seattle Studio, recently had the opportunity to share her perspective on how everyone’s unique story brings value to the workplace. In October and February, she spent a day presenting on career development at Bellevue College for a program called Career Education Options (CEO). It’s a program designed for 16-21 year old students who have dropped out of high school, but now want to continue their education. It provides academic and personal support, so students don’t have to figure out college and career decisions alone.

Here, Salli shares a bit about her experience presenting for the CEO program with a quick Q&A.

What made you interested in speaking to this group of students?

Salli: I first learned about this program when a friend of mine started working with the CEO program as an instructor and advisor. She told me about her classes and how the program focused on career exploration and connecting what they learn to “real world” experience.

All of the students are high school dropouts and considered “at-risk.” Yet the stories that my friend told me really intrigued me. In one class she had a student who had been in jail for five years sitting next to a student who had been homeschooled their entire life, and all sorts of experiences in between. So, I asked if the classes could benefit from hearing from someone like me who has had a non-traditional job path.

What information did you share with the students, and what message did you want them to hear?

Salli: For both classes, I spent a lot of time talking about my story—I really wanted each student to find a personal connection and begin to see how their education and passions could lead to a future career. I wanted them to hear that it might not take the same trajectory that their parents’ or grandparents’ careers took.

I also shared with them that when I was in school, what I do didn’t exist—smartphones didn’t exist—and yet I was able to use skills and passions each step along the way to make it to where I am now.

In one class, there was a girl who sat in the front with gauged ears and a 90s grunge outfit on, and she was clearly really interested in what I was saying. When I was finished, she asked a couple of questions, and I really hope that the message she took away, was that “There is a place for you in the work world.” I hope she and all the other students heard that what they are learning in school and in life are applicable to their future jobs.

I wanted them all to hear that—even when it’s hard to work with different people on group projects—they are working on skills that they’ll need down the road.

What was your biggest takeaway from this presentation?

Salli: Beyond really enjoying the connection with all of the students, and getting to witness how their life stories are impacting their education, I came away with a greater appreciation and perspective on how my own story has been shaped by relationships and personal decisions.

When I’m caught up in the everyday routine—from the commute, to my daily work routine, to family obligations—I sometimes forget to take a more macro view of my work experience. I sometimes forget how I got where I am. It was really nice to take some time and reflect on both the opportunities that have been presented, and how I was able to strategically make the most of every decision and experience along the way.

I really loved being able to reframe my life journey in a way that is relevant to the students, and to hopefully inspire them to see and use their current situation as a stepping stone to their future.

Salli Talmadge is a QA engineer at Deloitte Digital’s Fremont Studio in Seattle.  When Salli isn’t looking for bugs in software, she can be found chasing her kids in the park, doing yoga or rocking out to a good Neil Diamond song.

Inclusion at Deloitte. While this story was not part of an official company event, Deloitte is ramping up efforts around an Inclusion Campaign to encourage people to “uncover” and bring their full selves to work. Find out more about the campaign, research, and how this lays the groundwork for innovation at inclusion.deloitte.com.