New grad plugs into Arizona tech landscape

Melanie Spence, who graduated from GCU this morning with a software development degree, is starting a job at AVEVA in Scottsdale. (Photo by Rick D'Elia)

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Not many college seniors can say companies are fighting over them.

But companies fought over Melanie Spence.

Four years ago, the software development major and Honors College student left the comforts of her home in Utah for sun-drenched Arizona and Grand Canyon University. Four years later, when it came time to attract the attention of industry and land a job, she had it made.

She received her first full-time job offer with Triumph Tech, which crafts websites, apps and tools for faith-based organizations. Still navigating through school, she negotiated with the company to let her start working part time in the spring.

But she kept her options open.

Arizona State University would reach out. So did USAA.

But, after weighing her options and set on staying in Arizona, she accepted a position as a software developer at the Scottsdale office of industrial software company AVEVA.

“I had the full intention of staying in Arizona,” said Spence, who is among the more than 29,100 traditional and online students at GCU graduating in 10 ceremonies spanning this week and next. “I just wanted to try a new adventure after graduation, and I thought Arizona would be a good place to start.”

Greater Phoenix has become a tech hub, with companies such as Intel, Honeywell and Boeing operating facilities here, and businesses such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing building a $12 billion plant in the area.

Spence was one of the panelists at the Spring 2022 Technology Deans Speaker Series. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

That rich tech landscape isn’t lost on Spence, who also was the student speaker at today’s 9 a.m. Commencement ceremony for students graduating from the College of Science, Engineering of Technology and the College of Education.

“There are some good jobs out here, and I had a lot of good connections through professors to get those jobs,” said Spence.

She isn’t the only college-aged student choosing to make their home in Phoenix.

According to a March 16, 2022, CNBC article, which uses data from the 2022 Axios-Generation Lab Next Cities Index, Phoenix is among the 15 top cities young people ages 18 to 24 want to live, after cities such as Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Boston and Chicago.

“We have Grand Canyon University students attending our campus from across the nation and beyond. Those students are contributing to our Arizona economy and serving our community, especially in the West Valley,” said Aysha Bell, Executive Director of the University’s Career Services. Like Spence, “Many plan to remain in the state following graduation, so our Career Services department, in collaboration with the colleges and many departments across GCU, aim to provide our students assistance in securing local job and internship opportunities.”

Spence, who was sold on GCU after seeing its swath of new dorms, said her first programming experience was in seventh grade. She attended a tech summer camp and that was it.

“I continued programming in high school. It was something I enjoyed doing,” she said. “The thing I enjoyed the most is that element of learning something new and problem-solving. ... You get to think a lot, and I always really liked that.”

Spence worked at startup Little Bird at Canyon Ventures and at Triumph Tech while she was taking software development classes at GCU.

Spence certainly didn’t wait for opportunities to come to her in her four years at GCU.

When the Technology Club approached her about being a panelist at a Coding With My Girls event, “I was like, I LOVE panels. Sure! That was kind of a fun thing.”

For a time, she worked as a student software developer for startup company LittleBird at GCU’s business incubator, Canyon Ventures.

And over the last academic year, Spence was everywhere with her friend Elijah Olmos presenting the software they developed called Crimlog, which uses web-based blockchain technologies to track class attendance or attendance at events.

The duo won the Technology Capstone Showcase in the fall with that software.

But what Spence credits with making her desirable to companies was the Honors College’s Professional, Academic and Career (PAC) Development Program.

“It really motivates you to do those more businessy side of things, because I do have the programming skills. But a lot of programmers lack those social skills,” Spence said of PAC, whose leaders taught her resume writing, encouraged her to update her LinkedIn profile and pushed her to go to career fairs.

“The career fair I went to for PAC was how I actually got my first full-time job at Triumph Tech, just because I was there to practice my interviewing skills. It’s really that kind of mindset of being able to go out and take a chance and really sell the best version of yourself, not just your programming skills but also just who you are.”

It helped, too, that the Software Development program at GCU is so hands-on.

“You’re learning a variety of languages that are actively used in the industry. You’re learning how to code in an enterprise environment, and that’s how you land internships; that’s how you land jobs.”

Associate Dean of Technology Dr. Pam Rowland said of Spence: “Melanie is an outstanding student who has embraced every opportunity given to her. She has participated in many co-curricular activities, and whenever she can, she takes the time to introduce herself to industry professionals and to learn about their companies.”

One of the opportunities Spence couldn’t let pass her by was speaking at Commencement.  She reached out to Honors College Dean Dr. Breanna Naegeli and to her professors.

“I really want that to be me,” she said.

And it was.

This morning, Spence spoke about family, faith, friendships and feats and how one single memory can’t define your college experience.

“But all these memories come together to make for one unforgettable and incomparable college experience,” she said at the end of her address. “Continue to make memories that matter.”

And Spence, never one to wait for an opportunity, will continue to make those memories right here in Arizona.

Manager of Internal Communications Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

Related content:

GCU News: How a GCU student will graduate with no debt

GCU press release: Grand Canyon University celebrates graduating class of 29,116 in 2022-23

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