Business Information Systems, Saskatchewan Polytechnic
IT Coordinator, Westridge Construction Ltd.
When the local technician was not available, Pharmacist, Pauline Johnson was often called upon to fix problems with the pharmacy's computer system where she worked in Jamaica. Armed with nothing more than information found online and determination, she soon discovered that she had a passion for solving problems. At the same time, a friend had relocated to Saskatchewan for school and was sharing stories about Saskatchewan Polytechnic's reputation with local employers for producing outstanding graduates. As her interest in pharmacy waned and Pauline had aspirations for creating an app that would solve some problems she saw in her pharmacy career, Pauline enrolled as international student in the Business Information Systems Program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic in September 2018 at their Moose Jaw campus.
The program provides students with training in programming and in business interspersed with a 6 months co-op work term. In order to apply IT solutions to business problems, you have to understand business so graduates from the program have skills in both areas.
The first three months of the program were brutal and many students dropped out. Pauline wasn't sure if she would make it either. Having no prior experience with information technology other than fixing the computers in the pharmacy back home and being new to Canada, there were many barriers to her success. In November of 2018, Pauline made the decision that she was going to make it through the program and this resolve was a turning point in her educational journey. She was at school from 8:00 am - midnight and when the hours for the computer lab were extended to 2:00 am, she was there until 2:00 am every single day of the week.
In her career thus far, Pauline never had to apply for a job so the entire process of conducting a co-op job search was foreign to her. Students were introduced to the steps for looking for a job and in January, Pauline met with her Co-op Coordinator, Trudy Osborne for the first time to help determine what Pauline's preferences were for her upcoming co-op work term. "In under 15 minutes, she told me stuff about myself that I didn't know myself," recounted Pauline.
As an international student and being unfamiliar with Canadian businesses, it was difficult for Pauline to make a decision about where she would do her co-op. With Trudy's help, she accepted a position as an IT Coordinator with Westridge Construction in Regina to help troubleshoot their software and hardware.
Using the problem solving skills she had developed through her computer labs, Pauline tackled her first challenge as a co-op student. She was tasked with building an XML file, an electronic format that would be readable when the company made submissions to the federal government. Pauline didn't know what an XML file was so taught herself about the file format first and then converted the data into an XML file. Pauline documented her steps so that Westridge could repeat the process in the future.
Her next task as a co-op student was more challenging. The company needed to upgrade some proprietary software that they were using, but the upgrade also required updating the operating systems and making hardware upgrades to the company's 27 computers and 20 laptops. No one in the company had the skills to do the upgrade and hiring a contractor to do the work would take a long time, would be disruptive to their operations and would cost a fortune. Pauline tackled the problem logically by researching all of the steps and then presenting her analysis to the company's management. Through her research, she found a potential solution that would allow the company to upgrade the software with fewer steps.
During one weekend, Pauline tested her theory on how to upgrade the software and made sure that the integrity of the data would be maintained after the upgrade. The test went well and she proceeded with preparing for the software update which was scheduled to occur over another weekend.
Part of the project included replacing the hard drives with solid state drives (SSDs). Pauline updated one SSD and then cloned the rest ahead of time so that the process of swapping them out over the weekend could go quickly. Each SSD had to be activated and updated before the software update could occur.
Once all of the machines had their new SSDs installed, Pauline proceeded with the software update. Pauline worked 26 hours straight by herself to accomplish this task and said that she did a lot of praying to God and talking to the computers during that weekend. The support and prayers of her family also helped her get through this stressful time with the weight of the company’s computer systems resting on her shoulders.
Her efforts were successful and the company presented her with an award normally reserved for full-time staff and a job offer for full-time employment once she completed her studies. With the skills developed during her work term, Pauline returned to campus with confidence and graduated with Great Distinction which is reserved for students who achieve a final GPA of over 90. Her achievements were recognized by being awarded the 2019 Student of the Year for Saskatchewan Polytechnic.
As were finishing our conversation, Pauline said that the confidence that her Co-op Coordinator, Trudy instilled in her gave her the confidence to tackle these very challenging projects and her education gave her the skills to research and problem solve. And what about her dream of creating an app? Since working at Westridge full-time for the past year, Pauline has built an Intranet for the company and is gradually replacing paper-based business processes with digital solutions including multiple apps, one of which allows employees to easily record mileage when travelling to various construction sites.