Former WIL Students - Where Are They Now?

Kiara Brost
Business Information Systems, Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Programmer Analyst, Advanced DataSystems

In Grade 11, Kiara Brost had the chance to participate in Think IT, a 3-day program offered through the Prairie South School Division and this experience started her on her career path in information technology. Coming from a small town of 2300 inhabitants, there were limited opportunities for high school students to develop technical skills so Kiara signed up for an information processing course via correspondence.

When she graduated high school, Kiara had many different career paths that she was considering. The combination of business and computer science courses in the Business Information Systems (BIS) program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic was an interesting option and had the additional draw of having transferable credits if she wished to continue her academics.

The mandatory, 6-month co-op work term was also a big factor in Kiara’s decision to enroll in BIS. She would gain skills that could be used in any career. Kiara was the first BIS student to work at Advanced DataSystems (ADS) in Saskatoon. The company has been in business since 1976, focusing on the development of custom software, mobile apps, and cloud-based business solutions. The company is responsible for some of the largest Indigenous software systems in Canada.

“I was really fortunate that Advanced DataSystems had a variety of projects going on at the time, so I was able to see all the different parts in the development cycle, even if not all from the same product.” Kiara participated in client meetings to gather requirements, created code for specific projects and developed tools. The company gave her a lot of freedom to explore different stages of product development from initiation, QA and testing, to product deployment, hotfixes, and support.

The culture at ADS is very open and collaborative and employees are encouraged to ask questions. With a flat company hierarchy, Kiara was able to ask questions of any of her co-workers. Her co-workers also became her support system, going out of their way to make her feel comfortable in a city where she knew no one.

Kiara realized that her employer didn’t expect her to be the best at her job right away. They did expect her to be willing to learn and ready to problem solve. “The company is willing to teach you - that’s why they took you on, so the best thing you can do is be receptive to the experience.”

When Kiara returned to campus to complete her academics, she did so extremely well prepared from her experience working at ADS. She still had to put in many hours studying, but some of her courses were less technically challenging after developing coding and programming skills during her co-op work term. “I came back to Sask Polytech with a working knowledge of industry specifics, structures, and practical application of systems that I just didn’t have a grasp on, and likely wouldn’t have, until I had been working in industry.”

Kiara was nominated for Student of the Year in 2018 and was offered a full-time position with ADS where she is now starting to manage some of her own projects. She is continuing to develop skills and has both completed, and is pursuing, advanced training in relevant software. 

 I asked Kiara if there was anything else she would like to share. “I also need to convey my love for my co-op advisor, Trudy. She managed to be superwoman and put up with all my anxieties, reviewed everything I asked her to, even checked in on things like whether or not I was able to find housing in another city. I wouldn’t be where I am right now without someone from the co-op program trusting my work ethic, and supporting me through this.”

Pauline Johnson
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.

Chase Stanley
Computer Engineering Technology/Technician, Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Validation Engineer, IDT Canada - Integrated Device Technology

Chase Stanley had the opportunity to take some computer science courses and a robotics course in high school and this opened the career pathway to his current position as a Validation Engineer with IDT Canada in Ottawa, Ontario. IDT is headquartered in San Jose, California and creates semi conductors for use in communications, computing, consumer products, automotive and industrial applications. In March 2019, shortly before Chase started working full-time with the company, it was acquired by Renesas, a Japanese manufacturer of advanced semi conductors.

In 2016, Chase enrolled in the Computer Engineering Technology program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic at the Moose Jaw campus. The three-year program was all-encompassing and allowed students with no prior technical background to learn electrical engineering and computer systems.  This program is normally a two-year program but is extended to three years to allow students to participate in three co-op work terms during their studies.

Chase's Co-op Coordinator, Trudy Osborne helped him prepare for his job search for his first co-op work term. It was a frustrating experience applying on 15 or so jobs with no interviews until he was successful in receiving an offer as a Web and Database Developer with the Department of Defence in Ottawa. This co-op work term was an entirely different experience than Chase expected it to be. He worked side-by-side with other co-op students from different academic backgrounds and schools. Students were tasked with working on different projects for the department along with their team leads.

Chase has some advice for co-op students seeking their first work term. Trying to find the perfect co-op job for your first work term is stressful. Do your best and be open to learning. Although Chase's first work term was not what he had envisioned for himself, in the end his first co-op was a fantastic experience.

Chase knew that Ottawa was the best place for his career as a Computer Engineering Technologist. His second work term was with IDT Canada as a Validation Engineer. In this role, Chase ran tests on new devices looking to see what problems arose and finding solutions to solve them.

During his work term, Chase's supervisor at IDT encouraged him to ask as many questions as he could and to ask for clarification when needed. He encouraged using critical thinking to ask, "Why am I doing this". Chase also learned how to find his own answers by conducting online research and said, "Google is your best friend". Chase was invited to return for his final work term and received an offer for full-time employment upon his graduation.

Chase enjoys working for IDT and hopes that with experience he will be able to take on more responsibility and move into a project management role.

KC Choi
Business Information Systems, Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Programmer Analyst, SaskTel

KC Choi studied English Literature for 4 years in his native home of South Korea with thoughts of becoming a teacher, but after graduation found himself working for an IT company. Working with a developer, he co-created an app for the company, which became the number one ranking app in South Korea and this experience ignited his passion for app development. This was followed by employment in another company with the hope of doing more IT work, but without formal education in technology, this career path was unavailable to KC. It was clear that if he wanted to work in IT, he would have to go back to school.

Once KC made the decision to attend school in Canada, the next challenge was to choose a school. KC initially was drawn to Sheridan College because a friend was attending there, but opted to enroll in a smaller college where the graduating class would also be smaller and therefore, might result in more job opportunities upon graduation. Being a married student with two young children, it was important to KC that he could also provide for his family while attending school. The mandatory co-op component of the Business Information Systems program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic met all of his needs.

Moving from a city of 3 million people to Moose Jaw with its population of 35,000 was a big change for KC and his family. Although temperatures in Korea could reach - 10 in the winter, it did not prepare KC for his first winter in Moose Jaw.  Adjusting to being a student again was challenging but he found himself slipping back into the demands of being in classes from 8:00 am - 4:30 pm.

KC and his family embraced living in Moose Jaw and the activities that it offered, but unfortunately, three months into his studies, he broke his ankle in two places after hitting a tree while tobogganing.  The injury put him in a wheelchair for several months but this did not deter KC in his studies.

The co-op component of his program was very important to KC and early on, he strategically sought out second year students for their recommendations on where to do his co-op work term. Being new to Canada, he was not familiar with the companies in Saskatchewan. The Canadian labour market was different from what he was used to in Korea so he knew that he needed to be strategic in how he approached his job search. Over coffee, the senior students stressed the importance of getting good grades and having a good resume and cover letter. He researched the companies that the students recommended and reviewed their LinkedIn pages.

For his co-op work term, KC focused his job search on companies in Saskatoon and Regina in order to remain close to his family. He received an offer to work for SaskTel as a Programmer Analyst in May 2018. KC said that SaskTel provides a rich experience for co-op students. “Students work with different teams and each team has specific tasks and projects for students to work on.”

Upon returning to campus, KC was the Project Leader for a 4-member student team that developed a Zombie Defence Game app. The students presented their project during the final week of the semester and received the highest score of all the projects. KC was also honoured by being named the Student of the Year in 2019.

Understanding the importance of networking, KC had kept in contact with his former co-op supervisor and when a position opened up in April, he applied and was the successful candidate.

As with all of the students interviewed from Saskatchewan Polytechnic, KC said, "Trudy is awesome.”  The program is demanding but prepared KC for the work that he is currently doing - supporting the tool that allows analysts to generate reports from large datasets. The demands of the program created strong bonds between the students and they continue to stay in touch to this day.

Hannah Kopytko
Business Information Systems, Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Systems Developer, The Co-operators

Hannah Kopytko began developing her technical skills in high school as a gamer and realized that she loved to solve problems. In 2011, she enrolled in a one-year certificate program in New Media Communications at Saskatchewan Polytechnic. One of Hannah's instructors was involved with the Saskatchewan Interactive Media Association, a non-profit for members working in interactive digital media. While a student, she joined the group and successfully assisted her instructor in lobbying the government for more funding in order to help the association continue to support this developing economic sector in the province. At one point, Hannah held Vice President and President roles for the association and continues to be a member of the group.

After graduation from the New Media program, Hannah worked as the Service & Networking Coordinator with the school's Students' Association. She also worked as a contractor as a content writer and provided backend maintenance for various websites.

Hannah knew that she wanted to work in back end software development ideally for a small, independent company and that she needed to go back to school to develop these skills further. When she enrolled in the Business Information Systems (BIS) program at Sask Polytechnic in 2016, she did so because of its mandatory co-op component. Although Hannah already had technical skills, a prior certificate and work experience, she knew that a co-op work term in her chosen field would help launch her career.

She was successful in obtaining a co-op position as a Jr. Business Systems Support Analyst with the Application Support Team at the Co-operators in Regina, but Hannah initially was a bit hesitant to work for such a large organization. She was hired with another classmate and they were able to work together to find solutions to problems for the 50+ in-house apps that the team supported.

During her work term, Hannah found that the company culture aligned with her values and as her work term neared completion, she approached her manager and asked if she could continue working part-time on a new Robotic Process Automation (RPA) pilot project that was about to be launched. Hannah balanced working part-time for the Co-operators in Regina while completing her last academic term at Sask Polytechnic's Moose Jaw campus. The pilot project was successfully passed off to a new RPA team for further development and released to production, which was an exciting accomplishment for Hannah.

Hannah believes that work should be fun; she found this at the Co-operators and after graduation returned to work in a full-time position as a Systems Developer. It wasn't long until an opportunity to fill a team lead role came along and Hannah wanted to try it out and make it her own.

In this role, she is not a manager of people, but a manager of the agile process and flow of work in Digital Document Solutions. She challenges the team to explore what happened when things don't go as planned. She leads the team through the four "L's": liked, loved, lacked and longed for. "Tell me what was unexpected," she asks her team when they conduct a post mortem on a project. "Let's talk about what you thought would happen."

Hannah has presented lightning talks on a variety of topics including failure. The fear of failure often keeps us from trying new things, but in software development, the fear of failure also kills innovation.  "We need to learn from failure," explains Hannah. "Untangle the web that is failure and don't make it look as ugly as it first seems." She asks, "How can we look differently at failure and learn to accept failure with grace?"

Hannah encourages us to adopt this approach in our personal lives as well and her advice to students is to cultivate a growth mindset. By doing so, you will attract people and opportunities. "Be open to learning, opportunities and failure. Talk about the hard stuff and the good stuff. Have passion in your career. Grow and be yourself."