Alumnus lands position as DevOps engineer

Andrew Benton is a 2020 graduate of Niagara College’s Computer Programmer Analyst (Co-op) program. At the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre, Andrew served as a research assistant for nine months in 2019, and as research associate for the year in 2020. He is currently employed with SoilOptix as junior DevOps engineer.

 Tell us about where you work and your position:

I work for SoilOptix. We are using technology to help farmers understand and improve their soil health to grow better crops and feed the world. I’m a junior DevOps engineer.

What is a DevOps engineer?

DevOps is a combination title and job path in the IT/Programming field. It is the combination of development and operations – development dealing with the actual programming and operations dealing with the IT side of things, such as running the various programs and servers that development requires for their applications.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

I am responsible for providing IT/Server support to allow SoilOptix to expand their customer base into more areas of the world. I’m also the lead developer on all web portals the company uses for processing data and making it available to customers. We are currently in the process of rewriting the original portal that does all data processing to make it faster and more flexible to add additional features. This new version takes advantage of advances in C#, Angular, and general programming best practices.

How has your experience with Research & Innovation helped prepare you for your current role?

While working at R&I, we worked on processing and handling very large datasets with tens of thousands of individual data points. This required working on database optimization, filtering large amounts of information, and creating ways to allow clients to access these large amounts of data such as PDF files, heatmaps and simple CSV files.

A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?

While working for R&I, I was privileged to work on the initial version of the SoilOptix portal. This project gave me my first real experience with handling very large datasets and bug fixing on a live in-use application. The biggest lesson I learned from this was the absolute requirement of testing everything you possibly can before deploying any sort of modification, feature, or bug fix to a live, actively-used application. 

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

At the time I was stuck in a job I really did not enjoy. I always had an interest in computer programming since I was in high school. Looking around at the options, Niagara College was very close to where I live, and offered a program that covered a lot of what I wanted to learn. The co-op portion of the program was a great bonus, allowing me to experience what being a computer programmer was like and see if it was the type of career I really wanted to invest in.

Most memorable experience at NC?

My most memorable experience at Niagara College was the community sponsored project, part of our programming curriculum and is intended to give new programmers a feel for how programming in a business is likely to work. You have a team of fellow programmers, and you have a client that you have to communicate with. This provides the information and guidance that you will then use to create a working finished product.

This provided me with my first experience in communicating with a client on requirements for a programming project, as well as an introduction to working with a team of programmers. This experience shaped how I have approached client interactions and working with other team members and allowed me to grow as a person.

“Communication is almost more important than your actual technical skills. You can be the best programmer in the world, but if you cannot communicate effectively, your options will be extremely limited.”

Is there a particular mentor at either R&I or a faculty member who influenced you?

Alex Davis was the senior research associate at R&I when I first started working there during my co-op. He provided me with a lot of useful information and tips during the four months I was able to work with him.

What advice would you impart to current research students or future alumni?

Communication is essential regardless of what career you head into. Being able to talk, explain your thoughts and interact with clients will take you very far. Talk with your teammates and your boss whenever you can. This will result in you getting promotions and recommendations for new projects and help you vastly increase your abilities. 

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

Communication is almost more important than your actual technical skills. You can be the best programmer in the world, but if you cannot communicate effectively, your options will be extremely limited.  

Proudest achievement since graduating?

My proudest achievement is getting hired on as a DevOps engineer and having my input be valuable to the company at which I work.

What are you passionate about at the moment?

I am passionate about learning better options and systems to provide much higher performance for processing large amounts of data.

Interests outside of work?

When I’m not working, I play a lot of video games and enjoy hiking. If I could video game and hike at the same time, I probably would.

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?

Treat others as YOU want to be treated!