Career built by NC knowledge plus R&I network team

Ken Dubois

Ken Dubois finished the Computer Programmer Analyst Co-op program at the end of 2019, officially graduating the following spring. Building on his studies and his time spent during his co-op working as a research assistant with the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre team, Ken is now employed as a software developer at First Canadian Title Company Limited (FCT).
Read on to learn about his journey to the workforce.

Tell us about where you work and your position/title:

I work as a software developer at First Canadian Title Company Limited (FCT).

Describe your role and what you like about it:

I build and maintain software products with the development team at FCT. These are mostly web-based projects, and range from public facing applications, business-to-business, internal apps, and everything in between!

There are several things I like about working at FCT – the benefits and compensation are competitive, employee job satisfaction is considered a high priority, and working arrangements (particularly during the pandemic) have been relatively flexible. The thing I like most, however, is that employees are given significant opportunity to expand their skills while on the job. This comes in several forms, which include formal and informal training, the chance to work on ‘proof-of-concept’ projects to learn and evaluate new technologies, and (most importantly) working alongside a group of highly skilled developers who value sharing their knowledge and experience.

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

My experience with R&I prepared me for my current role in two important ways. First, it was a gentle introduction for me to the software developer’s most fundamental skill – the ability to learn independently while on the job. There’s a real limit to the volume of information that can be delivered in a classroom. This is particularly true in software development where the variety of things to know and rate of change is really high. At R&I, I had a chance to work on projects that challenged me to get comfortable starting from scratch with languages, frameworks, and strategies of organization that I was unfamiliar with (and in some cases, had never even heard of before).

The second way R&I prepared me for my current position is simple: the person that recommended me for the job at FCT was a former colleague at R&I. Building a network of people who know what you are like to work with isn’t something that you necessarily think about as a student, but it can be one of the most valuable features of taking a position at a place like R&I.

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

As a software developer, you don’t often find yourself traipsing through vineyards while controlling a robot the size of a washing machine mounted with a 4K video camera. Working on estimating crop yields using computer vision was a singularly unique experience that I will remember for a very long time.

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

I was working as a graphic designer and had a foot in basic web development for a few years. When I finally decided to take programming seriously, Niagara College was a good fit – their courses were focused on how to build software projects and were less abstract than computer science courses offered by other post-secondary institutions in the area.

Most memorable experience at NC?

The keystone project at the end of second year had us building a project for a real-world client. This was something of a trial by fire. It meant client meetings, design, implementation, and deployment all with relatively little oversight. It was a lot of fun, frenetically stressful, took the lives of many, many cups of coffee but everyone on the team came out the other end as a much more confident and capable developer.

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

Each of my colleagues at R&I were mentors to me in one way or another, but I think Sarah Lepp (team lead) and Dr. Mike Duncan (research chair) deserve particular recognition. Many of our projects had either scientific or mathematical components that were way over my head. Mike and Sarah (besides being exceptionally knowledgeable – I still haven’t managed to stump either of them!) simplified problems into logical, actionable steps that allowed the development team to solve problems that at first glance seemed completely untenable.

“Building a network of people who know what you are like to work with isn’t something that you necessarily think about as a student, but it can be one of the most valuable features of taking a position at a place like R&I.”

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

Set at least a little time aside every day to learn and extend your skills – even (or maybe especially) if it’s not something directly related to what you are working on. Don’t work for an employer that doesn’t allow you time for this during the workday; continual learning is part of being a professional and will pay compounding dividends to both you and the company you work for.

(Also – never pay full price for a Udemy course – they have crazy sales on nearly everything at least once a month!)

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

Being able to work effectively with others will make you more productive than anything else. The limiting factor for this isn’t being pleasant (although this helps), it is communicating as clearly as possible, taking on more responsibility than you might feel is your fair share (the people you are working with probably do a lot more than you think) and engaging in disagreements respectfully with the intent of getting to the best possible outcome (rather than proving that you’re right or the other person is wrong).

Proudest achievement since graduating?

All my proudest moments have been from watching my daughter [Polly] grow up. That, and being interviewed for the R&I newsletter of course.

What are you passionate about at the moment?

I’ve been very interested in Block Chain development with the Ethereum protocol recently. The learning curve is not nearly as steep as I would have expected, and I think the technology has a lot of potential use-cases that haven’t nearly been exploited to their full potential.

Interests outside of work?

When I’m not working, I am reading, playing guitar (badly), watching terrible Netflix shows (having already watched all the good ones), or trying to catch a surprisingly fast one-year-old.

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

Remember to have fun!