His is an example of how a great teacher can make a big difference in the trajectory of one’s life. For Brian Culp, his Grade 11 teacher anchored an enthusiasm for computer programming – a profession he decided to pursue.
“Mr. Digaetano at Stamford Collegiate really mentored me at that time, noticing I had the interest and skill, helped me advance my knowledge above and beyond the class requirements,” explains Culp. “I ended up spending all of my free time during the last two years of high school in his computer lab, learning all that I could.”
This past spring, Culp graduated from Niagara College’s Computer Programmer Analyst (Co-op) program and is currently employed as a computer programmer research associate with the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC), in the Research & Innovation Division. This after spending his co-op as a research assistant with AETIC in 2019/20.
“You are immersed in a real-world work environment, getting a true feel as to what life as a programmer is like. An added benefit was that I was able to say that I had a full year of real work experience by the time I even graduated from my course.”
At AETIC, Culp manages a small team of programming students in solving complex problems for industry partners. On his end, his work has focused on one industry partner, SoilOptix, where he has helped maintain and improve upon the analytics of the company’s advanced website portal.
The portal is used to perform advanced calculations on imported raw soil samples for SoilOptix clients, which helps growers understand their field and where there may be deficiencies, for example. It’s an incredibly challenging project that makes his classwork seem effortless, says Culp.
“Some may consider putting students onto a project this difficult as throwing them to the fire, but I found it allowed me to thrive, and have noticed this in many other students as well,” says Culp, adding he also needed to learn a new programming language, which has now given him a leg up for his career.
He also had the advantage of working with vast amounts of data – something not offered in the classroom.
“In class, we would work with a few gigabytes of data, whereas the SoilOptix project has multiple terabytes of data and is always growing.”
Throughout his time with the Research & Innovation division, Culp says he has improved his communication skills, which ultimately translates to about any field within programming.
“You are immersed in a real-world work environment, getting a true feel as to what life as a programmer is like,” he adds. “An added benefit was that I was able to say that I had a full year of real work experience by the time I even graduated from my course.”
The attributes about computer programming that have kept him hooked since high school include the mental challenges and abundant options for creativeness.
“The most interesting aspect of programming is the ability to create and manipulate something from scratch with minimal limitations,” he explains. “I like to have a problem in which I must create a solution. I find this differs from other jobs because computer programming doesn’t have the same limitations since we are in the virtual computer environment. With programming, the possibilities are endless; new tools are created every day.”
When he’s not at work or in front of a computer screen, Culp has a keen interest in weightlifting and an affinity for wrestling action figures – as demonstrated by the close to 100 figurines that stand guard as the backdrop to his computer workstation.
“The action figures are mine, in an effort to make my workspace feel more my own… I may have gone slightly overboard,” he says with a laugh. “Most of these are wrestling figures since I loved playing with these as a kid and still enjoy watching wrestling.”
Culp lives in Niagara Falls with his wife Samantha and their two young children, Nicholas and Hunter.
“They are what drives me to be my best.”