BCIT is known for its connections to industry and ensuring that grads come out ready to integrate into their workplace.
But while established connections to industry, like Program Advisory Committees, are great for keeping curriculum current, sometimes an instructor takes some time to get the feel of industry from the inside. Trevor Lord (TL), BCIT Computing faculty, did just that in 2021, spending a year embedded at Microsoft. Here’s his report.
Learn more about the Computing Program Advisory Committee (PAC) from Fariba Pacheleh, PAC Chair
Q: Why did you decide to take this unique kind of Professional Development leave?
TL: I worked in IT and the software industry for just over 16 years. I recognized I was getting further away from that experience and so I wanted to refresh my skills and exposure. I knew that much has changed in industry and I need to ensure that what I share with students is up to date.
Q: How did it come together with Microsoft?
TL: I was very lucky that it came together. The right people at Microsoft heard about the possibility to work with me and BCIT in this way. It was actually the Microsoft EDU group who were interested in exploring the opportunity. They were willing to start a process for something that wasn’t defined at the outset, and I appreciate the leap of faith.
Q: 2021 must have been quite a year to take on something new?
TL: Yes, I knew I was starting during COVID, and Microsoft was locked down like everyone else. But the expectation was that we’d be back soon, it wouldn’t be online forever. Unfortunately, it really was online all year.
Starting a new job remotely was really weird. But it’s the reality many of our grads are graduating into, so that’s valuable for me to experience too. In fact, Microsoft doubled their Vancouver workforce in 2020, with more hiring ongoing – these are hundreds of people who didn’t start work in a Microsoft office.
Starting a new job remotely was really weird. But it’s the reality many of our grads are graduating into, so that’s valuable for me to experience too.
Q: What did you learn of industry best practices for remote workplaces?
TL: Remote work is all about bringing people in to your virtual space. You still need to focus on communicating culture and establishing relationships, just like any organization.
We had really short but frequent team meetings – often as many as four days a week. These were key to keeping connected, both professionally and personally. You have to be more conscious and deliberate about building networks: you’re not running into people at the proverbial water cooler.
I’ve actually worked remotely before; that’s been a reality in global and distributed organizations for a long time. But there was always a tethering to this larger entity. With staff being entirely remote, at least at times, there isn’t that. The newer tools really help. We used Microsoft Teams every day, everything happened there: file sharing, real-time collaboration, meetings with customers.
Q: So that’s how you worked. What did you work on?
TL: I was fortunate to have the chance to work on a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) implementation project. It was an awesome, cloud-based development process, and an IT-related project where I had an opportunity to help out because of my background.
We managed to deliver a system, and I was happy with the result. I refreshed my skills in process, and got exposure to some of the nuances of cloud deployment. What once could take 12 to 18 months in the projects I worked on at the start of my career is now done in a couple weeks.
Q: Is there anything else you’ll be bringing back to your classes at BCIT?
TL: I participated in Virtual Education Visits via Microsoft Teams with schools, teachers, administrators, students and classrooms all over the world – India, China, El Salvador, the UK, Surrey BC. I realized that everyone all over the world, in all different classes, levels, and subjects – from Kindergarten to higher education – everyone is dealing with same challenges in terms of remote and hybrid delivery.
The possibilities for Minecraft in education also became really clear to me. I’ll be doing some applied research on using it in curriculum, not for e-sports necessarily, but for teaching project management skills and other subjects that are hard to simulate. Minecraft can be used to create a world where students can build things and do projects, independent of any programming language. Students can then focus on outcomes rather than the technical language.
Check out BCIT Computing’s range of teaching opportunities
I like the idea of giving the students a vague goal, like ‘build me a project that’s fun.’ It’s a low risk, realistic opportunity to practice abstract concepts that might otherwise be hard to assimilate.
In my classes, I try to get the idea across that industry problems are usually unstructured. Often you don’t know even know what the project is about when you start. It’s rarely like the clearly defined projects you might normally get in post-secondary, where an instructor gives you goals and technology parameters, where success criteria are clear and driven by the need for achieving course learning outcomes and formal assessment. My goal is always to help our students learn that their manager in industry isn’t going to approach problems like that. It’s more like ‘solve this problem that’s very open-ended and hard to clarify.
In my classes, I try to get the idea across that industry problems are usually unstructured. It’s more like ‘solve this problem that’s very open-ended and hard to clarify.
Q: Any other things that struck you during your year away?
While ‘hard’ or technical skills are necessary in technical roles, students and industry professionals need more for building a career. Yes, industry is looking for specific technical skills. But when hiring, they’re looking for more. And to gain opportunities to move up: problem solving, team collaboration, being proactive, documentation, taking responsibility, these are huge skills for software and IT staff. They distinguish people. Industry is looking for the positive attitude, someone who communicates with enthusiasm and is an enabler on teams.
As well, good work unfortunately often doesn’t speak for itself. You need to communicate it, explain it, and be able to help show how it connects to goals, solves problems, and adds value for it to impact your place in an organization.
It’s an exciting time to be in tech!