Mentorship … we need to do more of this

I was fortunate to be asked to participate as a mentor to a Computer Systems student in our Bachelor of Technology program this fall. This is a real honour and something that I value having the opportunity to do.

I graduated from BCIT in 1987 and the skills taught me by my instructors and my classmates set the tone for my career. Thanks to the BCIT Alumni Association and the BCIT Student Association for this opportunity.

Below is an interview I gave in the student newspaper, The Link:

Interview: BCIT Mentor Leo de Sousa

February 18, 2010 by thelinknewspaper

Leo de Sousa may have a background in IT Services, but his advice on life – and how to balance – it can translate to students in any field

Long days. Late nights. Extra hours. Group projects. Debt.

BCIT students have a, shall we say, unique experience. For many, it’s the toughest period of their lives. Following dreams and getting credential many times means going in the hole financially and giving up life as you know it to pursue studies. It’s a big step, a big risk; you name it.

One of the best things a student can do is to talk to someone who has already experienced the very same life. Learning to cope and making adjustments can be hard to think of, but what I’ve found helps the most is talking to someone who can shed some light on what they would have done differently as a student.

So, meet Leo de Sousa. He’s a Computer Systems grad of 1987, and went on to work various jobs including for the Lions Gate Hospital (which he was offered upon graduation) and the Forest Industry. He made his way back to BCIT in 1992, and has been working in the Information Technology Services department since. His current title is the Manager of the Business Application Services and Enterprise Architecture, which also means he is in a position to hire.

Our chat was very informative, and although I feel my choice of BCIT studies (broadcast journalism) is almost the polar opposite to CST, what de Sousa said really inspired me to get better at balancing life at BCIT.

How did your time as a BCIT student help you in your future endeavours?

BCIT makes you focused on the skills you need to be successful, especially in your first job. What we did – and I think it’s still true today – we worked in teams all the time. You really start to build not only hard working skills for yourself but team work skills. If you’re a letter carrier, delivering to people’s homes, maybe you’re not on a team. But pretty much everywhere else, especially for the jobs and the skills BCIT trains their graduates for; you’re always in a team environment. So it was perfect for that.

What about the people you work with? Are they BCIT grads?

You know what, it’s surprising – if you go through IT services, for example (that’s the department I know) – close to half of the staff are BCIT alumni. It’s kind of neat. I think there’s a lot of passion and care for this organization and people want to work here.

What was the workload like when you were a BCIT student?

(laughs) Horrendous. It was killer. We worked our butts off – I pulled all nighters, especially when it came down to certain courses which had a big term project that you really had to invest a lot of time in and make sure you got it right. You rely on your teammates and you learn to trust them and work well; and you learn that you can’t do everything yourself. And that is actually a really important skill for people – you can make yourself sick with just trying to do everything and then not doing any of them really well. Or you can focus on some things and trust others to do their part, and I think, for me, that was the biggest lesson in how hard they make you work here.

So does working so hard at BCIT worth it?

I think it’s a good thing, because the moment you start your career after you’ve got your credential from here – they never work you as hard. You’re so well prepared; you look like a shining star as a new employee, because you have that discipline and work ethic right off the bat. I’m now in a position to hire people, and I talk to other IT managers, and there’s something special about someone who comes out of a technical school who’s really done a lot of hard work, versus someone who’s book smart. I’m not saying book smart isn’t important because it is, but having somebody who can hit the ground and take on work right away is really important. Especially today when there’s so many cost-cutting measures, you want somebody – the quicker somebody can be productive, the better. And I think BCIT grads are productive quicker, because they’ve had this really hard workload for two years (if you think about the diploma program).

For students now, what do they need to know in order to put themselves above the rest?

If you’re going to choose a career, you’ve got to actually like it. I think that’s something I learned seeing other people who were unhappy in their jobs. Also, working on your communication skills is really, really important. If you can write reasonably – I’m not saying you need to be Shakespeare, but you need to be able to listen and communicate ideas.

What can you tell students to motivate them to get through their programs, even when it seems too hard to go on?

Today, it’s pretty hard to get anywhere in your career without some sort of credential. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve worked as hard in my life than I did in the two years I was at BCIT. But since then, there have been moments where you just put the pedal to the metal. And because you did it in a tight, 2-year window that BCIT puts you though, you’re ready. From a motivation point of view, I think there are some real clear studies about graduates who get post-secondary education. Their average income (I can’t quote you the exact numbers) – there’s a significant difference between a high school grad who goes out straight to work, versus somebody who gets some sort of post-secondary education. And that’s not even getting a credential – when you get a credential, you move up even more on a pay scale. They say money doesn’t buy you everything, but being comfortable in your life, being able to (if you choose to have a family) raise your kids and be comfortable – higher education and coming to a place like BCIT is essential.

And lastly, how do you find a balance between school and pleasure?

Working at BCIT – there’s a huge benefit that nobody points to but they really should: the availability of the fitness facilities. You’ve got a fantastic soccer field; there’s the Fit Pit where there’s all the equipment you could ever dream of, and all the classes they have – all the yoga, fitness classes, step classes, you name it; and then the big gym as well. So the opportunities to balance, or to give yourself a break in the middle of the day by going to exercise, is tremendous. Getting out and getting some fresh air and working up a little sweat is a great stress relief.

-Birdie Hamilton, Editor (Broadcast Journalism)