Canadian Technology Careers
|This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P.,
has an exclusive interview with David O’Leary, past
President of the Association for Co-operative
Education for BC/Yukon, current chair of
co-operative education, and Prior Learning
Assessment coordinator for a BC-based College. A
CIPS member, David has achieved several lifetimes of
successes, regionally, nationally and
internationally, in his long career and his many
insights are valuable to all IT professionals.
Q: David, thank you for agreeing to this interview,
and I hope you don’t mind if I refer to you as Dave
in this interview?
A: It is my pleasure Steve and though I have been
called many other things, Dave is still my
preference. CIPS continues to make a great
contribution to the Canadian and world IT
communities and is one organization that values the
involvement of students, our future IT leaders.
Q: Dave, can you describe your prominent career and
the 10 key decisions that you made to reach your
current position? What 10 tips can you provide to
others that helped you in your path to success? What
would you do different looking back in hindsight?
A: Well Steve I have been very lucky in my career
and I subscribe to the idea that really good luck
happens, as Vince Lombardi said, “When preparation
meets opportunity.” While I have made some key
decisions, I would certainly say that all of my luck
came from ensuring I was as prepared as possible all
of the time. Now for my top 10 decisions:
- Early in my career I had a negative
experience with a Faculty member at my
university. I responded by making a decision to
do a better job in the same field as that
person. That got me on a path.
- I volunteered all the way through my
university career and continue to do so today.
That was one of my most important decisions and
one that I still live today.
- I decided that I would never let the fact
that I did not know something or had never done
something stop me from attempting it. As a
result I have had wonderful “jobs” acting,
writing, teaching dance, playing music, and
sports-casting on television to name a few.
- I decided to leave my home province of
Newfoundland and go where opportunity beckoned.
This is a common decision for Newfoundlanders
and it certainly worked for me.
- When I finished University I went to work in
a small First Nations community in Northern
Alberta. It was here that I realized that the
most important decision I had made in
preparation for success was in helping my dad as
fishing and hunting guide when I was a young
fella. It enabled me to fit in and relate to the
- In my mid-career times, an important
decision was to undertake further studies and
complete my Masters Degree. This was a tough
decision but it introduced me to the West Coast
of Canada and that resulted in many
opportunities down the road.
- In 1991 I made the most important decision
of my life. I resigned a senior position in
Alberta to take a more junior position in
British Columbia. I did this as my children were
now living there with their mother. It was the
best decision I ever made and since that time my
career and life have been on a constant upward
path. It is interesting to note here that many
friends encouraged me not to make this decision
and leave Alberta. Just goes to show that you
have to trust your instincts.
- Once in BC I realized that I would be
playing career catch up. I made a conscious
decision to take on any projects that came my
way. As a result I put in a lot of extra time
but was able to advance through the
post-secondary system to where I am today.
- A key turning point for me was finally
admitting my keen interest in technology and
acting on it. In the past four years I have been
a constant student of technology. The results
have been positive and many including the
incorporation of my own company in 2000.
- What? Am I at number 10 already? Gee Steve
it is interesting in reflection how many
decisions we do make and how they interrelate.
For number 10 I would say that in this stage of
my career I have decided to take on an
identifiable leadership role at the Provincial,
National and International levels.
Q: You have a most impressive background in
cooperative education, both from a regional and
national perspective. Can you talk about the state
of cooperative education in this country?
A: Cooperative education is an incredible
educational activity that benefits the student, the
institution and the employer. Since it started in
Canada in the 1950s Cooperative Education has
contributed to the growth of students and to
Canada’s economy. Through my involvement with the
Canadian Association for Cooperative Education
(CAFCE) and my own research, I recently completed a
national survey of Cooperative Education
Accreditation. I have developed a good understanding
of where Co-op currently stands. What I have found
is that despite the economic negativity of our
current time, Cooperative Education continues to
grow in Canada. There are areas where the cost of
Co-op is resulting in a reduction of this service to
students and the community but Co-op enjoys a
general state of good health cross the country. If
any of your readers would like to get more detail I
recommend a visit to the CAFCE website at
Q: How about education in general? Where do you see
A: What an exciting time to be involved with
education. I know that the news is filled with
stories about strikes, and legislated contracts etc.
but when you talk to students you find that they are
more committed than ever to the value of education
to their own career success. I think the greatest
change we will see in the next five years will be in
the relationship between the traditional public
sector educational institutions and the private
sector. Our current reality is resulting in a
blurring of the boundary between the two and
students are exhibiting more of a consumer behaviour
in selecting education products. Watch for more
cooperative ventures between the traditional schools
and specialty private training and educational
Q: What advice would you give to people who are
considering going back to school?
A: When I went back to school to do my Masters, I
was almost overwhelmed by a feeling that I was not
smart enough to do it. That really surprised me
since I had won scholarships and generally excelled
in education in the past. When you do go back to
school be prepared for this kind of reaction and
quickly move past it. Mature students have the
highest success rate of any students. Make sure that
you recognize all of the strengths you bring with
you. Set realistic expectations for yourself and use
all of the support systems that your school has to
offer. Also if you have a family, make sure you keep
time for them. I am a real believer in lifelong
education and my best advice I would give is to
continuously study even when you have a full time
job. Too many times I have met people who came back
to school after twenty years away because they had
lost a job. This is very stressful and challenging.
If you take two courses a year, every year you will
be in a position to be “prepared when opportunity
comes your way – to be lucky!”
Q: With your extensive IT background, what are the
ten biggest traps or pitfalls to avoid in the IT
- Being afraid! That is number one. Always
believe you can do anything and work hard to do
- Ceasing study once you get your
diploma--this industry is on constant change and
will continue so for our lifetimes. Keep
- Underestimating your potential – this is
slightly different from number one. I know a
number of companies who could be much more than
they are if they believed they could.
- Thinking that technology is the answer is a
huge trap! IT like all business is about people.
- Apologizing for yourself is a common human
behaviour in our culture of humility. In this
industry, with so much newness, customers need
to have complete confidence in you if they are
to purchase your service or product. Never
apologize for your shortcomings.
- Looking inward too much. It is imperative to
maintain a strategic planning focus in any
organization and absolutely critical in the high
paced environment of IT. SWOT analysis should be
a regular activity.
- Not sharing your knowledge. Share what you
have and what you know. Not everything has to be
- Isolation is a big trap. We get so busy we
stop involving ourselves in activities such as
CIPS and other socio-professional organizations
- Thinking that you have to sit in a classroom
to learn. There are so many opportunities to
learn new things. You will be amazed what you
can learn between 5 and 7 AM four mornings a
week just using the internet.
- Forgetting the rest of your life is probably
the biggest trap. Balance is critical in all
things and you will perform best when you have
Q: Is there anything upcoming, perhaps something
that you are involved in, that we should be looking
A: I have developed a huge interest in Microsoft’s
.NET initiative particularly how it benefits
businesses that adopt it. To that end I will be
doing a web broadcast on the Business Case for .NET
in cooperation with Smartforce, the world’s largest
e-learning company on July 30, 2002. This is all
part of a decision I made in 2000 to start my own
company. I guess you could say I am very lucky.
Q: I can see that you’re an active professional and
that your work occupies much of your time. How do
A: I have an interest in music and in Canadian
Literature. I play and read to relax. It also helps
to have a loving wife and two very active teenage
boys. They keep me from working all of the time. But
really Steve, I love my work so much that I find it
relaxing in and of itself.
Q: What are your immediate goals within the next six
months and within two years? How do you measure that
you have been successful?
A: I set goals, write them down, then check back
with them. Within the next six months, I will do my
first webcast, purchase a new home, read three more
Canadian literary works, and prepare to teach in a
new area of business analysis. Two years from now I
will be fully involved in my company firmly
positioned as the World’s leading .NET consulting
Q: Businesses are seeing many technologies in their
strategic paths? What advise would you give to
businesses as they plan their own evolution in the
next five years? Do you have specific technologies
and processes they should watch out for and
A: Well I am pretty well an evangelist when it comes
to Microsoft .NET. This framework is so transforming
that every single business must, at the very least,
look at it. It is so efficient and effective. It
does more for less money in a reduced development
Q: If you were doing the interview, what two
interview questions would you ask of someone in your
position and then what would be your answers?
Question 1: So Dave what do you think makes for
A: Well Dave that is a good question… I believe that
a leader is best positioned behind those that she or
he leads. It is most often a quite position of
encouragement; pushing those around you to their
greatest heights. The paradox of this though is that
it requires of this same quiet person the ability
and courage to step out in front when there is a
need for a champion.
Question 2: Thank you Dave. For my second question
how can you be sure to do the right things all the
way through your career and your life.
A: I am so glad you asked me this Dave. Once a year
I read a book called “Mans’ Search for Meaning” by
Vicktor Frankl. In it he addresses our need to find
meaning in our lives. Through his wisdom I measure
each decision I make from the viewpoint of being in
my latter years of life. I know that may sound
unusual but it works for me. Will I be proud of this
decision when I am living quietly as an elder
spokesperson? If I can say yes then I do it.
Q: It’s a blank slate, what added comments would you
like to give?
Well Steve this interview has certainly made me
think. I would just like to encourage every student
out there to go forward with no fear. You can
achieve just about anything you set out for. Also
never let failure stop you. If anything failure is
often the greatest opportunity. I know that is true
for me and I can list many others who would agree.
In closing I would thank you and CIPS, not only for
this interview but for the unqualified and ongoing
support both have shown for Cooperative education
and students in BC and Canada.