Careers: Interviews
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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 community.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 it heading?

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 businesses.

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 business?

  1. Being afraid! That is number one. Always believe you can do anything and work hard to do it
  2. Ceasing study once you get your diploma--this industry is on constant change and will continue so for our lifetimes. Keep upgrading
  3. 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.
  4. Thinking that technology is the answer is a huge trap! IT like all business is about people.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Not sharing your knowledge. Share what you have and what you know. Not everything has to be for money
  8. Isolation is a big trap. We get so busy we stop involving ourselves in activities such as CIPS and other socio-professional organizations and activities.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 it.

Q: Is there anything upcoming, perhaps something that you are involved in, that we should be looking for?

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 you relax?

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 firm.

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 implement?

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 window.

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 effective leadership

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.


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