Today we are with Ms. Nariman Mansour, the head and founder of Innovators in Technology, the Computer Science student association here at LaSalle College. We would like to hear from her what it is, but first let’s get to know her.
Could you tell us something about yourself? What is your background?
Thank you for deciding to do your first interview with me, even though my preference was not to, but I appreciate the mention and this opportunity. So, my background is, a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. My love for programming began in high school. I was the best in the class, I always got hundreds on my assignments! I used to be able to problem solve very fast. I fell in love with Computer Science and decided to pursue it in University. I started working in the industry as a Web Developer / Programmer Analyst. Later, I started my own company to find automated digital solutions for clients. Customers were individuals, as well as businesses. I was teaching, at the same time full-time. Then time advanced and I wanted to do my Master’s. I decided I wanted to be better, as a teacher, as well. So, I decided to pursue a Master’s in Education, the pedagogy of higher education, and this is where I am today.
Okay, you mentioned you set up your own company, but did you need to find a job before in Montreal or did you set up the company right away?
Yes, so I came to Montreal right after I graduated from University. I let down a job offer as a programmer. Here, I started working more in the business side of the world and I was designing pages for newspapers and for advertisements. Then went to becoming Head Administrator, and from there, I worked in web development . Then eventually after that, I got a job offer here [LaSalle College]. and started a career as a teacher.
Okay let’s talk more about your personal background. Are you married?
I am married and I have two children. Everybody knows because I’m always talking to my students about my kids, because I love my kids and I’m so proud of them.
How do you handle the combination of motherhood and being in IT?
I love what I do, and if there is something I don’t feel passionate about, I don’t do it. So, I’m passionate about my job as a teacher, [specifically] a teacher in IT, and I’m very passionate about being a mother. So, because I love these things and I cannot see myself doing one and not the other, I think when you love something, and it brings you happiness that you’re doing it, then you will always make sure that you dedicate time to all of it. I’m someone who—I only get motivated to do something because I love it. And if I stop loving something, I cannot continue with it anymore. I will definitely find something new to do or something new to add to it. For my job as a teacher, I constantly find challenges for myself, so my job is never a routine. I will always customize and change the content of my classes and update my knowledge. I will find new ways to help the students learn better. Because I’m working on myself, I’m learning therefore I’m growing as a human being and that makes me happy, so it will reflect eventually in everything I do in my life.
So, you just mentioned that you are constantly learning and updating yourself about all the knowledge that is out there. Are you still working on your Master’s?
Yes, I’m about to finish my Master’s, I’m writing my thesis for my research.
Could we please get to know a bit about your Master's topic and thesis?
My thesis is about female presence in IT. It’s something that had intrigued me for so long. Why isn’t there enough female presence in the world of Computer Science when the first programmers were females.
Yes, the first programmer was a woman! In Universities, when they started Computer Science as a program, there were a lot of female programmers, but then over time we started seeing a diminishing number of females in Computer Science and more in males. So, this is a very intriguing phenomenon, and I don’t see a reason why. I’m here, and I know there are lots of women who are capable, or girls who are capable. So, there must be something wrong; the message is not getting across properly, there is not enough support, or there are misconceptions. So I’m interested to know what we can do, what type of teaching/learning strategies we can apply so we can bring more onboard. And classes would be more fun. Females will bring a more diversified way of doing things, and we need that in our life. We need balance in life, right? We are not looking for dominance of males over females or females over males in IT. We just want to have diversity in the classroom.
Yes, that’s a very nice thing to have in every environment. So, what would you say are your biggest accomplishments so far, in general?
It’s my children. Being a mom is my most rewarding and best accomplishment that I can have. I think I have put my career advancement on hold in certain aspects, but because the time I want to have with them is more precious , I have chosen to put them first. So, because of that I would tell you it’s not my career, it’s not my Master's or (later on, perhaps) a PhD., they are the most important thing and that I’m proud of.
No argument there, I’m pretty sure family is way more rewarding. As for the association, what is the purpose of INT? Why was it born now and not earlier? What are the circumstances that brought it to life?
As a teacher for a very long time, and because I happen to be the stage [internship] supervisor, the students’ feedback is, “we don’t have enough hands-on in the industry, we wish we can work on real-life projects”. What they do in the classroom is as close as possible to real life case studies and scenarios, yet it’s not in the context or environment of the real world. So, it limits the criteria, it limits the possibilities. We wanted to put together an environment for the students where they can have contact with the industry, or where they have projects ideas, and say, “I just want the support and the resources to be able to see my project through so I can sell it or launch it or make it available to my community". And, through my Master's in Higher Education, I got to learn a lot about the hands-on project-based service learning approaches, that lots of Universities around the world have applied. I read a lot of research that was done in the area and I realized the feedback of those environments, how positive it was on the students’ learning experiences. So I said, why can’t we do that here? LaSalle College is big and we’ve got resources and we want to be number one. And if we want to be number one, then we need to create this environment for our students students because they’re success is ours. When the college found out about the idea, they were very excited and they provided us with the space, so what we were left with was to define our vision, which is really nice because we have that freedom. I have big dreams for INT. We are still at the beginning, thanks to the students who took a lot of their time and their efforts to put this together, to create it. They are and forever will be the founding fathers and mothers of INT. It is not really just me, because without them I cannot do all of this. Eventually, I want it to be the centre for the students, where if you come with an application idea to build, you are going to find, not only teachers in Computer Science, but teachers in business, teachers in other departments that are related to your project, resources from the industry that are going to help put your whole idea through that you feel you can make happen. But, we are taking baby steps. For now, the purpose for us is to help the students who need help to advance in their learning, to offer workshops, to do social activities, to connect with the industry, and we will grow as we have time and more opportunities.
The association sounds like a very valuable place for students to make a real impact. How can someone become part of the association as an active member?
Right now, because there were a group of students who had helped me put things together from the beginning, they formed a Council, which are the executive members. We are going to continue with this approach. There will always be students who are much more active than others, and then of course all the Computer Science students are welcome to become members because we need their input. The association is there for them, to help them, if they have questions, if they are having difficulties, if there are activities they would like us to organize for . We’re eventually going to have hackathons where we create puzzles and games, and all the students can participate. So, for the students who want to be members, there is really nothing to register for. They can always come knock on our door, which is on the 6th floor in Technoespace based on the of availability of the members who are there, or they can send us an email. There is a website that is being built, that is going to put a lot of that into perspective to explain about our objectives and goals, how to contact us, dates for our workshops, etc. That will probably make it easier to the public to know how to join. So, pretty much, there is no “joining process”. Anybody can be a member. They can sign up online for newsletters and notifications, but we live in a world of IT where you go visit our website 24 hours a day. You don’t need someone to invite you to do that.
Regarding the job market in Montreal, how difficult do you think it is to get a job in IT?
IT, in itself as a field, is a double-edged sword. There are many people in Computer Science, because it’s a field that is growing and there’s a big demand for people in Computer Science. So, you’re going to find lots of people, just because of that, they’re intrigued. Technology is everywhere. The goal should not be just to “finish” or to “graduate” in Computer Science, what’s important is to be skilled. It’s to excel and to exceed expectations. To find what it is in Computer Science that you can really be good at, and then you will have the opportunity to tackle the job market. But if you do the minimum, and you “graduate” in Computer Science, then you’re going to find it hard to enter that job market. Graduate with a good portfolio of projects. Learn and find out what it is that the job market needs. We know today Web is big in demand, mobile is in demand, gaming is in demand … we need to look for the types of technologies that are going to help us get those jobs. We need to create projects, because only when you create projects with that hands-on experience, that you are going learn. When they call you for an interview and they ask you, “What do you know? What have you done? How did you solve those problems? How do you face those challenges?”, only someone who has done something can answer those questions. Today in IT, they ask for the technical skills, but they also ask for the soft skills. You need to be a good team player, you need to have strong communications skills, you need to be very resourceful, you need to be able to find what you’re looking for fast enough, you need to count on the technology itself to help you. You need to graduate with a set of skills that are both soft and hard (technical) and then I am pretty sure if you are at that level, you will definitely find a job.
Yes, it is always good to walk the extra mile, right?
Yes, and my biggest advice to the students is, do not limit yourself to what you are learning in your classroom. You absolutely have to do more on your own. Always push the envelope, push the limit and try to learn and develop on your own, because this is where more learning happens, when it comes from internal motivation.
What have you seen is the success rate of LaSalle College graduates getting jobs in IT?
The majority of our students do get a stage[internship] or do get a job in IT. Like I said, students who do the minimum experience a lot of difficulties compared to others who work hard from the beginning. We have students who come with zero background in Computer Science, they’re knowledge is limited to just being an end-user; browsing, using word processing, etc. I’ve seen students who had started there and have found jobs at the end because they really pushed themselves to be the best they can be. We also have students who start the program and they’re not willing to go that “extra mile”. They are doing the minimum, they are not meeting the criteria for projects, they are handing things late, and all for the wrong excuses, for example, they say, “when it’s for a job it’ll be different”. If this is the mentality, you are not going to get the job. You have to do the work, and you have to do the extra work. You need to create projects that speak for you. You’re presenting yourself to employers through your projects. For those people, the success rate for them at the end of finding a job is high! But there is going to always be the students who, for them, there are other reasons why they’re doing the DEC. It could be a path to University, so they’re not actually interested in getting a job at the end. There are the students who, maybe they get into this and it’s the wrong field for them. So, there are a few reasons to why some students don’t get a stage[internship] or a job at the end, but for the majority of our students I can assure you, if the package of skills that we have discussed is there, they will have no hard time. Even if it might take them a little bit longer after they graduate to get a job, I would advice them to use that time to create more and more, and to learn more … and you will come to know it. You will know when you’re ready. When you go for an interview, when you have that level of confidence and you use the proper technical terminologies .
Okay, I think that would be all, thank you very much…
Thank you, Sergio, it’s always a pleasure dealing with you and working with you. Good luck to all of you!