The departure of Canada’s student talent to places like Silicon Valley has been a hot-button topic for ages. Why are they leaving? What can Canada do about it?
On March 21, Communitech held After School, an event that connected students with opportunities to work in tech in Waterloo Region. As the second event of its kind, After School brought over 150 students together from across Ontario from universities including: McMaster University, the University of Guelph, Western University, the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, the University of Windsor, the University of Waterloo-Stratford Campus, and Conestoga College. Interesting fact: over one-third (33%) of the attendees were female.
"Think of @Communitech as mom + dad's house. It gives you everything you need to grow and succeed." – @AussieBerry pic.twitter.com/4zFtYA1WiG
— Karel Vuong (@karelvuong) March 21, 2016
The evening kicked off with tours of the Communitech Hub. The tour took students through Communitech’s partners’ concourse and the Velocity Garage to showcase the wide range of companies based in Waterloo Region. Many of the startups present at After School were originally formed when the founders were still students – most of whom attended UW. With a heavy emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, UW’s student talent has been key to growing the region’s innovation and startup ecosystem.
When asked why students were leaving for places like Silicon Valley, Holly Pearson, a Student Engagement Coordinator at Communitech and one of the organizers of the event, said “it’s not that they don’t necessarily want to be here, it’s that they don’t know about the opportunities here quite yet.”
Communitech has identified that the root of the problem is a lack of awareness. A lack of awareness in schools and campuses about the things happening in Canada’s tech ecosystems, the kinds of opportunities available, and ways to enter into the industry.
A common theme that arose throughout the evening was, that for many, working in tech was never the original plan. To discuss different career paths that resulted from this, Communitech put together a panel of former students currently working in tech jobs at TD and TD Innovation Labs.
Our @Write_girl interviews 3 @TD_canada associates talk about their career path. Thanks @tdlab pic.twitter.com/485wdehU3W
— Communitech (@Communitech) March 21, 2016
The panel was followed by a keynote from Ashutosh Syal, a former student and a fine example of someone who followed a unique career path by beginning his career as an auditor at Scotiabank and analyst at TD Securities. Now, Ashu is one of the co-founders of EyeCheck, a startup building the next generation of vision screening tools. Through an environment at UW that fostered exploration and entrepreneurship, Syal said he was exposed to the catalysts that set him on this career path in the tech industry that led him to where he is now.
It goes to show that it doesn’t matter where you start to find your way into the tech industry. All you need to do is to make yourself aware of the opportunities out there. Hint: there are tons of them in Waterloo Region and across Canada waiting for you.
Feature image courtesy Samantha Clark.