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Growing a Technical Career with Soft Skills


I want to tell a story about how my soft skills and the right job fit landed me in an entirely unrelated (and awesome!) field from where I began.

I studied Mathematical Physics at the University of Waterloo and took part in the co-op program. While I studied, I had my sights set on becoming a teacher because I had always been passionate about learning. For my third co-op term I applied to be a “Product Support Analyst” at D2L. Though this role (answering support calls) was largely unrelated to physics, I appreciated that it allowed me to stay relevant in the education sector.

The Product Support Analyst role positioned me to learn about D2L’s products and to talk with clients about their needs, wants, and pet-peeves. It also allowed me to make connections internally as I collaborated with other teams to solve issues.

When I took on the co-op job, I had no idea that I would go on to have four more co-op terms and a summer contract at D2L — and I certainly didn’t know it was here I would land my first full-time job out of teacher’s college as a “Technical Support Analyst” (no longer front-line support, but backend database / web server support).

Now my title is “Test Developer.” In a typical week, I identify and fix performance issues in production, develop tests to make sure regressions don’t occur, and advocate on behalf of our clients whenever changes are made to our product. Here are some of the reason I am where I am today:

D2L’s Values and Culture

  1. Commitment to learning: learning isn’t just D2L’s industry, but a company-wide mindset that translates to excellent professional development opportunities, both formal and informal. For example, I’ve had the chance to attend our annual internal conference, as well as our annual client conference “Fusion.” This past year, I was able to attend QCon in New York City, and get certified as an AWS Solutions Architect – Associate.
  2. Pushing past boundaries: here, teams collaborate to solve problems. The “blame game” isn’t played—when there’s an issue, teams rarely push back out of fear of owning a mistake, rather they dive head-first and drive towards a resolution. This attitude helped me feel empowered to take on new problems and collaborate with teams to drive resolutions, while learning along the way.
  3. Recognition of soft-skills: When I transitioned from support to development, the hiring team knew that I didn’t yet have the technical skills necessary for the job, but they valued work ethic, client-centered approach, product knowledge, and the ability to learn, so much so that they were confident that I would be able to provide immediate value and be able to ramp up to the necessary technical proficiency. The importance of soft-skills resonates throughout the entire organization, including from our CEO John Baker.
  4. D2L’s formal culture: In addition to these great values, there are badminton and golf tournaments, board game nights, regular lunch-and-learn’s, PD sessions, annual internal conferences, etc. There are even office dogs—shout-out to Archie and Ripley on my team!

Soft skills and Self-Determination
In my first work term at D2L, I gained a general understanding and basic application of HTML. My journey has taken me from that limited knowledge, to knowing and applying various technical concepts like SQL Optimizations, AWS, PowerShell, C#, Selenium, and more.

But these technical skills were not key to my career. Durable soft skills are what allowed me to succeed in D2L’s learning-focused and boundaryless culture. Time management, prioritization, leadership, empathy, problem solving, critical thinking, and efficient self-teaching – these are all skills that began growing in university and have allowed me to flourish at D2L.

You get a lot from your education – make sure you highlight more than just your technical skills! And keep in mind that where you land in a company is most certainly not where you’ll stay forever, especially for those committed to their development. For example, I’ve recently learned that Site Reliability Engineers exist in this industry. I certainly don’t have the knowledge required for that right now, but I have the skills to gain that knowledge!

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