Over the next few weeks, we’ll be updating you on some UIT Startup Immersion alumni: what are they doing and where are they going?

George Johnston, a graduate of the second cohort of UIT, is quickly coming into his own in the tech industry and was sought out by several organizations to take a developer position even before he graduated from the program! He found that Ubique Networks was the best fit for his long term goals and has found a home there working with HTML, CSS, Angular and14800988_10205869442214920_1333408001_n Node.js.

George has been interested in a career in coding since high school and he was the very first person to approach us about becoming a student… he wanted to start right away but he needed to finish high school first! He knew we would be the perfect fit for him. George is a super smart guy and certainly had his choice of schools to attend but he knew the quickest path to jump starting his career was attending UIT!

The ideals that keep him coming back to coding are “never give up” and “you are never alone” in coding. There’s always an answer to your question and there is always someone to help you find that answer. He recounts for us, a 14 hour stretch of coding that left him feeling pretty fuzzy but he knew that if he kept at it and kept asking the right questions, he would solve the problem!

George is a self-proclaimed ukulele aficionado, is a dedicated tea lover- if you know George, you know he’s all about the tea! And he admits to having a collection of Magic the Gathering cards that are worth more than the rest of his worldly possessions.

He spoke to us about the continued issue surrounding the inequality between the number of men vs. the number of women in the tech industry. George strongly believes that this is an industry for anyone willing to put the work in and be the best they can be. He’s a huge fan of Ladies Learning Code and the work they are trying to do to break down the barriers women face in  trying to learn technology or enter the tech sector. George is also a proponent for teaching our kids to code: he spent the summer working for Codingcamp.ca where he taught a room full of kids aged 7-10 how to build mods and servers in Minecraft.

George enjoys playing video games – who doesn’t love video games! And he continues to teach himself graphic design in his spare time so that he can keep building on his skill set. He can be found working his computer into overdrive at work, hanging out in downtown Sydney sharing his ukulele skills with the public, or sipping a tea with a friend.

If you see George, say hello! He’s a pretty great guy!

Allyson White is a woman who knows what she wants and has always known there is a place for her in the tech industry. She was in tech before tech was even a conversation piece and a trending industry in Cape Breton. In part three of our Women in Tech feature, we sat down with Allyson to talk about her interests, her accomplishments and her goals in the hustle and bustle industries of technology and entrepreneurship!

14483922_10157474303500576_1469280368_nA 2nd year graduate of UIT Startup Immersion, Allyson currently works for Ubique Networks in Sydney, Nova Scotia and she is building two startup companies. Not one… but two! This woman is busy! She knew she could make her home in Cape Breton because of the opportunities a coding education could provide her, and her tech businesses will allow her to work with clients all over the world.

Hailing from Scotchtown, her heart is in Cape Breton first but she dreams of a wanderlust life on the road, coding and helping others fix their tech-related problems while seeing the beautiful sites the world has to offer. We asked her what she would do if we gave her $10,000 right now – she’d hit the road. She knows that inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes and a life spent seeing the world is sure to inspire!

When asked about the lack of women in the tech industry, Allyson wanted to take a moment to remind the women in our community that this industry is only limited by your imagination. And if you are not a creative person, you can learn to be: the culture and atmosphere of tech companies alone is worth getting into the industry for. Allyson is a huge advocate for corporate culture and has experienced the decline of culture first hand and started her own companies to help curb some of that negativity in the workplace and be a part of the movement to build better businesses.

A self starter, Allyson taught herself to use Ionic and coded for about 18 hours during a hackathon where she took a 2nd place prize with another student of UIT, Rachael MacKeigan and they split over $700 in prize money. She also placed 2nd at the Sea++ competition in the spring taking home $2000 in prize money and was awarded the Cape Breton Island Futures Fund bringing home $10,000 in seed money to launch her garbage recycling app company.

Here’s some fun facts about Allyson: she describes herself as smart, outdoorsy, fun and squirrely! She loves hiking and camping and could spend every moment of her summer in a pool. Her future goals are to continue to grow her companies, start a travel blog detailing her wanderer tech life and help women break into the tech sector. She champions the UIT program and encourages others to pursue their passions, whatever they may be.

If you meet Allyson on your travels, invite her for a slice of pizza and Pepsi and ask her to tell you about the time she hiked for 10 hours into the woods to camp and sleep near wild horses.

Sometimes a problem is just a business waiting to happen. And Nova Scotia has its share of problems. The irony, however, is that one of our problems is we have the lowest per-capita number of businesses compared with the rest of Canada; and in Cape Breton it’s even lower.

We need more people who, when they see a problem, switch into problem-solving mode. In other words, entrepreneurs! (As well as so-called intrapreneurs in government, higher ed, and corporations.)

The problem with solving your own problem

But which problems get solved for depends to some extent on who is doing the solving. That’s because entrepreneurs often set out to solve their own problems.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. After all, who’s more motivated to relieve a pain than someone who acutely feels it themselves? (Call it the startup equivalent of “write what you know”.) But if we’re going to address the problems facing our region, the country, and the world, we need to ensure that the people doing entrepreneurship/intrapreneurship are representative of the population.

This requires dramatically increasing the participation of women in the tech sector.

Wage ‘Gap’ or Injustice?

How do we do this when, on average, women make roughly 75 cents for every dollar that men make to do the same job? Hardly a wage ‘gap’; more like wage chasm. Regardless of the metaphor, it sends a clear message that society values women’s work less. No wonder women are so underrepresented in the sector. Younger women as a result don’t see themselves reflected in relevant role models… and there you have a vicious circle.

The reasons for the disparity are myriad and systemic. (I haven’t even mentioned child-care and family-caregiver issues!) Correcting them requires strategic collaboration between women and men at all levels of government and across all sectors of society.

In the meantime…

UIT is committed to improving access to technology and entrepreneurship education. And we’re equally committed to increasing the visibility and influence of women in technology. So what are we doing, in our small part, to address the situation?

  1. Thanks to people like Annette Verschuren and companies like Protocase and MentorCamp (in addition to other industry partners) we are able to offer assistance to students with financial need and in particular through our ‘Women In Tech Bursary’.
  2. We reserve half of our seats for women: in both our launch year (2014-2015) and second year (2015-2016) our student cohorts were made up of 50 per cent women.
  3. We sponsor the Sydney chapter of Ladies Learning Code and volunteer as instructors and mentors for their workshops.
  4. We ensure that our female and male students are seen and heard equally during public presentations (participation on panels, public demos, etc) and through media coverage.
  5. And we strive for parity in our network of visitors, mentors, and advisors. (It’s somewhat ironic that these, and other, women leaders are not difficult to find. And yet women’s participation in tech and entrepreneurship is nonetheless lower and less visible than it needs to be.)

Because of our commitment to increasing the number of women employed in Nova Scotia’s ICT sector, this past June we were awarded the first inaugural Diversity Champion Award from Digital Nova Scotia.

This award celebrates and highlights the efforts of a company or organization who goes above and beyond to recognize the need for greater gender diversity in our male-dominated sector, such as developing metrics and/or a specific target to promote and retain more women in technology or technology-related positions.

And yet…

And yet… this year our cohort is all men! Why?? Other than having far, far fewer women applicants than in previous years, we don’t know the answer.

But we’re asking the question, as publicly as possible, including at the recent panel discussion on Women in Tech hosted by Navigate Startup House and featuring Annette Verschuren, Val Fox, Kim Deveaux, and myself.

We’re accepting applications for 2016/2017. Have an idea to recruit more women into UIT? Or the tech sector in general? Leave a comment below!

It seems like since the moment PowerPoint hit the scene, people have been working hard to find alternatives to using it. The idea of showing slides with tons of text to people seems so blah in today’s technologically advanced world!

Trends have come and gone in the presentation world and a particularly popular trend is to use keywords or source words to draw attention to a topic, but the speaker remains the main focus of the presentation. You’ve seen this popular trend in almost every single TED Talk. It’s effective, for sure. But we are an increasingly distracted population and sometimes it seems like we need more sparkle in our lives, especially in our presentations.

Enter the sparkle! Here are three popular alternatives to using PowerPoint:

MySimpleShow is a super fun – and FREE –  and easy to use online tool that helps presenters create engaging video – with voiceover! – to capture the attention of their audiences. It has video tutorials that show you exactly how to use their software and everything can be saved and retrieved from the website, or downloaded to your computer. There are lots of paid features, but if you are in a pinch and just can’t handle the thought of combing through PowerPoint themes anymore, give this a try!


Use MySimpleShow when you want to introduce a solution to a problem in a simple way that illustrates a solution.

Prezi has been in the game for a little longer but they offer a great alternative to the idea that every story is linear…life is not boring: your presentation shouldn’t be boring either. Prezi appeals to the movers and shakers in us because of its dynamic nature. Prezi reads more like an adventure, rather than a road trip with a starting and ending point. It’s an affordable option for software that is always changing and highly recognized in the industry. Plans start at $13 a month for students and individuals.


Use Prezi when you have multiple players to consider in a pitch: great for companies that have a two-sided market and need to quickly and easily show the connections between them.

For the Mac lovers in the group, you can download the Keynote presentation product for about $30 bucks. If MySimpleShow is your video alternative, and Prezi your non-linear alternative, then Keynote is probably the closest thing to PowerPoint without actually being PowerPoint. As with many other Mac apps, the features are superior to the Microsoft product and offers real time editing for collaborative presentations.


Use Keynote if you’re on Team Apple, want to pay a one-time fee for a professional product, and want to be able to collaborate with your remote team members.

The importance of having a perfectly timed, executed and relevant pitch or presentation cannot be stressed enough. That’s the focus on the upcoming Demo Camp in Halifax next week – getting real feedback about real presentations, without the presentations. More and more the speaker is the focus, so learning to lean less on your presentation software is not a bad idea. But keeping these bad boys tucked in your back pocket can help you round out your presentation in a way that won’t leave your audience saying, “oh no, not another PowerPoint!!”


We had a great first week at UIT and the students couldn’t agree more! We asked them to write a blog about the first few days at UIT and we were impressed with the level of honesty and insight the students had about their experiences thus far.

technology-blogsThere were some common themes of course: nervousness, wondering what to expect, wondering if they had made the right decision. But everyone had a unique perspective of what nervousness looked like, what kinds of things they expected and why their decisions were so important to them.writing-on-the-macbook

Ben MacNeil wrote about his decision to move back to Cape Breton after attending the Computer Science program at Dalhousie. He offered some great insight into how he actually came to his decision to return to his roots and foster a career path here. Riley Boudreau contemplated his decision to attend UIT over another institution and he is excited by his decision so far.

Andrew MacDonald used his blogging time to reflect on how in just the first week he has already learned enough to go back and rethink some of his previous projects and he has opened his eyes to see things from a different perspective. David Hachey made a big move to come to Cape Breton and study at UIT and we admire his ambition to go after what he wants. He talks about the struggle to find his place in tech and how it all seems surreal.projectwrite

Bobby Gregan moved from the other side of Nova Scotia to attend UIT and we’re thrilled he has come all this way. He writes about the way the staff and environment helped me settle into classes and we’re so glad he feels comfortable so he can start working toward his goals. Spencer Gouthro has been on our radar for some time. He’s been chatting with staff about this program for the last two years — we had to wait for him to graduate high school so he could attend! He’s so excited to be here. He writes about his experiences leading up to his first week at UIT and what he hopes to accomplish!

James Roberts shares an interesting story about his experiences in technology and opens up about being a seasoned worker in an up and coming industry. He shares insight about the importance of building an open and welcoming environment for all, at work and at school.

Johnathon Currie hits the ground running with a blog about the problem with game tutorials. Gaming is close to his heart and he sees opportunity in how to make gaming sites more accessible to new users. Freddie Willett writes about his goals of continuing his french language learning while he transitions into the next phase of his life from high school and comments on his excitement about what is to come for him and what he wants to work on personally and professionally. And last but not least, Hossam ElGebeily writes about making the move from the Middle East to Cape Breton and realizing this program is much more than he ever imagined! He’s excited by the prospects of his new home and what he’ll learn at UIT.


Stay tuned for more student blogs next week!

I can’t stress how excited I was to join to team here at UIT. I’ve been an advocate for this organization for as long as I’ve known about them. Our goals line up beautifully. But I really wasn’t sure about the job title. Student success coach?

Student Success Coach seems like something you’d say in a sentence that also included the terms “synergy” and “go-forward”. I’m not saying there aren’t times when you can go-forward synergistically in order to achieve success, but my understanding of UIT was that they tried to avoid some of the fluffier elements of modern corporate culture. Startups are lean and efficient. Corporate buzz-words are not.

I wanted to be a teacher. Hell… UIT is contracted out by Cape Breton University. Could I be faculty? By gum, I’m wearing a tweed vest as I write this. That makes sense!

And that got me to thinking about my friends who are teachers or faculty at a university and the paths they’ve travelled in order to get to that point. Those paths are totally different from my own. I realized that it would be unfair of me, and disrespectful to those professionals, to try and usurp a job title that required specific types of effort, education, qualifications and experience that I don’t have. It would also be disingenuous of me to present myself in such a way, especially given that UIT is about providing a non-traditional style of education.

So what qualifications and experience do I have? What type of effort has gotten me to this point. Most recently I’ve been a programmer. I’ve written delightfully complex code for industry leading clients as part of some of the greatest tech companies I’ve ever personally encountered. Before that I was in hospitality and tourism management, and I did it at some of the largest and most prestigious hotels in eastern Canada. And throughout my whole career I’ve prided myself on providing exemplary customer service.

I’m a programmer, and a manager, and a customer service specialist. I’m not a teacher.

Eric Lortie: Not a teacher

Eric Lortie: Not a teacher

When I stopped trying to think of myself as a teacher it became clear that student success coach was the ideal job title for what I’m doing.  They’re students here at UIT but they’re MY clients. As with all university students, they’ve opted to pay my employer a sum of money in order for me to do my job, a fact for which I am incredibly grateful. Furthermore, we pride ourselves on the number of bursaries available to our students, but this cost deferred from the students makes it even more important that I do my best. I have my job because students have paid their tuition and in some cases community members have provided them with bursaries.

My job isn’t to teach them. I’m not a teacher. My job is to help them achieve success. I’m a student success coach. Teaching is certainly a big part of it but there’s so much more to what I’m doing for them… and success is such a broad term. Some of them want to start a startup. Some of them want to go out and become employees of existing startups. I can help with both of those, and my experience leaves me much better suited for it than someone who has the type of experience that would leave them well suited to teaching a specific subject in a classroom.

In order for them to find success, I’ll help them learn cutting edge technical skills. I’ll help them understand what they should be looking for when it comes to finding employees, co-founders or co-workers. I’ll help them understand what sort of work environment they should be striving to create at their startups or what type of work environment they should be looking to join. I’ll ensure that when they graduate in 10 months they have the best possible community available to help support them as they head out to the next stage of their careers.

My personal goal is to have a meaningful, long-term and positive impact on Cape Breton. By helping students at UIT find success, I’m able to amplify my efforts tremendously. We have such an amazing group of students right now. We haven’t even finished the first week and I’m already full of excitement to see how the year ends.

Their success will astound you.


Welcome Class of 2017!

We were thrilled to launch the third cohort of Startuimg_5029p Immersion on Monday, September 12th with 10 incredible candidates! This is going to be a great year! Our first day was filled to the brim with introductions, information and industry updates!

Our day began with our Executive Director, Mike Targett addressing the group and encouraging everyone to relax and enjoy. We asked everyone to introduce themselves and admit to one embarrassing story to help break the ice… don’t worry, we’re not going to share those stories!  Everyone was a good sport and offered up a funny anecdote about their lives to help us get to know them.

A great features of our program is that all of our students get to use a MacBook Air for the length of the program. We handed out laptops and got everyone acquainted with how their new laptops work and our Student Success Coaches, Eric and Rob, walked everyone through introductions to some industry software. Plus we watched a super video about what’s hot and what’s not in the tech industry… all this before lunch!

Enter lunch: alllll the pizza. Nuff said.

The new students spent the afternoon walking through the features of Slack – a must for any tech company – and we got to talking about internet bots, which turned into a conversation about the Turing Test! Ha!

Day one was awesome. The first of many awesome days!

Good luck to the class of 2017!