Day 146 - Heather (1st person I approached)
May 26, 2014 - Heather was giving all the signs of heads-down and working mode. Headphones in, eyes down at her computer, hoodie up and tightly secured around her head. All the signs that make me want to chat. And she readily agreed.
Born in Maple Ridge, British Columbia (BC) Heather is the oldest of three kids.
“I’m an ‘A’ type personality, so yeah, I felt a responsibility towards my younger sister and brother. We’re a close family and get along well. My sister lives in Alaska working for the city she lives in, and my brother just moved to Victoria (Vancouver Island),” said Heather.
In high school, Heather and her best friend entered science fair competitions.
“It was just your standard school science fair thing. We did it two years in a row. We won for our school; we got to compete at the local mall. Then we got to compete in the regionals in Vancouver and made it through to the national level, which meant going to Ottawa. My father was into computers and I had been programming from an early age. We wrote a couple of programs. One was to interpret the emotion in music. Another one we wrote involved people playing a piece of music and the computer would come up with the ending, based on what had been played. It was very basic stuff,” said Heather.
“It was so much fun. We were surrounded by other kids interested in science and everyone was a geek and we had a good laugh. It was different than being in school in Maple Ridge, that’s for sure!”
Heather recalls her father bringing home a brochure from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston USA). It is one of the most renowned universities in the world.
“I knew from an early age I wanted to be a scientist. And I always knew I wanted to go to MIT. I applied to a few Universities in Canada, but only MIT in the States. As soon as I got accepted to MIT, I didn’t pursue any other applications,” she said.
“I remember my first night heading to Boston. I was so excited. I flew to Toronto and then for some reason took a bus to Boston. I got a cab from the bus to take me to the campus dorms. I asked the driver how much he thought the fare would be, and he replied 'How much do you have?' I was freaked out! Here I was in a new country, not knowing where I was, 18, alone and in a taxi with all my worldly belongings. Turns out he was just playing with me. He even helped me with my luggage and waited to make sure I got all my stuff inside before driving off. I loved university, and Boston. I loved it all!” At MIT Heather did a double program that saw her get her Bachelors and Masters degrees in just four and a half years.
“I studied Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. It was a combined program. It was a lot of work, but I loved it. My parents had encouraged me to go to MIT. I knew I would have to work hard. But it was such gift to be able to do that. I saw the results of my hard work. It instilled a confidence within me and about myself that I will have with me for the rest of my life. And I have credentials that will open doors for me as well. I’m very fortunate,” said Heather.
After graduating from MIT, Heather stayed in the US and worked for a number of technology companies. Her work took her from Silicon Valley, to Texas and then to Pittsburgh.
“In Pittsburgh, I met my husband, we got married and we have a daughter. I also went back to school and got my Doctorate,” said Heather.
“My husband is from Pittsburgh. He had wanted to travel, so after finishing my Doctorate, we decided that would be a good time to move to Vancouver. That if it was ever going to happen, the time was right.”
Heather and her husband have been living in Vancouver for four years now.
“Things have changed in the 20 years I was away. But we’re also living in downtown Vancouver so it’s a far cry from Maple Ridge, then or now!” she said. Heather has started her own company, co-founding it with a business partner.
“With all the papers and essays that scientists write, the methodology of getting them published hasn’t changed much. They have to be submitted and peer reviewed and then get published in a rather outdated manner in science journals. With Facebook, Twitter, all the blogs and online sites that a scientist’s work can now be referenced, they're not getting due recognition. Or the value of their work. We’ve developed a system that gathers all of an individuals essays and papers. All of the mentions of their work across numerous platforms and then we catalogue it digitally. In essence, a scientist can refer to our listing and everything is there. Everything, all mentions, articles and everything, will be in one concise listing.”
Heather is passionate when describing this process to me; her eyes are wide, her hands are gesturing and her smile is infectious. I mention what I see and Heather takes a deep breath and smiles,
”I do this because I love it. It’s my passion and it is so much fun! We just hired our first employee last month!” #notastranger