A Triple Passion for Learning, Excellence, and Community Service
Like so many UBC Computer Science BCS graduates, Tristan Moss has a C.V. worth the envy of many far older than he: an undergraduate degree from the University of Victoria, a Bachelor of Computer Science from UBC, software development positions with Kodak, Microsoft, and iQmetrix, and an extensive portfolio of volunteer community service throughout the world. Despite these accomplishments, he is modest and self-effacing, and as an example points out that he was a mediocre student who initially had difficulties studying at UVic. Hanging out with his girlfriend (and now wife) Jodi helped him see how much he had to learn. “Every day Jodi would spend hours reviewing notes and reading texts. I didn’t understand. I thought 30 minutes was a lot of homework. I didn’t know that I didn’t know how to study.”
He learned quickly enough, though. Watching Jodi and then taking a university workshop in study skills, Tristan moved from being a “B and C student to getting A, A+ grades.” His latent love of learning began to pay off tangibly with the awarding of two NSERC undergraduate research awards, UVic’s Graham Brampton co-op scholarship and the Blue and Gold Circle Award, UVic’s highest undergrad award to recognize scholarship and community service.
As he grew and developed at university, Tristan increasingly understood what he liked and didn’t like. “Co-op exposed me to work in molecular biology, and showed me that it wasn’t the field in which I wanted to build a career.” Wanting a change, wanting to travel and find something new, and knowing that molecular biology wasn’t going to cut it for him in the future, Tristan took a year off after graduating from UVic. He and Jodi traveled to Gwangju, South Korea, where they taught English for a year. “We wanted to travel, and at the time, teaching English in Asia was a way to have someone pay you to do just that.” Teaching with Jodi six days a week in split shifts, with Sundays off for tooling around the countryside on a motorcycle, Tristan had some time to explore computers and to become connected with others via the computer. He began some small hobby projects in graphic design and photography, an ongoing hobby about which he was passionate. With time, though, he saw that these projects looked less and less like hobbies and more and more like the beginnings of a career, and when he learned of the BCS program from another Canadian student in South Korea, he saw a route into developing develop that career.
Tristan applied to the program while still in South Korea in the spring of 2004, was accepted, then jumped straight into the program that fall. In that entering class, Tristan found that most of the students weren’t “bridging,” where new computer science skills would help them in their original field, but rather were disillusioned with that field and looking to leave it completely. He found the mix of students in his class stimulating and he particularly enjoyed the way in which students could challenge each other’s world view. “Spending time with only your peer group can give you a distorted view of reality. You believe everyone thinks a thing is true, or everyone can or can’t afford certain things, because it’s true for your peer group. Students in BCS ranged in age from 20s to 50s and had diverse backgrounds: for example, English literature, biology, chemistry, or linguistics. The diversity in age, experience and education provided a mosaic of viewpoints.”
Having done co-op programs while at UVic, and deciding he’d rather move quickly through the program and into the workforce, Tristan opted not to undertake co-op as part of the BCS program, though he counseled another student who hadn’t yet experienced co-op to take advantage of the co-op program. “Today I do a fair amount of interviewing as part of my work at iQmetrix, and I’m definitely looking for someone who has an interesting project to talk about. Co-op experiences are great for exposing you to real world problems and for giving you a chance to do work you’re proud of.”
Following graduation from the BCS program, Tristan landed a job as a software developer for Kodak. There he worked on the user interface team developing Prinergy Evo, a software program that controls prepress production for companies that do four-colour print jobs. Evo is a customizable program that among other things controls preflighting (or up-front checking of numerous printable items in a document prior to its being sent to the printer), colour management (the process of insuring that the colour seen on the screen matches the output colour), and trapping (or insuring that no misregistration occurs between layers in the printing process). Tristan enjoyed working for Kodak because he was able to build his programming skills while working to develop a product that appealed to his aesthetic love of.
Microsoft then came knocking on his door, presenting Tristan with an exciting new work opportunity and challenging logistics as well, as Jodi was thriving in her job at the Vancouver office of accounting giant KPMG. Learning that the couple was considering leaving Vancouver, Jodi’s boss offered her the use of a condo in Vancouver so that she could continue in her position. “Jodi was happy and successful in her position, and the offer of the condo let us hedge; there was no guarantee that Microsoft would be a good fit, so quitting KPMG felt risky. For three years our home was in Seattle, and Jodi spent about two days a week working from the Vancouver office and the rest of the week in the Seattle office.” Tristan’s job at Microsoft continued to allow him to engage in his love of photography by working as a developer on Windows Live Photo Gallery, the photo management portion of the Windows Live Suite. Working extensively in C++, COM, ATL, he helped develop the user interface for the software. Tristan found this job particularly enjoyable because he was surrounded by like-minded colleagues passionate about photography and because the mentoring he received at Microsoft was excellent, allowing him to continue to hone his skills as a developer.
The lifestyle began to wear thin for the couple, though, as they knew they wanted to start a family and they were weary of Jodi’s weekly commute. Tristan knew he wanted to re-enter the Vancouver job market but knew that finding a job where software is the product would be difficult, as so many of those jobs are situated in the U.S. Networking through a contact of Jodi’s at KPMG, Tristan learned of Vancouver-based iQmetrix, where he was hired as Software Development Engineer in January 2011. iQmetrix designs software for the wireless industry, developing products that are used by retailers and customers alike. On the retail end, RQ4, an integrated retail management package, offers wireless retailers the ability to improve their employees’ profitability as salespeople, streamline transactions with customers, centralize data, and integrate with third-party vendors.
On the customer service side, iQmetrix offers XQ Interactive Retail, a package that uses in-store digital displays that give wireless customers a streamlined, visually appealing means of learning about and purchasing wireless devices and services. One of the firm’s successes in this area has been in setting up three SaskTel wireless stores in Saskatchewan. In the company’s flagship store in Regina, 18 touch-screen interactive terminals have been installed. Customers entering the store immediately begin to learn about SaskTel’s wireless offerings without having to engage a salesperson, resulting in less overall time spent per transaction. Customers report that they enjoy the paperless aspect of working with the interactive touch screens, while store managers report increases in walk-ins, customer satisfaction, and overall sales. The service furthermore offers a consistent marketing message across all stores in the province, irrespective of their location and sales force.
Because he seems possessed of an uncommon amount of energy, Tristan has been able to devote a large amount of time to community service even as he pursues an ambitious career. Close to home, he’s been involved with a visiting program at Vancouver General Hospital that matches volunteer visitors with inpatients who don’t have family or friends locally available to them. He also served as a wish planner for the Make a Wish Foundation, making the arrangements necessary for a young boy go on the shopping trip of a lifetime. Further afield, Tristan and Jodi have traveled extensively as volunteers through organizations such as the International Christian Medical Institute and the Blue Planet Network. The former organization works to educate Ugandan health care workers. In 2001, while they were UVic students, Tristan and Jodi lived and worked in Uganda, where Tristan helped train health care workers in the use of computers and Jodi taught administrative skills. Through the latter organization in 2010, they traveled to Guatemala where Tristan offered his photography skills. Via Catchlight, an organization that matches photographers and non-profit photography assignments committed to driving social change, Tristan and Jodi have also traveled to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Croatia and Slovenia.
Despite the fact that at the time of this interview Tristan was the happily exhausted father of a six-week-old son, he was able to reflect on the attributes of the BCS program, noting that it crucially provides a degree in a field “where lots of employers won’t take a second look if you don’t have a degree,” offering the nuts-and-bolts technical education necessary for gaining an entrée into the field. He feels that the program, though time-intensive, still allows a student the chance to develop individual interests that will stand out to an employer in the future, and he strongly advises current and prospective students to engage in projects of their own making outside of the classroom. “If you’re interested in the web, design a webpage or two. If you’re interested in gaming, work on developing a game. In the classroom you can and should focus on courses that make you code, because the theory won’t necessarily prepare you for a job after graduation. Take courses that make you code!”