Avril Lavigne’s Hometown

Tim Hortons' "Always Fresh" "Drive Thru" signs

While on the road, we sent out a tweet asking anyone who was near the route we were taking to Montreal if they’d like to catch up with us. We got a message back from our friend Todd Lamothe (who’ll be presenting at TechDays Ottawa next week), who works in Avril Lavigne’s hometown, Napanee, so we decided to catch up with him at the nearby Tim Hortons. What Canadian roadtrip doesn’t include a visit to this venerable Canadian institution?

My laptop on a table at Tim Hortons Checking the Twitter action with Seesmic while enjoying a chicken salad sandwich.

We’re taking the Ford Flex back to Toronto using the same route on Friday – Highway 401 westbound from Montreal to Toronto – so if you’re somewhere on the route and would like to join us for coffee, lunch, an accordion performance, whatever – let me know, either via email or the comments, and we’ll make arrangements!

Tim Hortons sign

The Sync has been terribly handy on the trip, functioning as phone dialer, GPS, entertainment system and ever-so-handy, rear-bumper-saving rear-view camera:

"Reverse" camera view from the Ford Flex's Sync monitor

My Alma Mater

A stone’s throw east of Napanee is Kingston, home to my alma mater, Crazy Go Nuts University (a.k.a. Queen’s University). After demonstrating Bing to a couple of students at the John Deutsch University Centre – guys from Science ‘12, who were surprised to see a guy in a Science ‘91 jacket – we made our way to Goodwin Hall, the home of the School of Computing.

I couldn’t visit without getting a shot of me beside the entrance to my former home-away-from home:

Me and my laptop, posing beside the sign at the entrance of Goodwin HallNote the Clark Hall Pub logo sketched in chalk, just right of me.
I probably spent as much time there as I did at Goodwin Hall.

When I graduated in 1994, the options for departing undergraduates were considerably more limited than they are today. Most of the jobs seemed to centre around banking or insurance. Wanting to do something that was equal parts techie and creative, I opted for something a little more creative and joined Mackerel, a multimedia company that made interactive apps for floppies and CD-ROM instead.

So when I entered Goodwin Hall and saw the poster below, I exclaimed “Why, oh why wasn’t this program available when I went here?”

"Computing and the Creative Arts": poster promoting course offered jointly by the School of Computing and various arts departments

We were there to make the first steps in getting both Microsoft and Yours Truly back in touch with the Queen’s School of Computing. A quick glance at the staff list turned out to be very surprising: a lot of the professors who taught me were still there!

This was an unplanned spontaneous thing: I made a mental notes of the professors I new and their office numbers and visited each one. It was pretty late in the afternoon and I was lucky to find two.

The first was Dr. Michael Levison, who ran the department in my final year at Crazy Go Nuts University, when I was president of the Departmental Student Council for Computer Science, whose role was to represent the students in meetings with the faculty. Dr. Levison was responsible for a number of important changes in the department’s direction and one of the department’s most trusted advisors. Of the many things I learned from him, I consider the two most important were:

  • That technology should work in the service of people, and not vice versa
  • The best teachers are great storytellers

Dr. Michael Levison and Joey deVillaDr. Michael Levison and me.

The other professor was Dr. Robin Dawes, who taught a number of courses that I took – I’m sure a good chunk of what I know about data structures is his doing – and who also dispensed some very good advice to me as both an individual student and as a student representative. Dr. Dawes has always been a favourite with the students thanks to his breezy lecturing style and his penchant for magic tricks, including the show-stopping “flaming wallet trick”.

Dr. Robin Dawes and Joey deVillaDr. Robin Dawes and me.

When I left their offices, I made sure to say “Thank you…for everything.” The lessons I learned from them about technology, its relation to people and the art of teaching technology have served me very well over the past fifteen years. I am forever in their debt.

I’d like to give back to the school that gave me so much (and yes, I send them a cheque every year already). I’d like to drop by next semester and talk to the students about my experiences as a programmer and tech evangelist, make myself available to them as an “industry resource” and reassure them that even a perma-student like myself can make good in the real world. I’d also love to grab a pint or two at good ol’ Clark Hall Pub.

I’m glad we drove to Montreal rather than flew – otherwise, I wouldn’t have had this chance to catch up with my profs!

[This article also appears in Global Nerdy.]