USCB’s Dr. Canada: Developing Computational Solutions to Help Solve ProblemsShelley Barratt
Brian Canada, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Computational Science at the University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB). He has a Ph.D. in Integrative Biosciences (Option in Bioinformatics & Genomics, Minor in Computational Science,) and a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, all from Penn State University.
What brought you to Beaufort?
USCB brought me to Beaufort County, to a job that was seemingly tailor-made for me, or at least someone with my background as a computational biologist with an entrepreneurial mindset and a strong interest in teaching. In late 2010, USCB was just getting started with their Computational Science bachelor's degree program, which was made possible through USCB's share of a $16 million National Science Foundation grant given to various academic institutions in South Carolina to augment its research infrastructure in the area of tissue engineering. In order to prepare for the possibility of jobs being created due to potential commercialization of this research, the grant required the state to develop a high-quality technology workforce, and that's where USCB came in–-they needed to hire faculty with computational biology expertise to help get this new Computational Science program off the ground.
As someone with combined interests in biology, engineering, and computing, and being that I was intrigued by the notion of an undergraduate program in Computational Science–-a program typically reserved for graduate students whose first degree was in a traditional science or engineering discipline–-I was motivated to apply for the USCB job. My PhD thesis co-advisors at Penn State were split as to the wisdom of such a decision; one had hoped that I'd do a postdoc and eventually find a faculty position at a "Research-1" institution, while the other was more encouraging and shared my curiosity about USCB and its new program. I'll admit I was taking a gamble–-USCB had only gone from a 2-year to 4-year school a few years earlier, and its Computational Science program was too new to have any reputation. But as I progressed through the interview process and learned more about the school, I realized that USCB was a very unusual, exciting, and supportive place to work. Plus, I think there's something in my personality that gravitates me towards taking up a new challenge, and so when I was offered the job, I instinctively accepted. Since joining USCB in January 2011, the job has indeed been challenging on many levels, but I can safely say this is the best job I've ever had, and I think this is probably the last job I'll ever have. As an added bonus, Beaufort County is a wonderful place to live. To bring it all home and answer your original question: after working at USCB for a while, I eventually moved from Bluffton to Beaufort, largely because I became enamored with the city's "small-quirky-historic" vibe, though it didn't hurt that my girlfriend lives here as well.
What is your first memory of computers?
When I was five or six years old I was already programming, first learning out of a book on my family's Texas Instruments home computer and later taking classes for enrichment on an Apple II. Among my grade school classmates I got a reputation as the "computer guy"–-I had a knack for it, but perhaps oddly, I didn't develop it further until much later in life.
Were you one of those kids that knew what you wanted to do?
In a roundabout way, maybe? I started out interested in computers, but I was a typical kid and goofed around a lot. My friends were all in band with me, and where I went to school, the band was your life. I had pretty good aptitudes in math and science, but I got the idea in my head that I was going to get a degree in music education and become a high school jazz band director. I was the classic underachiever, however, and my grades were just okay. My dad knew I was capable of much more, and having grown tired of my decidedly average academic performance, gave me an ultimatum. Just before my senior year of high school, he told me that unless I brought home straight A's for the first semester, I wouldn't be allowed to audition for jazz band in the spring. I was in line to be the student director of jazz band–-basically the musical equivalent of being captain of the football team, so this was a big deal. Knowing my dad was serious, I turned it around and somehow developed a work ethic, and found myself actually sitting down and doing my homework at home of all places, instead of scrambling to finish whatever I could during homeroom or lunch. My grades improved (imagine that!), and as a byproduct of that hard work, I gained an appreciation for science and math, and I no longer viewed them as dreadful, difficult subjects. Nevertheless, band was life, and despite my parents' hope that I'd be an engineer or scientist, I was determined to be a music teacher. So, I made a deal with my parents: they allowed me to audition for a music scholarship at Temple University if I at least applied to one school for engineering. The Penn State application, at least back in 1993, was ridiculously easy to complete–-two pages, no essay. Two weeks before my audition at Temple, I received the acceptance letter from PSU. I took it to my sax teacher who said, "Brian, you're a pretty good musician–-but you're not good enough to make a living at it. You'd better be an engineer." And that's what settled it–-I went to Penn State and majored in chemical engineering. The musician in me never really died, however; I lived vicariously through friends who were music education majors, and I found time to play in a couple of ensembles during my undergraduate years. That was enough to "scratch" my musical "itch," but engineering became my new life that left little time for self-discovery. Was I passionate about engineering? At times, yes–-maybe? But I can't deny that I was a little envious of my fellow "nerdy friends" who were doing cool things with computers. This was in 1995 or so, right around the time that the words "email," "internet," and "World Wide Web" were beginning to enter the public consciousness. The Web was new, exciting, and fresh–-a "wild west" of sorts, and chemical engineering was just the opposite: it was not unusual for me to solve a homework problem by looking up tables and charts in textbooks and handbooks that probably hadn't been updated much since the 1950s. I mean, it's not like there are any major innovations when it comes to "boiling oil."
Still, it's not like there was no use for computers in chemical engineering, but we just didn't do a whole lot of programming in school. Most of us just got really good at making spreadsheets. The one programming language course I took was in Fortran, which was as seemingly ancient as the discipline of chemical engineering itself. I didn't much care for Fortran as a language, but I was really excited to be programming again, for the first time in probably ten years. And it proved useful, as it's the language I ended up using in my first job at Exxon, where I helped develop dynamic simulations of chemistry and refinery processes. These simulations, for all practical purposes, were essentially "video games" that were used for training the operators who worked in the control rooms of Exxon's chemical plants and petroleum refineries. It was a good, fun job–-after all, it was combining my interests in engineering and computing. I probably could have been really happy making a career out of that job in particular, but Exxon has this thing where they want you to rotate into different assignments throughout the company every two years or so, and if you turn down an assignment, you weren't seen as a team player or upper management material. So, eventually, I was transferred to Exxon's refinery in southern California, where I served as the refinery's Energy Coordinator. On one hand, I was one of the liaisons between the process engineers and the refinery managers, which was a good position to be in if you were interested in moving up in the ranks. However, the job itself was dreadfully boring. Sure, I was making good money, and if I had been okay with just doing what I was told to do, I might very well have been fast-tracked for upper management. But that kind of work life just wasn't for me. Exxon was too slow, too conservative, too corporate, and it didn't provide me with the kind of challenge that I really needed. I needed more creative control over my work, and that's when I began to ponder leaving Exxon and getting a PhD.
What drew/inspired you to your current profession?
When I started down that slippery slope of fantasizing about leaving Exxon for graduate school, I knew that I wanted to do something scientifically relevant that involved computer science. This was right around 2002, when the first draft of the human genome had been published. The resulting urgent need to analyze all this genomic data ushered in this new field called "bioinformatics," which was the use of math, statistics, computing, and even a little engineering to help solve problems in genomics, molecular biology, as well as related disciplines in biomedicine. My initial thinking was to find a chemical engineering graduate program where there were faculty engaged in bioinformatics. I started at UCLA where the professor I wanted to work with was doing some interesting things, but when I took the graduate classes, it felt a little too much like I was doing chemical engineering all over again. I did, however, really enjoy this course I took called "Molecular Biotechnology for Engineers," which provided the crash course I needed in biochemistry, genomics, and molecular biology. I knew I wanted to do something in computational biology, but chemical engineering was the wrong context. Rather than submitting myself to six or more years of drudgery, I quit UCLA and rejoined industry, albeit only temporarily, so that I could make some money "on the side" while I allowed myself more time to really think about what I would do for my PhD. Eventually, I was drawn back to my alma mater, Penn State, which was starting a new interdisciplinary graduate program in bioinformatics that wasn't tied to any particular department. The program was structured to allow you to really explore what different faculty and students were doing across the entire university, and ultimately I found my home in a collaborative project involving the development of software to recognize patterns in high-resolution images of histological samples–-essentially images of microscopic views of tissues and organs that are used in the diagnosis of diseases, like cancer, but also for studying morphological aspects of growth and development. It was a fun and challenging way to combine my interests in biology, engineering, and computing. It also didn't hurt that the output of the work was inherently visual–-I didn't mention this before, but I'm also a bit of an artist, and I had actually spent several years freelancing as a graphic designer, and I got really good at Photoshop in the process. One of the main products of my research could actually be thought of as something akin to a highly specialized "Photoshop plugin" that would take a particular kind of biological image and divide it up into specific regions from which useful information could be extracted and potential conclusions drawn through what we now call "data mining," which is really just a sexier way of saying "applied statistical analysis."
What do you dream of doing?
This is what I would have done! Or, at least, it's one of many possible things I would have enjoyed doing. I think what I really like is solving problems where I get to use both sides of my brain–-something involving computers, math, and some aspect of science, but also something where the solution requires some sort of visual or similarly "right-brained" thinking.
What does a Ph.D. in Computational Science actually do and how does it differ from what others think you do?
Most people with my academic background find themselves in a research-focused career, and they are taking advantage of the latest advancements in high performance computing to make sense of the ever-growing volumes of data that result from advancements in molecular biology and genomic science. In fact, the field of bioinformatics is advancing so rapidly that if I were to leave my current job and embark on a more research-oriented career, I would probably have to undergo the equivalent of taking another one or two years' worth of graduate coursework just to acquire enough of a foundation of knowledge to make any significant impact. But at USCB, where teaching comes first, there's really not a whole lot of time to make the same kinds of advancements one typically expects at a much larger institution. Consequently, when I tell people I work at USCB, they usually respond not by asking "What's your research focus?" but rather "What do you teach?"–-which is fine. Teaching is what I like to do, and I'd like to think that I'm really good at it. I'm a teacher who happens to have a Ph.D., teaching at the college level. The creativity that I need from my work largely comes from having to constantly find interesting and innovative ways to teach, plus the extravert in me really enjoys the performance aspects of teaching and the interaction with students. I can't remember where I read this, but someone recently characterized their attraction to teaching as "the unpredictable chemistry of working with students."
That said, some research activity is expected as part of my mandate as a professor at USCB, but there's only so much you can do when the only people on your research "team" are yourself, other faculty (who are just as busy), and occasionally one or two unusually motivated undergraduate students. Maybe that will change over the next few years, after our new Computational Science master's degree program gets up and running, sometime around 2019 or so.
What is your teaching style? Why is that your approach? Has it changed over time?
I'm very theatrical. To me, it's a performance. I vary the tempo and volume in my speech, I ask questions, and I crack a lot of unrehearsed jokes. I'm really good at coming up with quips or puns on the fly–-some of which miss the mark completely and elicit groans, but it always held their attention. I'd like to think the "shock value" of what I might say in class helps the students with retaining the memory of the topic that was just discussed. I make students get up out of their chairs and act out how different algorithms work. And when it's appropriate, I prefer that my students do projects instead of a final exam, because to me, the ultimate measure of your ability as a programmer is what you've actually done, and not what grade you got in a course. I made it my mission in college to get straight As, but I think all I really learned to do was figure out how to take tests.
When I first started, I didn't know what I was doing; it was largely lecture-based, theory-heavy material and the students were bored with just being told stuff that they could read off slides or out of the book. So, to make sure they are doing things the right way, and to make sure they are engaged, I have eschewed the exclusively lecture-based approach. Instead of just reciting bullet points of knowledge, every day I try to have the students do some sort of hands-on exercise, a mixture of lecture and something like breaking an existing program "accidentally-on-purpose" and putting it back together, or perhaps enhancing it. I'm never predictable. I don't necessarily "make it up as I go along," but sometimes I'll "read" my students in a way that causes me to try demonstrating something I didn't necessarily plan for that day; usually it works out okay, but there are times when I paint myself into a corner and realize "oh, gosh, this was a bad idea" and I go down a rabbit hole. But I've learned to be honest and own up to mistakes I make in class, and I think the students appreciate that. But for students that would prefer to follow a regular, expected formula, I may very well be their "worst nightmare" at first, but usually we find a way to adjust and "meet each other halfway," and it works out okay in the end.
I empathize with my students as much as I can. I've been in their shoes, but I've also done a lot of living and working since I was their age. My wide array of life experiences, good and bad, have given me this weirdly holistic foundation of anecdotal evidence to share with my students, as appropriate, that often enhances what they are learning–-such as what it's like to work in different kinds of environments.
I empathize with my students as much as I can. What they are going to get out of my class is not just a grade, but rather a meaningful, transferable skill that will potentially benefit them later. Hopefully, the stories I tell them will resonate with them. I'm respectful of their time because they are doing many other things besides taking my class, and I want them to respect the student/teacher dynamic and to feel like they can trust me. More than just being a teacher of programming, you are a mentor. It's the most wonderful job, most stressful job I've ever had, but it's never boring, and it's always rewarding.
What lessons have you learned from good students? Challenging students?
I've learned I shouldn't think of myself as an elitist just because I'm an academic. I watch what my students are doing, knowing I was in their position years ago.
Now, every classroom has that fraction of students who want to learn as much as possible, master everything, and do a good job. Other students might get off to a rocky start trying to find their way. My goal as being one of their instructors is to give them enough of a hook for them to realize no matter who they are, they are all capable of achieving some level of success and having something tangible, something that they can call their own, when the course is over with. There's really no magic formula: as long as they show up every day, they do what is expected of them, and they don't cheat or steal others' work, they'll have a project to show at the end of my classes.
I used to obsess over grades in college, but that stemmed from a fear of doing poorly on a test. That was driven by the design of the curriculum itself–-the chief means of assessment was always homework and exams, and I don't think I had an actual project to do until my senior year. I would have gotten a lot more out of college, and I would have appreciated the chemical engineering discipline much more, if I'd had more hands-on experience doing class projects that actually have lasting value. That's why projects, especially those involving designing games, apps, and websites, are part of my "hook" for enabling students to care about and apply the knowledge and skills they're learning. I'd rather see them get a lower grade but clearly know how to program and do some really cool things rather than ace a series of exams and have nothing material to show for it but a line item on their academic transcript. Still, I get that grades and "honors" are important to some students (and potentially employers), but I see the grade itself as not the objective of the course, rather a byproduct of doing what's expected. If the students do a good job on their projects (or at least finish them, which is difficult enough as it is), they will typically get a good grade in my course.
Fortunately, these projects don't just "die" when the class is over–-many projects will go on to be showcased at our annual Student Research and Scholarship Day, or they'll form the foundation of a personal project that becomes a published website or mobile app. And several video game projects from my Java class last year were selected for permanent exhibition at the Santa Elena History Center, an area museum here in Beaufort that gets a lot of foot traffic from residents and tourists alike. It's these kinds of potentially public-facing outcomes that help the students to feel a real sense of accomplishment, and the more the public gets to see what we do, the better our reputation becomes.
Would you consider yourself an entrepreneur and why?
I'm an entrepreneur in the sense that in my youth, I latched onto the idea of running my own business. I was a sole proprietor doing freelance work while in graduate school to help pay the bills, mainly as a graphic and web designer, developing websites, print materials, designing logos, and that sort of thing. Doing that was a great way to exercise right side of my brain while grad school was exercising the left side. I still do some freelance work here and there, but if there's really a "product" I'm working on right now, it's this video game called "Bugs 'N Boo Hags," which is a retro/arcade-style hybrid of a platformer and tower defense game that happens to have been inspired by some of the history and folklore of the South Carolina lowcountry, and Beaufort County in particular. The game actually had its genesis from when I was still living in Pennsylvania and doing some research about South Carolina, where I was about to move for my current job. I happened to find an internet meme of sorts–-it was a map of the United States that depicted "What are we afraid of?" for each state. For South Carolina, there were two words: "Boo Hag." A few Google searches later, and I'm finding myself learning all about Gullah folk tales, root doctors and all that stuff. It became a minor obsession of mine, and so I eventually decided to channel that obsession into a real project.
Of course, "Bugs 'N Boo Hags" has absolutely nothing to do with computational biology, but it's another "match made in heaven" for me, in that it requires me to solving a technical problem that happens to have a strong visual component. Plus, it's kind of a love letter to Beaufort, this wonderful place where I now live and work, and so I hope to get the game finished and released in 2018.
What advice would you give new graduates seeking to work in the tech industry?
If you're really sure you want to do this, then learn as much as you can. Don't just read; DO projects. If you're not assigned a project in a class, find an excuse to do one on your own through an online tutorial. Do as much as you can to learn the skills you need and finish something. The fact that you've built a project and finished it speaks volumes about your ability to solve problems, but also your perseverance and tenacity–-your willingness to carry things through to completion. And put your project up on GitHub or some other public repository where people can see your work. If it's ugly, it's fine; a new thing won't always be perfect when it comes out. Heck, we're now at Windows 10, and it still has issues.
Other advice? Find a good mentor if you can. And find time to have a life–-not just to take a break from work, but also to allow yourself to have some actual life experiences that can inform your work.
Who has influenced you and why?
I'm intrigued by people who are willing to push things in a new direction just because they can. I remember the old Apple "Think Different" ads that showed Pablo Picasso, Jim Henson, and Einstein. Those who are a little bit "crazy" or willing to "rock the boat" are the people I tend to gravitate towards, for better or worse. Knowing what I know now about Steve Jobs' managerial style, I wouldn't want to be like that, but I appreciate that he had a consistently creative vision. I was also influenced by the game designers who were featured in the documentary film, Indie Game: The Movie. These were people who showed that you don't need millions of dollars or a huge project team to produce a great video game that might actually be a lot more interesting, thought-provoking, or fun than those large-scale games that have huge budgets–-and similarly high expectations that may be never be met.
What book(s) do you recommend?
I'm visual. I don't really do a whole lot of reading. I like books with pictures, like coffee-table books. I used to really be into books about design and designers, like Stefan Sagmeister, who did some cutting-edge graphic design. I also like books that show examples of interesting packaging or industrial design, such the work done by the people whose talent Steve Jobs cultivated, like Jony Ive who did the original design on the iMac, iPod, and many products since. Otherwise, I recommend Greed is Good, or any book regarding personal finance, especially for those in their twenties. (I happen to like Greed is Good because of its references to 80s popular culture). And it may be a bit dated now, but I learned a lot from reading How to Make Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, and I appreciate its simple lessons as a guiding philosophy. I don't read much fiction, but recently I read Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, an alternate reality out of the Jim Crow era that addresses the complexities of racism in America via a fascinating narrative that follows a supernatural mystery. And I just started reading It Devours! a novel that explores the intersection of faith and science, which are two topics I've struggled to reconcile for much of my life. I am only a couple pages in, but I can say that the book takes place in the same universe as this radio drama-style podcast called "Welcome to Night Vale," where bizarre supernatural activities take place in a quirky small town in the American Southwest. (I sometimes wonder if the podcast could just as easily have taken place in Beaufort!) However, I'm easily distracted, constantly thinking about this and that, so it can take me a long time to get through a book. I relate to my students who are the same way, so I have a leg up on how to work with them.
Outside of work what keeps you busy?
During the workweek, whether I'm at home or on campus, I'm always in work mode, unless I'm sleeping or eating. Saturday is my day to let my brain rest, so I usually don't do any USCB-related work, and I try to avoid checking email, and if I do check email, I usually wait to respond until the next week, unless it's a real emergency that a student might be having. Sunday, I'm priming myself to get back into it. I'm loving every day I'm at work, but I do value the moments I have for relaxing, giving my brain a break, and spending time with the people I care about: my dogs, my girlfriend, and her family. I'm okay not having my own kids because my girlfriend has two grown kids of her own, and they are very much what I would hope my own kids would have been like, if I'd chosen to have my own. My "kids" are my two dogs, Oreo and Roxy–-there's nothing quite like a dog sitting on the couch next to you who actually watches the TV with you. They aren't a source of inspiration, but they have a good sense of humor and are really good companions. I love living here in Beaufort, and I use my 38-minute commute to work at the USCB Bluffton campus to get myself mentally prepared for the day, and to wind down during the commute home. And if I can get five minutes a week to even think about working on my video game, then I consider that progress.
Looking at some of the goals of USCB Computational Science program: How is the program going?
It's beyond anything we could have hoped for. Even when I first interviewed for my job, I had an inkling that it was going to grow faster than we could accommodate or were comfortable with. We saw some pretty explosive growth. For a while, it was only three of us–-myself, Dr. Yiming Ji, and Dr. Xuwei Liang–-trying to sustain the program from just 7 or 8 students to over a hundred in a period of several years. We are doing a very good job of graduating students and putting them into meaningful, well-paying jobs that actually make use of their degree that they have worked very hard to complete.
How prepared are your graduates for competing for technology-oriented positions?
I think they're very prepared. What started out as a computational science program trying to integrate high-performance computing, data mining, and machine learning at the undergraduate level, which we do, has kind of evolved into more of an "applied computer science" or "software engineering" degree. Whatever you want to call it, it's a great package, and one of the best higher education investments one can make: you get a good, solid general education that includes liberal arts and humanities–-because this stuff really does matter–-with the added benefit of doing high-level work that only juniors and seniors in college get to do project-wise.
Is there a current path for regional high-school graduates to continue education in computing and engineering fields?
There is no one single best path–-for engineering, some students do well by going straight into a bachelor's degree program at a state university or similar institution, while other students might fare better (whether financially or scholastically) by doing their first one or two years at a smaller school or technical college and then transferring to a larger school to complete their degree. For computing, you could follow a similar path, or maybe learn programming on your own if all you want to do is programming. That being said, I do strongly advocate for the bachelor's degree, and naturally I think USCB's Computational Science program has one of the best possible 4-year experiences available. Based on the feedback we are getting about our recent graduates, it would seem that our formula of small, project-oriented, practical classes combined with solid general education component is working well to produce the talent that employers want and need. For any high school graduate that's interested in computing, I would tell them to consider USCB as a destination, even if they think they might want to go to a larger university or one that has a more storied reputation. That's been an uphill climb for us; when the program was getting started, it was very much about brand recognition and combating any preconceptions about USCB as being what it once was: a place where you did two years of your education and then transferring to USC's main campus in Columbia, or to Clemson, or wherever else, really. But in USCB's new Computational Science program, we had something very new and very special to offer (and at low relative cost), so we were very active in the community in spreading the word about the Computational Science program and developing high-quality marketing materials as part of a sustained promotional effort. It must have worked to some extent–-we've grown beyond our expectations, and the program's reputation is starting to speak for itself. We certainly aren't hurting for applicants, and many students who come to USCB with the intention of transferring elect to stay with us their whole four years. I may catch some flak for saying this, but the only legitimate reason I can think of giving students for not studying at USCB is because we don't have a Division I football team. If going to football games on Saturdays is really important to you, then by all means, go to USC-Columbia, or Clemson, or Georgia Tech, or wherever. But if you want to learn directly from enthusiastic professors who genuinely care about you and want to see you succeed at every step along the way, then you'll get a much better bang for your buck at USCB.
I will always be interested in promoting STEM education, but I also appreciate the value of the liberal arts programs, and I'm interested in finding ways to more tightly integrate the liberal arts and humanities into what we do in Computational Science. Some colleagues of mine and I are having the first "seed" conversations about the possibility of a minor in digital humanities, so that students in non-STEM disciplines can get the technology exposure they need to give them an edge in their careers, or for students in Computational Science to solve problems in non-STEM fields that could nonetheless benefit from the use of computational tools.
As a step in that direction, the video game projects I assign in the first semester of my Java programming course sequence have to do with addressing some sort of non-STEM problem or issue. This year's project, which was designed to enable students to explore various inequities faced in today's society, was inspired by a recent book, Weapons of Math Destruction, which outlined how different demographic segments are becoming disenfranchised as a result of algorithms that people have written. The games are meant to help cultivate the players' awareness that policies, rules, traditions, and even basic perceptions exist that can keep certain people from succeeding on a very basic level. I'm proud to say that my students embraced this project and came up with some very creative solutions, many of which were executed very tastefully, and with a surprising degree of pathos; at least a couple of games tugged at my heartstrings or made my eyes well up with tears a bit!
What makes computational science classes–-computational thinking, applied programming, and high-performance computing–-at the undergraduate level special?
What really impresses prospective employers about our students is that they have been exposed to actual programming, project development, and software engineering skills. This is unlike traditional computer science where students chiefly learn about the theory of computing, with a heavy focus on the design and analysis of data structures and algorithms. We do that too, but it's balanced by a healthy degree of exposure to developing good programming skills, often by developing and finishing some sort of a project–-a game, a simulation, a website, an analysis of a dataset, and so forth. As a result, our students are able to contribute right out of the starting gate. We had no pattern to follow, but it works. We don't have a problem attracting students, and nearly all who graduate get job offers.
Do you see current/potential use/demand for computational science in Beaufort? What local industries would benefit most from this knowledge-base?
That's the thing: How do you create something out of an apparent "nothing"? I'm glad we now have TECHconnect so we can see who is really working with technology in town. There were several professionals there younger than me (I'm a very young-looking 41), and the educational systems were represented- Beaufort County Schools, Technical College of the Lowcountry (TCL,) and USCB. I think you've got to develop a technology economy that can support the existing economy in some way. Tourism is and will always be a mainstay of the local economy in Beaufort–-can we start by developing technology-based solutions to tourism problems?
What do you see as the biggest barrier for tech community in Beaufort? What would you recommend as the solution(s)?
By finally putting up a Beaufort Digital Corridor sign outside the building, we've addressed one major barrier–-the problem of awareness (or lack thereof). Now that I've seen the power of promoting brand recognition for Computational Science at USCB–-perhaps a prime example where something was created from "nothing"–-I'm convinced we can do the same for the tech economy in Beaufort. This place where we live is unusually special; it's a very stress-free place to live, so why wouldn't you want to work in place where living is easy? In an age where so many entertainment and commerce options can be navigated using a device you hold in the palm of your hand, do you really need to live in a big city anymore? I'd like to think that Beaufort has everything one really needs, with the added bonus of great weather, breathtaking scenery, and some of the nicest people you'll ever meet. And for those times when you absolutely need your big city fix, we've got several within a few hours' drive or less.
Now that we are in the phase where Beaufort is developing its own knowledge economy, the colleges (USCB and TCL) can potentially support that with graduates and educators doing freelance and collaborative work with existing companies.
Dr. Canada will act as instructor for the Beaufort Digital Corridor's upcoming CODEcamp class- Introduction to Web Development, an eight-week, Saturday course starting in February 2018. CODEcamp is being offered as a pilot program in partnership with USCB.