First class finds alternative route to working in computing industry

by Andrew Poon

Staff writer

The first students in an innovative Computer Science work-study program at UBC are now busy gaining invaluable work experience with companies in the information technology industry.

The Alternative Routes to Computing (ARC) program -- developed with Simon Fraser University and industry partners -- is a 24-month program which teaches computer science to top university graduates with little or no computer experience through alternating sessions of academic courses and paid work terms.

The program accepted its first class of 29 students -- 15 at UBC and 14 at SFU -- last September. After an intensive eight months of classroom learning, the students are now applying what they have learned to the workplace.

"I was probably the least technical person you could have imagined," says student Linda Wong, previously a partner at a Vancouver law firm.

Before enrolling in the ARC program, Wong says she didn't know what a Web site address was and remembers being embarrassed when a friend had to prompt her to press the Enter key to input data into a computer.

During her work term, she is doing project management and technical writing for ISM-BC, a Vancouver-based firm that provides information technology outsourcing and support to companies such as BCTEL.

"The ARC program is great for the work experience," says Wong. "Especially for older people who otherwise may not have been given the chance to gain that experience on their own."

Classmate Ron Rabin agrees. Rabin, an ex-college professor in music history, decided to make the career change to information technology and researched a number of schools before he applied to UBC.

"It was the only program I could find which allowed me to get the training and a work term within such a short time in an academic as opposed to a trade school environment," he says.

Rabin is working as a technology analyst with IBM Pacific Development Centre in Burnaby during his work term.

Science Dean Maria Klawe says the ARC program has attracted an eclectic group of students and appeals especially to women interested in careers in the information technology industry.

"There are very interesting people in the program," says Klawe. "It's not your standard group of undergraduate Science students."

Besides a lawyer and a former college professor, there is an ESL teacher, students with doctorate degrees and even an opera singer in the current ARC class.

Applications are now being accepted for next year's class which starts in January 2000. The deadline is Aug. 1. For information on the program and how to apply, visit the Web site at