Black History Month: Advice from Black uOttawa engineering alumni

Posted on Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Winter path in front of Tabaret building

In recognition of Black History Month, we caught up with a few of our alumni who identify as Black and asked them to share some advice with current students.

Andre Richards

Software Development Manager at Amazon
BSc in Computer Science and Management Information Systems (’11)

Black man smiling at camera leaning on brick wall

I’m a technology professional with more than a decade of experience in technology, engineering management and startups. Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, I graduated from the University of Ottawa in 2011, and I am a proud alumnus!

I’ve always had an interest in technology and worked with small startups writing software after university. I started my own company in 2012, making biomechanics software for researchers to analyze motion capture data, before co-founding another company in 2013 doing customer experience feedback, working with thousands of customers across the world. In 2021, I joined Amazon as a software development manager at S3, and I now lead an engineering team who provide durable cloud storage for millions of customers across the globe.

Building a career in technology can be both challenging and extremely rewarding. Having the opportunity to architect systems and software to be used by thousands is a unique experience and a gift. My advice to Black engineering and computer science students: be persistent and be bold.

As you grow throughout your career, understand that you will meet challenges in different ways, some very unique. How you face these challenges over time signals to others your core values, resolve and professionalism. What’s been valuable to me over the years is outlining my own set of personal and professional values, using challenges as an opportunity to grow, thinking BIG and leading with empathy.

Over time, not only will others appreciate your ethic, but you yourself will be proud of the path you’ve laid out. Strive to be an example for others to follow. Take ownership of your career, family and personal life, and always remember — have fun! :)

Suzanne Balima

Open Innovation — Global Expansion & Future Foresight Lead at Vale
BASc in Biomedical Mechanical Engineering (’12)

Black women sitting on chair smiling at camera - yellow background

My current mission is to help people and organizations transform, future-proof and continuously reinvent themselves by harnessing creativity to generate value. I draw from diverse experiences in engineering, management consulting, technology implementation, human-centred design and corporate innovation, as well as leading corporate diversity initiatives, always bringing a human lens to the projects I’m involved in. 

In my current open innovation role at Vale, one of the largest mining companies in the word, I help build and strengthen relationships between the organization and the innovation ecosystem around the world, by co-Lab’orating on innovation projects and initiatives.

I have always been passionate about initiatives at the intersection of STEM, diversity and inclusion — I am a fervent advocate and volunteer in that space. I have recently launched the Black Spinel Initiative, a platform to promote diversity in entrepreneurship and STEM.

My advice to Black engineering and computer science students: believe in your skills and abilities. Impostor syndrome is real and, unfortunately, doesn’t go away even with years of experience under your belt.

Don't be afraid to go knocking on doors, meet people and remain flexible when offered opportunities. If you have the opportunity to go on an exchange program, jump on it! It was definitely one of the best experiences in my life. Advice that I wish I had practised more is to take the time to enjoy student life and practise living a balanced life. Don’t just work hard, work smart. This time will be a foundational moment for your career, and a very memorable period in your life!

Michael Greaves

Director at Barclays Investment Bank
BSc in Software Engineering with a minor in Management (’07)

Black man in suit posing for camera

After completing my bachelor’s degree in software engineering at uOttawa, I went on to pursue a master’s degree in Toronto. I was fortunate to land an internship at an investment bank in 2008 and, ultimately, I started my career in mergers and acquisitions (M&A). In 2015, I left my initial firm and joined a global bank in a similar capacity, where I continue to work today. However, now my focus is on the sustainable and impact sector, in addition to M&A. 

My greatest successes, other than my son and family, would be having the ability to contribute to society through the various charities and other initiatives I am involved in. In addition, having the opportunity to work on transactions that have had a far-reaching impact throughout Canada and other parts of the world. 

The advice I would give to future students would be the following: take a step back and look at the big picture. Try to identify what is really important in your life and your pursuit of your goals. I would probably also add: define your core values and be sure to stick to them.

(Some of the responses have been edited for length and clarity.)

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