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BCLC co-op a unique opportunity for Kamloops university students

Mike Wells (center), the BCLC mentor, and TRU student Navelpreet Kaur (left) work together while James Howe works on his project and Matthew MacKay (back left) and Sachin Akula (back right) discuss things. (via Brendan Kergin)

After nearly eight months B.C. Lottery Corporation (BCLC) co-op students are almost done their time in the sandbox.

The tech sandbox, that is.

The four Thompson Rivers University students were brought on earlier this year to help the lottery company tackle tech issues and advancement in a new way as part of a new co-op program the BCLC launched this year.

Pat Davis, vice-president of business technology, says after 30 years of traditional co-ops, there was an opportunity for something new.

"Basically this is what we're referring to as our BCLC innovation lab, they've code-named it Code Factory," he says. "For us, what we saw happening, is there were a lot of trends in emerging technology that we didn't have the capacity to really delve into and figure out specific applications for us."

"I looked at that and said, 'Oh, I can really see a great opportunity to create an amazing learning experience,'" he says.

The four students, Navelpreet Kaur, James Howe, Matthew MacKay and Sachin Akula, started back in May on a paid eight-month program, working in the Kamloops Innovation Centre (KIC) with BCLC mentor Mike Wells. After four months of training, they tackled projects that worked with coding collaboration, artificial intelligence and user interaction.

"Right now I'm working in Salesforce (a computer application BCLC uses) developer experience," Kaur says. "The problem BCLC is facing is that the programmers cannot collaborate on the same project; whenever they try to code they override each other's code."

She's going to take what she's learned back to BCLC and actually train her manager now, and then other BCLC employees — a sort of student becomes the master situation.

MacKay's working on a project using artificial intelligence to learn about the people talking to BCLC on social media, using language to determine the demographics of people, like there age, gender and potentially emotional state.

"You're going to pipe (the information) through the computer and the computer is going to say, 'Oh, so this is written by a 27-year-old man' or something to that effect," he explains.

Both Kaur and MacKay say the experience they've had was incredible, both at KIC and with the BCLC.

"I've been really enjoying working here," says MacKay. "It's not something everybody in the tech sector gets to do."

Kaur adds that she could see herself ending up in KIC one day, as she's minoring in business and would like to pursue starting her own company.

Dr. Lincoln Smith, executive director of KIC, was happy to have the BCLC co-op working out of the centre.

"To have an organization with the resources to bring in the expertise that they did and share it willingly with all the startups has been a huge boost to our companies and our earlier stage startups," he says.

"I think this type of co-op is the direction we should be looking, especially in regions and smaller centres where the workforce is a challenge," he adds.

The students' new perspectives have been a big plus for the lottery corporation, Davis says, which is one of the largest technology employers in the Thompson-Okanagan with 200 employees in that sector.

"I think one of the big things you see with students like this, that come in, they don't carry the same baggage the way a company works," he says. "They're able to look at 'Well, why wouldn't we do it this way?'"

The program will be back next year and BCLC plans to pursue what the students started once they wrap up in December. 

"There's two or three of the things that they've been working on that we will take over once they're done and actually commercialize that and bring it into our company," he says. "I think they're fantastic, they're amazing."


Brendan Kergin

About the Author: Brendan Kergin

Brendan Kergin is a digital reporter based in Kamloops.
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