Choices

John Johnston ProfileIn 1966, I was a graduating high school student, and like others, was applying for university.  I accepted an offer from the University of Waterloo, not knowing very much about UWaterloo, but because it was the farthest from home (and my parents were unlikely to make drop-in weekend visits) and my good high-school friend would be attending WLU (Waterloo Lutheran University, at that time). Sound teenage logic.

                                                                    I wanted Engineering, but UWaterloo had filled their offers, and instead I enrolled in first year Science. At the end of first year, having achieved low marks in Chemistry, and finally seeing the light, I switched to the Faculty of Mathematics. Sound university student logic. It turned out to be a choice that focused my career.

In 1970, I graduated with a Bachelor of Mathematics. The undergraduate courses that I enjoyed the most were Actuarial Science and Fortran computer programming (with Professor Dirksen). And of course playing intramural hockey for the Math team with Ron Weaver, Arlan Popkey, Grant Liggins, and many others over the years.

The summer was a busy period as I also got married to another UWaterloo student, Elizabeth McLean. After a brief honeymoon, we moved to Cornwall, Ontario and I started my teaching career. I taught math and computer courses for ten very rewarding years. I enjoyed teaching, and of course, having two months off in the summer was an added bonus. In 1976, I was granted a 16-month sabbatical and returned to UWaterloo to complete my Master of Mathematics (Computer Science). We lived in married students’ residence along with our two young children, and while I had a heavy workload, we enjoyed meeting people from all over the world.

In 1980, I decided that maybe I didn’t want to teach the rest of my life, so I accepted a position with the Government of New Brunswick, in Fredericton, as an Education and Career Planning Consultant. This formally began my IT career.

Three years later, I accepted the position as Manager, Academic Computing Services at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University). It was the first time I had the opportunity to create a team from scratch, and I was fortunate to put together a great team (several of whom are still in touch). My IT career advanced as I became the Director, Computing and Communications Services, meaning that I also became a member of the ACSD (the Association of Computing Services Directors) with members from all Ontario universities. ACSD implemented many initiatives and gave me the opportunity to make important IT peer-contacts, many of whom became life-long friends.

In 1988, I accepted the position of Director, Computing Services, at Queen’s University in Kingston. However, by not having a PhD, I felt that I was unlikely to become a VP at the university level, and in 1995, decided to accept a CIO (Chief Information Officer) position with Centennial College in Toronto. I was re-united with a former colleague from Ryerson (Tom Sosa) and we had a dynamic management team. My career progressed with numerous positions including VP, Innovation and Information Technology, VP Advancement, and Interim President.

After 22 years in academia, I decided to try something completely different and joined an executive recruiting firm in 2000. It was a rewarding, positive experience as you were able to make two groups happy: the company seeking a new employee and the successful candidate. However, the experience was too short, as the down-turn in the economy meant that I had to find new employment.

Joining two friends, we formed JPC & Associates (Johnston, Preston, and Csafordi), a small consulting firm offering computer IT planning and Private Public Partnership Strategies. We focused on the community college sector and in a very short time we made three proposals, all of which were accepted and completed.

In 2001, however, the lure of a more permanent position (i.e. regular income) prompted me to join the City of Toronto, as the Director, Information and Technology Strategic Planning. As part of my duties at the City, I would often make presentations to visiting cities, and in 2004 I was asked to be a keynote speaker at the Intelligent Communities conference in Melbourne, Australia.

I retired in 2010, having worked for all three levels of government (Federal, Provincial, and Municipal), over 20 years in academia, and never working in any one place for more than ten years! It was a satisfying career and made possible I think to a great extent by the fortunate choice of going to the University of Waterloo.

I live in Toronto with my wife of 46 years, Elizabeth, and our two children have flown the nest (Amanda, Associate Professor of Music, University of Mississippi; David - an industrial designer in Calgary). We are now experiencing the “space” challenges of condo living, but really spend all the time we can at our cottage. For those interested, my current hobbies include hockey, woodworking, travelling, RV-ing to Florida for the Blue Jays spring training, and enjoying life in downtown Toronto.

Friends can reach me at john0642@rogers.com.

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