Geek Speak: Gerri Sinclair, Masters of Digital Media Program at Great Northern Way Campus

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      Gerri Sinclair likes to say that she’s had a “checkered past”. She started her career as an academic, then entered the business world, and later helped shape government policy. Now, the Winnipeg-born businessperson is the executive director of the Masters of Digital Media Program and the chief executive officer of the Centre for Digital Media at Great Northern Way Campus.

      Graduates of the two-year program, which was established in 2007 and now boasts 60 students, earn degrees bearing the seals of the B.C. Institute of Technology, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Simon Fraser University, and University of British Columbia. Currently, the program is inviting people and organizations to submit proposals for a digital-media project tied to a philanthropic cause or social-change initiative. The winner of the Big Push prize, worth $50,000 in kind, will receive a team of up to five students to work on the project for 13 weeks in early 2010. The deadline for applications is November 13.

      Sinclair is the former general manager of MSN Canada and was the founder and CEO of NCompass Labs, an SFU spin-off that was acquired by Microsoft in 2001. That year, she became the first president of the Premier’s Technology Council, a body that advises Gordon Campbell. In 2005, David Emerson, then federal minister of industry, appointed Sinclair as the chair of the Telecommunications Policy Review Panel, which delivered its report one year later. On October 19, 2009, Sinclair received the Entrepreneurship Fellow Award from the B.C. Innovation Council at Connect ’09.

      The Georgia Straight reached Sinclair on her cellphone in Vancouver.

      What do students study in the Masters of Digital Media Program?

      The students have a program where they learn about what it takes to be a high-performance contributor to a multidisciplinary digital-media team. The days are over when one or two people in a garage could create digital-media applications. Right now, in terms of video games or films—digital films—hundreds of people are involved.

      So, the industry, which lobbied for the creation of the school, said it was really important to create people who could be tomorrow’s leaders. But, in order to be tomorrow’s leaders, you really have to understand how to be members of teams. So, we spend a lot of time on collaborative team building. We teach them project management and real-world experience.

      How is the program different than when it started?

      Well, first of all, there’s more students. That’s one of the things that’s different. We have much more industry involvement than we did when we first started. So, we have now about, oh, maybe 40 or 50 companies involved in digital media—not only in Vancouver, in the Lower Mainland, but across Canada and even internationally—who are involved in the program either by providing internships for students and jobs for students but they come and teach in the program, they lead projects in the program, they fund projects in the program, they provide scholarships, and are generally involved in the program. So, we’ve got lots and lots of—we’ve got very deep—industry connections. So, that’s a major achievement, I would say.

      What will the Centre for Digital Media look like in five years?

      Well, I think in five years we will have at least doubled our enrolment, for sure—maybe even more. We’re hoping to be able to offer an executive Masters of Digital Media Program for people who are still in the workforce. We will be putting more and more of our program on-line, but not in a conventional telelearning sense but where we’re going to be doing projects that involve international collaboration—creating software internationally on-line, that kind of stuff. We also expect to be delivering many more professional courses to the digital-media community, both locally and globally.

      Why is the program putting on the Big Push?

      Our students and our faculty, as well as our management, believe two things. First of all, video-game and digital-media technology can be applied to far more than just the digital-entertainment industry or business. A lot of our students and, as I said, our faculty and staff, feel that we should also be looking at social ventures—not only the corporate world. We have a number of idealistic students who want to apply these technologies to give back to the world and to do some good in the world.

      So, while we have a lot of students who are very interested in working in the video-game industry or in digital film and special effects or the Web 2.0 area, a lot of people are interested in applying these technologies to make a difference in the world. Whether it’s to work in the field of environmental change, climate change, or to work in the field of health, which has a tremendous digital-media focus right now, a lot of our students are very, very pumped up about the ability to apply these technologies to have social impact.

      What did you accomplish during your time as president of the Premier’s Technology Council?

      Well, we had a very active council. I can’t take credit for what I did. But the council made a number of recommendations to government, and government responded very positively.

      1. Getting broadband out to the rural communities of the province. That was very big for the premier and the government, and we had a number of resolutions and recommendations that were followed up on. So, I’m really proud of our record, in terms of our broadband penetration.

      2. The establishment of the school. That was a recommendation that came out of the Premier’s Technology Council to create a world-leading graduate school.

      There’s been lots of work done. A better climate for investment, for angel investors came out of the Premier’s Technology Council. A few other, I think, very positive things.

      Are you satisfied with how the federal government handled the recommendations of your Telecommunications Policy Review Panel?

      Well, the federal government responded very quickly to about 50 percent of the recommendations and actually implemented a number of recommendations that had to do with economic regulation and the way the CRTC was handling competition. They have not yet responded to the recommendations on broadband, because we believe very strongly that broadband has to be accessible to everyone in the country. They have yet to respond to our recommendations on creating an ICT national strategy. So, I think there’s still a lot more work to be done.

      Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at