When cheerful and outgoing Juanita Fraser decided to switch careers to pursue information technology (IT), her friends were thrown a bit off guard.
“They were surprised, because IT is typically more introverted, you know – they put their heads down,” she says.
Fraser is anything but introverted. (Though it’s actually a common misconception that all IT staff prefer a quiet work environment.) She had spent a number of years as an elementary school teacher before realizing she was in the wrong career.
“One day I realized I didn’t have job satisfaction … it’s hard to realize that I spent six, seven, eight years of my life teaching, [and now I wanted] to want to make a career change,” she says. “I was lost. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.”
A natural logician and problem solver, Fraser took a few aptitude tests to discover her options. The tests pointed her towards business analyst.
“It was funny because I was thinking back in Grade 9 or 10 you do [the aptitude tests], and I think business analyst came up, but no one knew what it meant so I never pursued it.”
She started researching programs, and when Red River College came up as the top result, she enrolled in the Computer Analyst program (now called Business Information Technology).
“I already had a degree and I spent four years doing that,” she says. “I didn’t want to take a Computer Science degree, so that was perfect.”
Fraser says she found the RRC program very valuable, noting it provided a solid foundation for her to enter the IT field.
While a student, Fraser did her six-week work placement at National Leasing, and has been there ever since. Not to be confused with the car rental company, National Leasing leases a variety of equipment including agricultural, golf and turf, medical and dental, and much more. It’s been ranked among the Top 50 Best Small & Medium Employers in Canada for seven years.
Fraser started as a computer analyst/programmer at National Leasing, but quickly moved up the ranks.
“I think my manager at the time realized I talked way too much to not be in a position where I was interacting more with the businesses,” she explains. “That led me to the business analyst track.”
Naturally inquisitive, Fraser loves to discover the root of a problem rather than simply treating its symptoms.
“[My manager] found out that I was good at asking questions and seeing things from the businesses’ perspective,” she says. “I guess the big thing he saw was that I was able to translate the business needs into system requirements.”
She’s worked as manager for National Leasing’s Business Technology Centres for Sales, Credit and Marketing, and as senior business analyst. Today, she’s the product owner, which is a job title used in the Agile project management methodology, meaning she’s the “one person responsible for a project’s success.”
IT is a fast-paced environment, and the tools Fraser and her team utilize represent that reality; Agile allows for a project to be broken into smaller parts with achievable short-term goals.
“It’s failing fast. If you write a user story that reaches production and the users don’t like it, you’ve only lost a little bit of time, you haven’t wasted the whole project.”
The current project she’s heading involves moving National Leasing’s core computer leasing systems into a modern platform – a huge, multi-year endeavor.
“We’ll be able to offer services, support, more complex deals and things like that. It’s key to our growth. Sales and marketing can have all the wonderful ideas they want, but if we can’t facilitate that in our systems [it’s useless].“
About 20 per cent of National Leasing’s employees are RRC grads and the company is an annual sponsor of the Alumni Dinner.
“Our president, Nick Logan, he’s been a huge supporter of RRC. He’s been more than happy with the graduates we’ve had from Red River.”
National Leasing is also a big supporter of its employees. After Fraser’s mom was diagnosed with cancer, she decided to participate in a fundraiser called The Big Fight, which raised funds for iDE Canada to install latrines in developing countries.
“Fourteen women each agreed to raise $5,000, train for three months and then box each other at a gala event. And guess what – National Leasing supported me the whole way!”
The experience was intense but wonderful, Fraser says.
“I had taken boxing fitness (classes), but let me tell you boxing fitness is not boxing. Hitting a bag is a lot different than hitting a person or being hit by a person. It was a lot of work, but it was totally worth it.”
Profile by Stacy Cardigan Smith (Creative Communications, 2006)