There was always a teacher who recognized Nav Jagpal’s gift for mathematics and technology, no matter the school or grade.
The J.L. Crowe Secondary School grad credits his educators with providing the tools he needed to sky rocket into the fascinating world of high tech industry.
Now a software engineer with Google Canada, Jagpal uses his smarts to keep the Internet safe for all users.
His role on Google’s Safe Browsing team, is to develop technology that helps identify unsafe websites and warns users and webmasters of “malware” – which is software intended to damage or disable computers and computer systems.
“It is very interesting,” Jagpal said from his Montreal office. “What I tell people is that it’s high level we are working on – protecting all Internet users, not just Google users, from many different types of threats. It’s a really cool part of my job.”
And his job is never dull. In the fast paced world of technology, the bad guys are always trying to catch up with the good.
“Especially in this industry we are working against adversaries that are constantly adapting,” he said. “So when we do something – they do something else. It’s constantly evolving.”
Listed on Forbes as the third largest company in the world, Google is worth about $370 billion and employs almost 54,000 people within Canada and the United States.
The company was only founded 17 years ago, and Jagpal has been working with them, for nine.
The perks people hear about like free gourmet cafeterias, massage rooms and nap pods are not the true bonus of working for Google, says Jagpal. It’s the brilliant minds he collaborates with daily.
“Okay, so those (perks) are all true,” he said. “But I find what I value most, and what I think most people here would echo, is the quality of colleagues is amazing.
“The people I work with are consistently the smartest people in the world. They are the brightest, and it’s so exciting to work with people who are very diverse and accepting of whoever you are.”
So how does a young guy from the village of Montrose wind up working in such an elite field?
“Somehow, I became very good with technology at a young age,” Jagpal shared.
“Every school I was in, whether it was elementary, middle, or high school, a teacher would recognize that in me and give me a lot of leeway and attention in that area.”
Access to computer labs outside of school hours was one way – challenging him with difficult assignments and competitions, was another.
“Computer science was a breeze and the material old hat for me,” he explained. “My teacher, Lou Greene, recognized this in me, and would give me more challenging assignments to work, or different programming language to use.”
Jagpal’s talent really began to shine when Mrs. Greene began the Entrepreneurial Studies program in 1999. Instead of lectures, students were given the chance to think outside the box, dream big and accomplish goals in an area of their own special interest and passion.
“The program wasn’t restricted to technology, but mine was always based in technology,” Japgal added. “So I was doing coding projects and building fun stuff in the classroom environment.
“It was that kind of opportunity – she (Mrs. Greene) saw something in me, then provided me the room to experiment.”
Through that program the whiz kid was recognized on a larger scale. He won computer design awards from the B.C. Superintendents’ Association two years in a row, and set up websites for the high school and various Trail non-profits through a summer employment program with the local library.
Sixteen year later, J.L. Crowe still offers Entrepreneurship electives beginning in Grade 9 as well as the Navigator program for Grade 11 and Grade 12.
The latter course is described as independent learning opportunities (that) lead to entrepreneurial ways of thinking.
“When I go back home people ask me what their kid should be doing,” said Jagpal, noting the steadfast checklist of good habits like studying hard in math and computer science. “Those are straight forward types of things,” he explained. “But what I have found in myself, as well as a lot of people I work with, is that we are passionate about what we do.”
He says learning outside the classroom was fun and not “work” per say. Using his hands often meant breaking an object apart and brainstorming how to put it back together.
“That was probably the most useful to me and what I see as most useful in other people. The side effect of passion is working on things in your own time, and learning more than you normally would in school.”
Jagpal returned to the province two weeks ago, and volunteered time and know-how to a group of youngsters attending Codemakers camp in Vancouver and Victoria.
The Codemaker workshop was part of a three-year program powered by Google and the Canadian non-profit, Actua. The goal is to inspire youth from around the world to not just use technology, but create it.
The program supports a fun environment for children to learn and engage in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
“I jump at any opportunity to go back to B.C.,” he said. “And I get to go to my school, which is pretty cool (he studied computer science at the University of Victoria).
“But it’s great that I get to come back in the context of working with younger people, giving them guidance and showing them that technology can be fun.”