Figuring out how things work

Part of a series profiling graduating students

- May 25, 2011

Jazz Turner-Baggs graduates with a degree in computer science.
Jazz Turner-Baggs graduates with a degree in computer science.

While most of us are content simply using household electronics, Jazz Turner-Baggs needs to know what makes them tick and how he can build them himself. It’s this relentless curiosity that has both landed him in trouble and made him stand out in Dal’s computer science program.

“I used to take everything apart,” he says. “My parents would come home and find their VCR in parts on the floor. Then I started wondering about the computer. There was this box that somehow let me connect to everybody. I wanted to know how it worked.”

When he was 17, Mr. Turner-Baggs completed the Cisco Certified Network Associate course at his high school in The Netherlands (his father was stationed across the border with the Canadian Forces in Germany). By the time he came to Dal, he was already creating networks for his own small group of clients.

“It comes back to the building of things and figuring out how they work,” he says. “That’s why I came here. It’s the ability to think of something new and create it—whether it’s a chatbot, redesigning routing protocols, or making a new Twitter client. When I come here I can build anything I want, in terms of software. It’s just a digital world of engineering.”

His time at Dal hasn’t always been easy, though. He struggled during his first two years and his motivation faltered. He had the smarts but couldn’t make the connection between the classroom and the working world. Everything changed when he took a required semester off and worked full-time.

“I started to see how things in the real world applied to things I had been learning in school,” he says. “I was able to relate the stuff that I was learning previously to what I was doing. There’s a balance I’ve found between school and work and that’s what keeps things interesting for me.”

Since then, Mr. Turner-Baggs has worked full-time while attending classes and acted as vice-chair for the Dal student chapter of ACM (Association of Computed Machinery). He has already started his master’s in computer science, focusing on self-managing systems, and plans to open his own business when he finishes.

“I bottomed out because I didn’t know what I was doing,” he says. “But now I love this place and I love combining work and school. It’s all about building a toolset to be able to accomplish the things I want in life. It took me a while to see that, but I’m glad I finally did.”


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