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Mid-career move pays off

June 06, 2016
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By Caitlin Dawson

Celebrity spotting is all in a day’s work for engineering science graduand Terry Hannon, now a computer systems analyst at NBC Universal in Los Angeles.

“The building I work at is on the studio backlot, so when I walk around at lunchtime, I can see what movies and TV shows are filming,” he says.

Hannon is creating new systems to effectively manage the huge volume of royalty payment data generated when movies are distributed on DVD or broadcast to the public on airplanes or cruise ships, for example.  

It’s no ordinary job, but Hannon is no ordinary student.

Hannon had been working in systems-analyst roles in Los Angeles—including NBC—for almost 10 years when he made a bold move.

He loved his job and the California lifestyle, but also wanted to expand his future career options. So in 2009, at age 40, Hannon embarked on the engineering science program at SFU. He selected SFU because of its Maclean’s ranking as Canada’s top comprehensive university.

Returning to school after such a long absence was daunting at first.

“I thought I would be shunned as the old guy in the class,” he says. “But if anything, I actually had more friends this time around.”  

For his final team project, Hannon created high-tech, fully automated greenhouse for regions affected by drought. He recalls the project’s unveiling, after many sleepless nights, as one of his favourite memories of SFU.

He also successfully juggled a busy course schedule, maintaining a 3.6 grade point average out of a possible 4.33 while running his own freelance business from home.

“Most days I would work from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., which was tough, but I think it actually made me a better student —I had no choice but to make sure everything was done in time.”

Now back in California, Hannon says he approaches complex problems with deeper understanding.

“I’m making different choices about how to manage the data more effectively,” he says “I also didn’t know anything about real-time embedded systems and microprocessor design, and now those are two fields I would like to get into.”

His dream, he says, is to continue working in L.A. and complete a master’s degree in engineering at UCLA.