By Teenaz Javat
Marshal McLuhan may have coined the phrase “The Medium is the Message” in his widely known book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, published in 1964, but Niarica Hansotia has truly put it to the test.
A graduate of Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning School of Animation, Arts & Design, Hansotia, a successful web designer who came to Canada from Pakistan at the age of ten, would have it no other way.
“I simply love what I do,” she said as we met over cups of steaming hot chaai (lightly spiced Indian tea) in the backyard garden of her parent’s home in Mississauga, Ontario.
By grade ten, Hansotia knew what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
“My daughter is quite headstrong and once she decides what she wants to do, there is pretty much nothing that we can do or say that will change her mind,” says her mother Mehra Hansotia, herself a human resource manager at a downtown Toronto firm.
Reminiscent of south Asian hospitality, she plonks a platter of samosas and pakoras (a fried mix of onion and potato dumplings) in front of us and joins in the conversation. Although both mother and daughter are first generation Canadians, they think quite differently.
The family came to Canada from Karachi, Pakistan, in the summer of 1992. Canada was as is today, under a deep economic recession. There were no jobs when the Hansotias and their two young daughters settled into a high rise in the Dixie-Bloor neighbourhood of Mississauga.
“We left the relative comfort of full-time jobs in Karachi for the safety but uncertainty of Canada. All we wanted was a good education for our girls,” Mehra Hansotia explains. “My older daughter is now a doctor and works as a scientist at the Simon Lunenfeld Research Institute, which is the research wing of the Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto. She was easy to handle, as she was 15 when she came here, and listening to parents was in sync with her personally.
But with Niarica it was different. She has a mind of her own and once she decided that she did not wish to go to University we knew it was a waste of time to argue with her, instead my husband and I decided to encourage her.”
Niarica had charted out her career path and on completing high school at John Fraser Secondary School in Mississauga in 2000, she enrolled in Sheridan College, Oakville, and finished her post graduate studies in New Media design in 2005.
After a few months of freelancing, she landed a great job as a Web Designer and Front-End Producer in a Toronto area firm where she designs, builds and manages websites using multimedia.
Niarica has, over three short years, a fairly impressive list of clients. She has created web content for celebrities like singer, songwriter and musician Marc Cohn, and several upscale restaurants in the GTA. But the feather in her cap was when she was called upon to design the web content for the Virtual Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
In the long run, Niarica wants to start her own interactive company with a bunch of creative people who think like her. “This is a career which lends itself to working from home. All you need is a head full of ideas and a very good computer to match and you are on the go.”
Much of her success she attributes to her high school. Way back in 1997 the web was in its early stage. Canada was just waking up to the internet revolution and dial-up web access was the order of the day.
“But the school I went to was new and well funded. I was exposed to photography and web design. That is when I really knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. The medium fascinated me and I knew I could use it to deliver any kind of message.
“I was lucky to go to a high school in Peel which had funding for programs like multimedia and photography. I don't think I would have gotten into this career if I were still living in Pakistan. I am indeed grateful to my teachers who took up the challenge to learn things for themselves before they could teach us, because back in 1997, New media was really very new,” says Hansotia.
As for not going to university, Niarica has no regrets.
“I got a great technical education in college. I learned skills that I was able to apply in my job. There were students in my post-graduate course that had previously been to university to study new media and dropped out after the third year because they just weren't getting as much technical hands-on training as they felt they needed,” she says. “No university can give me what Sheridan College gave me by way of a hand-on approach to education. Their labs were up to date and I have my school, college and parents to thank in what I have achieved. My parents supported me all the way, even though they did not quite understand what I was doing. I think kids are the ones to be in the career for the rest of their lives, so its best when instead of fulfilling their dreams through their kids, parents expose them to different options, so they can find their own way”