UNB Alumni
Telling our #ProudlyUNB stories

Q&A: Ash Furrow

Author: Young Alumni

Posted on Aug 22, 2016

Category: UNB Fredericton , Young Alumni , Computer Science

From Fredericton and Toronto, to Amsterdam and New York, Ash Furrow (BCS ’11) has taken his computer science degree to creative lengths around the globe, publishing computer science books and developing iOS apps. He talks to us about his journey and lends great advice for fellow young alumni.

Ash Furrow, 28, New York City, BCS '11

Q: Did you come to UNB knowing which degree program and career path you wanted to explore?

Not really. I knew I wanted to do something with computers and after learning the basics of programming in high school, I was keen to learn more. Computer Science made sense.  

Q: What is your most memorable moment from your time at UNB?

There are a lot to pick from. The thing I remember most was getting involved with the Computer Science Association (CSA) and bringing more life to the faculty’s undergrad population. By the end of my time at UNB, the CSA was hosting monthly pancake breakfasts to raise money for charity, I had worked with faculty members to integrate peer mentoring into first year classes, and the computer science faculty had the highest number (per-capita) of students voting in Student Union elections. I feel a profound sense of pride that activities I started remain traditions in the faculty, five years after I have left.  

Q: Since graduating from UNB, you've published computer science books and have lectured around the world on iOS development. Tell us a little bit about these ventures and accomplishments.

It has been a very wild ride and I can’t entirely explain how it happened. When I was at UNB, I taught myself how to write iOS apps and wrote a blog about whatever I was learning that week. I kept blogging after moving to Toronto and eventually a publisher reached out about a book idea. I started speaking at local meetings of software developers, then small conferences, then bigger ones. It all kind of snowballed from there, and I’m now far more focused on what I speak and write about. My goal – both personally and professionally – is to remind everyone that we all share more commonalities than differences. Check out Ash's online portfolio for more information on his published books and iOS apps.  

Q: What was your first job (or jobs) after graduation?

After graduating, my wife and I got married (in the SUB!) and moved to Toronto for her grad degree. I bounced around a few startups, spent some time cutting my teeth at a tech start-up named 500px and eventually landed a job with Teehan+Lax, a globally recognized design agency. T+L was the first job where I was paid both to write open source software and to blog professionally about the software industry. It sounds unusual, but I trace a lot of the opportunities I’ve had to the first blog I started at UNB.  

Q: Were there specific skills you learned at UNB that you highlighted in order to be hired?

I often heard fellow students complain that the computer science degree requirements focused too heavily on the arts and on writing. I completely disagree. My exposure to psychology, economics and writing have all helped me distinguish myself as a professional programmer. I don’t see a degree as a piece of paper; I see it as an acknowledgement of the perspective that a person has been exposed to.  

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Q: Where are you currently working?

I’m working for a company in New York called Artsy. We’re an online education platform and marketplace for art, and our goal is to make art as popular as music. Remember: music was once only accessible to wealthy, high-class people, who could afford to listen to it performed live. Technology liberated music through the phonograph, radio and later the internet. Today, music is accessible to everyone. Technology has the opportunity to do the same thing for art as it has done for music.  

Q: Has your current career met your expectations?

This is a good question, but I’ve never really had any expectations for my career. I just kind of go with the flow and focus on improving myself and the world around me.  

Q: If you weren’t in your current career field, what would you be doing?

I don’t know. There’s no where else I would rather be than where I am and there’s nothing I’d rather do than what I’m doing now.  

Q: You’ve lived in cities around the world. What was most exciting about living/working in Europe? New York?

Living abroad gave me a much larger perspective than I had before I left Canada. I had never noticed the many things I took for granted, but they were highlighted when I removed myself from my comfortable environment. Specifically, I began to better understand the privilege that I hold in our global society and the moral responsibilities that accompany it.  

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Q: Was it a big adjustment moving from the east coast of Canada?

Moving to Toronto actually went really smoothly. Or, at least as smoothly as a 16-hour car ride with two cats can go. The big adjustment came later, when we moved to Amsterdam. I was really surprised to find how people everywhere are actually very similar, even though we pretend otherwise. People in Toronto have similar hopes and fears as people in Fredericton or Woodstock, just like people in New York and Amsterdam. I was surprised by how much in common we all have. That would probably be the biggest adjustment from leaving: I had to throw away a lot of the mental schemas I had about people from different parts of the world.  

Q: What was your ‘aha’ moment?

There was this one time in an airport, the day after I gave a conference presentation about how problems in society manifest themselves in the software industry. Two Germans introduced themselves and told me how much they enjoyed my talk. They brought up the Syrian migrant crisis in the context of my talk and I thought “whoa, the advice I gave on how to be a better software developer is also advice to be a better human being.” Since then, I’ve been looking for more consistencies in the systems of society and of the software industry – strengths and weaknesses. I realized that I can help improve society as a whole by helping to improve the culture of my profession.  

Q: What challenges have you experienced since graduation?

The biggest struggle I’ve faced in my life has been depression. I’ve been lucky to have support from family, friends and employers, but many Canadians don’t. Resources for treatment are scarce. There are long waiting lists in urban areas like Toronto and access to mental healthcare is even more limited in rural areas in Atlantic Canada. The stigma attached to mental health continues to impede efforts to diagnose and treat mental health issues.