Moving to a new city is never an easy decision, but for many people, it can be a life-changing one. This is particularly true for Vimal, who recently made the move from Toronto to St. John’s, Newfoundland. What makes his story unique is how he found himself in this situation. It all started when he attended an event for newcomers that techNL was also attending in Toronto last year.

As fate would have it, Vimal visited the techNL booth, where he learned about the thriving technology sector in Newfoundland and Labrador and the many opportunities available for skilled professionals in the province. Fast forward a few months, and Vimal is now settled into his new life in St. John’s, working as a Data Scientist at Instrumar, a local tech company. In this Q&A, we get to know more about his experience moving from Toronto to St. John’s and settling into the tech sector here.

We hope his story will inspire others to explore new opportunities and take bold steps towards achieving their goals.

techNL: Thank you for sitting down to chat with us, Vimal. Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Vimal: Originally from Bangalore, India, I spent a few years in the UK before returning to Bangalore for my schooling. Since then, I’ve lived all over the world, pursuing my passion for astrophysics research. I completed my undergraduate studies in Scotland, then went on to earn my PhD in astrophysics from Ohio State University in the USA. After that, I worked as a postdoc in South Africa and the UK, conducting computational simulations of galaxy formation and studying their evolution over time. This work required a strong foundation in mathematics and statistics, skills that I now apply in my current role as a Data Scientist at Instrumar.

Awesome! Can you tell us a bit about your experience moving to Newfoundland? What was the transition like?
Vimal: During the pandemic, I relocated to Toronto. For obvious reasons, it was a challenge to look for jobs under the circumstances. I ended up working on writing scripts for a series on space exploration technology, economic exploitation of space and its potential social and economic impact in the future. This project was a fascinating interface between the realms of science and entertainment. Eventually, I came across a job opportunity at Instrumar that I was very keen on and worked remotely for several months before finally moving from Toronto last month. The transition has been quite interesting, with some unique challenges, such as moving during a snowstorm. However, overall, it has been a rewarding experience.

techNL: What initially attracted you to the tech scene in NL, and how has your experience been working in the industry here?   

Vimal: Initially, my spouse and I had been considering a move from Toronto to a smaller town for various reasons such as cost of living and lifestyle. However, after discovering a job opening at Instrumar, we started exploring St. John’s, Newfoundland, and found it to be an intriguing place to relocate to. The job itself was very appealing since I had been interested in working on production-related projects, rather than solely focusing on predicting outcomes as many data scientists do. All things considered, it seemed like the perfect fit at the time.

techNL: How does living in NL compare to other places you’ve lived?
When compared to Ontario, some aspects of living in St. John’s can be more expensive, particularly food prices. However, property prices are significantly lower than those in Toronto, which is a welcome relief considering the current affordability crisis in Canada. In fact, St. John’s is one of the few places in the country where housing is relatively affordable. The town itself has a lot of character and stands out from many generic cities found throughout North America. This is due to its unique history and distinct character, which are both attractive features for those looking for a new place to call home.

St. John’s also has much to offer in terms of outdoor activities. Despite having only experienced winter here so far, I have explored some of the outdoor activities available and am keen to expand this further as the weather improves. Additionally, having a dog makes walking around the town and enjoying the surroundings a pleasurable experience. As for commuting, on the plus side, St John’s is relatively small. The shorter distance between places means that you are never more than ten or fifteen minutes away. On the flip side, the town is very car dependent as public transport is limited.

techNL: How do you think techNL helped you with your decision to move here? How big of a role did our promotion at the event play in your decision to move here. 
Vimal: techNL’s booth at the Canadian Immigrant Fair in Toronto was basically how I came across this job opening at Instrumar in St. John’s. So, it played a very big role. techNL provided me with information about St. John’s and some basic information about the tech sector here, which was also pretty useful in getting me interested. Obviously, it’s not enough to go on but it’s enough to get people interested and people can then go do their own research. I think the techNL booth had the right kinds of information that got people interested in St. John’s. I think if you pick random people from outside Canada or relatively new immigrants, they probably haven’t heard of St. John’s. They might have heard of cities like Ottawa, Toronto, Victoria, Vancouver or Edmonton, but they might not be aware of St. John’s. At least that was the case with me.

techNL did a good job of giving people a basic idea of what they could expect in St. John’s. And techNL promoted the job at Instrumar that I was interested in, applied to and later took up. So techNL did in fact play a key role!

techNL: What has your experience been like working as a Data Scientist for Instrumar?
Vimal: I’ve been with Instrumar for seven months now. While most of that time has been remote I also visited the office for a couple of weeks in August. So, I kind of got to know the people and I got to know the work culture and so on, before actually moving here. So far, my experience has been very positive.

Instrumar is a company that makes electrical sensors. At present, Instrumar’s main commercial product is the Instrumar fiber system. The sensors are deployed at fiber production facilities. We use them to measure the properties of the fibre that runs across the sensor which we then use to identify and manage fibre quality issues in real-time.

I’m working there as a Data Scientist. So, my role is to work with the data that are produced to analyze the data and provide inputs that can be useful to our customers.

techNL: Do you have any advice for people who are interested in the data science field and there’s just starting out?
Vimal: Data Science has been a rapidly growing field for several years now. Easy and cheap availability of high levels of computing power and storage enables us to collect large amounts of data and generate useful insights from them. Hence lots of people are doing this across a wide spectrum of areas. It’s difficult to dish out any kind of generic advice. All I would venture is that the most useful insights can be provided by people who can successfully marry statistics, data analysis and data science skills with domain knowledge.

Sometimes, even the most sophisticated machine-learning models can tell you things that don’t make physical sense and are therefore unlikely to be relevant. Equally, there are real problems people are interested in which cannot be solved without bringing large amounts of data, immense computing power and sophisticated machine-learning models.

techNL: And how do you see the tech industry in Newfoundland in the future like we see it continuing to grow and attracting talent.
Vimal: Newfoundland has a set of advantages and disadvantages. So, I would say the advantages are that it’s a nice small city with affordable housing. On the other hand, the weather can be harsh but more importantly, it’s a bit isolated because of being on an island. I think St. John’s certainly has possibilities of developing into a major tech center. St. John’s is attracting more people each year so there’s an increased rate of migration. So, I think the outlook is likely to be quite positive.

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From Toronto to Newfoundland with Instrumar Data Scientist Vimal Simha