Jared Kozak is a Métis entrepreneur from La Rivière in Southwest Manitoba. He is the co-founder and IT (internet technology) director of DueNorth Systems in Winnipeg.
Though at one point his goal had been to work as a zookeeper, Jared has been interested in technology and software development since he was young. However, there was no internet access in the small community in which he grew up. “I had to go to my mom’s house to get internet access because she lived outside of the community….but once I moved to Winnipeg, it really opened up a lot of doors for me.”
In high school, Jared’s IT interest and entrepreneurial spirit brought him his first professional success. Jared recognized a problem with the way tutors at his school were being coordinated, and he thought he might be able to improve the system by automating it. “I took it upon myself to submit a proposal to the principal of the school. The principal said, ‘Yeah, this is great, and we want to pay you to do it,’ and I was like, ‘Oh man, now I’ve really got to step up and do it!’”
Jared spent three months developing the server and learning from the ground up. “I started Googling around, ‘How do I do this thing? What is PHP? What is a web framework? How do I build this in a secure way?’ And from that I made a lot of mistakes, and I learned from those mistakes.”
Jared did not take this task on for the money, but simply because he enjoyed the challenge. However, he was very excited to be paid a contractor stipend from the school. “As a high school student, getting $2,000 as an influx into your bank account, that’s a huge win!” It was rewarding for Jared to be paid for his product, as well as to have people appreciate and use what he made. “It was beyond belief to have something I made be used on that scale and have people talking about it; it’s so cool! Unimaginable, really.”
With that early encouragement, Jared continued to self-teach and to seek out mentors to advise and direct him. “For the most part, my IT-related skills have all been learned online or though mentors within my own network.”
Jared went on to university, where he joined the University of Manitoba Indigenous Commerce Students, and it was only then that he began to explore his Indigenous heritage and culture. “I didn’t really grow up with my Métis ancestry in mind. [At university] I started discovering who I was as an indigenous person, and where my culture and where my values came from in terms of what my ancestry was.”
Jared chose to focus on business in his post-secondary education. “My biggest weakness was just the soft skills, so the skills like critical thinking, people skills, talking to people, negotiating, those kind of core skills that are fundamental to the way that business works.”
For Jared, those were the critical skills he was missing. He knew he already had access to the IT information he needed through the internet, books, and of course, his mentors. Whether providing creative or technical inspiration, or just encouragement and support, Jared’s mentors have had an enormous impact on his success. Mentors such as his business partner, James Warren. “I don’t run my business alone. I run it with [James]. He’s about 10 years older than me, and he’s…. one of the most creative people that I’ve ever met in my life. I draw huge inspiration from him and his dedication to our business.”
Another important mentor for Jared has been his mother. “My mom’s an ICU nurse at the Health Sciences Centre, so she’s right at the front lines of [Covid19]. She’s super inspirational.” Jared never takes the support of his mentors for granted: “All of my mentors are just all great, great people, and I couldn’t ask for better mentors. I think I’m very lucky in my life that I’ve had such good mentorship.”
So, it isn’t surprising that Jared is offering himself as a mentor for anyone interested in the IT industry (“Just reach out on kozan.dev”). And, he recommends young people seek mentors out in the areas that interest them: “Think about someone that’s in a field that you like and ask them. It never hurts to ask people to be your mentor.”
Special thanks to Jessica Dee Humphreys for authoring this blog post.
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