A Driving Focus: How Neil Stephenson went from racetracks to the education market at Canon Canada
For Neil Stephenson, the road from working on cars to working with cameras had detours and twists in a varied career that led him to his current role as Manager of Professional Markets at Canon Canada Inc.
As a child growing up in northeast England, Stephenson was fascinated by his grandparents’ stories about the joys of their annual three-month vacation to Canada. “I saw amazing pictures of Niagara Falls and the Toronto Eaton Centre and heard nothing but good things about the country,” he says. At age 18, Stephenson emigrated to Canada with his mother. By then he had grown disillusioned with his initial dream career of being a mechanic, so the time was right to start something new.
Upon arriving, Stephenson took a variety of short term jobs in construction and factories, but wanted to find a new path. A recruitment questionnaire ended up pointing him back to his love of cars and racing, and by extension, photography. “What drew me into photography in a big way was the visual aspect, but going beyond being a spectator and creating something,” he says.
Wanting to hone his skills, Stephenson enrolled in Sheridan’s photography program to learn the foundations and fundamentals of his newly chosen career. “I really enjoyed my time at Sheridan. I learned a lot and wouldn’t have done anything different,” he says, pointing to professor Howard Simkins as a memorable highlight for his lectures on Adobe Photoshop, which was then a new technology. Upon graduation, Stephenson worked as a freelancer for Gridwork, a company that he had interned with during school, and began to gain confidence and experience.
Deciding to work on magazines, he went to a local WHSmith bookstore to check mastheads and began sending out letters, eventually landing at Truck and Trail magazine as editor and photographer. At the same time, Stephenson also developed a real interest in architecture, shooting interior shots for designers and developers as part of his private photography company. He remained in the magazine business, working for Formula Magazine as an editor and photographer, for two years.
In 1996, Stephenson began a new direction, taking on a role at Canon Canada Inc. as a Technical Marketing Specialist. It was a time of upheaval in the industry as digital cameras began to have real impact in terms of consumer usage. Over the last 21 years, his role has morphed into promoting the capabilities of technology, rather than the technology itself, working with both training and outreach efforts.
These days, Stephenson has come full circle, working with Sheridan College and other institutions as Manager of Professional Markets — a role he has held since 2010. “Sometimes a massive upheaval forces you to skew your thinking in a way that it wouldn’t have done before,” he says. “It may have taken a bit of time to find my path, but it has led me to do more than I otherwise would.”