Thierry Des Trois Maisons, Software Engineer on Search and Rescue

Originally Published 15 June 2018

My name is Thierry Destroismaisons. I am a software engineer and search and rescue volunteer. I came to Dublin from my native Quebec, Canada, to combine my background in software engineering and search and rescue — abbreviated as SAR.

I work for D4H Technologies out of the Baily Lighthouse in Howth — a location that has been contributing to saving lives for over 200 years! Since moving to Dublin in 2016, I have been leading the development of our Decisions product, a web-based platform (SaaS) for emergency response teams to plan, manage and report on their incident response, personnel, equipment, training, and everything in between.

I got my start with “coding” when I was about 10 years old, when I built much of my school’s website. That was the early 2000s, so very few primary schools had an online presence! It was the era of Netscape Composer, if that brings back memories to some …

Despite this early introduction to the field, software engineering was not what I set out to do at the time. I grew up dreaming of building experimental aircraft and spending time outdoors. But I was comfortable around computers and using them peripherally for other projects. For example, during high school, I started a regional forum and web portal for aviation enthusiasts. I also used CAD software to design an R/C aircraft for a senior year project, and made spreadsheets of my hiking equipment to organize and optimize my packing. Without quite realizing it at the time, I had learned that with technology being an increasingly central part of our lives, it was entirely possible to build a highly motivating career in tech around almost any interest because of how increasingly omnipresent software was getting.

As a teenager, I joined my school’s outdoors club, where I was the guy with the heavy pack and every single “just in case” thing you could possibly think of. I wanted to be ready for anything nature (or our own lack of experience!) could throw at us. I also became a member of the Air Cadets, where I was inculcated in the value of community involvement. Through volunteering, one can help people in need, create connections with people, learn valuable skills, and countless other benefits, both for themselves and their community. But volunteering can be demanding, and I have seen people burn out from the compounding effect of volunteering on top of their regular commitments. Much like with a job, finding the right volunteering opportunity that leverages your skills and interests makes it much more sustainable.

So when I discovered the world of volunteer search and rescue teams, it was like a match made in heaven: I could spend time outdoors, and gain skills and experience—things I’d do anyway just for fun—all while also helping people in my community! But wait, there’s more: there’s also volunteer aerial search and rescue. So I could do all that plus fly planes? That was just perfect! As I rarely do half-measures, I joined both the wilderness and aerial SAR teams.

Fast forward a few years. In the fall of 2015, still in Canada where I was working for a creative agency, I attended a search and rescue convention. In between training sessions, committee meetings, and the tradeshow was a hackathon organized by Irish company D4H Technologies, inviting developers to join forces with SAR subject matter experts to help solve problems they faced. Having knowledge in both, I signed up, thinking it would be a fun and enriching experience to participate in a project that combined the two. I had a lot of fun, and, unexpectedly, a job offer with D4H followed!

The position itself was exciting, but I was also thrilled to live abroad to expand my horizons and, as a native French speaker, improve my English. It also seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: being offered a job abroad doesn’t happen often, and being able to just pack up and leave might get harder as life went on. I couldn’t pass that! Needless to say, I took the job and moved to Ireland.

Howth is a beautiful place to live. Situated on a peninsula north-east of Dublin Bay, it’s close to the city, yet away from the hustle of the city center. While it’s right next to one of Europe’s bustling tech hubs, in Howth you’ll mostly find fishing boats leaving before sunrise, sea lions roaming the harbour, and lobster traps piled up on the docks. On a nice summer evening, crowds flock there to enjoy the views, the chippers, and numerous pubs. On a weeknight, it’s peaceful, with not much else than raindrops and crashing waves. My commute to the company’s office at the Baily Lighthouse, on a rocky outcrop on the south side of the peninsula, alternates between biking up and down through the summit of Howth Head and trail running the scenic if typically muddy and wind-battered Cliff Trail. As a commute, that’s hard to beat!

D4H’s Lighthouse offices in Dublin

At work, the blend of software and personal interests makes the work much more motivating. The product I’m working on is designed for emergency services – including search and rescue — so I’m not only building software for strangers or for a paycheck, I am making it for myself, too.

My experience with search and rescue certainly helps manage my stress as well. Deadlines are still a thing, but after having been out in the field where decisions could literally mean life or death for the people we’re looking for, a looming deadline might be added pressure, but it’s not much of a reason to panic!

To anyone interested in joining search and rescue, I’d recommend getting in touch with your local teams. Each region has its own system, but most will have volunteer opportunities. There are mountain, aerial, marine, mounted, urban, ski, cave, drone, and canine teams. Where there’s no SAR, you might find volunteer EMTs, firefighters, or civil defence filling a similar niche. All those require people to go on call-outs. They also depend on treasurers, webmasters, fundraisers, and other support personnel, letting anyone willing to contribute get involved with their particular skills.

And if search and rescue isn’t your thing, the same idea applies to every other nonprofit: if you’re passionate about puppies, consider volunteering at an animal shelter. If you’re passionate about art, consider lending a hand at a local non-profit film festival. There’s something for everyone!

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