‘Life is good here and we’re not going anywhere’ – The Irish Times

The dynamic metropolis on Lake Ontario’s northwestern shore offers a colourful mix of outdoor adventure, nightlife and ample opportunities in a software space.

Toronto is a software hub, so there are jobs – even for people without third-level education,” says Matthew Baston, who is originally from Knocklyon in Dublin.

After completing his Leaving Cert in Terenure College, he followed the well-worn path of the school graduate to New Zealand and Australia, working as he travelled. “It was a rite of passage and I enjoyed my time abroad, knowing it was something I wanted to do again.”

He returned to a booming Ireland in 2007, choosing to work rather than go to college. “I got a job selling insurance for companies including Insure My Van and, after three years, I took a sales job with Vodafone. ”

In 2016, Baston felt he was in a rut workwise. “The opportunities without a degree were limited in certain areas, but Canada was opening up at the time.”

With some acquired savings, he moved to Toronto to stay with a friend, which he says, softened the blow. The city, with a population of almost three million people, boasts a booming tech sector and is home to the Northern American continent’s biggest urban innovation hub, with 20,000 tech companies and more than 270,000 tech workers.

“I applied for a two-year working visa on the Canadian government website. The application process was quite straightforward. I didn’t even have a job before I left Ireland. But as luck would have it, a few days after landing, I met a sales manager from Softchoice cloud migration service at a pub and he suggested I apply for a job in software sales. It was the easiest job I’ve ever gotten.”

After six months at Softchoice, Baston moved to CrowdRiff, a visual marketing company, as a business development specialist.

Work/life tech culture

“Their visual influence platform revolutionised how brands use visuals, by surfacing the most relevant photos and videos and turning them into powerful marketing assets.”

It was a great position, he says, with travel involved but what impressed Baston the most was the work/life tech culture the company curated. “The company organises mid-week events like volleyball, softball or soccer. It’s a big tech trend over here, which shows how serious employers are about retaining staff.”

As for visas, Baston says that as long as you are employed in Canada, you will be given a tax number and, after two years, you can apply for a residency visa.

“It’s easy to come here, but obviously the residency visas are trickier to get and I hired a lawyer to do the paperwork. I got in in 2019, after a bit a of a backlog.”

In 2021, due to Covid-19, Baston was laid off as the demand for visual travel-related storytelling dwindled. But opportunities were forthcoming, despite the global pandemic and he landed a job as a business development manager at cognitive health company Cambridge Brain Science in June 2021.

“I train and coach a team of outbound sales representatives. It’s been mostly online so far, due to Covid-19.”

Baston, who also developed young players at Toronto Nomads Rugby club, says the company also has a great company culture, with game evenings and interactive online events.

Despite lockdown restrictions, Toronto is a great place to live, he adds.

“Obviously living costs here are high here. You pay around €3,000 per month for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere near the centre. The rates of pay compared to Silicon Valley are lower too. But beyond tech, there is a great entertainment district, abuzz with art and music. Toronto is famously cool for creatives. I love the art installations; for example there is a broken-down car turned into a flower pot in Kensington Market.

“People like to work hard and play hard here and the city caters for that. Lights in offices are on late, but bars are full every day of the week.”

For weekend ventures, there’s no shortage of things to do. “Niagara Falls is two hours from here, but the locals don’t really go there, especially in high season. But there are fantastic places to visit, from vineyards to the mountains and anywhere along Lake Ontario, where people have holiday cottages.”

‘Slower pace of life’

Baston says having a newborn during lockdown, while working from home, has been a blessing. “My wife is on maternity leave, so it’s great we’re both home, even if I’m working. It’s more practical having two people and I get to see the baby during the day.”

The family recently moved to east Durham, which is about 40 minutes away by train. “There are lots of green spaces here and it’s a great place to raise a family. But it’s pretty quiet and I’m getting used to a slower pace of life.

“The winters are as cold as you could expect in Canada, so people don’t hang around outside pubs like they do in Ireland and streets can be eerily empty.”

Baston says Canada has been back and forth with lockdowns. “We’re currently behind Ireland so we’re gradually coming out of lockdown now. Bars and restaurants are just reopening.

“It was like the movie Back to the Future watching people at the Aviva Stadium at a Six Nations match. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous. I guess some things are just special at home, and rugby is one of them. But life is good here and we’re not going anywhere.”