The next time you tune into Fox News, take a good look at the network’s iconic rotating cube in the lower left corner of your screen.
Or while you’re watching a basketball or hockey game on satellite TV, consider those clocks ticking down on games being played in various cities across the U.S.
The man who makes these things possible lives in Whitehorse, Yukon.
Wyk Parish is a self-described “code monkey” who works for a company called Video Design Software, writing the computer programs behind many of the special effects we take for granted on high-profile TV channels.
“The company’s got more diverse over time, but generally speaking it’s always been focused in the broadcast realm,” he says.
Parish grew up in Toronto, but he’s in no hurry to move back to the big city.
Why should he, when he can enjoy a rewarding career without commuting to the office – 6,000 km away in the Long Island hamlet of Melville, NY?
Practically any time, any day, he can watch his code at work, seamlessly pulling news, weather, sports, or market information from various sources for networks such as Fox and CBS to put on air.
Some days, especially Super Bowl Sunday, he’s particularly attentive.
“We do the NFL satellite channel, and also CBS Sports,” he says. “It never seems to fail that on Super Bowl day, something goes wrong. So I’m always extra aware, just expecting a phone call.”
When the call comes, it’s from Parish’s work colleagues in New York.
“We try to arrange it so that there’s no direct line to me. I like to be as secretive as possible,” he laughs. “Often the guys from CBS or whatever, they’ll be like, ‘Who’s this Wyk guy you keep talking about? We don’t believe he exists.'”
There’s a practical reason behind Parish’s secretiveness.
“Coding, especially some of this stuff, requires unbelievable concentration. There’s so many elements, it’s got to work consistently and it’s complex. If I have people calling me all day, it just won’t work,” he says.
“That’s why places like Whitehorse can be really beneficial for this kind of work, because you can set yourself up in a relatively quiet, uninterrupted environment.”
Parish fell into programming almost by accident. Apart a course in the Pascal computer language during the three months he studied Engineering at Queen’s University before switching to Philosophy, he has no formal computer science training.
It was an invitation to a friend’s wedding in Fort Smith, NT that started the ball rolling.
A passionate outdoors person – he calls himself a “nature freak” – Parish used to relish escaping to the cottage country north of Toronto.
When he landed in Fort Smith, his reaction was: “Oh, my God, it’s like cottage everywhere.”
He quickly packed up and moved north, where he helped run a small recording studio, “kind of pioneering in the digital music revolution” and supplementing his income by teaching computer courses at the local community college.
“Then the town started to feel a little small, and I started to see some of these emerging technologies and wanted to know more about them.”
Back he went to Toronto, “knowing full well that I wasn’t going to stay, because being in Fort Smith converted me to the North, for sure.”
After a stint as “IT guy” for a company that sold high-end computer graphics systems, he suggested that its sister company in New York throw him a software-writing project to try.
“It was actually very contrived, but contrived in a good way. I just knew that I couldn’t hang around in the big city for too much longer, but I liked working with these guys.”
After the success of that first contract, he convinced his colleagues to let him try working from home a few days a week to escape the distractions of the office.
“That distance just got further and further until now I’m in Whitehorse, working exclusively for the software company in New York.”
Since moving here in 1997, Parish has adopted a lifestyle that suits him and his wife, Paulette, just fine.
“Much as I’m a techie guy, I prefer to spend more time outside doing sports and all the things that we love the Yukon for,” he says. “So I don’t want to write any more code than I have to. I don’t want to sit here staring at the screen any longer than I have to.”
As a result, he has learned to be “really thoughtful” about how he writes his code, re-using as much of it as possible and layering new functions onto established code.
While it might take five months to create a complex project initially, “if there’s a lot of aspects of the next project that use some of the same tools at the base, you can get that one up in three months. Maybe the next time you can get it up in a month,” the code monkey explains.
“Sometimes, you’re amazed that ‘Wow, I just put together an $80,000 software contract in two and a half weeks.’ It’s wonderful when that can happen, but it doesn’t happen that often.”
Besides, how many people in Porter Creek have millions of people watching their work on display every day?