A Note for ’14 Applicants

This blog has surprisingly gained quite a bit of attention over the past few years. I use it for all of my job applications, of course, but it seems that most of my true readers are younger students looking to understand the CS and SE programs at Waterloo. Note that I’m getting to the age where my admissions experience may be irrelevant to prospective students, though luckily, my course work, job experience, and overall thoughts are still relevant.

If you are looking for an exciting career path that is in high demand, consider computer science. CS explores automating the way we do things, and creating solutions to make a troublesome task easier to perform. This has historically set fire to quite a few jobs done by hand or mechanically, but this is where the future is going. There are many branches to CS that I can explain, but that will be left as a Google search for the reader.

I’ve been stuck in a tech bubble for the past couple of years, so I always make sure I talk to some non-tech people to get their POV on the state of tech. Many people understand the significance and effects of social networking on brands and products. Many people understand smartphone technology. So interestingly enough, most people are on the same page.

Waterloo has a pretty decent CS curriculum. Unfortunately you don’t get to learn the more interesting stuff until 3rd year due to the way pre-requisites are laid out. It really isn’t until your upper years until you can explore topics like databases, artificial intelligence, concurrency, user interfaces, and operating systems. I know most of the top tech schools in the States have much more structured CS curriculum, likely with a larger variety of courses, so if you’re interested in further academia, make sure you consider schools in the States as well. Don’t look into it that much if you’re more interested in jumping into your career right after undergrad, though.

Waterloo co-op is all about learning these CS topics through both academia and during work, and trust me, you will not get anything quite as good as Waterloo. No other school will encourage you to work at 6 different companies for 4 months each, thus giving you 2 years of industry experience by the time you graduate. And it’s not even about the experience, it’s also about the connections you make at each of these workplaces that will be another benefit to you. You will not get this at UofT, McMaster, etc. Yes, companies hire from other schools, but it becomes obvious that companies prefer Waterloo because we are available year round, and because all students in co-op have required co-op credits, there is a larger set of available students, who also happen to have relevant work experience.

CS vs SE: in terms of career, you will get the EXACT SAME opportunities.
The quick run down is that you will have a lot of support as an engineering class through the SE program so the course work is manageable, and enjoyable to an extent. You will get enrolled into your required courses automatically so you don’t really have to worry about scheduling issues (that you normally experience as a CS student) until your late upper years. Depending on how active your class is, you may end up with a very lively and well-knit social group. This is difficult to attain if you’re in CS since no one is on a set schedule, unless you are extremely social. This can all be irrelevant if you naturally gravitate towards people outside of your program.

The workload is larger for SE in your first 5 semesters due to the large amount of engineering course requirements. You can still run into heavy workload in your next 3 semesters, but you have more freedom in your electives. For CS, you have freedom in electives throughout undergrad, allowing yourself to create your own workload. This is especially important to those who are interesting in doing a minor (nearly impossible for most engineering programs). Note that the experience is different from person to person depending on how much they take advantage of the benefits of either program.

Many people advise prospective students to simply choose CS if they are afraid of a heavy workload, but if you’re up for the challenge, pick SE, as you can switch to CS fairly easily.

For more on this please check out my other posts. Note that co-op jobs are not guaranteed. The resources are there for you, you just need to use them wisely and properly prepare.

PS. This post ended up being long, and I didn’t realize as I was in full screen mode. Whops..


Reflection of Fall ’13

It’s been awhile since I have been home for the holidays for more than a week. To be exact, I’m be home for 2.5 weeks. I had plans to go on a trip to Japan and South Korea, but my friend bailed on me due to lack of funds. We then planned to do a Montreal trip, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen either since my mom lined me up for a bunch of appointments. My eyesight has been particularly unstable in these past few weeks (sometimes I feel like I can’t ever get Lasik because I work in front of a laptop 24/7).

I’ve spent most of my break so far catching up with high school friends (our annual Secret Santa), watching movies and dramas, and cleaning/organizing my belongings at home. You really end up with a ton of clutter after living on and off every 4 months. You can’t bring everything with you when you move far away, and you always end up bringing more when you come back. I also started doing this thing where I keep all my receipts or significant cool pamphlets I get every term in separate folders. These folders were getting really unorganized in the past couple terms due to lack of time (because when I do have the time, I’d rather be doing other things).

More specifically, I’ve accumulated a huge wardrobe. I’m not even high on the shopaholic standards. I just buy clothing when I feel like I need it, based on my current wardrobe. The problem with this is that I only have a partial wardrobe at all times (when I’m living off campus or renting a place for co-op). This makes it difficult for me to remember whether I already had a ton of white tops, for example. Now it isn’t as bad for school terms, but it really sucks for co-op terms in the States. I am way, way more limited in the partial wardrobe I can bring. I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to fit all the clothing I want to bring for next term.

Speaking of next term – I’ll be in SF again, work term #5 at Rdio. I had a tough time deciding where to go because (if you didn’t read my last blog post) I really wanted to return to FB (or specifically Instagram). I originally decided that I would be happier to return for the Fall (of 2014) instead of the Winter as there will be potentially more returning interns (or new grads) that I already know. I also didn’t really want to be in the Peninsula again for Winter as I prefer SF, and I didn’t want to do a long commute either (FB gives housing to interns or a stipend if you want to live in SF). I almost slightly regret choosing Rdio even now, simply because I really miss my coworkers back at IG. They were extremely hard-working, fun people to be with 8 hours a day. I wasn’t able to properly appreciate and thank them due to a family member passing away around the end of my internship. Thinking back, I really appreciated the experience and the opportunity to meet awesomely talented people. Continue reading

Housing for Waterloo Students – Tips for Searching

This post has been moved to this location for better maintenance.

Having Fun with Search Engine Terms

So I decided to make a 2nd blog post today based on the search results that people took to come to my site (WordPress shows me stats for “words or phrases users find me with when they search”). Some are pretty amusing so I’ve decided to try to decipher them:

“computer science first year waterloo c++”
CS students do not learn C++ in 1st year. They learn Scheme in 1A and C in 1B. A handful of upper year profs don’t like this and look down on it. Now I’ve never learned Scheme myself so I wouldn’t know how it is.
P.S. SE students learn C in 1A and C++ in 1B. You could say that we are “ahead” since we learn a more industry accepted language ahead of time. CS students catch up from CS 246, which teaches C++.

“why is waterloo’s ranking so bad”
Having a good ranking means money being put into research. Our university was established not too long ago (about 50 years ago), comparing to other universities we obviously won’t rank as high. It takes awhile to grow a strong faculty of profs. Also, we do not have a lot of amazing graduate programs yet. We have a ton of amazing undergrad programs that allow students to be set for the real world (if they choose co-op), though.

“are there any advantages to returning to a previous employer? job mine”
I may have mentioned this in my co-op blog post but I really don’t remember. So the advantage of returning to a previous employer is that you are already familiar with the tools that the company uses. If it’s a large company, you can take advantage of being a trusted co-op student, and try out a different team. If it’s a small company, you would probably be on the same team, but be considered “senior” to new employees. Make sure you take the opportunity of working on a different team if you choose to return to your previous employer. Some companies also have stock options that only apply if you are a returning co-op student.

There is honestly no disadvantage of returning, except if you feel that you could get a better job elsewhere and you want to try out a different company structure or whatever. If you already liked the environment you were in though, returning is not a bad idea at all. Now, I wouldn’t return for more than 2 terms (although it’s really up to you).

“statistics waterloo summer sublet”
I’m guessing this person is having a tough time renting out their place for the Spring term. Yes, it is very tough finding sublets for summer. Apparently at other university towns, the leases are almost always 8 month since summer term doesn’t really exist. Unfortunately, both Waterloo and Laurier have co-op, meaning a chunk of the student population is still present during May to August. So, that’s what rental companies take advantage of. Fortunately for me, I’ve never had to deal with subletting a room in the summer (I don’t sign a 12 month lease if I know I’m not in Waterloo for the summer). Most people end up not finding anyone to rent to and have to incur the 4 months even though they aren’t there (it really does suck).

“better to lease or sublet waterloo university coop”
So it depends on your sequence. 8stream engineers can sign during their 2nd and 4th years since they will be on term for Fall and Summer. They should not sign during their 3rd and 5th year at Waterloo since they will only be on term for the Winter. What you can do is find a group of people who are always off-stream from you and sublet off of each other.

All in all, if you want to save money, subletting is the way to go. It’s a little more of a hassle since you have to search around, and you may end up with terribad roommates if you are living with complete randoms.

“waterloo co-op will i ever get a job”
Keep checking your emails. Your faculty advisor should be emailing you opportunities throughout the term. Your co-op advisors also do the same (they have a list of students who aren’t employed yet). Ask around for opportunities. If anything, you can work at a summer camp that is hopefully related to your program.

“is it difficult to write afmaa”
For those who don’t know, I wrote the afmaa in 2010 and was accepted to AFM-PA, but obviously did not take the offer. So I thought the AFMAA was pretty straight forward. Just make sure you go in with a clear mind, and remember the standard essay structure. The AFMAA is actually very similar to the ELPE (an English proficiency test that all Waterloo students need to pass as a graduation requirement, written in 1st year).

“afmaa grade 11 marks”
The only grade 11 mark they consider is your Grade 11 English mark if you do NOT have a final Grade 12 English mark on your transcript (i.e. you are currently taking it in 2nd semester). They want a minimum of 75 percent on the most recent English mark. If you don’t have it, you won’t get an AFMAA invite.

“don’t get invited to waterloo afmaa you don’t get accepted ?”
The AFMAA is a highly weighted component on acceptance for AFM. So no AFMAA invite = no acceptance.

“why employers don’t like waterloo”
Employers love Waterloo. There are very few universities out there with mandatory co-op education.

“university of waterloo software engineeing timetable”
Check out https://uwaterloo.ca/software-engineering/current-undergraduate-students/class-homepages for some sample timetables. Don’t be too overwhelmed, this is engineering for ya..

“i dont want the job job mine”
Always get the interviewer’s contact information. If you already have a bad feeling about what you’re getting into, tell them before the interview ends. If you rather not say it in person, email them saying that you are no longer interested in the job. Don’t set up yourself for a bad work term if you know it won’t end well. Make sure you do this asap (before rankings).

“too much software job on jobmine uw”
Sorry. We’re in demand :/

“university of waterloo social life”
I think I’ve reiterated on this plenty of times – university is what you make of it. “Social life” is not going to come to you, you’re going to have to go out there and find it, whether by joining clubs, attending events, getting to know your roommates or classmates, etc. I guess it’s a little harder at UW since we don’t have as much school spirit (lack of amazing varsity teams perhaps). Personally I have an amazing social life when I’m at Waterloo. Yes, I admit that I go out a lot (i.e. Bomber nights, parties, club socials).

We are depicted as a nerdy school because we are strong in our Math and Engineering faculties but it doesnt mean that we sit around at home all the time.

“is mkv more expensive than v1? uwaterloo”
Yes. It’s newer, and it’s suite style.

“are waterloo coops worth hiring”
Yes. Especially if you want to hire a 3rd or 4th year. We already have experience at 3-4 different companies, and it’s not just grabbing coffee, we do real life work at our co-op jobs.

“ranked but no offer what happens next jobmine”
You might get matched if the employer doesn’t get the person they gave the offer to.

“uwaterloo program with the least girls”
It’s probably ECE or Tron.

“make strawberry milkshake essay”
I really couldn’t figure this one out… Were they writing an essay about strawberry milkshakes?

PS. I updated my blog layout again because I realize that the default font used is really large and there’s whitespace that can be used. Hopefully it will be easier on the eyes to read my blocks of text!

How I Feel about LinkedIn

I finally have time for a new blog post. So classes finished up this Monday and it’s time to procrastinate on studying for finals (just kidding, I spent the whole day studying since it was a rainy day). Many many things have happened in the past 4 months and I guess I finally had time to sit around and reminisce. I met a ton of amazing people this term outside of my program. I went out a lot, building on the work-hard play-hard philosophy. No regrets for sure.

Despite the rumours that 3A is the toughest term for Software Engineers at Waterloo, I found it quite manageable. I guess this was affected by our exceptional round of professors this term (with the exception of one..) It was tough in the sense that we never got a break; it was 1 assignment after another. But this term was a lot of fun in terms of the stuff I got to learn and do. User Interfaces (CS 349) being a favourite. Fun assignments (although tedious) with a fun prof. Take a look over at my Github if you’re interested (I just pushed the repos today).

So I actually have a topic to talk about today: LinkedIn.

The whole concept of LinkedIn is kind of iffy to me. I was recently surprised to learn that not a lot of university students know of it (since their peers don’t use it, or they have never had a professional job before). It’s quite interesting from a UW student perspective because once you are immersed into the co-op program, you are obliged to have a LinkedIn profile and connect with all your friends and coworkers … and people you might not even know who happen to go to your school.

So what exactly is it in comparison to Facebook? It’s like social networking, except you get notified when someone stalks you. Oh, and there’s a newsfeed for updates on your Connections and the Companies and Groups you’re following. Does it really matter if you never update your LinkedIn though? For full-time people, you probably update once a year or whenever you switch jobs. You connect with people so you can have access to their network, to expand the possibility of recruiters coming to your profile. For students, it’s a nice replacement for a “website” or “portfolio” (but you should probably move away from that once you get your own blog or website).

So is LinkedIn just a recruiting tool then? Yes. In many senses it is, because recruiters/HR people need to find talented people suited for the job. LinkedIn is a nice way to do it without having to flip through resumes. Usually you have a 1-liner under each job instead of the long detailed descriptions you see in resumes (..at least based on the Canadian resumes I’ve seen).

What does this imply?  That you should have a beautified profile, with maxed out endorsements on your Skills (more on this later). No matter, HR will still want to do a phone screen of some sort before transferring you to the manager or engineer or whoever you’d be working under. So it’s not like the hiring happens through LinkedIn messaging.

So back to maxing out your skillz.. The act of endorsing. I find this very silly. I discovered it one day when I received an email notification saying my friend has “endorsed” me for Git and Java and perhaps some other skills I had on my profile. This person is a classmate of mine so we take similar courses and everything.. but how could he know if I was proficient in Java or Git? We never worked together.

Fast forward a couple of months, and I’m starting to get Endorsement requests from my friends. It’s amusing, it really is, this strange feature.

Other strange features: Introductions. Quoted from the Help Center page: “An introduction lets you contact members who are in your 2nd degree network or 3rd degree network. If a member is within your extended network, you can contact them through connections you have in common.” So basically you message your connection in common to request to be connected to their connection. It’s very silly and kind of a foreign concept to those who have used group messaging on any IM client or simply, Facebook. What if your common connection never checks LinkedIn? Then you just wasted an Invitation, because you only get 5. After that, you need to pay.

I guess I just don’t see LinkedIn as a company that will grow properly. They have a very strong foundation, but there are many unnecessary and complex features that normal users won’t bother figuring out.

There are other cool recruiting tools out there that are more engineering focused. For example, StackOverflow Careers, which is of course directly connected to all of StackExchange. They have a really cool resume builder, and you can append your top answers to StackOverflow questions. Yes, I think this is cool. Although, I don’t know many people who use it, and I’ve never been contacted through it. The concept of having your profile and being contacted by technical people because they actually look at your contributions is cool – but who really has time to read through your contributions?

That’s the issue with writing paragraphs on your LinkedIn or resume. It can all be a load of crap on paper, and you can even bullshit through your interview. In the end, it’s all about how you work with others and handle conflicts and stress at work. I guess that’s what LinkedIn recommendations are for. Now THOSE are pretty legit. Having the references there are prepared, rather than the generic “References upon request” (which, btw, you really shouldn’t put on your resume… seems like such a 90s thing to do thinking about it now).

I just wanted to get that off my chest, the topic is probably really irrelevant to most of the people reading my blog.

So anyways, good luck to those with final exams, and good luck to prospective students that are still in high school. Feel free to email me or comment below at any time… I am pretty quick at responding.