Tag Archives: waterloo

One Ring

I’m sporting my first piece of jewelry, in the form of an iron ring on my right pinky. It’s the sign of a Canadian engineer who has taken the Iron Ring oath to uphold a certain level of ethical behaviour. The ceremony was this past Saturday. I won’t talk any more about the ceremony, since it’s intended to be a quiet, private thing, not an event to be described.

However, the ring, well, it symbolizes for me the (near-)completion of 5 years of continuous schooling and internships.

The engineering program at Waterloo hasn’t been easy. We’ve lost around half our class and I hope with all my heart that everyone that’s made it this far will graduate this June.

Five years ago, I was wrapping up my high school days, and just informed that I was accepted to Waterloo, Toronto, Queen’s and McGill. I hadn’t yet decided on Waterloo; in fact Waterloo gave me the worst offer of them all. I remember my calculus teacher in grade 12, Mr. Taylor, asked me if Waterloo was the only co-op school out of the bunch. It was, and he highly recommended that I try it. I respected Mr. Taylor a great deal. He helped make calculus interesting for the class, which is a pretty tough thing to do. Between him and another teacher at the school, with whom I didn’t have any classes, but graduated from the Waterloo mathematics program, I was eventually convinced a co-op program might be interesting.

Life certainly would have been different had I gone to any of the other schools, but I don’t regret my decisions. Sitting here with a Microsoft offer signed and a late July start date booked, I feel alright. We’ll see what the next few years bring, but one thing is for sure – I’m not going to settle for anything that makes me unhappy. That’s also not to say I’m averse to hardship. I simply need to know that I’m working toward something that I can be content with.

The ring is a tangible representation of the hard work I’ve put into the program, and while I won’t always look back with great fondness, I will always appreciate the opportunities the program has provided me.

Done 4A

There are no more obstacles left in my path to Redmond!

My last exam of the 4A semester was earlier this evening, ECE 418, and it went quite smoothly. I now have two weeks before I ship off to the United States. I plan on using that time to prepare for graduate school applications in the fall and go out and do lots of photography, enjoy the last days of summer. I’m headed to Stratford (Ontario) this weekend for a photo trek. I hear it’s a nice town.

Wow, these past months have flown by. It hasn’t really sunk in yet.

Commence 4A

Now that it’s a bit over a week into the new semester, I’ve had a chance to sit through all the classes I’m enrolled in plus one, ECON 231 International Economics. Without a doubt there’s a different mindset when approaching this set of courses, because I selected each and every one of them. These are classes that I’m interested in and that makes it easier to apply oneself. I was one of four lucky people to get an override to attend ECON 231, so I’m sporting 5 courses instead of the typical 4 that is required for this project semester (fourth year design project).

Thus far, I can say without a doubt that ECE 438 Digital Integrated Circuits is my favorite course. I’m so glad that sucking it up through ECE 231 and subsequently ECE 332 are starting to pay off. Semiconductors are just such gosh darned interesting stuff. I had a chat with the professor this semester about topics on process engineering and it seems like that’s mainly a topic for graduate studies. Hrm…. I’ll jot that down on the list. It’s really too bad companies like Intel don’t hire co-ops, although I completely understand why. We’d be absolutely useless in the field.

I’ve been cramming GRE vocabulary for the last few weeks in preparation for taking the GRE, hopefully in mid to late June. While I’m very excited about going to work for Microsoft in the fall and of course would be delighted if they were to extend a full time offer, I want to keep my options open, and graduate studies is one I’m considering. In that vein, I’m also considering doing an Undergraduate Research Assistantship this semester, if I can find a professor interested in giving me the opportunity.

On the extracurricular front, I’ll be in the photo club again, probably as an executive, and I’ll be back in the university orchestra after a one semester absence. This semester shouldn’t be too crammed, so I feel I can devote some time to music again. I know I’m being a bit hypocritical after writing about possibly being on the wrong side of the conductor, but after turning down an urgent plea for percussionists last semester, I’m partly doing this to assuage my own guilt for (sort of) letting the group down.

Alright, I’m off to play a bit of tennis. I just love the great weather!

Goodies Await my Return from Waterloo

It was the final day of lectures for the 3B semester at the University of Waterloo, and I now find myself writing this from the comfort of home sweet home, where I’ll spend the next week or so, studying for final exams.

With that in mind, I came home to a whole pile of goodies that demanded my immediate attention. It goes without saying, there was little in the way of studying this evening.

A whole pile of goodies await me

Deserving of an analysis which I’ll leave for another time, the 3G iPhone hasn’t impressed me much, with my horrendous luck with the hardware, awful device performance (third-party verified), and the piss-poor iTunes application, which is necessary for the management of the device. Everyone says it’s karma for my hatin’ on Apple… Regardless of the reason, it hasn’t been the most pleasing of devices to use. It’s no longer aligned with what I want in a smartphone.

Enter the Nokia E71. Long story short, Newegg.ca listed the E71-2 for a stunning $320CAD a short while ago. At about half the cost of a BlackBerry Bold (my other replacement consideration), I decided it was worth the risk to try a device on an unfamiliar platform. Worse comes to worst, I can sell a mint E71 on eBay, at least recouping my cost. Plus who doesn’t like new gadgets to play with? 🙂 I’m stretching the device out right now; hopefully I’ll have something to detailed to write later next week.

The Office 2007 Ultimate package came along with the book on designing forms for InfoPath from, you guessed it, Microsoft. My hiring manager at Microsoft kindly sent me some materials to help me get acquainted with the product I’ll be working on. That’s $1000 of software and textbook there…

Finally, the three CDs are from the marketing director for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, who contacted me after reading the post on my experience at last season’s performance of Holst’s The Planets. I gave her permission to use a quote or two for marketing purposes and was kindly offered a TSO Live CD. She sent three. 🙂 I’m looking forward to listening to them as I study this next week. If you’re reading this, thanks! It’s great to see every sort of organization keeping the pulse of the online community.

One Year Til MY Iron Ring Ceremony

Yesterday, a bunch of dressed up, half drunk engineers invaded our lecture room to pronounce their last day before the Iron Ring Ceremony, a ceremony that (almost) all engineering students look forward to. The symbolism of the iron ring itself is best left to another article at another time, but in the context of the engineering program at Waterloo, the ceremony marks the culmination of 5 years (or more) of hard work and harder complaining.

Pre Iron Ring Ceremony romp

As I sat there, glad for the temporary respite from circuit fault testing, I realized two things:

  1. I will probably be amongst those raucous engineers in a year.
  2. I will probably be amongst those raucous engineers in one year.

It’s now one week before the end of lectures of the 3B semester, and it seems such a short time ago that I was writing about the approach of midterms and reading week. This semester, more than any so far, has veritably flown by – projects, labs, and assignments have contributed to the feeling that I wrapped up my semester at Indigo but a few days ago, when in fact it has been 3 months. I sense myself growing tired of so many things about where I am, and whereas during any other semester, I’d simply look to the approaching co-op, I only have another 4 months of school to look forward to this time. I’m finally experiencing what a typical university career feels like.

To keep myself from going insane, I’ve been injecting little bits of interest into my every day life. What I didn’t consider but a year ago now keeps me content: photography. It’s one of those activities that allows a curious mind to wander and look at things in a different light. It’s possibly the single biggest thing I’m looking forward to in the summer. At least the drab greyness that is Waterloo in the winter will be replaced by some color. With only 4 courses (and 1 additional slot for work on the fourth year design project), my schedule has large swaths of emptiness, pretty conducive to going out and shooting some photos.

I’m also spending some more time researching topics of interest outside (or extensions) of course material. Among the topics are semiconductors, processor architecture, and some program management related fields. I recently picked up two books on the third topic, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and Making Things Happen by Scott Berken. These two books were recommended by Joel Spolsky at the end of his wonderful article on program management and were very well reviewed at Amazon.

Making a proactive change to my schedule, I’ve begun studying for final exams already, starting with ECE 327, Digital Systems Engineering. There’s about 300 pages of lectures notes to go over since midterms. Split into little chunks, it’s my hope that I’ll be able to properly digest it by the time the exam rolls around.

3B – Crying Wolf

I’ve had my share of bumps and bruises through nearly 4 years of university now. I was told 1B would be difficult, but while we did lose something around 30% of our class, I sailed through without much issue. Then the killer was supposed to be 2B, but again, it wasn’t terribly trying. So when I was told 3B would finally bring the pain, I chalked it up to the upper-year students who cried wolf. I wasn’t worried.

But with a day less than a month before I write my last exam for the semester, I find myself living in labs, the library and empty classrooms, working on projects, reports and assignments. It’s been literally weeks since I’ve been able to return home after lectures end for the day. I’m tired.

It’s with a big sigh of relief that I’m spending most of this weekend simply sitting in my room, catching up with lectures and practice problems, taking time to relax in between. I can clearly feel my progress through university. I’ve arrived at the point where I’m understanding most things simply listening in lectures, instead of having to re-learn everything on my own after the fact that was the case for the first couple years. While it’s true that I haven’t retained all the details from the courses I’ve taken in the past, university has improved my ability to learn, as clichéd as that may be, and that’s the most important thing.

It’s coming up to the endgame for the 3B semester. This time I don’t have an exciting co-op semester to look forward to, just another 4 months of school, in the summer. Ho hum.

Another Shot at Microsoft

Last year, I interviewed for a product planning co-op position at Microsoft, which I unfortunately didn’t get. I ended up working at Indigo, and if you’ve been following recently, I don’t regret that one bit.

But it’s a new year and I still have an itch that hasn’t been scratched.

At the beginning of the semester I attended a Microsoft mix & mingle event where I was able to speak with the recruiter for the University of Waterloo, as well as both full-time and a co-op UI program managers. While my work at Indigo showed me that web development is indeed more of a hobby than career path for me, user interface and experience design is something I’m very interested in as a potential career. The opportunity of UI PM at Microsoft was enticing, to say the least.

So, imagine my excitement when I received an interview invitation for a PM position at Microsoft a couple days ago. I don’t have a work term until the fall, and thus didn’t apply to any jobs this semester. Regardless, Microsoft keeps résumés on file for one year and contacted me outside of Jobmine. I got word back today stating it was alright that I interview for the fall semester.

The interview is slated for either the upcoming Tuesday or Wednesday. In addition to studying for an ECE 355 midterm, I will be preparing for an interview I intend on nailing this time.


School’s ramping up for the Winter 2009 semester and I’m not quite certain what to make of it yet. I have 4 core ECE courses and a political science course to fill out my CSE requirements. Of the 4 ECE courses, 3 have labs and two have projects. Furthermore, the initial steps for fourth year design project start this semester, which means coming up with an idea and fleshing out the requirements and design. I have a great group for the project and we’re in the process of working with professors on firming up the details on a few exciting ideas.

I put my name down for two clubs on campus this semester, WIREX (Waterloo Investment Research Exchange) and the UW Photo club. WIREX is all about trading and investing, something I’m deeply fascinated by and of course, the photo club is where I hope to pick up some composition technique from those more experienced. I won’t be joining the university orchestra this semester. Originally, I missed music, but was a bit disenchanted through the last two semesters of participation in the orchestra. It became a chore to attend rehearsal. The material wasn’t challenging and I found myself growing disinterested. Then, the icing on the cake came this past semester in Toronto with the TSO. I realized attending performances by world-class muscians was a far more effective way to get my music fix.

On the work front (part-time with Indigo), I’ve been less than satisfied with my discipline. In the two weeks since starting school, I’ve only put in 4 hours of work. I recently went to Toronto to attend a pre-launch party and found that there was still a whole lot to do over the next few weeks. I will be sitting myself down and ploughing through a bunch of bugs later today.

There’s less than 1.5 years left before I graduate. Scary.

Cue End 3A

Just wrapped up exams for the 3A semester and the final exam, ECE 332 Microelectronic Circuits, went much, much better than I could have hoped. There was a point earlier in the week where I was breaking down, fearing a fail in the exam, but after pulling a near all-nighter, I flew through the exam. It also helped that the midterm questions made an appearance on the final. Clearly the professor wasn’t too pleased with our midterm (of which only one person passed…)

Midway through exams, my Dell XPS M1330 (which was my sole computer in Waterloo after taking my desktop home) decided to up and give out, with the video card dieing. The initial indication was some weird artifacting on the external Westinghouse 24″ LCD I use, but I thought it was the fault of the LCD’s since it also exhibited the same sort of issue with my desktop (which in retrospect has a GeForce 8800GT equipped with the G92 chip, which may also be plagued with the weak die-packing issue). However, after unplugging the LCD, the problem persisted and worsened to the point that the display now shows nothing but weird discolorations when I turn on the laptop. I’ve been in contact with Dell regarding the issue, but I imagine I might have to pull some teeth to get it fixed since the problems started a whole 2 days after my warranty expired.

I’m now in relax mode, trying to catch up on sleep, although driving back and forth to Toronto today certainly didn’t help. I’m not having too much luck with finding a temporary place in Toronto for the upcoming work semester. It’s this terrible combination of not wanting to spend too much money and not wanting to live in some ghetto place. I don’t like the big city as it is – I hardly want to sully that feeling further by living in an area where I constantly feel like I’m going to be stabbed. Oh, there’s no need to tell me that it’s blowing things out of proportion; I know it is, yet the feeling remains. At this point, I’m actually considering commuting. Yep, about 4 hours on the road (or rail as it were) each day, but with this 6GB data plan, I could easily spend that time connected to the internet or doing some other bit of work on a laptop.

Also, as a reward for wrapping up the semester, I went and picked up a Sony Alpha A200 DSLR last night from Future Shop. Despite confirming with the sales rep that the camera was indeed new, I came home to find the shot counter at over 1400. The camera quickly went back and with it being the only one in stock, I walked out empty handed. It wasn’t a complete loss – I discovered the image quality to not be significantly better than the Sony F717 that I currently use and the I’m sure the A200’s kit lens is a big factor in that (f3.5 at wide angle compared to the f2.0 Carl Zeiss on the F717). I’ll probably wait until after Photokina to see if anything changes in the entry-level DSLR market before taking another dip in the SLR pool.

Find Out For Yourself

You can probably look forward to this type of sporadic updating to random process while I tackle yet another semester at the University of Waterloo. Classes started on May 5, and I’ve spent the first week trying to get myself back into a studying mode, which I might add is very, very different from full-time work mode. A ECE 332 lab had me scrambling to rehash my circuits knowledge, and I spent this past weekend finishing up my work report, which has already been submitted. This semester will be rather challenging as I selected a difficult course that few others did.

As course selection times loomed last semester, I was wildly discouraged from taking ECE 332. In particular, the professor, Barby, was cited. In addition, the labs were described to be similar to ECE 241 labs, which were completely off the wall and often did not coincide with the material being taught in lectures. However, I’m far more interested in computer hardware and semiconductor design than software, so when I planned out my 4th year technical electives, I realized that ECE 332 would be a requirement for a few of them.

Long story short, I took the class and I’m not regretting it at all. I certainly second-guessed myself several times along the way, not the least of which was when I discovered that only 18 people (myself included) had enrolled in the course. However, after 4 lectures, a lab and a tutorial, I feel justified when I say Barby is certainly not the bad professor that some made him out to be. In fact, he’s been very patient, although part of that may be due to the small size of the class. Even the labs are extremely good learning experiences. There are 5 people in my lab section, so everyone gets a little more attention than they normally would.

In the end, I’m glad I took ECE 332. There’s a lot of hearsay surrounding the course, but sometimes you just have to take that leap and find out for yourself.