4A Term Overview

Intro

In less than a year, the class of ECE2019 will be graduating from UWaterloo. We’re already on the homestretch, just one final lap left. With final exams finishing three weeks before the start of the next term, this was the shortest study term we’ve ever had! In the past, with the exception of Christmas, there was almost no break separating the end of a term and the beginning of the next one. At the start of this term, I overloaded my course schedule with seven courses – 1 seminar course, FYDP, 1 complementary, 1 natural, and 3 technical electives – and partway through the term, I dropped a technical elective (Robotics).

Before reviewing the courses and other exciting activities that happened this term, I would like to briefly reflect upon the eight months that have passed since writing my previous term’s overview (“3B Term Overview”). The past eight months were…um, interesting. Off the top of my head, highlights included:

  • Organizing PetitionCECA, which was popular among students and received 3000+ student signatures in three weeks! The petition made its way to the Board of Governor’s meeting, in which three governors abstained from voting on CECA’s fee raise and one governor voted against it. Hooray for students speaking out! In organizing this petition, I learned more about politics and grassroot advocacy
  • Extremely unusual co-op term. This was also an educative experience as I learned just as much about office politics, corporate culture, and management as I did about technology! This co-op term also set a lower limit to the quality of my co-op experiences and provided many dramatic and even downright ridiculous stories to tell
  • Elected as a Feds Councillor (Students’ Council) to represent the interests of the Engineering Department to our student union. Becoming elected to represent my peers had been something I had unsuccessfully tried to do many times during high school and am fortunate to have this opportunity now
  • CECA alleged that I had sent a “threatening anonymous emailW [sic]” to one of its staff members, six months after PetitionCECA. Obviously I didn’t do it and my numerous requests to see the evidence, pursuant to my rights under Policy 71, were ignored. Plot twist: the allegation was revealed to have been made as a mistake and by extension, was retracted and voided. Interestingly, I was later informed that all email correspondences connected to the case will be shredded. In dealing with this allegation, I learned the importance of knowing and asserting your rights and documenting strange actions conducted by university authorities
  • Going through many interviews. Fortunately, I received offers to co-op in Alabama and Oregon, which is rare; unfortunately, I couldn’t secure offers to co-op in Vancouver or New York, which are common co-op locations.

 

ECE 458: Computer Security

This course provided a high-level overview of security concepts, such as encryption algorithms, hashes, side channel attacks, and web security. I enjoyed taking this course and am happy to have learned something from it. Although this course came with a recommended textbook, reading it was optional since the course covered extra concepts and emphasized different topics. In addition, the professor enjoyed teaching the subject and his slide decks were well written, empowering many students to skip lectures (thank you!). There were three straightforward assignments and both the midterm and final were fair.

Rating: 8/10
Key takeaway: Assume all systems are vulnerable and have a plan if when your system becomes compromised.

 

ECE 457A: Cooperative and Adaptive Algorithms

This course presented a high-level overview of five algorithms: Tabu Search, Simulated Annealing, Genetic Algorithms, Ant Colony Optimization, and Particle Swarm Optimization. Saying these algorithms out loud makes us sound smart…but TBH, many students (myself included) don’t really understand what these algorithms are (sure, we can talk about them and their parameters, but would be lost trying to apply them to solve real problems). Eventually, it was deduced that we can get 80+% on exams and assignments by including buzzwords and writing down vague abstract explanations. With that said, the professor was enthusiastic about teaching and did a good job. She also has industrial experience to provide some context to these algorithms and offered general career advice. This class was in the evening and so I attended most of the lectures.

Rating: 7/10
Key takeaway: Data engineering and machine learning is the future. These are based on concepts from dozens of years ago but it’s only recently that there’s enough computational power to implement them.

 

ECE 486 Robot Dynamics and Control

Ahhh, bad memories! This was the technical elective that I withdrew from. I had expected this course to cover topics like motors, servos, and electricity, but as it turned out, this was primarily a math course on 3D geometry. There was a lot of matrices and transformations, and the concepts seemed quite theoretical. There were also biweekly quizzes and several labs. Needless to say, I rarely attended classes and although other students liked this course, my only regret was that I didn’t withdraw sooner.

Rating: 2/10
Key takeaway: Withdraw sooner?

 

MSCI 411: Leadership and Influence

This course counted as a complementary elective and presented an overview of leadership topics. The first several lectures covered leadership theories and later lectures included class discussions and leadership examples. This course was quite different from the technical courses I had taken. It actually included class discussions and group work. The technical contents of this course were light and could be BSed, which became evident in some of the class discussions. In addition, there were case studies and essays, which required more writing than in technical courses. The final group project was on a topic unrelated to the course contents, which I did not find fun. Overall, I appreciated the theoretical components covered in the first couple lectures because they provided the fundamental underpinning for understanding various leadership styles. However, this course really could have benefited from more real-life examples and more insightful analysis. The lectures were relaxing and the professor was nice, but there was too much BS going on during the class discussions.

Rating: 5/10
Key takeaway: This course solidified my view that many people are better at BSing than actually getting things done, spewing empty words simply for the sake of speaking, which reveals an utter lack of critical or analytical thinking skills. (okay, that was kind of harsh, but it’s true!)

 

EARTH 121: Introductory Earth Sciences

This was an online natural science elective about rocks, time, natural resources, and geological processes.  The assignments are straightforward and relatively easy although the final exam was tough, so tough that there was even a Reddit post about it! This was also one of the easiest natural science electives, which is why many Engineering students take it ;P I didn’t really learn anything useful from this course.

Rating: 4/10
Key takeaway: Take this course if you want to quickly complete a natural science elective

 

ECE 400A

This was our seminar course. I attended the only mandatory lecture, which was a presentation about salary negotiation from a CECA staff.

 

ECE 498A: FYDP

There are five members in our FYDP group and after many hours of discussions, we decided to build a 3D scanner. Unfortunately, our group was busier than usual this term preparing for interviews, studying for exams, and completing labs (apparently ECE454: Distributed Computing had insane labs) so we couldn’t put as much work as we had initially wanted into building the 3D scanner. As a result, we likely won’t have enough time to develop a good solution and commercialize what we build. However, we did get an initial prototype working and plan to put in more hours next term. Interesting, around 80% of your marks for this course are based on your written report and 20% from the actual prototype!

Rating: 8/10
Key takeaway: I enjoy working in groups and discussing with teammates.

 

New Activities

This term, I was a MATES peer support volunteer and provided peer-to-peer support to fellow students under the supervision of Counselling Services. Relating to other students and learning from other volunteers’ experiences enabled me to see issues with a bit more perspective than before.

Ever since high school, I wanted to become a student representative. Unfortunately, I was never elected into that position (but was almost elected as the school’s Treasurer in Grade 11. The guy who won had a rap!! C’mon, how do you compete with that?!). Fortunately, last term, I was elected as one of five Engineering Councillors to represent the Engineering department at Feds Council and began serving my constituents in May. Advocating for students and contributing to the development of better initiatives was a good experience. I also presented a motion to streamline operations on the FedBus website so that students can more easily find where FedBus pickup locations are.

To bring more transparency to the co-op program, I participated in the Co-op Students’ Council, asking many questions that arose from students’ concerns, and put up the responses from CECA staff along with the meeting minutes on Facebook and Dropbox for other students to view.

Other fun activities that happened this term included eating out at new restaurants and watching Brooklynn Nine Nine! That’s a really good show and I can’t wait for Season 6 next year (Speculation: Holt didn’t get the promotion, but will get it at the end of the season. Doug Judy will show up again too).

Luckily, I received an offer to co-op at a well-known company in Silicon Valley next term. I’m super excited to head back to the Bay Area and look forwards to the upcoming internship. To prepare for it, I also spent several weeks learning Java, Docker, Kafka, Spark, and basic knowledge of distributed systems by reading through CS454 slides.

 

Conclusion

This term was short and intense. Almost all my courses were electives and the first two months were spent on practicing for interviews. Most of the courses were educative. Participating in Students’ Council and advocating for more streamlined operations was also a good learning experience. Then, boom!, before you knew it, it’s almost exam time! Graduation is slowly encroaching upon us, and I’m both excited and anxious for the upcoming adventures.

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