Second Year Reflections

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Posted on: July 24, 2019

As I write this article, I slide into the end of 2B Computer Engineering. Halfway done! My orientation leaders in first year were in this term right before I met them, and now they’re almost about to graduate. It’s remarkable how fast time flies when it feels like I just started a few weeks ago. Of course, looking back, people aren’t who they were to start; Change is ineveitable. Overall, there’s three areas I’d consider the primary areas of change: academics and relation to them, social life, and personal achievement.

In first year engineering, many courses are very general. I remember taking a course load to the theme of something like “Calculus, Linear Algebra, Physics, Programming, Chemistry and Ethics”. Chemistry? Despite the requirement for crossdisciplinary knowledge, I find I have not applied it much. Of course, it isn’t bad that first year is very general. Students who find that they would actually rather another program can transfer without graduating later. This is particularly important at Waterloo, where degrees already take an extra year to fit in coop.

In second year, the courses are beginning to specialize. This term, my courses were along the lines of “Embedded Systems, Concurrency&Systems Programming, Discrete Math II, and Signals”. A lot of these courses are much more enjoyable and in line with my interests. While my calculus professor (Eddie Dupont) was fantastic, quite honestly I never had much passion for integration. Embedded Systems (ECE 224) was one of the primary reasons I chose Waterloo ECE, and I find every course is delightful and interesting. Of course, Signals is just calculus in hiding. Perhaps some things are still the same…

In first year, a lot of people either studied a lot or not at all. In turn, there was a relatively high attrition rate, with friends either failing to study and failing to proceed, people realizing they don’t actually care for engineering, or generally vanishing. A lot of people spent a lot of time studying, with some courses being arguably unfair. Since a lot of the content, all things being equal were unfair, there were questions that really pushed the boundaries of what people could learn. Since the Class of 2022 is an experimental year, this means a lot of courses were either new or highly changed. Whether it was making some alarm clock on a knockoff raspberry pi, or painstakingly scrutinizing significant digits to be very clear about the time a ball was in the air for, there were many long nights dealing with panic.

By this point, we’re rapidly approaching the point of no return. Anyone wanting to switch likely will graduate later. On the other hand, people largely stop failing. People still either study a lot or not at all, since exams have always been a time to cram for 72 hours to learn a course. The exams are largely reasonable, not expecting people to pull a magic trick to learn some new content, or having midterms with 40% averages. Perhaps students are now less likely to fail though, it’s hard to tell. Unfortunately, since we’re still stuck with experimental courses, we’d have the pleasure of pulling all nighters. Lots of people either spend their entire weekend in the lab trying to figure out why their music player sounds like a chainsaw, or get their hokey prototype to function as intended.

Overall, in academics, while the courses are a lot more of what people signed up for, it appears there’s always going to be long nights rushing to finish hard courses.

During orientation week (and all of first year), many people intended well to keep many friendships up as they can in all sorts of places. I lived with at the time strangers who all wanted the same residence as I did (which we got), and I talked to people in many different programs – AFM, CivE,Physics, SYDE, whatever. However, for us at the time, we were largely strangers in a strange land. People were still making friends and talking to a lot of people. In some ways, it became almost unsustainable to maintain so many conversations at once, but it was nice. Unfortunately, one downside was that it’s unclear who your closest friends were.

Ultimately, that didn’t hold up so well when roughly half your friends are out of synchronization with you, and you’ve got a lot of work to do. Some friends fail. In general, people are relatively busy trying to live their lives, and on coop you’re likely to be far from many of your friends and unavailable to meet up with them. While I still think highly of the many people I met in first year, it’s hard to keep active contact with them. By now, there’s established groups of friends, and friends by location. In trade of having many, weak friendships, I how have people I take time see on a regular basis. My roommates aren’t strangers but now close friends. Time is blocked off for people. I try to see a movie with one of my best friends every other week. Every few weeks I go out for a curry with a group of friends. I make time to write for the Iron Warrior when I can. When I see people in my class, they’re typically a friendly face. While perhaps it’s disappointing that I don’t get to see as many people often, the people I do see absolutely make up for it.

Finally, habits as a person have changed a lot, in all sorts of terms. On first co-op, everybody was struggling, hoping for a good co-op (often software development). People didn’t have skills, and found it hard to find a job. By this term, people have two internships under their belt and largely have settled in to aim higher. I found myself turning down jobs I really would have loved in first year for various reasons. As people get more skills, their expectations go up too. Perhaps that “AI” company that actually has more of “Human AI” isn’t so good. Perhaps that embedded systems company paying $18.21 an hour with two and a half stars on glassdoor isn’t such a good company after all.

In first year, I was a very nervous cook, in hindsight making foods that are both facile and perhaps, less appetizing (I remember eating ground beef with beans, rice and hot sauce in a bowl). I also never really looked for deals, primarily shopping at the local Sobeys. Now, it seems silly. There’s no reason not to go grocery shopping at Produce Depot or Freshco. In return, the deals by far and large are a lot more. Instead of trying to cook the simplest foods I knew, I’m willing to learn to cook something new – whether it’s a soup (with homemade stock), a stir fry, a basted steak, hand-made hamburger patties, or anything else.

In first year, due to a fire alarm at 8:10 every Monday morning, and in general classes at 8:30am, the entire class would enter lectures running on fumes. They’d be up until late working on assignments until 2am, 3am, or 5am. Now, classes start at 11:30 at the earliest. By pushing back classes, I often enter lectures full of energy, and am able to absorb material far better.

8:30 labs are now addressed groggily, but the lectures are much better. Overall, whether it’s school being actual classes desired, spending time on meaningful friendships, or developing (some) better habits, there’s been changes at Waterloo. While some things may still be the same, I’m far more optimistic about the future. I’m excited to conclude this year of university and see what the future brings.

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