Graduating from Software Engineering – Advice for future students

written by Marie September 5, 2020

A few months ago, I received my iron ring at the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer. In Canada, all trained engineers receive a ring to wear on the pinky finger of the working hand. It is a symbol of the responsibilities and duties of being an engineer. 

It seems unreal to me. In this article, I will share with you my journey as a software engineering student at École de Technologie Supérieure (ÉTS), from 2015 to 2019.

It took me 3 years to believe in myself — believe that yes, I was going to graduate in software engineering

I remember, in 2015, I was so scared to go to college. I thought I would never graduate. Until my third year of university, I had good grades, everything was going well. Even then, I was not convinced of my ability to complete my degree. I still doubted I could graduate. I didn’t believe in myself, that I would actually get there.

I remember being in the office of my professor who is now my master’s supervisor, I said “If I graduate from my baccalaureate, I don’t know what I want to do next”…

And that’s when he corrected me and said, “No, not IF you’re graduating, WHEN you’re going to graduate.”

He was right, I graduated from software engineering…

I had never imagined how much university would make me grow and evolve. Maybe it was just getting older that had this effect on me. But I always felt welcomed at ETS. I felt supported in everything I wanted to accomplish, whether it was by the teachers or by the staff.

ÉTS made me grow

When I started in software engineering, I was shy and scared of math. I told everyone that I was going to try to go into software engineering even if there was a lot of math (which I HATED). If that didn’t work, at least I could tell myself that I tried. I kept an exit door open, so I could drop out if I ever found it was too difficult for me. I wanted to say it in advance to avoid humiliating myself…

Related | Do you need to be good at maths to go into engineering?

Ultimately, I passed those math courses. I started in September 2015 with the course “differential and integral calculus” (MAT145). I had quickly realized that the course was too difficult. Graduating from computer science, I had never seen integrals in my life. I chose to change the course and do “introduction to engineering math” (MAT144), the lower level instead, hoping that it would help me. I didn’t see it as a failure, I saw it as an investment of time & money to make it easier for me afterwards.

Every week, I did my math exercises suggested by the teachers. I asked questions. I cried. I continued to work until late at night. Sleepless nights are not my thing, but I have to say that I often had very little social life during these intense times. I gave all I could, all the energy I had to be able to understand the material and get through it.

Marie-Philippe working at her desk

Now, almost 5 years later, I am about to complete my master’s degree in information technology, still at ÉTS, where I worked on machine learning. This is an area where math is so important. I ultimately discovered that I love math.. I wish you the same, may ETS (or the university you’re enrolled in) allow you to develop your talent and skills to the maximum.

When you start the baccalaureate, it’s so scary. Every new start of a term, every mid-term, every final exam period was a challenge.

My involvement in the Les Ingénieuses club to promote women in engineering

When I started college in 2015, I joined the student club “Ingénieuses” (in French, it means something like women in engineering). Therefore, the objective of the student group is to promote women in engineering and facilitate networking.

I don’t know why I wanted to join the club so badly. Perhaps it was because I had had some derogatory remarks while completing my computer science degree. I decided that I would get involved in the club even before entering ÉTS. I had “liked” their Facebook page and kept up to date with their activities.

Unfortunately, when I started college, the group was less active as some key members graduated the previous semester. On the other hand, when Gabrielle Poirier came back from her internship the next semester, the club regained strength with her as a leader. It continued to grow each year until my departure as president in October 2018.

Becoming the president of a student club

I started by being a member and trying to help with small tasks wherever I could. Then, I became a social media manager, vice-president for a year and a half, then… I became president.

I remember that I was hesitating. Me, a president? Am I really capable of performing this role? Will I be able to support the club well?

After a month of consideration, I finally accepted. I wanted to push my limits, get out of my comfort zone, and to learn. I was not wrong. I learned a lot, so much more than I could ever have imagined. In all honesty, these learnings will follow me for the rest of my life and in the workplace. I will write a full article on this soon.

In 2018, when I started focusing on my masters, I ceded the position of president to Yasmine Bennhaila, who also made the club evolve so quickly. That’s nice to look at!

During my years participating in the club, I will remember the various activities we organized every year, like the 5 à 7 of the start of the school year organized to welcome new students in September, the conferences organized with Julie Payette (former astronaut), Kathy Baig (President of the Quebec Order of Engineers), volunteering in various activities to introduce young girls to the world of engineering, such as “Les filles et les sciences, un duo électrisant“, Christmas dinners between members… We did so many things together.

Related | Full Day with 8 Young Girls attending Sciences Workshops – 2017 Event

My advice if you are starting university in software engineering

Don’t be scared

Don’t worry if you don’t know X or Y computer language. I believe that university is here to teach you, so if you don’t have a grasp of some subject, you will learn it when the time is right (be ready to do many Google searches!). A lot of future students are scared because they can only see their shortcomings. It’s going to be fine, you just have to go one session at a time, one day at a time! 

Get involved in student life as much as possible

It’s so worth it!

It can change your life since it can develop your interpersonal skills very quickly (speaking in front of a crowd, managing a team, etc) In addition, if it is a science club, you will acquire skills that are so important for your future job. You will also have an enormous advantage on your resume!

You will make friends that could last a lifetime, and you’ll be invited to so many events that you will never be bored of!

Take fewer classes if that helps

I know this advice depends on how your university or college works with credits. For me, a typical schedule is 4 classes. It is possible to take 3 classes for a couple of trimesters (but 12 credits is the minimum to stay full-time). This is a good idea if it can ease your mental strain and allow you to take a little break to breathe. It will only make the happiness of being at the baccalaureate last longer!

Do not hesitate to take remedial lessons

This advice might be more useful for future students attending ETS. However, it might apply to other universities and colleges as well.

If you take the first course in Mathematics (MAT145), Physics (ING150), or Computer Science (LOG100) and you find one or more of these difficult, it is possible for you to take an easier course (respectively MAT144, PHY144 or INF111). Do not see this change as a failure, but rather as helping yourself to make future lessons in these subjects run better.

It is ALWAYS good to solidify your basics with the “lower” courses and then continue with the following courses! I decided to do PHY144 and MAT144, and my journey at ÉTS was not really longer — it still took 4 years (typical length for the degree)!

 

Ask your teachers questions

Many students wrongly assume that asking questions is frowned upon, that we disturb the teacher, etc. But this is completely wrong! I have been at most of my professors’ “office hours” and that helps a lot. Also, it allows you to get to know your teacher better and vice versa, your teacher will get to know you better! If you need a letter of recommendation for a scholarship during your college career, this is very useful!

Related | How to Get Good Grades in College

Build winning teams

When you need to team up for an assignment (which for me was pretty much a requirement in every class!), try teaming up with people who are aiming for the same grade as you in class. Someone who wants a B won’t put in as much effort as someone who wants to get A+. This is normal, but the assignment will go better if everyone has the same expectations…

Also, when I was forming my teams, I sometimes ask others if they prefer to do the homework at the last minute or if they do the work ahead of time. It sets the expectations right at the beginning. Everyone works differently.

Conclusion

I hope this article has been useful to you if you are a future student in software engineering, computer engineering, or computer science! If you are a graduate student, do you have any other advice for new students?

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