Navigating life’s surprises

Sometimes life just doesn’t go as planned, but that doesn’t stop it from unfolding in amazing ways!

UBC Computer Engineering student Irene Wang

Irene Wang

  • Degree: Bachelor of Applied Science
  • Grad year: 2023
  • Program:
  • Campus: Vancouver

I am graduating from UBC as a slightly different individual than the one I envisioned at the beginning of my undergraduate journey. Throughout my time here, I engaged in undergraduate research, participated in language exchange programs, and took part in organizing undergraduate mentoring workshops at computer architecture conferences. I also participated in a wide range of internships spanning wireless communication, full-stack web development, and hardware performance modeling.

A highlight was my semester spent working abroad in Japan, which not only provided valuable technical experiences but also allowed me to indulge my love for travel and language learning. My time at UBC has played a significant role in shaping the person I am today and has opened up new and unexpected career possibilities. This fall, I am thrilled to start my PhD at the Georgia Institute of Technology, focusing on computer architecture and sustainable computing.

Why did you choose to study Computer Engineering?

I've always been interested in building and deconstructing systems to understand their inner workings. Therefore, pursuing engineering at university was a natural choice for me. However, as I didn’t have any programming experience prior to university, I didn't decide to study computer engineering until the end of my first year. The introductory programming course for first-year engineering students opened my eyes to the versatility of software design and the importance of creating efficient computer hardware systems - which ultimately led me to study computer engineering.

Foundation First Year

What has made your time at UBC memorable?

I am grateful for the wide variety of co-op placements that I've completed throughout my time at UBC. Each experience has played a significant role in shaping me into who I am today. During my first co-op, I gained insights into how the skills and concepts learned in class can be applied to creating real-world applications. It taught me the importance of designing programs that not only function correctly but also take into account efficiency and scalability. For my second co-op, I had the incredible opportunity to work abroad in Japan. This allowed me to fully immerse myself in a new country and culture and learn to navigate through language and cultural barriers. Lastly, my final co-op experience helped me discover my passion for computer architecture and introduced me to potential career paths in research.

Applied Science Co-op

What have you learned that is most valuable?

What I've learned throughout my time at UBC is that in engineering, there is often no singular ‘right’ answer to a problem. The real challenge lies in determining the most optimal solution to implement. In smaller assignments or projects, it may be sufficient to implement the first solution that comes to mind and achieve the desired outcomes. However, when it comes to developing real-life applications, achieving correctness is only one aspect of the puzzle.

For example, a computer engineer must also consider performance trade-offs, scalability, and maintainability when building an application. Hence, we must not be fixated on finding that one, 'correct' answer but rather learn to think creatively and evaluate potential options from various viewpoints.

What advice would you give a prospective engineering student?

University can be overwhelming, especially with the engineering course load. However, it is important to remember that your university experience encompasses much more than just coursework. It is completely fine to take time to rest and engage in activities outside the classroom. The key to making your university experience memorable is pursuing what you truly enjoy.

A lot can happen during your time in university, and not everything will go as planned. Your first co-op placement may not align with your dream job, projects might involve unanticipated challenges, and you might find yourself taking courses that don't entirely align with your interests. Amongst all, you will often find new opportunities to come to you in unexpected ways. It's important to acknowledge that every experience holds valuable takeaways – whether it's building meaningful relationships, acquiring new skills or knowledge, uncovering hidden talents, or just learning more about who you are. Embrace the surprises in life and the uncertainties that come along. Ultimately, these unexpected moments may be the most extraordinary and invaluable ones during your university journey.

What are your future plans to make a difference in our world?

With the dramatic rise in the demand for computing resources, it will be an essential investment to build systems with environmental sustainability in mind. Driven by this idea, I aim to focus my graduate studies on computer architecture with an emphasis on enabling sustainable computing.

What are some contributions you would like to make when it comes to the future of work in your field?

After graduate studies, I aim to work as a research scientist to address real-world challenges and promote sustainability as a first-order design metric akin to performance and efficiency.

Find me on: LinkedIn

Computer engineering co-op student at work

Computer Engineering

Computer engineers can change the world. Whether it is the systems that control our phones, cars, planes or robots — every automated device has a software or hardware engineer helping to create it. 

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