Andrew Dawson - Faith: An Engineering Tool for Leadership
My name is Andrew Dawson and I’m a 2B mechanical engineering student. Over the first weekend of June 2017, I was given the chance to partake in an engineering conference, the ESSCO (Engineering Student Societies Council of Ontario) annual general meeting. It was the first conference I have ever attended and I initially wasn’t sure what to expect from the experience. As it is, the fact that I was able to attend was the result of a last minute opening and a tough decision, and it was certainly one that I’m glad I didn’t pass up on. I want to share how being able to attend this conference had, in its own way, taught me a lot about myself and about how faith can ultimately shape you as a leader.
To start off with a little bit about myself, I’ve been involved with EngSoc or general engineering culture at Waterloo in a number of ways throughout my first two years. I’ve run a number of directorships, attended plenty of events--EngSoc and GradComm alike--and I’ve developed a love for the faculty, the traditions, and the values we stand for. Ever since I had originally applied for university, I marvelled at the culture surrounding engineering schools, which ultimately lead me to some of my passions here at Waterloo. That being said, I was quite intrigued when I heard about the opportunity to attend a conference and hear from other schools about how their societies do things. I thought it would be great to hear those perspectives, and ultimately make some friends and build those connections with other schools, so I applied to be an AGM delegate.
Making friends from Lakehead, Western, Carleton, and Guelph
I wasn’t quite sure what was really involved in a conference, nor did I fully realize when I applied what kind of things I could learn by attending, but I was optimistic in wanting to go anyway. I found out shortly after applying that the weekend would fall on that which fell close to hell week, and would potentially put me in a tough position. After a fair amount of deliberation, I decided to give up the position to someone else.
Fast forward a few months to the day before the start of the conference, I received a phone call from a close friend who told me that there may be another opening for the delegation which I would have to act fast on in case I had changed my mind. Again, I was placed in a hot seat, close to exams, and feeling nowhere near prepared enough, and I had to make a call about attending an event that would supposedly be a good thing to go to. Somewhat reluctantly, I accepted the offer to go, and ultimately decided to let my guard down, and put a little faith into myself and the friends who were encouraging me.
The Waterloo crew
Going in with an open mind, I only have to say that the weekend was amazing from beginning to end. The days were filled with speeches, sessions, and panels that taught me more than I had expected about personal skills like networking and stress management, and about society politics and structure, and all the other things that our societies do behind the scenes that make student life what it is. Above all however, I really enjoyed just being able to talk to people from other schools and make those real connections that not only exposed me to outside views, but acted as an opportunity to build a diverse group of friends. Simple things like trading patches (or both of the sleeves from my covies), exchanging gifts or in some cases drinks, made for a fun personal experience. All in all, I made friendships and had experiences that taught me a lot about what it truly means to represent a society and by extension, what it feels like to be a part of a much larger community.
Celebrating the Tool's 50th birthday party at the banquet
I had a great time overall, but it was during a keynote speech presented by Tim Lougheed at the saturday night banquet, that all I had been experiencing was wrapped up in a nice bow for me to reflect on. Mr. Lougheed delivered a speech about the importance of having faith when moving forward in life. He told a story from his own experience of which the pivotal point was that during a time in his life when everything seemed stable and secure, he received a phone call which based on his answer to a question, could and did change the course of his life. This eventually broke down into this message: as young leaders and aspiring engineers there will be times in life when we are put to the test and have to make big decisions, whether that means moving to a new country for work, or volunteering for an international cause, or some other life changing decision. When those times come, it is important to keep faith in mind, faith that your mentors can lead you on a good path, having faith in yourself and your own abilities and above all having faith that you may end up at a time and place where you may offer the same opportunity to someone else.
Tim Lougheed delivers the keynote speech of the conference at the banquet
This message as a culmination of everything else I had experienced over the weekend, spoke to me on a deep and personal level. It helped me to consider the areas of my life where I might be settling for the status quo, or where I could do more as a leader. Perhaps I may seek better career opportunities in the future, or take on more significant roles in student politics. Whatever the case, I learned in one weekend that the experiences you have in life can shape you in ways you don’t expect, even if that means figuring out career goals, or just creating some amazing friendships. Like Mr. Lougheed, I received a phone call, and answered yes, and I honestly think I’ll be able to look back having not regretted a moment of it. Attending a conference was great, and if you bring your full self to the table, you can take a lot from it. I know I did.
Every conference is different. That is was the biggest take-away for me from ESSCO AGM. When I attend CDE (the Conference for Diversity in Engineering) in November of last year, I came back full of ideas as to how we could interact more with other engineering societies to share our vast cumulative cultures. I worked with both of our societies as well as those from other schools to begin what I have dubbed “The Interschool Spirit Initiative”. Quite pretentious words I know, but they do describe my vision perfectly. Little did I know, on the 7 hour train ride back from CDE, which was held in Montreal, that I would be attending another, very different, conference 6 months later.
ESSCO AGM changed how I had initially viewed conferences. The first thing that really struck me about AGM was that almost every session was student run. This differed heavily from CDE which brought in professionals to run the vast majority of their sessions. The second thing that really stood out was the change in atmosphere. We were not tackling the very real diversity issues that plague our future profession. We were just a bunch of students who were passionate about engineering culture and who wanted to help each other improve their own corner of the engineering map. This lent a definitively more relaxed tone to the entire proceedings. That is not to say we did not carry ourselves professionally, only that we did so with less “adult supervision”.
I fear that I may discourage prospective delegates for next years CDE at McMaster with the above paragraph. Be assured that it is still a student run conference and is my personal favourite yet. The purpose of this blog post is not to talk of CDE however, so I will return to the task at hand.
Throughout the conference I talked to engineers from every school present. I tried to learn as much as I could about what makes their school unique. I also shamelessly plugged our Engplay (which you should definitely attend on July 14th and 15th) and other events that I was organizing which are, I believe, the staple of our engineering culture. My journey from CDE to AGM then came full circle with my completion of the wide-eyed vision I had had on the train ride back from Montreal.
Although engineering culture may differ across schools, karaoke is a staple that all schools share
If there is one thing I think everyone should understand about student conferences is that everyone who attends is, in their own way, striving to make the best out of their engineering experience. They are also, to the last, committed to bettering the image, practice and accessibility of engineering for the next generation. And if there is one advice I would give to prospective delegates it is to not let my previous statement intimidate you. We can all make a difference in our own way so long as we set out with the right intention.
I realize that I sound like a bit of an idealist here as I spill my guts about something that is very dear to me. Please excuse the possibly overdramatic syntax, I tend to get passionate about engineering and conferences, I have made great friends, had many laughs and learned more than I thought I could through both.
Tiffany Chang - A Hidden Gem
My name is Tiffany Chang, and I most recently finished my 2A term of Chemical Engineering. I was fortunate to attend my first Engineering Student Societies’ Council of Ontario (ESSCO) conference—my second conference overall as an EngSoc delegate—during this third co-op term. Think of ESSCO as your Engineering Society that represents you as an engineering student in the province of Ontario.
Since 1A, I was determined to make the most out of my university by being involved with extracurriculars. Within EngSoc, I have run some directorships, attended events, and am a Commissioner for the second time, so suffice to say, I really love EngSoc, the Faculty of Engineering, and the sense of community that is so apparent in Waterloo Engineering.
May had been a hectic month for me at work. This term is my second co-op at Sandvine as a Technical Writer with the Documentation team. Needless to say, it is a roller coaster of an experience compared to my first work-term there—much more challenging, but all the more rewarding.
On May 31 (i.e. the last day of the quarter), we had to get three major product releases out. As Documentation is always the last receiver of the baton in our product development cycle, the pressure was on. I distinctly remember sleeping at 2 or 3 AM that day and waking up at 5:30 AM to continue working.
However, we pulled through, and all three products went out smoothly before the end of the work day. I was so relieved and so proud of our team—we had beat the clock and the odds. Apparently, that was a record—Sandvine has never had three major product releases go out on the same day.
Compared to my first term at Sandvine, I am more observant of the content that I receive from subject matter experts—usually developers and software engineers—and aware of the organizational issues that potentially cause huge butterfly effects throughout the overall software development/project management cycle.
One of my biggest takeaways from attending AGM was listening to Tim Lougheed’s presentation about the importance of technical communication and chatting with him a number of times for the duration of the conference. It was perfect timing, too, as I was thinking of how to better streamline the documentation process and improve the documentation quality of one of my projects, which is supposedly one of the most challenging products to document at Sandvine.
Delegates participate in one of the many sessions offered during the conference
Throughout this experience, I have made a number of observations that mostly stem from generational gaps. As a Millennial, I feel deeply obligated to resolve issues in the workplace that I consider to be decreasing overall productivity—or, at the very least, try to change something in the process, even if it doesn’t necessarily work out.
However, when people our age work alongside older, more senior colleagues,—particularly with engineers—we may come off hopelessly idealistic and perhaps even arrogant.
If you think about it, they have definitely taken notice of these issues and may have tried to remedy them in the past but to no avail—what makes a 20-year-old think that they waltz in and magically repair something?
There is a silver lining in this dark cloud, though. With the right attitude, plenty of humility, definitively establishing that you intend to improve everyone’s professional experience, and finding the right allies to start getting your ideas put into action, you will have more colleagues willing to embrace change and perhaps even willing to lend a hand when they can.
Once you accept that you will not see dramatic changes overnight, do celebrate the small changes here and there. As you accumulate more of them, you will soon reach the tipping point, and there will be little chance of turning back at that point of bringing the change that you wish to see to life.
Listening to and chatting with Tim reminded me of my back and forth conversations with my manager. The déjà vu was strong when Tim discussed keeping scientific writing as simple as possible—a concept known to technical writers as “minimalism”, something that my manager brings up time and time again.
Honestly, I have Tim to thank for giving me the courage to embark on this huge endeavor/opening of multiple cans of worms that I can only hope will benefit the Documentation team and the rest of Sandvine after I leave.
Without a doubt, the critical thinking skills that engineering studies honed into me have benefited me a great deal in this massive undertaking of dissecting my project’s documentation process and performing dozens of root-cause analyses in desperate attempts to figure out what are the primary causes that slow down our development process. I would not be the same technical writer/project manager that I am as a co-op at Sandvine without Waterloo Engineering.
When you attend a conference like AGM, all you need is one sentence, one idea, and/or one person to inspire change within yourself. Only one question remains: are you willing to put yourself out there and attend a conference?