Well, I made it.
After receiving my unofficial grades yesterday, I can say with a reasonable amount of certainty that I have successfully passed my second year of undergraduate studies, and now exactly one half of my undergraduate degree. In keeping with tradition, I think now is as good a time as any to reflect on the past term.
It was really rough. I know 2A killed us with the schedule and workload, but 2B was a different beast – the material was actually hard now. That’s not to say that before, it was a cakewalk; the key difference is, back then, with a few hours of hard studying, I could understand the concepts and move forward. That pattern didn’t hold true this time round. The content was genuinely difficult, and only grew more difficult the harder I worked at it. Often, I would have to resign myself to what appears to have been a common theme of this term – simply memorize what I had to do, and blindly approach problems rather than gaining an innate understanding of what was really happening. It’s not a good way to learn, and it’s not the way I want to learn. And yet, here I am, having successfully passed a term due to memorization.
It really sucks. I’m not a fan of exam based teaching (really, who is?), but I know that there’s no practical solution around it. That being said, up to now, I’ve always been able to enjoy what I’m learning enough to actually appreciate the content being taught. This term, I didn’t get that. I hated, or rather hate, having to memorize material only to regurgitate it out on an exam, then promptly forget it for the rest of my life. I’m not paying 8k a term to memorize content, or at least, I don’t want to…because I suppose I am paying 8k a term to memorize shit, now that I think about it. And I hate that it’s like that. I really want to appreciate the content and learn and understand it, but I couldn’t this term. And that really, really sucks.
I suppose I’ll break it down, as I do every term. There were 4 core courses this term, and an elective. The core courses were signals and systems (really just math), operating systems, embedded microprocessor systems, and circuits. The elective I took was Econ 101, and I’ll start with that one.
Everyone says econ is birdy, but I’m here to break the myth – econ is really, really difficult. The workload for this course was pretty light, but I seriously struggled with the content. It may be that I’m just really dumb, which seems to be the overwhelming reaction whenever I say econ is hard, but I think everyone’s wrong. The material was seriously dry, too…I thought we’d be learning about command and market economies, about Keynesian and trickle down economics, all topics I’ve found fascinating in the past. Instead, I was treated to figure after figure of the most boring, bland material I’ve ever had to study. None of what I learned felt remotely interesting either. Maybe macro is more interesting than micro? I don’t know, and I don’t plan on finding out either. Thankfully the marks were plentiful in this course, and at the end of the day, that’s all I really needed out of econ.
Of the four core courses I had to take this term, I’m really bitter about three of them. I’ll begin with circuits, the most magical of courses. This was a continuation of the circuits course we took last term, which I had found brutally difficult to begin with. It didn’t get any easier this term. The content was hard, but honestly, it was compounded exponentially by one of the most incompetent professors we’ve had to this day. It really is quite incredible how every term I think we’ve hit rock bottom in terms of absolutely useless professors, but every term this school never fails to prove me wrong. Every Tuesday and Thursday, we were treated to Bosco’s magic “tricks,” a traumatic experience I’ll never truly forget. This man was an utterly horrific professor. I don’t think he could have been a worse teacher if he tried. I learned absolutely nothing from him. All my circuits knowledge came from one of two courses – my notes from last term, when we had an excellent circuits professor, or my friends and roommates, without whom I surely wouldn’t have passed the term. There are a couple things I won’t forget from this course. One is the complete ineptitude of the professor – here’s a perfect example. At 8:30 in the morning, Bosco himself would be pretty tired, and as a result wouldn’t teach anything in the first half hour. Then, with ten minutes remaining in the lecture, he would cram in everything he should have taught an hour ago. This happened every, single, lecture, WITHOUT FAIL. Another great example – he is perhaps the most technically incapable person I have seen. He could never figure out how to use the doc cams in the class, and one time called someone to fix a broken monitor, for which the fix was turning it on. Yes, this man has a Masters from Caltech, and a PhD from Berkely. Unreal. He completely annihilated us on the final, but made up for it with a generous curve. Perhaps the one persisting memory I’ll keep from ECE 242 was lab 5, the amplifier design lab. It was one of the most difficult labs we’ve ever had to complete, with next to no guidance or assistance provided. I’ll never forget staying up until 3am working on a seemingly impossible design, kept awake with low quality beer, pulling numbers out of my ass with my roommate to meet the criteria for the design goal. We somehow escaped that lab with a 70, and I thank God I never had to do it again. As I do for this course, actually. I’m done with mandatory circuits for the rest of my life! And not a day too soon, thank Feridun.
As bad as 242 was, it wasn’t anywhere near the worst course, which I’ll save for last. Instead I’ll pivot to ECE 207, our course on signals and systems. This was a pretty average course, but it was made special by the prof, Damen the demon. You know how most engineering professors are nice people, but can’t teach for their lives? This guy was the complete opposite. He was a very good teacher, but an absolute petty, vindictive monster of a professor. Let’s start with the god awful grading scheme – 35% midterm, and 65% final. That’s it. Nothing else. So your entire mark is broken down to exactly 2 tests, lasting a total of just under 4 hours. That’s…ridiculous. And the exams were insane, both in terms of length and difficulty. I remember walking out of the midterm, thinking I had gotten maybe 10% on the paper. The content itself wasn’t terrible, but Damen made the course a nightmare when it really should have been okay. He was completely unwilling to work with the other professor, which resulted in the two sections having different exams and grading schemes, and in the department’s opinion, “completely different courses” (don’t even get me started). The one good thing to come out of this course was the heaviest curve I’ve ever received. I had 27% going into the final, which was brutally difficult. I ended with a 92%, which means, yup, I aced the final! Yeah, no. I hope to god I don’t have Damen for probability, which is the course he is notorious for.
Let’s switch it up with a good course? Those are pretty rare in this department, but every now and then one of them pops up. Such was the case for ECE 254, operating systems. The main reason this course went well is because a competent professor taught it (I’m noticing a trend here, am I the only one?). While he may have been rather monotonous, he did a good job teaching the material, and his notes were nothing short of excellent. For me, this was my favorite course this term. Some of the material I did find very boring, but for the most part, I thought it was fascinating. The exams were fair, and representative of the course material taught in lectures. The labs, however, were difficult. Very difficult. Before I proceed, a quick shout out is in order, to my homie who’s carried me on every single lab for as long as I can remember. I wouldn’t be here without you. This term especially, my friend(s) came clutch with the support on the labs, for which I am utterly useless. I really need to change that, too…it’s not fair to my partners, and I don’t learn anything by being useless either. These labs were important too, with the last three labs accounting for almost 30% of the course grade. Thankfully, we (haha, “we”) did very well on these labs. This course as a result was probably the easiest one we took this term. I really enjoyed it, and I’m seriously considering pursuing further academic studies in the area. Operating systems are fascinating, and essential to all the products we use today. I’d love to get more involved with them in the future.
Before I start on the last course, and as a result completely lose my cool, maybe I’ll just talk a bit more about some of the things that happened this term. A couple things come to mind right away – the work term report from last coop, and the technical presentation. I put in the bare minimum effort into both of these, and it showed, as my marks for both of them were the bare minimum marks required to pass. To be honest, I’m kind of proud as to how lazy I was over these, and I found my marks to be extremely humorous rather than concerning (no lie, I’m grinning like an idiot and chuckling to myself as I type right now thinking about those abysmal grades). The work term report is pretty self explanatory, and I did it on what I was doing last term. That being said, I did it in about one week, forcing myself to write 3 pages a day until I finished. I really couldn’t care less about it. I bullshitted like there was no tomorrow, including my masterpiece – a full page table with testing data, in which I made up every single number in the table. I then graphed the results, and forgot that they would all be the same color when printed in black and white (oh god, this is actually too funny). I tried to make sure my formatting was at least correct, since rumor had it that that’s the only thing they care about. Well, the rumors were correct. I passed the work term report with a “satisfactory,” the minimum passing grade. The comments from the marker were nothing short of hilarious. One of them was something like “The first two pages of your body are bad.” Oh god, I laughed so hard when I read the comments. The marker was a savage, but I deserved it. I know my next one will be marked way harder, so I’ll try to actually make an effort.
As for the technical presentation, it’s a pretty stupid requirement because apparently engineers are bad at presenting, and making them do one presentation is the way to make sure that the problem is remedied. I couldn’t resist making a meme of this as well, so I did just that. I asked my roommates for some suggestions, and jumped on the first one that sounded good – version control systems. I went back to the ECE 155 tutorial notes, rehashed everything that was there, touched it up a bit, and took my 6/8 (also the minimum passing grade) and never looked back. It’s pretty stupid that we have to do it, but it really wasn’t something I lost much sleep over. Other than the occasional funny story you’d hear due to it, the technical presentation wasn’t something I spent a lot of my time thinking about. Happy I don’t have to do it again, though.
One other story jumps to mind when I think about last term. Instead of summarizing, I think this sums it up nicely:
To anyone who says this school has no spirit, I simply refer them to the above link. I have never been prouder to be part of this school.
Okay, now that I’ve been cheered by some memes, let’s get into the worst of 2B: ECE 224, embedded microprocessor systems. It was so, so, so so so boring. Don’t let anyone, in particular one of my friends, tell you otherwise. It was some 700 slides of the most dry content I have ever had to subject myself to (I know I just said that about econ, but I take it back, this is worse). Bits and pieces of the content were interesting, sure, but the vast, vast majority of it made me seriously question my decision to go into computer engineering. So the important question is, was it the content at fault, or the professor? And the answer is 100% the latter. The professor we had for this course was the worst professor we had this term. To give you an idea of how completely useless she was, consider this. Two days before our final exam, she was teaching a major section of the course, and finishing up the course. Most professors, hell even Bosco for that matter, finish the content at least a week before the final, so as to give you time to prepare for the finals. Not gunaguna. The content for this course boiled down to mostly memorization as well, which I really resented. This course is probably the most relevant course this term in terms of what it means to be a computer engineer, and the fact that I had to memorize content rather than understand it is truly upsetting. But when there’s 700 slides, can you really blame me? These slides are older than I am, too, by the way. The one silver lining with that line of thought is that I enjoyed the labs way more than I did the lectures. We were forced into groups (because the department still thinks we’re toddlers incapable of making decisions, I suppose), but I got really lucky, and was paired with a super chill guy who I ended up working extremely well with, and actually turned into a friend as well. That being said, the labs for this course were extremely time consuming, by far the most time consuming of all the labs this term. I did think they were cool, though. In the second lab, we wrote the software for an audio player, which is definitely cool. My respect for people who design and make audio players has shot through the roof as a result of this lab. Unfortunately, interesting as it was, the labs were run by an interesting guy, one who managed to earn the dislike of most of the class. He was an extremely aggressive lab instructor, and that’s me being nice. I’m pretty thick skinned, so when he told me and my partner we should go to Conestoga College because of our code, I thought it was more funny than hurtful. That being said, I can definitely understand why most of the class hated him, and want nothing to do with him again. He had a way of putting people down instead of helping them, which would really turn off most people rather than provoking them into the right direction. He was a real hardass about the labs too, making them way more annoyingly difficult than they needed to be. He gave no guidance whatsoever for the second lab, which is what made it so difficult – it was the first lab we had done where if you approached it the wrong way, it would be unbelievably hard to work with down the road. Thankfully, the labs didn’t cost me marks in this course. The exams did! I got just over a 50 on the final, but I was happy with that – I honestly thought I would fail the course after the final. It was the first final I’ve written where I started the paper and swore to myself because I had no idea how to do the first question. And I blame the professor 100%. She was nothing short of atrocious, and I hope no one ever has to suffer from her teaching. That being said, I simply cannot wait to see the electrical engineers suffer through this course in 3B (and suffer they will, the 3Bs who took it with us were literally useless in the labs). I’m just happy this course is over. I think over coop, I’ll try to genuinely learn the material myself, because I know it really is important. I don’t want it to go to waste.
Phew, that takes care of the courses. So what else happened this term that’s noteworthy? Nothing really comes to mind, other than the poor finals and the time taken up by labs. God, I feel like I lived in E2 this term because of the labs. Again, I wouldn’t be here were it not for the efforts of a particular friend when it came to the labs. Everything that went poorly this term, I blame on the time I had to sink into the labs instead of studying like I should have been. It really led to the finals going as badly as they did, and the ensuing feeling of hopelessness and mid degree crises that plagued me throughout the term. I’m really, really happy I passed this term, because it is not one I would want to repeat.
Speaking of passing, I know I made it sound like Armageddon when I discuss the term, but in terms of grades, I did pretty well. My average only fell 3% from last term, and it really could been a lot worse. Sadly, I am almost certain I won’t crack the top 10 again this term, but really, I was never to bothered about my grades anyway. I’m just happy to have passed.
One other thing I forgot to talk about this term, coop! I’m very excited to say that I got a job for Intel Corporation as a software developer! The only downside of it is that I’ll be back in Waterloo, but for Intel, I don’t mind that much. I’ve already got a couple interesting stories about Intel and the whole coop process this term, but I’ll dedicate that to another post, mostly because I need to wrap this one up.
There is one more topic that will need its own post, again simply because I need to finish up right now. It does belong here, but there you are. The topic of discussion? My choice to switch into computer engineering. 2B was the first term where the electricals and computers went their separate ways, and began to study different topics. Long story short, I’m happy with the decision I made, and I’ll explain it in a post shortly.
That’s it for now! It’s been a hell of a term, and I hope I’ve written enough to be able to remember it clearly when I reread this post in a couple years (at this point, these posts are really just a public journal for me). I’m ecstatic that it’s over, and amazed that I’m still here, exactly halfway through this degree. Let’s hope exactly two and half years from now, I’ll be writing the last of these.
Also, Merry Christmas all!