Ali Waseem, BSc (Eng)'16
BSc Electrical Engineering
Minor in Computer Engineering
Schulich School of Engineering,
University of Calgary
Where is he today?
Schulich alumnus discovered his passion for software
It’s fair to say that Ali Waseem’s 16-month internship changed the direction of his life and career. About halfway through his internship placement with Pason Systems, the electrical engineering student at Schulich School of Engineering had a moment when he realized, “Oh I love this stuff,” he says of the work he was doing in software development for integrated drilling data solutions. But that was soon followed by another realization: “I was terrified. If I wanted to continue in software after my internship – because I really loved it – I would need to get to the same skill level as my peers.”
Those peers he was referring to had the advantage of coming to the internship with a significant amount of computer science and computer engineering classes under their belt. Waseem, with his electrical engineering focus, did not. “I’d never done anything software related in that scale. I was in electrical and I thought I was going to do hardware for the rest of my life,” he says.
“So I would work for eight hours a day on all the software projects at my internship. And then I would come home and spend another four hours just trying to learn and code something else interesting,” Waseem says. “I basically built a diverse portfolio of coding projects for myself, so that when I graduated, it could help get me an amazing software job.”
When he went back to Schulich after his internship, Waseem also found he was able to add a computer minor to his degree. “It was great, I could substitute some of my electrical courses for a lot of software- and hardware-related computer engineering courses.” He also kept building that software portfolio.
Waseem was especially happy with one of his projects – a smart mirror. He posted a video showing what he had created to Facebook – where it has more than 3,000 views – and also to LinkedIn and AngelList, a platform to apply for startup jobs. And then he started applying for jobs.
The video caught the eye of a recruiter at GoGuardian, an educational software startup based in Los Angeles, and it led to an interview. And then another and another. Waseem was able to show that he could write code and solve problems during the process.
He landed that “amazing” software job, relocating to Los Angeles soon after graduation to work with GoGuardian. “I was so thrilled. I was their first Canadian hire and they did so much for me.” Waseem worked as a software engineer for GoGuardian, diagnosing tech support tools and creating applications to support the internal team. “I did a ton of new stuff,” he says. “I helped solve a lot of problems, it was a really good learning experience.”
But Waseem, who grew up in Calgary, also had a girlfriend back in Calgary who he missed very much; It had become challenging for the two of them to see as much of each other as they wanted. So after a little more than a year at GoGuardian, Waseem moved back to Calgary.
He’s now working as a mobile software developer at Solium, a growing Calgary-based company which creates equity management software. “My work experience in LA really helped me land the job,” says Waseem. “It’s different work – I’m creating more user-facing products than I was before – and it’s a totally different type of programming as well.” But Waseem is enjoying the challenge – and the proximity to loved ones.
Never one to let his skillset stagnate, Waseem also recently used his coding skills for another important project – a surprise proposal for his girlfriend.
“I created an app that’s a scavenger hunt that basically takes her to where our first dates were,” he says.
This summer, his girlfriend downloaded the link, followed the app – and ended up at the first restaurant where they went on a date. Waseem’s latest software creation was a huge success: She said yes!
Engineering is such a versatile and open playground for you to do anything you want – you can find your passion and creativity here. You can do anything!
How did UCalgary’s Schulich School of Engineering prepared you to be an engineer?
I think the key part for me was going into university not knowing what I wanted to do with my life – like no idea – and then by the time I left university, I was thinking, ‘I can’t do anything else.’ Like, computer engineering is my way. I even think about getting tattoos of my first code because it's insane. If you talked to me like five, like seven years ago when I first started university, I'm not the same. I'm not the same person.
What were some of your Schulich School of Engineering highlights?
One of my favourite courses was a computer science course, Introduction to Algorithms [CPSC 319 - Data Structures, Algorithms, and Their Applications]. This is a very crucial course to know your Big O notation, which they ask about all the time in interviews for computer software jobs. The course teaches you a bunch of basic algorithms – it was super helpful for interviews.
Who were your UCalgary mentors?
I really liked Steve Norman [a senior instructor in electrical and computer engineering]. He really cared about the students a lot. He had amazing notes and just showed a passion for what he was teaching. And he had a lot of fun. There was no stress in his class. You were just learning something so interesting.
What is your advice for new engineering students?
When I started university, I never would have imagine I’d be doing what I am doing now. My first week, my mentality was, ‘I’m gonna get a job.’ I'm going to be very honest. A lot of people that start engineering, or any degree, they are just there for the job, right? They don't care what job, they just want a job and be financially stable in their future. But if I could tell myself something during that first week of school, I would say: ‘Just worry about the passion, do something that makes you passionate. Engineering is such a versatile and open playground for you to do anything you want – you can find your passion and creativity here. You can do anything! Like you can do a crazy amount of arts and fashion and culture stuff and you can still be in engineering.’
What is your life beyond engineering?
Coding has basically become my hobby as well as my job. I do a ton of projects and I post them all online. Every project I’ve done outside of work, it’s all open source, it’s free to use and develop if people are interested.
What does it mean to you to be an engineer?
I'd say I'm doing software development but I'm an engineering graduate. I'm still very proud of the fact that I did an engineering degree which is a very tough degree to complete. For me, the engineering part comes from my ability to think critically, which you need in software development. Engineering and software mix well together.