This year, the Technology Mission group had the opportunity to visit much of the west coast, with the goal of:
- Discovering how the engineering profession is practiced there;
- Understanding the job market and cultural differences;
- Learning a bit more about engineering courses given by universities in that region.
It was quite the journey, lasting 15 days during which our team visited companies like Tesla, Facebook, Apple, and universities like UBC and Stanford!
ÉTS Technology Missions
The technology mission brings together a dozen students who, each year, give themselves the objective of preparing a trip abroad to get a better understanding of engineering at the international level.
This year we formed a team of fourteen people: twelve students, one person from BRECI and a professor from the LOG/IT Department, Luc Duong. The purpose of our trip was to visit the cities of Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco, as well as Silicon Valley from April 14 to 29, 2018, meeting companies and nearby universities.
Five Months of Intense Preparations
Preparing for a trip like this is no walk in the park! In fact, beyond the tasks that were assigned to us—several committees: communication, logistics, partnerships and events—above all, each member had to demonstrate outstanding organization skills. Between our mission, classes, exams, personal activities, work and involvement, for some, our energy and our mental capacities were put to the test.
Travelling is also about having sufficient funds, and finding sponsors was a responsibility shared by all mission members. It was a difficult task, but one that went quite well overall, thanks to close coordination between members.
Finally, travelling is a good thing, but knowing where to go is even better! Starting from scratch, the team had to find companies and universities available to welcome us, while keeping in mind demanding time and logistical constraints
First Stop: Vancouver
Our first stop was the city of Vancouver, which included the following tours:
- University of British Columbia
- Simon Fraser University
- Molson Coors (and the Granville Island Microbrewery)
- Magil Construction
This first stop was both a warm-up but also a day of intense immersion for our team. Indeed, four appointments had been scheduled on day one, no less!
At the end of this all-out Monday, the team realized that the trip would definitely not be a vacation!
Touchdown USA—2nd Stop: Seattle
On Wednesday, we left for Seattle, a city in full technological expansion, where business opportunities abound. The program:
- Startup business incubator of the University of Washington
Initial observation: Seattle is a great place to live! Self-service bicycles everywhere (truly everywhere, no terminals like with the Bixi), relatively efficient public transport and an increasing number of large companies settling in the city, given a much lower cost of living compared with other parts of the country.
We had the pleasure of visiting companies largely unknown to us before starting the project, including Weyerhaeuser and Nordstorm, but which had a large number of exciting and innovative projects. As for Starbucks, a well-known company, it was very interesting to go “behind the scenes” and understand the technological issues facing the company, as well as its strong corporate culture.
Finally, we visited a typical US startup business incubator, whose business model is very different from our ÉTS incubator (CENTECH).
In Closing: Silicon Valley and San Francisco
As this region is historically known for its high concentration of technology companies, as well as its beautiful weather and magnificent scenery, it was with great excitement that our members arrived at the San Jose airport for this third part of the trip. Here is an overview of this highly eventful last week:
- Stanford University
- Apple Center
- CISCO Customer Experience Center
- Santa Cruz
- Meyer Sound
- Antenne du Québec
As you can see, it was a long list of companies! But remember, these visits were spread between the Silicon Valley region and San Francisco.
That last week, the visits were mainly about software and information technology, to the delight of my two colleagues, our teacher, and myself, all from the LOG/IT Department.
Our colleagues from other departments, for the most part much less familiar with these fields, still enjoyed discovering these companies, which, to our astonishment, showed us that beyond the technical features, corporate culture was very important in the San Francisco Bay.
Please visit our website to learn more about the different stages of our journey.
What we Learned
It would be very difficult to write everything down in a single article, but overall this is what we learned from the trip.
First of all, from a professional point of view, we learned that the engineering profession on the west coast was seen much in the same way as in Quebec: we share a vision of responsibility, a desire to innovate in our respective fields and a desire to take up challenges. Another interesting fact, and mainly in the computer field: in California, the title of engineer is not protected as in Quebec—employees can easily hold the position of “software engineer” or “infrastructure engineer” without engineering studies. After discussion on site with the companies, they explained to us that the important thing was that the employee had the human and technical qualities to integrate into the company.
At the university level, we realized how important research is to the advancement of our generation and of those to come. In the shadows, thousands of PhD students and future PhD students are working to find solutions to our everyday problems and trying to get a better understanding of the world we live in.
Finally, and this is where the team agrees the most, we discovered how critical coordination and communication were in a team project like ours. We had ups and downs, frustrations and misunderstandings; not everything went smoothly. In hindsight, we realized that this was mainly due to a lack of communication. Communication is vital! Whatever the problem, it has to be talked over with all the respect everyone deserves, keeping in mind the common goal as a priority to move forward.
The Last Word—Until the Next Trip
In short, if I had only one piece of advice to give you, it would be to apply for next year. It is a truly rewarding experience and all ÉTS students at the bachelor’s level are eligible to apply.
This kind of trip requires only two things: motivation and determination. The rest will come along as the project evolves.
Cédrick Pipitone is a 4th year student in Information Technology Engineering. He took part in the 2018 mission as a member of the communication committee, with the role of social media and website publications.
Program : Information Technology Engineering