In middle school, Todd Tang (he/him), discovered a passion that has led him to co-op at the University of Waterloo. Today, the second-year Mechatronics Engineering student talks about his goal to lend a helping hand to the field of robotics and bring robots, as well as his career, to life.
Todd's co-op journey:
Work term one: At BorgWarner in China, Todd worked as a manufacturing engineering assistant. Here he wrote and improved new working instructions for his engineers, which were also used by his technicians. He also assisted in the translation of six different standard operating procedures, from English to Mandarin, so his documents could be understood by the plant workers in China.
Todd has since transitioned into a volunteer position at the University of Waterloo, within the Active & Interactive Robotics (AIR) Lab. Here he has participated in creating more accurate methods of calibration for cameras and has helped his lab partners extract the human interactive data within robots.
Q&A with Todd:
What was the interview process like for you? What advice do you have for first-time co-op students?
“I was panicking at that time because I started looking for jobs just four months after starting university because I'm in stream eight.”
“Collecting skills from time to time are always good too. If you're interested in building key skills within different topics such as robotics or machine learning, just go for it. Using research, tools as well as your knowledge, will attract researchers and they realize that you will be useful in the future. Only once you start will you know what you like and dislike about the topic, as well as you will know what’s missing to get to the next level.”
“I found that some of the qualifications I had were not on some job postings, but when the recruiters know you have some of the relative skills and knowledge, they will appreciate that and that will make you stand out.”
“The advice I want to give to first year students, in general, is to not panic too much. Even when you may not be prepared for a question, just display your analyzation with the knowledge you have, the experience you can refer to and the implication you make with proof. That will build confidence within your answer.”
How were you able to manage schoolwork and searching for jobs at the same time?
“The first cycle began at an early time for me. For me in the first year, I made use of the ‘engineering’ tag in WaterlooWorks.”
“The important thing is to go to each of the job postings you’re interested in and see what skills and abilities the recruiters are looking for in that job posting.”
“You may not have those skills for now, but once you get started, you know you are going to build them.”
“The school term is not solely meant for course work. Instead, it’s a good chance to build upon the skills you think are relevant to your career path.”
“Some courses have high workloads, but every student needs to find a balance and yours can be very different from others. If your peers get a job quicker than you do, it doesn’t mean you’re inferior to them in terms of skills. It may just be because your time hasn’t arrived yet for a match - but it will come.”
What sparked your passion for mechatronics engineering? Has co-op strengthened that passion?
“My passion can be dated back to as early as middle school when I would build LEGO robots. Although it’s just LEGO, I was still able to make robots move with different programs and that’s when I thought robotics would be interesting.”
“The emphasis on working with robots in the descriptions for my program, that’s what led me to Waterloo. Right from day one we were working with LEGO robots and that sparked many memories for me. I knew I was in the right place.”
“I trusted my instincts within my school terms because it’s what I’m interested in. That carried over into my second co-op term as well. That’s when I got the chance to really make a real-life robot move with proper programs.”
“I saw I could implement my practice in past years to the real thing. That gave me a sense of achievement, getting on that higher ground. Every step, no matter how slow it may be, has led me to robotics and I feel like I can turn it into a career path.”
What has been among your favourite accomplishments within co-op so far?
“I think the most valuable achievement for me has been getting to that next level in robotics.”
“I did, however, attend a competition with my team. We didn't really get a prize for that, but the judges complimented us on some of our algorithms. I think that moment made me feel more confident about what I am doing right now.”
“I started to implement more challenging codes and programs on robots. I made them move and complete difficult tasks. For me, the improved knowledge within robotics, and the experiences I gained within programming in robotics during the competition are more valuable than a physical certificate to me.”
“I value my practice. Figuring out what you are missing and realizing what you can do next means more to me.”
What is next for you on this journey?
“My first co-op job made me feel like engineering is the best program for me. My second job, I knew that robotics is what I was looking for. Both roles have supported my goals up to this point.”
“Starting in the fall, I will embark on my third co-op within an operating systems and robotics role, so I will see how I feel once the time comes.”
“At the end of the day, I don't know for sure, but I will see how it goes and if I continue to show interest in what I’m doing, I can dig deeper and do research. If I'm not, then I can always find a different path and see how things go.”
“For every co-op term, we need to take it seriously. After all, it is a mock run for our future careers. Every job is valuable in terms of putting students in that very spot and letting them reflect on themselves.”