Help Desk

The Engineering Computing Help Desk is located in E7-2466. Hours of operation are: Monday to Thursday (9 am - 4 pm), Fridays (9 am - 12 noon).  Hours are reduced during exam periods and the office is closed between academic terms.  Please contact us at or call at  x33524.

We also have a dedicated support line for Faculty and Staff at x46932 during working hours.

Software recommendations from our consultants:

Information Systems and Technology (IST) and Engineering Computing have put a lot of effort into evaluating and pursuing site licenses for software that we believe is useful for scientific computing applications. Some of our license agreements allow students to use a copy at home while they are registered, or allow students to purchase their own copies at a significant discount. However, most site-licensed software is only applicable to University-owned computers but is available on the Waterloo Nexus PC network, and/or on-campus Unix hosts. We encourage you to explore the software available to students. Self-paced courses on many software titles are available to students and staff. See this IST Knowledge Base article on how to access LinkedIn Learning.

What follows are some recommendations for software to use for various tasks.


Most research or project work requires some kind of programming to test out a methodology or conduct a simulation. Traditional languages such as C(++) or Fortran will do the job, but you will have to either write your own numerical subroutines or rely on libraries. Your code will also take you a while to write and debug when you could be thinking about the problem you are working on. Many people prefer the open-source Python language and its MathPy libraries as a higher-level programming environment.

There are two commercial software packages that are worth the effort to learn for anyone doing programming tasks: Matlab and Maple. Both of these packages are interpreted, high-level languages. Matlab is primarily a numerical computation environment, with extensive plotting capabilities. Maple is primarily a symbolic computation environment with plotting capabilities. Both have links to the other. A typical use might be to use Maple to derive your mathematical model in general mathematical terms, then use Matlab to solve it numerically for specific operating conditions. Both Maple and Matlab have huge libraries of functions which make it possible to do a lot with a little code. Also, it is possible to export Maple and Matlab code to compilable C(++) or Fortran. Campus licenses exist for both Matlab and Maple. There are also free open-source replacements for both of these products if you prefer, including Python as mentioned above.


It is possible to use a standard word processor such as Microsoft Word to write a thesis or large technical document. But, if you have a lot of mathematics and a lot of tables and figures, you are very likely to run into problems, and these usually happen when the document is very large and you need to print it.

The recommended alternative to word processors is LaTeX, a free document formatting system and free open-source software available on all computing platforms. LaTeX uses plain text source files and formatting tags (similar to HTML). The document is typeset by passing the source file to the LaTeX processing program. UW has a campus license for faculty, staff, and graduate students for a cloud service called Overleaf. Overleaf uses LaTeX to power an authoring and collaboration platform that many graduate students and research groups find useful.

The main advantages of LaTeX are: small portable source files, easy handling of all sorts of numbered structures (tables, figures, references, sections, etc.), and access to every conceivable mathematical symbol.

For some notes on learning LaTeX, see IST notes about LaTeX including a thesis template.


Both Maple and Matlab have extensive plotting capabilities that are adequate for most jobs. We recommend saving your plots as Encapsulated Postscript (EPS) files and "insert"-ing them into your Word documents, rather than cutting and pasting. This keeps your document smaller and keeps the figure in a scalable (resizeable) format that won't lose resolution. To insert plots into a thesis in LaTeX, save them in PDF format.

Other computing documentation and resources