“When I began my studies,” says Nanotechnology Engineering alumna Nan Huang, “nanotechnology was an exciting buzzword – it had all of us thinking about the fantastic things we would invent to transform the way we do things in the future.”
Nan now works for AMD (Advanced Micro Devices Inc.), an established multinational semiconductor company that develops “high-performance computing and visualization products to solve some of the world’s toughest and most interesting challenges.”
As one of the company’s product marketing managers, Nan helps position and market AMD graphics and processor products, including high performance integrated circuits that are vital components of computers and video games. While these advanced integrated circuits were fabricated in a cleanroom using nanotechnology expertise and advanced process equipment, Nan works outside the chip fabrication process. In her job, which requires technical communication, marketing and multidisciplinary engineering skills, she uses her engineering expertise to commercialize these high performance devices. Among many advantages provided by her education, she understands her product line’s technical details and can translate them into layman’s terms to explain the products’ benefits to customers, partners and end users.
Although her day-to-day responsibilities are a long way from what she studied during her undergraduate degree, she works in an industry that innovates within the nanoscale to transform our lives through technology. Her understanding of nanotechnology – both from the back end and from the perspective of those who use her company’s products – give her an edge, a unique perspective, from which to complete her work. She puts to good use the wealth of transferrable skills she learned during her engineering degree and continues to work towards transforming the future.
In high school, Nan knew she would pursue an engineering degree at Waterloo – purely on the strength of the University's reputation and co-op program that offered students multiple opportunities to gain work experience. Her only debate was between studying nanotechnology or mechatronics.
Those thoughts changed when she got her third co-op job, at AMD. Recognizing that she was already working in the industry she aspired to, appreciated the value of a multi-disciplinary education and wanted to continue her studies with the friends she had made in her cohort, she decided to stick with Nanotechnology Engineering.
She chose Nanotechnology Engineering because of her interest in science and the program’s cross-disciplinary academic content. The collaborative program incorporates significant elements of chemical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and chemistry.
Even so, as she proceeded through the program, she noticed herself gravitating towards computer engineering as her interest in chemistry waned. By third year, she seriously considered transferring programs to finish her degree in computer engineering.
Nan credits the co-op program for attracting her to Waterloo, convincing her to stick with nanotechnology and introducing her to her employer. Although other institutions offer co-op programs, Nan was attracted to the structure of Waterloo’s program, which provides the opportunity for five separate work terms.
Nan’s Co-op Work Term Employment History
From the beginning, Nan worked hard to make the most of these co-op positions. She aggressively applied to a small set of her preferred employers, producing targeted cover letters and detailed résumés that explained her broad academic and experiential skills. She found that her Nanotechnology Engineering degree was a source of curiosity among potential employers. While there were some that didn’t understand how her background could help them, they were interested to know more; Nan used that to pique their attention and get her foot in the door.
In fact, in her first work term at AMD, where she ran benchmarks and did other technical marketing work, she realized what she really enjoyed. She feels fortunate that she found out early in her studies what she wanted to do, and she pursued that line of work. She received a permanent job offer from AMD even before she graduated, and she finished her studies with the confidence of knowing where she was headed afterwards.
“I had thought that it might be hard to find a job without a second degree, but that has not been the case for me,” Nan says. Then, speaking with the spirit of someone who has forgotten that luck comes to those who work hard and prepare themselves, she elaborates: “I’ve had a lot of good fortune with my education and my employment. I’m lucky that I found out early what I enjoy doing. I got lucky that my co-op employer offered me a full time job. I enjoy my work! I got lucky – it’s what I love doing… I’m lucky that AMD is located in my home town of Toronto. I lucked into everything.”
Nan is confident that the NE degree is robust and that Waterloo Engineering’s good reputation will open doors for NE graduates to demonstrate their skills and potential.
With that in mind, she offers this advice to NE students:
- Recognize the program’s vigor, understand that engineering gives you a set of transferable skills and appreciate that you are prepared for any opportunity. Shoot for the stars!
- Always put effort into every cover letter and résumé you send. Customize it to the employer. Describe what you know and how your skillset complements their needs. Employers may not understand what nanotechnology is, but you can make them understand that you can do the work that they need to have done.
- Take time to fully enjoy your undergraduate experience – don’t spend the entirety of it studying. Make friends and involve yourself in extracurriculars. The connections you make are just as important!