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Emma Thomson: Championing Startups

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Emma Thomson graduated from Linden in 2013 and recently chatted with us about her studies and interests at the University of Waterloo. Emma attended Linden for 11 years, from Grade 1-12 (she skipped a year when she accelerated to Grade 9 after completing Grade 7).

Linden: Tell us about your undergraduate studies.

Emma: I am in my 3rd year at the University of Waterloo and am majoring in Software Engineering. My field is very similar to computer science and involves a lot of computer programming, building applications, and solving real-world problems using computer software. An example of the type of work I can do is building a program that can automatically create the Linden timetable without the need for human intervention. As we know, a computer processor can process things a lot faster than human brains. This would be a fun side project for me, provided I can find the time!

Linden: We heard that you have had a wonderful experience pursuing a number of co-op opportunities.

Emma: My program requires students to have six co-op internships before graduation. My first co-op placement was through the Bridging Entrepreneurs To Students program, and I ended up working for a Toronto startup, The Next36, an accelerator program for university students and new grads who wish to start their own companies. This experience enabled me to explore more job opportunities and do internships in other cities.

Last winter I worked in downtown Toronto for a startup called Extreme Innovations. We built products for people who brought us their business ideas. It was a really cool job and I got to work on quite a few different projects during my time there. One of the biggest projects I worked on was building a web platform and a mobile app for a waste-management company. Our goal was to enable garbage truck drivers to be able to drive around and spot potential new businesses that might need garbage collection services. These business leads would be submitted via a mobile app to the sales team for follow-up/contract possibilities. The app was both web-based and mobile, the sales people used the web-based portal to see all incoming sales leads. The app’s benefit was that it would be easier for the drivers to record information about businesses and they would also get notified on the status of their lead and whether or not it had a successful outcome.

I recently returned from an internship in San Francisco, where I did web development projects with a healthcare startup, Grand Rounds. My team included 5 programmers, a project manager, and a graphic designer. Our project involved overhauling a patients’ online dashboard in order to improve the site’s usability. This summer I will be returning to Grand Rounds for another internship because I enjoyed it so much.

Linden: What influenced your interest in software engineering?

Emma: I decided to take computer programming at Linden, and a lot of what we did was focused on making graphical applications and user interfaces. This sparked my interest in web and app design because I can see the results of my work instantly, and I find it very gratifying when users are able to use the applications that I build. I think that if a software tool is any good, it has to be something that I would use myself. 

Linden: What are your plans for the future?

Emma: I would love to work at Google or Facebook, or pursue graduate studies. I would probably opt for a post-graduate degree in business management as opposed to doing a masters in computer science, since the latter would restrict me to doing research or becoming a professor, which is something I don’t want. Realistically speaking, an MBA from a reputable school can cost up to 100k, so I would rather wait to see if my future employer would like me to acquire this degree and if they are willing to help pay for it.

Linden: What’s your best memory of Linden?

Emma: What I miss most about Linden is being on the cross-country team where I had a leadership role, and mentored younger kids. Linden is different from other schools because you get to know students in lower grades and you get to be a role model to them.

Linden: What would be your advice to senior students applying to study your field?

Emma: Students who have completed projects on the side, such as building apps, can showcase this experience in their resumes. This can really help you land co-op internships, especially in first year when students usually have no formal work experience. Students could also go to computer programming camps during the summer, or pursue freelance web development. Linden is really good at giving students a diverse experience that looks good on your applications. I used to run track and cross-country, which balanced my hard-core advanced math and science courses.

Linden: What would be your advice to their parents?

Emma: My dad was really supportive of me going into engineering. Let your kids pursue their dreams no matter what.