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University of Waterloo: Silicon Valley's Canadian Feeder School (businessweek.com)
259 points by gdilla on Nov 1, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 153 comments

There is something special about Waterloo. We noticed it a couple years ago.

Cribbed from a recent Quora answer of mine:

The Waterloo (CS/Eng) intern ecosystem is immensely strong. First year students generally work at the best companies that they can, often taking smaller startups where they are able to learn the most. There's a steady transition to final co-op terms, where most classmates end up working in Silicon Valley, Redmond, NYC, and their own startups. It's a great place to be if you want to be part of the brain drain.

Like many well-known American business schools, UW has the fortune of having graduates opting to return term-after-term to hire interns. Since UW interns are full-year round, this creates a dependency of companies to hire interns (compensation is less than full-time employees, but it's still nice).

While I understand that other schools may have 'almost' co-op programs, Waterloo's is the largest one in the continent (and perhaps the world too). By having multiple exposures to different employers, the school provides successful students the ability to quickly ascend the ranks of the corporate ladder while receiving academic instruction on how to be better at their jobs.

I understand a common problem at other universities is that courses are not always relevant to the real world. By placing students constantly in contact with production code, there is a strong backlash against badly taught and irrelevant course material. Waterloo is grounded in the real-world, as I think most of us live in it.

My only complaint is the geese and the timezone. I'd prefer to be on the west coast, but Waterloo is home (until Winter term).

The other more famous UW also does this: Google has a habit of hiring lots of UW graduates (see Jeff Dean), who then go on to hire other UW graduates...and also a very good co-op program with many willing local companies (most notably, Microsoft, but also Intel in Portland).

He got his phd from UW, just not that UW. It's in the wiki page also. University of Washington is one of the best state schools in the world, and routinely ranks in the top ten with its computer science department.

I find Americans view "America" as "The World". I'm not questioning your metrics, your statistics, or the quality of UWashington, but I think you mean 'Public School'.

The phrase state school is meaningless if you live in countries that don't have states.

RIT has a pretty good coop program as well.

Like all great schools what makes the students great is selection bias. Waterloo has a great reputation, so it gets the first pick of the best students. The great graduates give the school a great reputation.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

(Not that I'm complaining as I was part of the system and have benefited greatly from it. Co-op is a very, very big deal. But the professors and the school itself is not appreciably different from U of T or UBC or wherever)

It's not just how good they are. They have a different attitude from students from elite US universities. More practical, less arrogant. I'm not sure whether it's a Canadian thing or a Waterloo thing though.

Elite US universities essentially select for hyper-competitive people. If you weren't hyper-competitive at ages 14-17, you won't be getting in. This isn't the case at Canadian schools where basically any talented student can attend a top school provided they aren't inordinately lazy.

It's a Canadian thing. You'll find grads from all the Canadian universities are humble and practical.

Being a top university with grads in high demand, it's actually amazing that Waterloo grads haven't gotten a reputation for being more arrogant. I know I was at one point in my life.

As a Canadian I'd argue that this is a cultural trait that can easily be adopted by other countries. It is also a cultural trait we Canadians are rapidly losing. The reason Canadian universities produces these types of grads is because our universities are much more accessible to our citizens. It reflects our practical outlook on social programs like education, health care, and transit. Go on the TTC subway during the day and you'll find suits going to work on Bay St., kids going to U of T, and Tim Horton cashiers too. Get sick and you'll often have access to the same doctors that wealthy people do (though this has more to do with your geographic location... it's better to be in a big city).

You don't have to have a certain surname to get into Waterloo. You'd be much better off just scoring well on the Fermat Contest. When nobody gives a shit what you have, and it's what you do that gets you places, you tend to be more modest. We have a long list of financial tools to make school happen for students that have the talent and will to go. We also have a fairly strong set of public school systems that get students to university's door. Again, these schools are accessible.

One of the sadder things about Google's founder success is that more parents want to emulate this success for their kids by keeping them away from Canada's otherwise pretty good public school system. It will quickly deteriorate if more parents pick up on this trend to send their kids to private or Montessori schools.

"You don't have to have a certain surname to get into Waterloo. You'd be much better off just scoring well on the Fermat Contest. When nobody gives a shit what you have, and it's what you do that gets you places, you tend to be more modest."

Well put. UBC grad here, living and working in the valley now but if I ever wanted to raise a family I would think strongly about moving back to Canada purely for the great accessibility to quality public education.

I think it's more of a Canadian thing than a Waterloo thing. Ironically it's the same Canadian conservative attitude that investors often complain about (not shooting for the moon) that is responsible for the more pragmatic, practical attitude of entrepreneurs here. Waterloo is special because it has three great academic institutions and a culture of entrepreneurship that stretches back many years and encompasses everything from textiles to brewery and distillation industries.

I just commented and have pretty much the same opinion that you do. I've often wondered if this practical opinion on has anything to do with Canadians having to shovel the snow. Hear me out...

In the U.S., there are dramatic weather and natural disasters that bring communities together. Floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earth quakes. We don't have these extremes. But what we lack for in extreme weather, we make up for in volume. In Canada, we just have snow that has to get shovelled often. That means waking up a few times a week in your neighbourhood to shovel snow and side walks. Folks that don't do it are shamed and pressured into doing it. But even if they hold out, somebody just shovels the damn snow, because we're all the better for it. There is nothing more annoying than walking 90 m down a perfectly shovelled sidewalk and then having to walk 5 m along icy packed snow because some jerk refused to pitch in.

With snow, when everybody pitches in their share of effort, entire cities can function. That has a profound impact on how you see government programs. "If I pitch in my bit, and everybody pitches in theirs, our health care/education/transit system can be pretty good". Moreover, when you actually see cities dig out from underneath snow, you debunk the myth that people are lazy. Most people, and a vast majority at that, pitch in and get things going. Again, this contributes a great deal toward our mindset on social programs.

Most students get taught cutting edge technology and approach and that is always a few years ahead (less than it used too be) and with that are completely lost once they go into the real World. A system that exposes the student with reality so that they can understand the good reasons for bad choices with all that go with it then they have less attitude.

Thus you avoid, new people fresh out of education telling people they need to drop there old system and redo it and bookabibble-C as it is just the greatest for things that in reality are never used in the company.

I left edication as a COBOL programmer and could code lovely Jackson Structured Programs, totaly unaware of the GO TO verb even existed in COBOL, could do lovely variable writes with PIC X OCCURS DEPENDING and yet reality was use GO TO it is the site standard and faster code. Luckly I was young enough to not argue and learned the reasons behind it, though I only did a intense 2 year corse at college and no univercity. Had I went further before I entered employment then my attitude would of been more of an issue for me.

With that you can look at education as a drug, if left without any grounding work experience then the reality of what they see and what is needed can go adrift. That and a 5 minute fix could be charged as many thousands of income and a 5 hours fix can be charged at pennies, customer perception and with that another aspect we all learn. With that the best engineers can and do often make the worst people to put a value upon their work. Though that is another level.

Having attended UWaterloo's CS program as well as other institutions, in addition to completing many courses from elite US universities (MIT, Harvard, Stanford, etc.), I've come to an interesting conclusion.

Elite US schools have an unparalleled reputation built upon hundreds of years of pedigree, and as such, there is incredibly fierce competition for entrance. Once you are admitted to an Ivy, the hard part is behind you, and you can get on with your courses. Uwaterloo is the the reverse: it is almost trivial to gain entrance, but surviving the devastating curriculum is another matter entirely.

Elite US schools have the best teachers in the world in my opinion, as the quality of their online lectures have shown. However, it appears that the assessment difficulty is similar to a top level Canadian schools (UofT, McGill, etc.). This is the crucial difference between UWaterloo and every other university.

UWaterloo assessment is brutal. In every way that an assessment can be made hard, it is done so. The tests are purely theoretical, making rote memorization useless. Furthermore, they are very long, putting slow and deep thinkers at a disadvantage. On top of all this, there is an extremely strict system of producing completely new exams and assignments, while making sure previous years' materials are not released. Combine this with an uncompromising curriculum in terms of breadth and depth, and you have one of the most rigorous CS programs in the world.

Now you can argue whether all of this is unnecessary (whiteboard vs terminal coding), but the truth is, the sheer difficulty of the challenge tends to weed out the uncommitted. The reason why UWaterloo grads are humble, is because they have had their egos beaten out of them. Without exception, every UW Math/CS undergrad is one of the smartest people in their high school/town/province. They come to UW, and within the first year, they have a serious confidence crisis as they are failing courses and getting marks they've never seen before (50s 60s 70s).

Once this occurs, they either quit, or swallow their ego and just focus on learning the material and preparing for the exams. There is no psychological foundation for arrogance, as even the best and brightest suffer failures repeatedly.

To summarize: UWaterloo is war. Your morale suffers, your friends fail and leave, and you lose all hope. But the few who survive are battle-hardend engineers by the end.

Unofficial UW motto: "Cry in the dojo, laugh in the battlefield."

Addendum: Co-op terms are a refreshing break from this academic war zone. I was always amazed at how simple, straightforward and fun actual work was in comparison to the ruthlessness of the curriculum.

Addendum II: Couldn't resist adding this hilarious interview with Elon Musk regarding his time at Queen's (another good Canadian school). He decided against UWaterloo, but for entirely different reasons:


> completely new exams and assignments, while making sure previous years' materials are not released

This seems absurd. Both MathSoc and EngSoc maintain exam banks, which students can (and do!) contribute to. Professors release past midterms and finals to help students prepare all the time -- assuming they think they're relevant. (Sometimes they're not -- the accreditation boards and curriculum committees shuffle stuff around every few years to keep up with du jour trends in education.)

All good engineering schools share this quality. If you don't feel "academic PTSD" after being done with your engineering curriculum, you probably didn't go to a good enough engineering school.


Thanks you for depressingly pointing out that Elon Musk is the same age as I am. Unlike Elon however, I managed to find women on the Waterloo campus. It's far from difficult.

U of T is equally brutal.

As a fellow UW CS grad, I'd like to say this is pretty on the button, except for the fact that I wouldn't say it's trivial to get into as you need very high marks and more, at least in the year I entered, which was the double cohort (grade 12 and 13 graduating at the same time). My buddy had a 99 average in OAC (grade 13) in every math and science course, made top finals in Canada for every UW math contest, and did a whole slew of other impressive things and was still rejected for Computer Engineering, and this was and is still one of the smartest guys I know. Later that summer they did grant him entrance luckily, but it was ridiculous that you needed such high marks to get in. From a CS perspective though, the minimum marks required were like 10-15 points higher than the next top school from what I remember.

UW CS was the most brutal experience of my life and after 1 day of frosh week I realized every one I met was smarter and more accomplished than me. You get the pride and confidence beaten out of you so quick it's not funny. I powered through and hated every minute of it, but I didn't want to give up, I wanted to make it and show the world I could beat UW; it was the enemy. Many people I knew quit or disappeared after 1 year or 2nd year, I wanted to quit, I had many crises, but I brute forced through, clawing to the minimum required average to stay in the program. I was lucky to know at least a few others who were doing the same, which helped me feel not so alone. You swallow your pride and do everything you can to stay afloat, even while others around you take 1 extra full course a term while doing a double major with no effort and you wonder why you are so stupid or what planet everyone is from. We didn't get reading week, we got reading days, sometimes only day. You never got a summer break, only co-op, which was like a vacation compared to school, but it was the most useful thing of all I think. Everything was theory, it was so abstract and real world useless at the time that it bended your mind, this bugged me the most as an entrepreneur. By the end the work isn't easier, you are just better at managing your time and knowing how to defeat the non-stop barrage of assignments. You realize you should make more friends because some of the people that you always hated for having every answer first on the newsgroups, even outsmarting the TAs, was the guy who would be the top engineer at the best firms in no time, or that you can hire them and be unstoppable. The non-stop shifting between co-op and school made it feel like you were doing 3 years of experiences per 1 year, so time felt so distorted and you grew that much faster. Having the courage to move to a new city every 4 months and relearn everything also changes you. You knew what kind of experience having a job was and how disjointed it was from school. You learned what you didn't want to do, you started using your schooling to try and improve work places, and by the end you felt very comfortable with your skills and your knowledge of how the real world works. Pretty much everyone I knew had a job offer almost a year before graduating.

I think anyone else from UW would say the same thing, but during and for years after, being idle for more than an hour or two made you feel really really guilty, like you knew you should be working or making progress, and if you don't lose that feeling, you can accomplish great things very quickly. A weekend of relaxing was more stressful and unnerving than anything. I think most people leave Waterloo after they graduate because they hate it so much, it was so brutal that the city itself becomes an incarnation of what you experienced. It's getting better now, but damn did I hate everything for a long time. I beat it though, and I'm proud to say I survived.

I stuck around in Waterloo because I was an entrepreneur and I knew it was the best place to start a business. I volunteered and ran entrepreneurship organizations, tried to start my own companies and made a huge network. I flipped from hating Waterloo to loving it, and 10 years later I'm still here and running a funded startup. I wished Velocity and the Communitech Hub and all the other great stuff going on now was here back when I was in school, but so glad it's here now. The smarts, determination, experience and energy of these student entrepreneurs combined with the guidance and support of the programs makes for a very fierce advantage.

University of Calgary engineering sounds very similar.

I think its a bit more than this though.

Their co-op program was, and continues to be, pretty awesome. This, IMHO, is what first got the great students to go there.

With university cost only increasing its nice to know you'll be able to pay your way due to co-op.

With co-op salaries only increasing it's nice to know the students will be able to pay whatever we feel like charging them -- UW administration

UW isn't private, a good chunk of the tuition is subsidized by the Canadian government for all Canadian citizens. On top of that undergraduate student loan interest is also paid while you are studying at the school.

UW may not be private but the pricing is based on supply/demand not costs. For example, a first year student enrolled in Math pays half as much as a first year student enrolled in CS. They both take exactly the same courses in the same rooms at the same times with the same professors.

Engineering and CS students subsidize the rest of the school in order to improve the university's rankings. We're just cash cows to them.

I too think it's a bit more. Speaking as a physics major in co-op, the co-op program has taught me (and I'm sure will continue to do so) a great deal in terms of entrepreneurship as well as software. It's taught me a lot of things I wouldn't know about running a company had I not actually been in one/heard people who've started one talking about it.

Combined with the people who are here, waterloo is dripping with a sense of vigour that if you go looking for it will send you to great heights.

Think about it this way: Your buddies are starting companies, earning many thousands of dollars and changing the world in important areas; are you simply going to sit around and graduate? I think not.

There is a positive cycle that happens, no doubt, but I think it's more than this. McGill also gets great students, but my experience with Waterloo alums has been better.

Unlike Canada's two other highly reputable schools (U of T and McGill), Waterloo's reputation derives largely from the quality of its graduates over the last few decades, not from the fact that at one time they were the only university in their respective regions. Old money vs. new success. I say this as a U of T grad.

The McGill that earned McGill's reputation hasn't existed since people were going around in horse-drawn carriages.

Funny you should say that about McGill. I had some French colleagues who sent their kids there. I think the reputation is still intact overseas.

Your point also suggests that it takes more than reputation to thrive.

We used to recruit there for my prior employer. Everyone thought it was because one of the big bosses got his engineering degree there. Then we found the folks were just as talented as their ivy league peers, and very honeset, down to earth, and willing to work hard too.

Microsoft has been onto this for a very long time. Even back in the early 90's they'd hire huge numbers of co-ops and graduating students each year.

What's special about UW students/grads, and what do you attribute it to?

It's the co-op program.

Students trade independence during summers for year-round schooling that has them gaining 2 years of work experience at up to 6 different organizations by the time they graduate. And the reputation of the program is such that, if you've got the ability, you'll get opportunities at the biggest tech players. On top of the work experience, you'll have a wealth of experience applying to literally hundreds of jobs, being interviewed, both technically and non-technically, perhaps as many times as you will for the rest of your career, and all of this while working alongside and competing with very bright peers.

Definitely agree.

The co-op program actually increases time to degree a little bit (three terms), because a “normal” 4 year university degree is 1/3 summer term, while Waterloo students alternate co-op term and academic term after their first two terms (I’m glossing over some details, but this is more or less how it used to work).

A = academic; S = summer (most universities); C = co-op (Waterloo)



Essentially, Waterloo students get 8 academic terms and 6 co-op terms in 14 4-month terms. As others have mentioned, the history and structure of the co-op program means that students are getting industry experience very early on in university. The extra few terms seem like a small price to pay for that experience.

Most other (US / Canada) universities focus their teaching in the fall and winter terms so that a student will get 8 academic terms and 3 summer terms (where you’re much more on your own in terms of finding a summer job).

I went to waterloo, I wanted to add a little more insight to your comment.

the system you gave is correct, but there is a little nuance to it. when you are on your academic term, around midterm time you have to find your job for the next term (assuming you don't continue your previous term's job). so during midterms you are studying like mad and interviewing like a pro to make next term work. its not easy, but you become extremely adept at interviews (trial by fire) and editing your resume. Also you get used to shrugging off rejection.

funny is if you get the Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, or Facebook job. Your next term you can pretty much get a job at any of the others.

another scary tidbit at UW, is the level of talent around you. I can't tell you how many times my mind has been blown away by another person's ability to make some impossible assignment/task look like a cake walk. so its really hard to be arrogant at UW. I remember feeling like I can leap tall bounds in a single stride, but everyone else seems to just fly.

This. Thought i was smart in high school. Got the highest score in the descarte math course. Went to waterloo and got my ass whooped. Always below average. My time at Waterloo made me feel dumb. I mean, things were just effortless for them. I was just a late bloomer, I tell myself.

Thanks, I appreciate your insights. I applied there so I learned about their system a bit, but a little book knowledge is nothing compared to a multi year experience.

I agree with this. I went to a strong American school, and if I look at the co-ops/interns/fresh grads I see from my Alma mater and those that have come from Waterloo, on a lot of areas they're pretty much on par (Comp Sci fundamentals,, etc). But the Waterloo Grads just know how to work within a team better. It makes a great first impression to everyone else, and gets things off on the right foot.

There really is something special about the way the school gets them ready.

I'd say it's the breadth of their COOP program. I'm at UofO and we got COOP too, except it's 4 terms instead of 6.

The COOP office here is too afraid of looking bad by sending 1st years into COOP, so they only make it available starting 2nd year. If they'd understand better the nature of our industry and would let us start COOP earlier, it would be much better.

I guess it might be a consequence of being in Ottawa; the city is very government-employed, and thus the university has a very conservative and byzantine feel. Things move so slowly here and it's always a heavy admin process to change something. w.r.t to CS/SEG students, that impacts COOP and the material we're taught (which is deprecated).

A step in the right way is that they've now made COOP mandatory for everybody in Software Engineering, and made it start on the first summer (total of 5). I don't understand why it wasn't like that to begin with.

All in all, sometime I wish I was at UofW to be in a more interesting setting. But again, it's not so much about your university than about what work you do on your own.

Most Canadian universities have co-op programs, though. I just finished my last courses at UVic and am currently doing my 3rd co-op term (and locked in for a fourth). I agree that co-op is basically mandatory, but I'm wondering what sets UW apart from other universities with similar programs.

My understanding is that no other Canadian schools have a co-op program that is as established and has the same scale and reputation. With those attributes come top quality employers, more responsibilities on the job, etc. (generalizing, of course).

From the Waterloo co-op website [1]: 17,300 co-op students enrolled over three semesters in more than 120 programs. 4,500 employers hire Waterloo co-op students.

[1] https://uwaterloo.ca/co-operative-education/about-co-operati...

Also, Waterloo engineers take at least six co-op terms starting as early as January of freshman year, which is much more and much earlier than other schools.

ETS also makes students do a co-op after only one term and considering that 90%+ of the students there come from a CEGEP degree (technical degree) and have already completed 2 co-op terms, I can safely say that UW isn't alone.

I would say that the variability of education quality between Canadian schools isn't that high, but the number of universities isn't great either. Waterloo does try to be more experimental with their curriculum than many other schools, but the real secret is in the co-op/internship program. All Waterloo engineering & (many) computer science students start doing internships in first year and complete 6x 4-month internships before they graduate. This means that you get significant experience before you're cast off on your own, and a chance to test the working conditions at a variety of companies, roles and locations. Graduates are better prepared to hit the ground running once they get their diploma. For hiring companies, they get a low risk 4 month interview. Waterloo also has interns available all year long (not just in the summer months), so they can spread out the minor burden of training an intern. I haven't seen a similar model anywhere else and Waterloo has been doing it for decades.

It has a reputation for being the best engineering school in Canada, so lots of the best people self-select to go there. Now having said that, I think there is less variability in the quality of education you get between Canadian Universities as compared to US schools. This is mostly based wishy-washy conjecture though.

After working with so many bright colleagues from Waterloo, I knew such an article was bound to come up one day considering they are known so less here in the valley.

Coming from a collegiate programming world, their ACM ICPC record is also pretty top-notch.

In this case, I would attribute it to the province and wise choices with the allocation of government money.

Ontario, the province Waterloo is located in, has historically been pretty good about pushing technology, especially in rural areas. For instance, in the early to mid-nineties the rural public schools local to me had high speed internet connections, while I was reading articles about schools in big city USA that had no access to the internet at all. Today, we have a fibre optic internet connection to the farm, while I read about farms in the US still struggling with dialup connections. Additionally, programming has virtually always been a part of the school curriculum. My father even talks about programming on punch cards in high school. Again, I read about US schools only thinking about introducing this today.

I think that lead to a disproportionate number of young people growing up in the area of Waterloo with a strong technological mindset, due to availability of technology that much of North America did not have easy access to. Then, Waterloo, due to its reputation, gets the best of that bunch.

With all that said, I feel the government has pulled away from a lot of that technology spending in more recent times, so it will be interesting to see if Waterloo can maintain the quality of output for decades to come as the young children today come up through the system.

There are solid financial reasons for a Canadian engineering student to want to stay in Canada. With that in mind, some school is going to end up being The Best Tech School In Canada. That's Waterloo.

Co-op program.

Waterloo is a sleepy, postindustrial city of 100,000, a little less than 200 miles northeast of Detroit. Ummm ... Waterloo-Kitchener-Cambridge form the K-W region (these 3 blend together with indistinguishable border) of ~ 1/2 Million peoople. Hardly "sleepy" the region is know as Canada's Tech Triangle and has a vibrant corporate and startup economy. While it is 200 miles northeast of Detroit, it may as well be 2000 ... Detroit has no influence whatsoever. More accurate would be to say it is ~50 miles from Toronto.

Common, anyone who has even driven through Waterloo knows it's sleepy... No one says "shit, I really want to go to Waterloo". That's like saying people want to go to London (Ontario)... That's just not a thing

Yes, this is like calling Sunnyvale a sleepy, post-agricultural city of 100,000. It's somewhere between inaccurate and disingenuous.

To be fair, all of the Silicon Valley cities, including San Jose itself, are sleepy and post-agricultural. Or at least sluggish and suburban.

KW, like the rest of the 401 corridor, still has a huge industrial base, much of which is deeply involved with Detroit and the rest of the US manufacturing base.

The postindustrial side of KW may be the what gets all the PR and kudos, but as a whole, in terms of pure economic output and employment, manufacturing is still a substantially greater influence in the region.

I did my 5 years at Waterloo (Systems Design Eng) and I wouldn't disagree with the description of Waterloo being sleepy. Especially these days with Blackberry turning many of the areas near the campus into ghost towns.

1/2 million? Waterloo has 100k residents, kitchener has 200k, Cambridge is too far from Waterloo to be counted in that group

"The [Waterloo] Region's population was 507,096 as of the 2011 census."

- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterloo_Region

It doesn't really matter what the numbers say. If you have spent any time at all in Waterloo I don't think you would argue that it wasn't a sleepy little Canadian town. And there is nothing wrong with being a sleepy little Canadian town, of course.

And if you want to have a lengthy conversation with CS majors at Waterloo, bring up Jobmine. Jobmine is healthcare.gov of UW.

Waterloo's rep really hit home to me when at the end of our YC interview, PG still hadn't seen our demo and when we asked why, he said, "You're from Waterloo right? It works."

Oddly once upon a time (back in '94) we were a feeder for Canadian high-tech and Microsoft, but very few students ended up in the Valley, at least not fresh out of school. In the intervening 20 years Canadian high-tech has stayed flat at best while the US has taken on more and more Waterloo grads every year. The increases in UW engineering & CS enrollment over the past 20 years are basically all going to the US (in my anecdotal opinion).

NAFTA. That is what allows US companies to hire Canadian immigrants much easier than from any other country, and so it made it a lot easier for smaller companies (like startups) to actually hire immigrants at all.

As an Ontarian this is a little sad, although I'm sure there's places in the US where the same thing happens. Certainly though I think companies should think of setting up engineering locations in KW. You can get quality people for way less money than you would have to pay in the Valley.

I wish American software giants would open more offices in Canada. Canadian software industry is still in a sorry state right now, but there's a lot talent in the country. American companies can pay lower wage to Canadian devs than US and they will still attract top talents from other Canadian companies because developers are lowballed hard here.

Every tech company I've ever worked for in Toronto has been acquired by a US company. Quest Software/Dell, Oracle, Microsoft, and the former Novell... the only bad part is that these offices don't always keep hiring post-acquisition. But that has more to do with acquisition dynamics than Toronto being a bad place for a satellite office.

But I disagree that Canadian developers would be appreciably cheaper. There are plenty of cities in the US that would be as cheap or cheaper than Toronto or Waterloo for a dev office.

Hear, hear.

Google really needs to take a hint from BufferBox. If they can set up parcel delivery sites everywhere, what about setting up small to medium sized offices in every major city so that people don't have to relocate to work with them. Start with Vancouver. Mozilla has an office here in Vancouver and near as I can tell its only function is so that local people can work close to home on one or another of the Mozilla projects.

In my opinion, this is the future of work. Small hubs colocated with other small hubs, so that you are not working remote alone, but with a handful of coworkers in a larger office environment that has many businesses sharing a building and the overhead things like receptionists, room booking, coffee rooms, etc.

Google has an office of about 250 developers in Kitchener/Waterloo.

Google has debs working in Montreal and Toronto.

Got a source for this? All I know about is the marketing office, where Hinton now works some months of the year since the acquisition of DNNresearch. [1]

[1] http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/google-buys-university-of-...

The Montreal office is on Ste-Catherine, near Place Ville-Marie. Afaik they work on Chrome.

It's easier to just import them on TN visas than to open another office. Managers would probably love everyone living in one mega-headquarters if it was actually practical.

The funny thing is, at least when I attended UW (early 2000's), is that its domestic profile was not as strong as its recognition in the US would suggest. Many Canadians would mention more established schools such as U of T and Queens before Waterloo.

However, when I went for my first internship in California (NVIDIA, with about 20 fellow UW students), I found out that most people there couldn't name a single Canadian school, but if they could, it was UW.

I also remember a poker dealer in Vegas seeing my friend's iron ring and guessing "Waterloo?".

According to Google's top hit, Waterloo also happens to be "the top poker university": www.pokerlistings.com/blog/top-5-poker-universities

One alumnus the university tends not to brag about is Calvin Ayre, founder of the bodog online poker empire.

My experience (late 2007-2012) echoed yours. I'd meet people from Western Canada who hadn't heard of Waterloo, but anyone who'd been in the valley for a while would have a story about someone they'd worked with from Waterloo or how much they like hiring newgrads.

Funny... it was the place for math and CS (in both the math and engineering schools) in the '70s. Hell, you'd have to have been blind to miss the Waterloo-sponsored math contests in high school (only the Society of Actuaries sponsored any other HS contests in those days, and that one was only for Grade 13 students in Ontario). If you did math or wanted to get into the computer world, you wanted to go to Waterloo, the same way that engineers wanted to go to Queens. I find it rather hard to believe that UW fell off of the map in the intervening period.

Depends on the field. You talk to geeks, they list Waterloo and UofT. You talk to scientists, they list McMaster and UofT. You talk to teachers, they list Brock and UofT. And so on.

Former Waterloo student here...

It's a shame that more Waterloo folks don't stay in Canada and build their businesses here. Unlike when I was at UW, nowadays there is plenty of investment money available in Canada and significant tech hubs in Vancouver, Toronto and Waterloo itself. Not to mention the fact that even in less major Canadian cities (or the US Midwest) there actually is a tech scene happening and people are starting new businesses. It is no longer necessary to move far from home to build a tech business.

Every time I've looked into it in detail, I feel Canada's VCs/angels are essentially bankers. Too much risk minimization going on (at the expense of the entrepreneur). What I find is a travesty is that the recent govt of Canada investment in developing startup activity will most likely go to these glorified bankers to help them further reduce risk.

Look at how much YC has spent on its startups ... my memory might be faulty but when I heard pg give the number it was around 6 million. If the govt of Canada did a program similar to startup Chile where they would invest in people's startups for a few months, THAT would have been a game changer for the smart Waterloo and UofT grads. Squandered opportunities ...

You're right on the money. Bay St likes resources, not startups. The company I'm currently working for was started by a couple of fresh UVic grads in 2005 and they went through 60 VCs before they found one who both had a worthwhile network, and seemed legitimately interested in funding a startup that had positive cashflow from day 1 and partnerships with tech titans.

this is very true, very low valuation, a friends company got into an incubator, a very well known incubator in SV, and their current investor called them retards because the valuations wasn't proportionate to revenue...

Actually, the article doesn't spin it that way, but a lot are staying in the Waterloo area. BufferBox for the most part is still based in KW. Thalmic and Vidyard returned to KW after YC. Eric is one of the few successful exceptions I can think of for staying in PA with Pebble after YC.

Man its depressing, its been a year post graduation and all my friends have moved to Silicon Valley, I'm working on a start up so I stayed, but its really hard when literally every technical person you used to chill with has moved out.

Pretty simple really.

They throw their students into the deep end and have them do multiple internships versus my public school in CA where I was the exception to the norm for doing an internship at all.

These people come out of school with the abilities of someone 2 years out of school but with the same freshness and excitement of other new grads.

I'm very proud of my time at Waterloo. The school surrounded me great students and (some) great professors who were constantly challenging and rewarding. I wouldn't be the person I am now, and wouldn't have had the same great opportunities had I gone to another school.

As always, these stories about 'Canada's hidden talent pool' slide into a discussion about the 'brain drain'. Many of classmates from the class '07 ended up in the bay area, Seattle/Redmond, NYC or Boston. I'd estimate greater than 50%. In fact, I'm one of them. While I may not be living in Canada, I still stay connected to my home. I have many friends who have moved to the US after school only to return to Canada when they're ready to settle down and have a family. Canada remains a great place to live; I just wish we could decrease the cost of doing business between Canada & the US lower, and convince more Americans to move up north.

Isn't it pretty hard to get Canadian citizenship if you're American? Like, even with highly sought after skills in tech I've heard it's near impossible.

Among the "rich" countries, Canada is one of the most open in the world to skilled immigrants.

it's getting harder. slowly but definitely.

It's not hard at all to become a Canadian citizen.

You can even move here to start a startup on our "start up visa program" http://www.cic.gc.ca/ENGLISH/immigrate/business/start-up/ind... Then work your way towards citizenship.

What? No.

In my experience Canadians don't perceive the same differences between universities that Americans do.

Fewer differences between our universities is a plausible explanation. So is the possibility that Americans perceive differences that don't exist.

No mention of Chamath Palihapitiya or Eric Migicovsky. I think the title and intent of this article are spot on, but like so many things Business Week, the reporting doesn't hit the important datapoints. Why focus on BlackBerry, which certainly deserves mention, but totally ignore two huge successes that support the thesis of the article.

Business Week isn't real journalism. No surprise here.

The Waterloo students I've worked with have been absolutely amazing and have tons of programming experience. They do co-ops year-round. If you're running a startup, I'd recommend putting a post on Jobmine, which is their online job matching tool: http://uwaterloo.ca/jobmine/

The next deadline to post a co-op is January 15, for students working in summer 2014.

(You can technically post now for the "continuous cycle" of Jan-Apr co-ops, but I think most students are already matched so you'll get fewer results.)

"Most years, we hire more students out of Waterloo than any university in the world" -Bill Gates

I think we topped Google one year too, but couldn't find a source.

We tend to trade back and forth with Stanford for top at Apple too.

The Waterloo CS co-op program got me down to the Valley in 1998. I wound up dropping out in 2000 to move to New York (I don't recommend this lightly, but it didn't harm my career and likely helped it due to timing).

It was a great program in that it actually tried to teach programming alongside classic CS (this was before the SoftEng degree), and forced you to get out in the real world as soon as possible. The biggest problem was that (due to the grind in years 3 and 4) most of my peers who graduated CS wound up hating computers and couldn't wait to get into management. Also, graduating tends to take 5-6 years due to the work terms. I left in 3B so didn't quite have those scars.

More evidence for Waterloo's "specialness" can be found here:


Its teams have finished among the top five 18 times since 1968, twice as many times as Stanford (though far fewer times than MIT, Princeton, or Harvard). This with a budget that's dwarfed by the schools who dominate the competition (and can afford expensive international recruitment). Waterloo had its heyday, interestingly enough, around the time that RIM was founded: beginning in 1978 it placed in the top five eleven of the following sixteen years.

Another is the schools consistently high placement in the ACM's ICPC:


Waterloo is really great at making it easy to hire co-ops. This is a huge part of its success. I've heard hiring managers say they prefer UW students over other schools simply because the co-op process at UW is so easy for them.

I'm not sure to what extent hiring managers have to interact with the software that powers the co-op process (Jobmine), but as a student who has used it to secure 5 terms of work, Jobmine is definitely up there on my list of the worst designed/most frustrating pieces of software to use. Jobs for CS students are good and plentiful, so its still worth sludging through the system. Looking forward to the replacement, if it ever comes (startup idea?)! (http://www.bulletin.uwaterloo.ca/2011/feb/25fr.html)

For students it's easy to criticize Jobmine as users of it. But given the even worse (or in many cases, non-existent) co-op application systems at other schools, Jobmine is light years better.

I remember working with some Waterloo alumni from the 80s/90s and they spoke of the chaos of the application and ranking process when everything was done on paper. I personally can't even fanthom how UW managed to do any of this (although obviously there were less than half the number of students then to what we have today).

WaterlooWorks is set to be available for Arch students Spring 2014, with a full release in Winter 2015 I believe.

This is anecdotal but one of their students once told me that Waterloo puts more emphasis on mathematics compared to other universities. It's not that students there necessarily take more math courses but that most courses try to integrate math and teach the mathematical aspects of their material, even courses outside of science. Their wikipedia page states that "Waterloo created the first Faculty of Mathematics in North America" so I guess it's a tradition for them.

Waterloo does have a strong Math tradition. But further to that, for a long time the Computer Science degree at Waterloo was a specialization under their Bachelor of Mathematics degree. So you had to fulfill all of the requirements of the Math program and graduated with a "BMath". You were also offered interesting minors like "Combinatorics and Optimization" where you would get deep into Cryptography, Graph Theory and so on.

I can't say how it compares to other schools, but certainly many of my memories of CS at Waterloo were working feverishly through difficult math assignments so I could get back to the lab. ;)

I went to Waterloo as a Psychology major and I would say that is true. That mathematical attitude does seep into a lot of of the culture and programs. Talking to other psychology grads, the program at Waterloo had significantly more emphasis on stats and analysis.

We have been using co-ops from Waterloo for some time and have subsequently hired several full time. Some greta people there (even if they eat that weird abomination, Poutine)

is Waterloo the only university in canada with similar startup culture and recognition from tech companies? i was unfortunately denied admission recently to Waterloo, and I'm planning to try UBC and UToronto. UBC in particular has a special program for people like me - college graduates seeking a second degree in CS, which sounds really good but I keep hearing these things about Waterloo which makes me feel really sad about not making it there.

U of T has been getting more attention from tech companies lately - Google, Microsoft, Yelp, Tesla, and Uber (among others) have been recruiting on campus this year. I would say Waterloo has a much stronger startup culture though. Kids at U of T are mostly busy trying to keep their GPAs afloat.

Don't take these things too seriously. At the end of the day it's about how good you are. You might have more of a grind to the top, but it's attainable.

I agree, I got rejected from Waterloo as well, but I did fine going to U of T.

i'm a little confused though. UofT is supposedly the #1 engineering school in canada, though it does not have the same startup reputation as Waterloo, but you're saying if Waterloo denied you, you still stand a good chance making it to UofT? I'm planning to apply to UofT and UBC as well, so this is pretty good news to me.

IMO it really doesn't matter what University you go to as long as you finish. The degree is just a way to show employers you can endure a taxing 4+ years.

Waterloo has co-op, 4 months school, 4 months work. This is really good for getting a feel for where you want to work. But the amount of time at the company isn't all that much. Depending on the company they may be reluctant to give you anything big to work on as you will be gone soon.

U of T has PEY, professional experience year, 12-16 months of internship. I really enjoyed my year off, made what I learnt at school make sense. When I came back to school after a year I was much more committed. The downfall is that for a few summers you maybe doing odd jobs to get by.

In terms of education, I think it really depends on the student. But talking to my buddies that went to Waterloo, the classes are smaller and it sounds like they actually care that you pass.

At U of T you get so much thrown at you that you have to learn what is important and only focus on those things. Pass or fail is up to you as it is super competitive.

Best of luck!

Currently working with a Waterloo intern and I can personally attest that he is the bomb.

As far as I remember UW is one of the only universities in the continent to offer a course to build an actual real-time operating system, from the ground up. I learned so much in that course. Co-ops rule, but for non-coops the so-called "big three" courses are pretty famous as well. I've had countless interviews where an interviewer asked me if I'd taken at least one of the three courses.

I took the Comp Eng version of that course (in contrast from the SE/CS version which is less hardcore IMO).

That course taught me how to make software.

"Please refrain from feeding RT students. We are NOT monkeys." The sign on the real-time lab's window used to read.

Plus you got to play with trains.

when they're actually working...

Being an engineering student at University of Waterloo has been a great experience so far. Co-op is one of the main reasons why I chose UW as it is certainly rewarding. The knowledge and experience that I have gained through 1.5 coop terms (currently on co-op) has been simply amazing. It also helps pay the tuition and reduce, if not completely take away, the debt after graduation. Besides the university, the Kitchener-Waterloo region is a great place to be in for technology and start up enthusiasts. The R&T park right beside the university and the Tannery Complex in Kitchener are home to many great companies/startups. It is compelling to overhear conversations about reversing linked lists,javascript mvc/mv* frameworks, monetizing apps while eating at a local restaurant. Having 2 years of experience at possibly 6 different companies helps stand out from graduates from other universities.

Tuition is $12000 now? I graduated from Mac in comp eng in 1996 and I think it was getting to around $3000 then. Definitely worth it, but if you told me at the time I would have thought $12000 was crazy. I graduated with no debt though.

It's roughly $6000/term (for engineering, cheaper for CS students though) not including paying for food + housing (an additional $1600-3000 depending on where you decide to live on or off-campus). I'm in the boat of Waterloo grads who graduated with no debt. But I would hazard a guess that the majority of engineering students have little to no debt. And the students who do co-op in the US most definitely earn more money than what's required to pay for school.

I study Software Engineering at Waterloo right now; I paid 7600 this term including tuition, incidental fees, co-op fees, etc. but not including food or residence.

Oh wow it's increasing fast. When I started Soft Eng in 2008 it was like $5000. At graduation it was $6500. This is nuts.

I ignored incidental fees from my figure. Strictly the tuition cost.

Also factoring in the point that tuition for engineering is making a major hike (I think it was 5%?) and a lot of students get the 30% tuition cut from the provincial government (although this doesn't apply to 4B students).

CS with coop is $6300 a term. I think engineering is a few hundred more.

When I started in 2000, it was around $3000 per term all in (tuition, co-op fee, and all the other misc. fees). When I graduated in 2005, it was $4200 per term. That's an increase of 7% per year on average.

From 2005 to now (@ $6300), it's gone up 8.5% per year on average.

Good to see that the university is keeping tuition affordable by keeping up with inflation. Not.

Ken I won't tell you what we're paying down here for tuition then ;)

I think my first term was $2700/school term + 500/work term as a co-op fee. (in 2001).

If you go to a good school in Ontario you are looking at $7000 at least

Graduate of Waterloo Software-eng here. I paid back my OSAP all at once right after graduation with money I earned from co-op.

How did you get OSAP while having co-op income? I could take a 30% pay cut and still not qualify for any OSAP.

Same. I never qualified even when I declared myself as an independent.

If you are a tech/software company you should definitely consider taking on Waterloo co-ops. There is a lot of competition between the students to get the best jobs. This results in students that go above and beyond in their work to distinguish themselves for the next round of interviews for their next co-op job. On top of that, having this kind of ambition on your team can rub off on the rest of the team boost the teams productivity.

Canada still has plenty of talent. U of T has strong CS/Engineering programs. Only a few of my buddies are in the valley.

My anecdotal experience is different - almost every software type I went to school with at Waterloo is now in the US somewhere. I know exactly 3 Canadians I went to school with who are still in Canada.

It goes all the way back to Watcom Fortran.

That eventually got absorbed into Powersoft, which was bought by Sybase, with the star being the DBMS that turned into SQL Anywhere, which became the ostensible reason for SAP's acquisition of Sybase.

(That story is of course oversimplified ...)

Does anyone know if companies view soft-eng grads vs. compsci grads from uw differently? The school says it's the same, but I'm hoping to hear some first hand experience. Asking as a prospective undergrad next year :)

Having done > 70 interviews in my time at UW, most companies don't understand or care about the difference between Soft-eng and CS programs. I'd highly recommend CS over Soft-eng, unless you like pain.

That may be true, but for a Canadian a big advantage of taking software engineering is that it makes it much easier to work in the US later. An engineering degree lets you easily qualify for the "engineer" category of the TN visa, but with a CS degree it's considerably harder.

The degree doesn't matter if your employer is hiring you for a position with "Engineer" in the title. This works both ways between Canada and the US.

I don't think it's that much harder as CS can easily apply under the computer analyst category for the TN visa.

CS grad here, I've obtained multiple TN's and it's no different. You just have to avoid telling the agent that your job involves "programming". It's just a technicality really, the language was drafted at a time when terminology was different.

Software jobs are usually categorized with soft-eng, compsci, comp and/or elec eng and sometimes even other engineering disciplines. So they most probably don't view them differently. It really depends on the candidate and their capabilities. I have worked at places where the previous coop students were in compsci whereas I am a compeng student. For most of my interviews so far, the other candidates have been from softeng/compsci/ece. Answering as a second year undergrad :)

If you want to write nuclear shutdown routines for AEAC, or work on something else safety critical in Canada, there may be a difference. (Strictly speaking, you can get your P. Eng by doing CS, if you take the right set of courses, but nobody in their right mind would subject themselves to this.)

If you want to work on something relatively harmless (buttons on a web page) then it won't matter.

This is something big tech companies have known since the dot-com era (Amazon & Microsoft have been recruiting from Waterloo heavily for over a decade).

UW has had a great CompSci program for decades. WATFOR has celebrated it's 50th anniversary.

I find it very strange that they picked BufferBox instead of Thalmic Labs.


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