Last week, I had the chance to chat with Jolene Poulin, one of our student members. I'm excited for her to share a little bit more about her studies. Jo was in our 2017 Summer Student Program that includes our Preflight program. In this program, we deep-dive into topics like customer validation, minimum viable product and how to tell your story to customers & investors.
Jo really jumped into the startup community and takes advantage of opportunities to connect with members and startup teams at all kinds of events, not just ones for students. It's great having her at our Member Coffee, Speaker Series, and Hack Days to show other students the ropes and welcome even more new faces into the fold.
Chatting with Jo over milkshakes from Mayday Dogs
Steph: Thanks for chatting with us today!
Jo: Of course!
Steph: I have a few questions. They're super painless, but I think everyone will really appreciate getting to know you a little bit more. First of all, what are you studying at school, and what year are you in?
Jo: I'm studying computing science at the University of Alberta in my second year.
Steph: Very cool, and I already know this story, so I think it's really important we share it with all of the people reading, how did you come to choose computing science and then, after making that choice, end up at the University of Alberta?
Jo: I've always really enjoyed programming, and math, and those different aspects of things, but I knew I wanted to incorporate something else, such as art or music into my career. I knew computing science would be the easiest route to go to incorporate other things because it's so versatile. In the Summer of 2015, I was a WISEST Summer Research student. It was before I had decided which programme I wanted, which school I wanted to go to, and I worked in a biomechanical engineering lab, which was next to Dr. Patrick Pilarski's Patrick M Pilarski lab, who is now one of the members of the DeepMind office here at Edmonton. I got to meet with him one-on-one with his grad students, and he was the final sway that pulled me to U of A. It was really the faculty, the opportunities, the grad studies program... that helped me decided on computing science.
Steph: One thing you mentioned earlier, which I think some people would find really surprising is that for you, computing science is the industry where it's easy to add on the things you're also passionate about, like arts and culture. And I know you speak a tonne of languages. How does computing science work for you in that way that it's something you can add onto?
Jo: Of course! I thought long-term, when I'm looking for a career, it would be a lot harder to go in and say, "I have an arts degree, but I also know how to programme." I was like, "Employers are not going to believe that." Self-taught programming is something a lot of people have on their resumes, and I also just love languages so much because speaking a computer language would be amazing, and I will add natural languages as best I can through that.
Steph: As someone who can't speak any other languages, and I can't write code, is it different teaching yourself a spoken and written language than a programming language? Is it the same parts? Is it challenging in the same ways, or is it different in all the ways?
Jo: I like to think they use the same part of my brain because they're both languages, but with the written, spoken, communicating languages, you have to worry about pronunciation, and syntax, and thinking about it on the fly a little more than with programming languages. You just have to write that and make sure it compiles, and you can Google stuff if you need to.
Steph: That's a great tip. Just "Google stuff if you need to." I can't believe that you learn programming languages at the same time that you learn spoken and written languages because it's so far off from what my brain is capable of.
Now that you're a year and a half in, what's the best piece of advice that you got from other students when you were getting started?
Jo: I had older students in my degree tell me to take certain difficult classes really early on because they're prerequisites for everything else. While they were very challenging, they were worth taking, and I'm happy they are out of the way now, and I can do things that I more enjoy doing with my degree.
Steph: And what are those classes, if we have students reading?
Jo: Those classes for me were CMPUT 272, which is the first introduction to logic. Very, very logic-based course. You learn how to think in a whole new way. I think it was important to take, but I found it very challenging, and CMPUT 204, which was all theory, all different theorems, again logic, not much programming in it, but worth taking.
Steph: Jo, did you take off anytime between high school and university, or did you jump right in?
Jo: I went straight from one to the other.
Steph: You've been here for a while, but what's something you find really surprising exploring Edmonton as a post-secondary student?
Jo: There's lots of stuff to do, lots of free things to do actually, which is amazing. I know people say that all the time. When you go to look for them, you're like, "Where are they?" But there are so many events and festivals that you can attend, and the Startup community is really amazing including all of the student opportunities, and I love Startup events. They help me connect and also help me grow professionally.
Steph: Well, we love having you.
Stay tuned for some fun videos with rapid-fire questions with Jo about her life as a student in Edmonton!