Keep An Open Mind And Trust Things Will Work Out

"I realized that engineering was where I could learn the skills to make a difference in the world."

Declan Byrne

Declan Byrne

Why did you choose engineering?

I’d always been good at science in high school and thought that’s what I’d study in university. But then I attended an engineering event at UBC that gave me a better understanding of just what engineering is all about. I realized that engineering was where I could learn the skills to make a difference in the world. 

How did you choose Computer Engineering?

My initial plan was to go into Engineering Physics, and this was my first choice when I applied for an engineering program at the end of first year. Ultimately, I didn’t receive my first choice, and I was placed in my second choice, Computer Engineering. Interestingly, I had never coded prior to APSC 160 in first year, but that initial taste prompted me to put Computer Engineering as my second choice, and I couldn’t be happier to have ended up here.

Engineering Physics Computer Engineering APSC 160

What are some of the highlights of the courses you’ve taken?

It’s very rewarding to work on machine learning projects and seeing the code I wrote demonstrate that it’s learning. 

In a second-year course, for example, I built BookCards, a book recommender system that learns what genres you like and recommends books. I’ve also enjoyed the courses that have allowed me to apply techniques and concepts I’ve learned in math courses to real-world problems such as in courses on machine learning, signals and systems, and quantum computing. 

Tell us about your semester abroad!

As soon as I learned about the Coordinated International Experience during my Jump Start orientation in first year I knew this was something I wanted to do. I did a semester at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland. It was incredible. I was able to take courses that would’ve been harder for me to take at UBC, including some related to large language models, reinforcement learning and quantum computation. 

The courses were great, but equally so was the opportunity to get out on weekends for skiing or hiking or taking trips elsewhere, as well as meeting people from around the world. I now have a bunch of friends from all over and have even visited some of them in Helsinki and Stockholm.

Coordinated International Experience Jump Start orientation EPFL

Where did you live?

Because of existing agreements with UBC and EPFL, I was guaranteed student housing. Students on exchange from other universities weren’t as lucky!

What do you think is the value of an exchange?

It’s amazing to meet people from all over the world and be exposed to so many different perspectives and cultures. 

You also learn about yourself because you are throwing yourself into a new experience in a new country where you don’t know anyone. It helps you realize you can handle difficult situations and build a support network wherever you are. 

What extracurricular activities are you involved in?

I am Vice President, External for the Electrical & Computer Engineering Student Society. In my role I am responsible for organizing networking opportunities. This includes networking nights to introduce current students to alumni and people in industry so students can start building those connections. 

Electrical & Computer Engineering Student Society

You’re also in co-op. Tell us about that experience.

Co-op is fantastic and you pick up a lot of skills that you might not learn in your courses. In my first two terms I worked for a start-up called PanGenomic and did coding in Reach Native for them. In my last co-op term I worked in a lab at UBC, doing machine learning for brain tumour identification. 


Any advice for new students?

Keep an open mind! And pursue opportunities that come up.

If I think of my own experience, I thought I wanted to study science in university but made a last-minute change and applied to engineering. Then in second year, I didn’t get into my first-choice program, but I’ve ended up in an area I really love. Things work out! 

Computer engineering co-op student at work

Computer Engineering

Computer engineers can change the world. Whether it is the systems that control our phones, cars, planes or robots — every automated device has a software or hardware engineer helping to create it. 

Computer Engineering

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