Navigating Dreams and Code: Penjani's Path in Computer Engineering

"One of the things I really appreciated about the Computer Engineering program is how it introduces you to a lot of topics in many different areas."

Penjani Chavula

Penjani Chavula

  • Degree: Bachelor of Applied Science
  • Grad year: 2021
  • Program:
  • Campus: Vancouver

Job title as of 2023: Web Developer at Fortinet

Why did you want to study engineering?

I’ve been into math and physics for as long as I can remember, but I always knew I wanted to go into something applied rather than just focusing on pure math or physics. For awhile I wanted to study mechatronics engineering and focus on robotics. That was before I realized that a whole side of robotics, and engineering in general, involves working with computers.

Why did you choose UBC?

I am from Malawi and was going to a boarding school in England. Some friends of mine were already living in Canada and really enjoyed it. At the time, the immigration policies in Canada were a lot friendlier than those in England, so I thought Canada would be a good destination. Vancouver appealed to me because of its weather and I really liked the UBC campus –you can find pretty much everything you need and it’s almost like a small town.

UBC Campus

Why did you choose Computer Engineering?

When I went into first-year engineering I wanted to specialize in mechanical engineering. But after the first programming course I took, I realized I really enjoyed working with computers. Some of the projects we did in first year, like the autonomous claw, helped solidify my interest in computer engineering 

Computer Engineering

What were some highlights of your undergraduate experience?

One of the things I really appreciated about the Computer Engineering program is how it introduces you to a lot of topics in many different areas. For example, in CPEN 221 we learned about various aspects of software engineering and gained the tools we’d need to dig deeper on our own. I also did an undergrad research project with my operating systems professor where I learned so much.

During my degree, I completed 16 months of co-op, including eight months with Microsoft at one of their gaming studios, where I worked on the Gears of War franchise. My name is in the credits! The other eight months were with a startup in Maple Ridge called RightMesh where I was working on technology to share networking resources between devices and make Internet access more accessible.

It was great to have the two experiences while still a student – the one at Microsoft, which is a massive company, and the other at a startup.

I also worked while going to school. In second year I developed a web application for a professor in the School of Population and Public Health, and I also worked at the Emerging Media Lab one summer on virtual and augmented reality. Finally, I worked with the UBC Psychology Department to build a simulator showing the impact of bias in human networks and how that affects people’s feelings of inclusion.

CPEN 221Co-op ProgramMicrosoftRightMesh 

Tell us about your career since graduation.

After graduating, I began working with RBC Capital Markets on a library used by fixed income traders to assess and valuate the risk associated with certain trades. I then got a job offer from Fortinet, which is a cybersecurity company that I’ve worked at ever since. I’m working on one of Fortinet’s main products, which is a networking device for organizations to protect their networks and users. I’m working on the FortiOS team as a full stack developer.  

RBC Capital Markets Fortinet

What are the highlights of your job?

The work is really interesting, and I’m being challenged quite a bit.

My manager is really good at pushing me to step outside my comfort zone – whether that’s doing presentations and workshops or just asking me to take on some really cool projects. It’s great knowing that the things I’m working on are helping to keep people secure online. I really like being able to focus on building the product and gaining product development experience.

What would you like to achieve as an engineer?

Honestly, just getting to continue doing what I’m doing, working on projects and fixing issues that directly impact customers – and helping them stay secure – is what I want to continue trying to do. The more I keep doing the work I’m doing now, the more high-impact work is going to come my way.

Any other advice?

I think if I could say something to my first-year self, it would be that what’s really important is to figure out how you learn and how to teach yourself.

You need some sort of system to stay organized that works for you. What really helped me, especially in later years, was to skim the content that would be covered in lectures ahead of time. It helps you understand the lecture better so you can ask better questions! Finally, if you like to build things, consider software engineering. It’s a great field because you can build useful applications right at home on your computer.

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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