Stone Yun — Honours Electrical Engineering (B.Eng)

Stone Yun has recently graduated from McGill University after completing his undergraduate career in the faculty of Engineering, majoring in Honours Electrical Engineering. He shares his experiences in electrical engineering, engineering research, and life after McGill.

Interviewer’s note: the first portion of this interview is related to the interviewee’s academic career at McGill University. The second portion of this interview is related to an internship opportunity acquired by the interviewee.

Tell us about what you (have) studied at McGill.

I graduated from McGill University in the Fall of 2018 with a B.Eng in Honours Electrical Engineering.

Interviewer’s note: for more information regarding the Honours Electrical Engineering program at McGill University, please refer to https://www.mcgill.ca/ece/undergrad/information/honours

What have you been doing since graduation?

I’m currently working at Qualcomm Canada in Markham as part of the Compute DSP/AI Processor team. Basically, I’m designing algorithms as part of the R&D team. I also want to pursue a MASc and eventually a PhD in engineering with a focus in machine learning (the big buzzword these days!).

The 12 months I spent doing research with my thesis supervisor turned out to be a transformative experience.

I had no idea I would love research so much. I guess the ambiguous nature of research and the freedom to ask whatever question you want really appealed to my preference of low-key work environments with a high degree of autonomy. Especially with neural networks, nobody truly knows how they work. The only thing you can do is write an experiment and then run it. If you’re lucky, one of them will turn out the way you wanted. This gave me a lot of room to try whatever I thought might work, which is exactly the kind of freedom that I knew I wanted in my day-to-day work

At the same time, since nobody knows the right answer, it’s your job to make sure you stay on track when deadlines come up. It was a very different experience from doing labs or completing COMP 250 assignments. Ultimately, I knew that I was passionate about designing systems for use in everyday life. Research in engineering ended up being a perfect fit for that.

What are some pros and cons about your program?

Pros: The mandatory EE curriculum gave me a very broad background in several technical disciplines including analog electronics, digital systems, signal processing, power engineering etc etc (you get the idea). With EE being such a broad field, we had to acquire a large breadth of knowledge before we decided on what we wanted to specialize in. I ended up choosing a lot of digital design and computer hardware-centric courses for my tech comps. So by the time I graduated, I was more of a computer engineer than an electrical one. To top it off, my work is now purely software so, that was a full swing to the other side of the spectrum. However, having that broad knowledge base turned out to be invaluable in helping me make connections with new ideas and eventually transition into a very math, probability and statistics focused field.

Cons: While being a pro, the large breadth that needed to be covered is also a con. I spent the first three years of my degree wondering if I’d made a mistake listening to my parents and choosing engineering over music (I wanted to do a bachelor’s in piano performance or composition). I was bored in a lot of my classes since they were so theory-heavy and I didn’t get a chance to see any real-life applications.

It wasn’t until I started my own projects in senior year for the Capstone project and my tech comps that I got to put all my skills together.

What were some valuable involvements at school that taught you about yourself and oriented your goals?

There were two clubs that took up almost 85% of my free-time at McGill; McGill Student Boxing Club and School of Music Montreal (SoMM). Having played piano all my life, I knew that I would want to give back to the community with a music-related organization. As for Boxing Club, I’d always wanted to try boxing, but had no idea I’d end up falling in love with the sport.

Both of these involvements showed me how much I enjoy being part of tight-knit teams/communities and volunteering my time to help others. It also taught me that while I enjoy interacting with large groups and helping them learn/have a fun time, I definitely needed to put limits on how much energy I could expend on these activities xP.

SoMM really showed me how fulfilling it could be to give back to a cause that tied into my own personal passions. When I first applied to be a volunteer teacher, I said that my biggest goal as a teacher was to share with these young students the immense joy and treasure you can find in music.

5 years later, that passion hasn’t changed one bit.

What advice would you give to younglings at McGill? or… If you were to go back to your first year, what would you have done differently?

Don’t stress too much about things not turning out the way you thought they would. Just because you take a path that seems to be different from everyone else doesn’t mean you’ve got it all wrong and your life is going to be a mess (took me a couple of years to learn that one).

Though things may turn out how you’d planned, they almost never play out in the way you’d thought they would.

Tell us about your summer internship and how you acquired it.

The only summer internship I’d ever held was a summer research internship with my honours thesis supervisor. He happened to have some funding and needed a research intern so, he hired me.

Tell us 3 things you learned from this internship.

  1. Nobody knows the right answer. You can go ask the more senior employees/grad students for help, but they’ll only be able to give you some general pointers. Besides simple technical questions, you’ll have to get your hands dirty and try things out.

Eventually, you’ll become the go-to expert on whatever project you were given.

  1. Read, read, read. I’ve lost track of the number of blog posts, tutorials, and stack-overflow threads I’ve read. You hear this over and over, but with the internet, you really can find basically anything online with a written tutorial.
  2. Have patience with yourself and how productive you think you should be. Internships are meant to be a learning experience. Sometimes, learning can be incredibly slow.

How did this internship steer the course of your career?

It laid the groundwork for the second half of my honours thesis and that experience, plus my senior design project was what landed me my current job.

The Hong Kong Student Network is an undergraduate club at McGill that celebrates and promotes Hong Kong culture.