I applied to Concordia in Software Engineering without really knowing anything about “software engineering”. I had no programming experience but I was eager to learn. I also wanted to make the most of my university experience by getting involved and meeting new people.
My first CUSEC (Canadian University Software Engineering Conference) was back in 2008, only my second semester as a software engineering undergraduate. I still had only a small grasp of what OOP was and couldn’t code for my life. I was convinced by the Concordia Head Delegate at the time to attend the conference. His pitch in my SOEN 228 class sold me. The line I remember the most was after he had listed the speakers, he said, “don’t worry if you don’t know who any of these people are, you will find out at CUSEC.” That “don’t worry” made me realize that I wasn’t the only person in my class who was ignorant about these speakers.
My only apprehension was that I would not understand what the talks were about. However, I figured that it is a student conference, $60 wasn’t that much, and if I didn’t like it then I could always leave.
The speakers I remember the most that year were Jeff Atwood, Tim Bray, and Zed Shaw. Yes, I admit that some of the topics were over my head but for me, the important part was learning about what you could do in the world of programming and how to start doing something cool. That year, I was introduced to the functional programming paradigm. I didn’t understand it fully during the talk but it did show me that there were other ways to think about problems. This was, of course, later re-iterated in my Principles of Programming Languages class where the mantra was, “If you only have a hammer then every problem is a nail.”
I went to CUSEC, met tons of smart students and speakers, and learned things I would have never covered in class. I was in love with CUSEC and hoped to go back in 2009.
What CUSEC is About (for me)
In 2009, I was voted in as the CSE Representative. Since I was supposed to be providing help and services to Computer Science and Software Engineering students, I decided to become one of the Head Delegates for Concordia. As an HD, your responsibility is to promote the conference at your respective univevsity and help out during the conference. You also attend meetings with the other organizers and find out the latest happenings at CUSEC.
It was during these meetings that I really understood what CUSEC was all about and met those who are the most passionate about the conference. CUSEC is about awesome speakers talking to students in an informal setting (eg Brutopia). It’s about connecting with others who share your interests and deciding to work on a project. It’s about cheering on (and criticizing) your fellow peers when they go up to demo their work. It’s about talking to companies and landing internships. Finally, it’s about having a good time and being able to interact with those who understand your passion.
As an attendee, you don’t see the work that goes into organizing a conference. In fact, one of the things that was brought up occasionally is that the attendees, speakers, and other guests should think that planning and running CUSEC requires no work. We want it to look easy and have it run seamlessly (although that hasn’t always been the case).
As an organizer, you see the minute things that the chairs and advisors debate about for hours. You see the planning that goes into selecting speakers and contacting sponsors. Finally, you see the ten crises that happen daily and how the chairs and advisors solve them.
For me, CUSEC has been a way to expand my knowledge about software development. As someone who went into the program knowing nothing, I feel as if I am constantly playing catch-up. CUSEC continuously shows me that there are many things that I do not know but it provides me with the tools and the opportunity to achieve the things that I find interesting. Talking to speakers and other students and inquiring about their accomplishments and knowledge is the first step.