In the Classroom | 03-May-2018

Family Ties in Tech

For Céline O’Neil ’15 and her brother, S6 student Marcel, UTS—and a passion for technology—is a family affair.

With parents who are both electrical engineers, Céline and Marcel might fairly claim a hereditary component to their love of tech. But their experiences at UTS further convinced them to explore the field post-graduation.

“One thing that solidified that I was actually pretty good at computer science was the first undergraduate award that I won at UTS, the Chris Shaw Award for Computer Science. That was a boost that said, okay, you’re really good at this thing,” says Céline, who is now in the third year of a five-year Software Engineering program at the University of Waterloo. “The Junior Canadian Computing competition was the same thing. I got 100% on it and got a little plaque for it and felt that I was pretty good at this.”

At Waterloo, Céline has had the opportunity to broaden her expertise through in-class learning and co-op experiences. In the past few years, her co-op terms have focused topics ranging from infrastructure engineering to machine learning, and her current co-op placement has taken her to Madrid for the summer. “It’s cool that I’m already involved in industry and seeing how technology is used practically.”

While she says she always had an interest in technology, Céline fondly recalls that UTS teachers also helped her expand her horizons. “I found that students here who want to specialize get that support, but you’re encouraged to pursue other interests as well,” she says, noting that her own interests at the school included visual arts and Spanish.

“And by the time you get to S5, S6, I found that teachers tend to reach out to students and ask to work with students in a particular area that the students are interested in. That’s very rewarding.”

Another key element of student support at the school, according to Céline, is the responsibility and independence students are given.

“Most schools do not give their Grade 7s freedom in their off-hours. Our F1s are given the respect and responsibility, to the point that by the time they reach S5 and S6, they have a lot of free time from their spares and the responsibility to know what to do with it.

“I didn’t realize how unique that was until I got to university. And from what I’ve seen with more UTS students coming to Waterloo, most of them tend to do really well because they’re used to balancing academics and their other interests as well.”

Céline’s brother Marcel will be among the next group of UTS students attending Waterloo, where he’ll also enter the Software Engineering program. A frequent participant in hackathons and the Toronto tech community generally, Marcel looks forward to further developing his skills with like-minded students.

“Hackathons are usually 36 hours or so where you can work with your friends on something, and I think that’s what really accelerated my interest in programming. If you’re sitting on your own at home with a computer, that can get tiring, so it’s interesting to get out of the house and meet other people and throw ideas around.”

In joining his sister, Marcel is assured of knowing at least one member of the Waterloo tech community, someone who can answer any questions about the challenges and opportunities that await him in Software Engineering.

From UTS to university, the O’Neil siblings are keeping tech in the family.