How I'd Do University Differently

I graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from McGill University in Montreal.

I chose the right subject. If I had to do it again, that wouldn’t change.

But there are a few things I’d do differently.

The first: do more real engineering.

I had a scholarship at McGill, which turned out to be both a blessing and a curse.

The blessing, of course, was the money. The curse was that it required a specific GPA to keep it, which meant that when it came down to how I spent my time, I’d prioritize studying.

There were lots of fascinating design teams at McGill. They built race cars, dune buggies, electric snowmobiles, underwater vehicles, aircraft—all kinds of things.

I joined one of the teams, but ended up spending little time with them, because I’d be studying. 

In hindsight, this was what I was most disappointed about with my engineering degree—not building much. We built things during projects in specific classes, but it wasn’t the kind of long-term, iterative work that I wanted. 

Second: do more computer science.

We got a little bit of exposure to programming and computer science as part of our engineering degree. But it wasn’t enough.

I knew little about programming prior to university—we didn’t have any exposure during high school.

Working in the tech world, programming knowledge holds much more value than mechanical engineering.

Ultimately, programming is how you build things in the modern world. Even if you’re building hardware, you need software to power it. 

It remains one of my top priorities to learn. And I could have spent more time doing so during university.

Third: slow things down.

Another requirement of the scholarship was a full course load. 

The problem with a full course load, at least for me, is that it left little time for other things.

Joining design teams. Exploring things like computer science in my free time. Taking a class or two in another domain, like business or economics.

It is expensive to do this, of course.

But there are few times in life where there are so many resources available to explore and learn. 

An alternative way to gain some time is to spread courses out by doing some in the spring and summer.

Either way, university is a unique opportunity. 

I got the broad strokes right. 

But I’d do things a little differently another time around.