A Look Back with Chelsea Huang (B.A.Sc. Engineering Science '16)
Chelsea Huang (B.A.Sc. Engineering Science, with extended minor in Music, ‘16) wants to encourage people to follow their passions, “no matter how odd they might seem.”
Now working as a software developer with a Vancouver-based web development company, we sat down with the former Engineering Science Student Society president, music aficionado and self-confessed “waveform fanatic,” to look back on her six years of study at SFU.
Was it your childhood dream to be an engineer?
I had a lot of career paths in mind growing up. I wanted to be an optometrist and at one point, I wanted to own a record company! My dad’s an engineer (he’s also into music; he sings) and he really inspired me growing up. I always liked math and physics, so that’s why I chose the engineering path in the end. SFU came to my school, and the fact that you could major and minor in anything caught my eye. Six years later, here I am getting ready to graduate!
What was it like to study two very different subjects at the same time?
I’ve been playing piano since I was five, and I’ve been in choir since I was eight. Initially, I didn’t see how I could combine engineering and music, but at the end of first year, I realized that there were actually several courses that did just that.
I would be doing differential equations at the same time as studying introduction to sound theory. Both of them dealt with waveforms, and it was cool to see how engineers, mathematicians, and musicians approach them from different perspectives.
During your time at SFU, was there a course that really captured your imagination?
I’m obsessed with waveforms, so one of the courses I really liked was Engineering 327: Communication Systems. You get to work in the lab and play with waveforms, so I had a lot of fun doing that. At the same time I was also studying computer music at SFU’s downtown campus, where they were also teaching us how to use tools to manipulate waveforms.
My co-op position also combined both my passions by working on optimizing noise-reduction systems in cars.
Tell us more about that!
Well, there were microphones and speakers in the car so the driver can be heard from the backseat more easily. Microphone and speaker sound is so different to real sound, and they have limitations: you don’t want it to sound too tinny; you want the right amount of reverb and echo and volume to make it sound like a person is talking to you.
It was a really cool project. We tested the actual system by driving in a van where they set up speakers and microphones. I did a presentation discussing the results of my tests, which can be used by the company moving forward to inform the best parameters for the final system.
What has been your most memorable experience at SFU?
Being in the student society was a big highlight, because I love planning events. I introduced Pi Week and the talent show (I always have to involve music somehow!). Because of my involvement, I got to go to a lot of conferences – I went to the national conference of women in engineering in Vancouver, where I heard perspectives from female engineers throughout Canada.
I really like that about SFU; I think if I had gone to any other school, I probably wouldn’t have been so involved. Ultimately, I got involved because my friends were involved. In SFU, we have such a great community; I got to know my classmates really well, and since they were already volunteering, I went along with them and then I realized I really loved it.
What inspired you?
On the engineering side, Tesla is a huge inspiration. He worked so hard and was so brilliant, but didn’t get the recognition he deserved at the time.
On the music side, one of my favourite composers is Delia Derbyshire – she put together and recorded the first Doctor Who theme song. She has a funny story: she quit music in the 60s because everything was going digital, and she thought real music should be analogue. When she passed away, her family found tons of music that they thought was lost forever because she wouldn’t publish it. What I really like about her and Tesla is how strongly they stuck by their passions.
What advice would you give to new students?
As a female engineering science student, what would you say to girls?
I feel like I have a lot of girlfriends at SFU. I like the girls that are in engineering because we have so much in common – we have a great community, on top of the great community already within SFU. We have the same passion in physics, math and logic and we learn the same way. We made a great group of friends in first-year and now we’re all graduating together. I find engineers like helping each other out; when anyone has a problem the rest of the engineers will help.
What is your plan after graduation? What is your long-term goal?
I’ve started working with a web development company called New Creation Consulting (who I actually met at OpFair at SFU) doing backend web development. I’m learning so much and it’s a really nurturing environment. I like web development because you get to see what you’re doing right away. I find that very rewarding.
How will you make a difference in the world?
I’d like girls to be more aware of the different types of jobs that are out there. Hopefully the trend for more girls entering engineering continues; that’s something I would really like to see. I also want people to go for their passions no matter how odd they might be!
Tell me something about yourself that most people wouldn’t know?
I’m obsessed with Disney. It’s somewhere the whole family went to a lot when we were kids, and I still watch the movies and TV shows. One that I really like, which is actually related to engineering, is called Meet the Robinsons. It’s about a boy who’s an inventor and an orphan – someone from the future takes him to the future to fix something, and he loses hope because his invention didn’t work. Then a big journey brings his luck back around! I love that story.