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Where in the world are University of Waterloo technology graduates? A look at talent migration for 2017–2019.

Every year, since 2017, I spend a few weekends analyzing the state of University of Waterloo talent migration via LinkedIn profiles. This year I did a deeper dive on UW tech graduates (Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Software Engineering, Systems Design Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Mechatronics).

Summary (TL;DR)

  • Out of the 3,392 tech degrees that UW granted¹ for 2017, 2018 and 2019, there were 2,674 graduates on LinkedIn with these degrees, for these years, which represents almost 80% of the UW tech graduates.
  • Across the 2,674 University of Waterloo (UW) tech graduates evaluated here, the percentage currently working in Canada hovers just under 60% and those working in the USA hovers under 40%.
  • 14.5% of the 2,674 UW tech graduates moved countries from their last job to their current job — 7.1% moved from the USA to Canada and 7.4% moved from Canada to the USA.
  • There is one program that is influencing the percentage of graduates working in the USA significantly more than all other programs.
  • While 40% of 2017–2019 UW tech graduates working in the USA may still be considered high by some, it is a lot less than previous reports of 80%².

It is important to note that just because this ratio is true for UW tech graduates, it does not mean this applies across all Canadian Universities or Colleges. While I did do a high-level comparison of University of Toronto (UofT) and UW three years ago (UW was a few percentage points higher for graduates working in the USA) the information below is a better, deeper look. At that time, using the high-level method, I also looked at Conestoga College and the vast majority of Conestoga College graduates were located in Canada, a much, much different ratio.

If you are engaged with a University, College or technology company and want to know more, feel free to reach out to me directly on LinkedIn.

Solving problems with data

I like finding and solving tough problems. This is where there’s an opportunity to be creative to change the status quo. For good or bad, I am not a status quo kind of person. I am an entrepreneur who looks for opportunities for change. To give you an idea of how crazy I am about this, even on a small scale, once when a scheduling issue was sucking the joy out of hockey for parents and their 4/5/6 year old kids and the Minor Hockey Association’s answer was “That’s the way it has always been.” — my internal alarm bell rang. So I contacted around two hundred Minor Hockey Associations, yes two hundred, and asked about their schedule for these age groups. I put the results in a spreadsheet, made some charts and sent it to the President of our Minor Hockey Association. In talking with him I said, “Isn’t this data interesting — it looks like we are the only hockey association that has these age groups on the ice two times in less than 24 hours each week and the most common ice days for this age group are Wednesdays and Saturdays”. “The way it has always been” was no more — the association changed the schedule — something that parents had apparently complained about for fifteen years.

So now that you know my level of craziness even for things that most “rational” people would accept and move on from — we will apply my craziness here!

Background

This talent migration curiosity started in 2017. We were in a Communitech board meeting discussing the state of the Waterloo Region startup ecosystem and talent in Canada (specifically technology graduates), when a board member asked,

“Why can’t we get better data on where University of Waterloo graduates are going?”

There had been stats posted on the University of Waterloo’s (UW) alumni web page³ from a survey to alumni but, at the time, it was not specific about where in the world alumni were, nor was it broken down by program. There had been a survey of students by Chris Wormald² asking some classes where they were going to locate when they graduate — which stated that 80% of students were going to the USA. There was also a class analysis by Atef Chaudrey and Joey Loi⁴ that was able to identify co-op job locations for their Systems Design Engineering class and showed the majority of co-op placements were in Toronto. The analysis also stated that two months before graduation, 44% of the students had secured a full time job and of that group, 60% were in the USA. All of this seemed so disjointed and had me wondering if LinkedIn would give us a better overall picture.

So that weekend I sat down with a drink in my hand, a Google Sheet on one screen and LinkedIn on the other and started digging through profiles of everyone who had UW listed for their education. Thus began my three year look at UW talent migration. Crazy, right?

Data, Data, Data 👀

This year I did a deeper dive and spent the last two weeks going through 3,250 current LinkedIn profiles that matched the graduation year and program. In the end I removed 576 profiles that were either Masters degrees, a part of a one year exchange program, or did not show enough evidence of degree completion which left me with 2,674 graduates for 2017, 2018 and 2019 graduating years for the following programs:

  • Computer Science (CS)
  • Computer Engineering (CE)
  • Computer Software Engineering (CSE)
  • Systems Design Engineering (SDE)
  • Electrical Engineering (EE)
  • Mechatronics (M)

Below we will explore where these UW graduates are in the world as of August 2020.

In my next post we will explore the top employers for each program as well as the split between Canadian Offices and US Offices for the top employers.

Out of the 3,392 tech degrees that UW granted¹ for 2017, 2018 and 2019, there were 2,674 graduates on LinkedIn with these degrees, for these years, which represents almost 80% of UW tech graduates. I would say this is a great sample size! Of the 3,392 UW graduates, 19% were International Students.

2017 overall work locations for CS, CE, CSE, SDE, EE and M programs

In 2017 UW granted 998 degrees¹ and LinkedIn contained 758 of those graduates, which represents 76.7% of the degrees granted.

59% of 2017 graduates currently work in Canada while 39% work in the USA.

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2017 UW Graduates — Talent Migration — CS, CE, CSE, SDE, EE & M

2018 overall work locations for CS, CE, CSE, SDE, EE and M programs

In 2018 UW granted 1,122 degrees¹ and LinkedIn contained 876 of those graduates, which represents 78% of the degrees granted.

60% of 2018 graduates currently work in Canada while 37% work in the USA.

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2018 UW Graduates — Talent Migration — CS, CE, CSE, SDE, EE & M

2019 overall work locations for CS, CE, CSE, SDE, EE and M programs

In 2019 UW granted 1,282 degrees¹ and LinkedIn contained 1,066 of those graduates, which represents 83% of the degrees granted.

58% of 2019 graduates currently work in Canada while 40% work in the USA

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2019 UW Graduates — Talent Migration — CS, CE, CSE, SDE, EE & M

2017 — 2019 overall work locations trend for CS, CE, CSE, SDE, EE and M programs

Overall, we can see that the percentage of graduates for 2017, 2018 & 2019 currently working in Canada hovers just under 60% and those working in the USA hovers just under 40%.

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2017–2019 UW Graduates Trend — Talent Migration — CS, CE, CSE, SDE, EE & M

Although we see a 2.4% uptick for 2019 graduates currently working in the USA, one would wonder if there is any correlation to a slight uptick in International Student graduates for 2019? We will see later that there is not.

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UW 2017–2019 degrees granted by Visa Status — Talent Migration — CS, CE, CSE, SDE, EE & M

The most common landing place for UW tech graduates is Ontario, Canada.

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14.5% of the 2,674 UW tech graduates moved countries from their last job to their current job — 7.1% moved from the USA to Canada and 7.4% moved from Canada to the USA. This can be a change from a co-op job to a full time job or from a full time job to a new full time job.

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While 40% of these graduates working in the USA is a lot less than the 80% stated by other surveys², maybe certain programs, in certain years, have a much higher percentage?

Let’s explore the specific programs next and see what the data shows us.

Computer Science

Comparing the UW degrees granted¹ with LinkedIn profiles for each year, there were 78% of Computer Science graduates represented for 2017, 74% for 2018 and 82% for 2019.

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LinkedIn profiles for UW 2017–2019 Computer Science graduates compared to UW degrees granted

Overall, the combined percentage of graduates for Computer Science 2017, 2018 & 2019 currently working in Canada is 66% while 31% work in the USA.

While only 27% of 2018 Computer Science graduates currently work in the USA, the class of 2019 percentage is 35%, an increase of 8%. In this case, International Students who graduated for 2018 and 2019 stayed at 29% for both years which debunks my hypothesis above that an uptick in International Student graduates may be correlated with an uptick in graduates working in the USA.

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LinkedIn profiles for UW 2017–2019 Computer Science graduates
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Work locations for LinkedIn UW 2017–2019 Computer Science graduates

The most common landing place for UW Computer Science graduates is Ontario, Canada.

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Computer Engineering

Comparing the UW degrees granted¹ with LinkedIn profiles for each year, there were 80% of Computer Engineering graduates represented for 2017, 76% for 2018 and 81% for 2019.

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Overall, the combined percentage of graduates for Computer Engineering 2017, 2018 & 2019 currently working in Canada is 53% while 45% work in the USA.

Computer Engineering graduates working in Canada have increased for each class while the percentage working in the USA for each graduating class has stayed fairly flat. For each class the percentage of those currently working in Canada has gone up.

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The most common landing place for UW Computer Engineering graduates is Ontario, Canada.

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Software Engineering

Comparing the UW degrees granted¹ with LinkedIn profiles for each year, there were 68% of Software Engineering graduates represented for 2017, 80% for 2018 and 89% for 2019.

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Overall, the combined percentage of graduates for Software Engineering 2017, 2018 & 2019 currently working in Canada is 35% while 63% work in the USA.

Out of all the programs this is the one that is surprising. For the most part it is showing an opposite trend to all other programs here. While graduates from other UW programs, like Computer Science, take on roles as Software Engineers there is something different going on with these graduates according to the data. You can see for each graduating year that the percentage spread between those working in the USA vs Canada is getting larger.

The percentage of UW Software Engineering graduates working in the USA has increased by 5% for each graduating class over the past 3 years.

Is the network effect kicking in for these graduates for large tech firms in the USA? Is the increase in this past year influenced by a smaller number of graduates while the employers are trying to maintain a certain number of hires from the program? Is there one particular US based company hiring a larger amount of these graduates in the past two years? In my next post we will dig into where these graduates are employed and maybe that will give us some clues about what is happening here.

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The most common landing place for UW Software Engineering graduates is California, USA.

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Systems Design Engineering

Comparing the UW degrees granted¹ with LinkedIn profiles for each year, there were 73% of Systems Design Engineering graduates represented for 2017, 85% for 2018 and 80% for 2019.

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Overall, the combined percentage of graduates for Systems Design Engineering 2017, 2018 & 2019 currently working in Canada is 56% while 38% work in the USA.

The trend for Systems Design Engineering graduates is the opposite of Software Engineering—Systems Design Engineering graduates working in Canada have increased for each class while the percentage working in the USA for each graduating class is declining.

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The most common landing place for UW Systems Design Engineering graduates is Ontario, Canada.

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Electrical Engineering

Comparing the UW degrees granted¹ with LinkedIn profiles for each year, there were 77% of Electrical Engineering graduates represented for 2017, 73% for 2018 and 74% for 2019.

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Overall, the combined percentage of graduates for Electrical Engineering 2017, 2018 & 2019 currently working in Canada is 71% while 27% work in the USA.

The trend for Electrical Engineering graduates is also the opposite of Software Engineering — Electrical Engineering graduates working in Canada have increased for each class while the percentage working in the USA for each graduating class is declining.

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The most common landing place for UW Electrical Engineering graduates is Ontario, Canada.

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Mechatronics

Comparing the UW degrees granted¹ with LinkedIn profiles for each year, there were 79% of Mechatronics graduates represented for 2017, 85% for 2018 and 87% for 2019.

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Overall, the combined percentage of graduates for Mechatronics 2017, 2018 & 2019 currently working in Canada is 53% while 44% work in the USA.

The percentage of Mechatronics graduates currently working in Canada has slightly declined for the 2019 class compared to 2018 while the percentage working in the USA has slightly increased.

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The most common landing place for UW Mechatronics graduates is Ontario, Canada.

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Some Thoughts

While 40% of these UW tech graduates are working in the USA, the thing we need to dig deeper into is the Software Engineering graduates, who have 67% of the 2019 graduating class working in the USA. In my next post, we will look at the employers of these graduating classes to see if there are any insights we can gain. This may just be the nature of the new global talent pool, and while this can be surprising, we are also benefiting from success in the global talent pool by attracting skilled migrants to our country which is predicted to raise Canada’s ranking from 10th to the 8th largest world economy⁵.

One can choose to look at this through the lens of the economy and innovation or through the lens of an individual. Why a graduate may choose to work in the USA can be driven by many factors: impact, monetary gains, weather, friends, co-op placement timing, identifying with a company, a sense of belonging, or simply wanting to work at the big name tech company. Regardless of their motivation, it is important for these graduates to have opportunities where they can learn, grow, and have the greatest impact while fulfilling their needs of Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose (https://www.danpink.com/books/drive/) in the workplace.

If we simplify this with a good ol’ Canadian analogy — if an individual has the skills to play at the NHL level and there are not enough NHL teams in Canada (Canadian top tier tech companies) for them, then maybe playing on an NHL team in the USA is their best option. While one could look at this as a Gross Domestic Expenditures on Research and Development (GERD⁶) as a percentage of GDP problem, or a Business Enterprise Research and Development (BERD⁷) problem, which are both used as indicators of innovation, I think we can simplify this down to two questions as a starting point:

  1. How do we enable the creation of more “NHL” teams in Canada? Do we, as Canadians, have the innovation and investment risk tolerance as well as the proper systems in place to incentivize these risks? It seems as though the Government’s investment in SR&ED, Global Skills Strategy, Pan-Canadian AI strategy, SIF funding and the Super Clusters are a great start for both existing companies and new startups, but I do wonder if the Canadian Angel and institutional inventors are able to take big enough risks to get the startups with big ideas to a level that they can really plug into these programs.
  2. How do we incentivize the US NHL teams (US companies) to grow their Canadian offices? While Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft & Alphabet/Google all have offices in Canada, it is Amazon and Google that have the highest ratio of UW tech graduates being hired in their Canadian offices. There is still room for improvement.

Have questions or thoughts on this data? Feel free to reach out to me directly on LinkedIn.

A big thanks to K.B, J.S,A.M & S.D for all your help with this post!

About Me

I am the former founder of LaunchSpot, a SaaS platform that was used to collect, analyze and report on private market data (specifically technology companies). After our acquisition, I spent some time working with the great team at Communitech, as their CTO, to give back to the startup ecosystem in Waterloo Region, and currently I am consulting for startups and scale-ups. My favourite thing in the world is building and coaching amazing teams to help them accomplish more than they ever thought possible in solving tough, crazy problems. I especially gravitate to problems in product companies where clarity of direction is an issue or more generally when an industry or someone says the words that push my internal alarm bell: “That’s the way it has always been!”.

Footnotes
¹ University of Waterloo, Degrees Granted, https://uwaterloo.ca/institutional-analysis-planning/university-data-and-statistics/student-data/degrees-granted-0
² Chris Wormald’s email newsletter — http://www.ironhorseangels.com/
³ University of Waterloo alumni about us page with stats. https://uwaterloo.ca/alumni/about-us
⁴ Atef Chaudrey and Joey Loi’s survey results from their graduating class. http://joeyloi.com/SYDE2017classprofile.pdf
⁵ Centre for Economics and Business Research, World Economic League Table Report 2020, https://cebr.com/reports/world-economic-league-table-2020/
⁶ Statistics Canada, GERD Data Table, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=2710027301&pickMembers%5B0%5D=1.1&pickMembers%5B1%5D=4.2&cubeTimeFrame.startYear=2019&cubeTimeFrame.endYear=2019&referencePeriods=20190101%2C20190101
⁷ Conference Board of Canada, BERD Definition and Data, https://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/Details/Innovation/berd.aspx

Methods

Confirming Profiles:
Profiles used from LinkedIn are identified using the program name and graduating end date.

Confirming Education:
In a small percentage of cases where there was a missing date then the date of internship/co-op placements and the start date of the first full-time role was used as the indicator of the graduation date. If there was not enough information, or it did not look like there was the right number of co-op positions then the profile was discarded.

Confirming Location:
The primary location used for this data is based on the work location. If there was no location for a current role then the company name was used to identify the location along with the location of the previous role. If there was not sufficient information in any of the roles and the company had multiple locations (Canada and the USA) then the top profile location was used as a last resort. This was a small percentage of profiles.

Written by

Passionate about tech and 🏒 | Helping companies 🚀 | Waterloo AI P2P Co-Organizer | Previously CEO LaunchSpot (acq by @hockeystickco) | 🏒🏌🏼‍♂️⚽️ Dad.

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