UWaterloo Systems Design Engineering 2018 Class Profile

Nothing quite gets an engineer going like a thorough quantitative analysis of an insight-filled dataset. This was the opportunity I had in capturing the experience of my graduating class — the Systems Design Engineering (SYDE) Class of 2018.

Way back in 2013, we arrived fresh-faced at the University of Waterloo not really knowing what SYDE is, and left its campus as mature men and women five years later still somewhat unsure. All we can say for sure is that the time in between was a truly life-altering experience.

Following the lead of Atef Chaudhury and Joey Loi’s excellent SYDE 2017 Class Profile, I conducted a survey of my graduating class with 3 specific goals in mind:

  • Capture some of the dominant stories of our lives over the past 5 years
  • Create a memento document
  • Showcase our experiences to prospective students and the world

Luckily for me, 78 of 91 students (86%) responded to my call. This piece features some of the highlights, but I highly recommend scrolling through the full document.

Co-op is a brilliant model for higher education.

For those who may not be familiar, Waterloo Engineering students are required to do 6 terms of hands-on technical co-ops (i.e. internships) with the goal of applying classroom knowledge in an industry setting.

The best part about co-op is not just practical experience (gone are the days of coffee-fetching interns) — but you also get paid to complete your education. And not just peanuts, we really got PAID:

Dolla dolla bills y’all

The median student made $93,024 CAD over the course of 6 co-op terms!

This was unevenly distributed, of course, with those working in software and in the USA making a lot more.

At a median of $62 CAD/hour, co-op compensations in the USA were 2.4x higher than in Canada.

This led to more students choosing the Bay Area (30%) than any other location by the last term.


The proportion of Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Bay Area jobs are mirrors of each other — suggesting that students chose the Bay Area over Toronto as they acquired more experience.

Almost half the class graduated debt-free.

This was partly due to co-op income but also because students from wealthier households received more financial support from parents.

Half of the class financed almost all (80–100%) of their university education by themselves.

2 in 5 were affected by mental health concerns.


By far the most common concerns were anxiety (2 in 5 students) and depression (1 in 4 students).

64% of the class sought some form of support for their mental health.

The median compensation for those employed is $173k CAD/year.

Total compensation includes a base annual salary, an equity package that generally vests over 4 years, and a one-time signing bonus (split over 4 years for analysis).

Half the class will work as Software Engineers, 1 in 5 will work as Product Managers and 1 in 10 will work as Designers.

Half of those employed will relocate to the Bay Area or Seattle.

Higher pay in the USA is the main reason for the brain drain.

Bay Area/Seattle salaries are 1.9x higher and compensations are 2.4x higher than the GTA. The CAD/USD exchange rate only explains 1.3x of the difference.

The median compensation in the GTA is $80k, while the median Bay Area/Seattle compensation is $194k.

Note that equity and signing bonuses are not very common in Canada, leading to lower overall compensation packages.

Other top cited reasons for leaving included: better career opportunities, fun, better tech scene, new life experiences or prestige.

There is a significant pay gap between males and females.

Median male salaries are 1.3x higher and median male compensations are 1.6x higher than for females.

This is partly due to only 50% of females working in Bay Area/Seattle compared to 63% of males. As well, 90% of males have the higher paying roles of PM and Software Engineer compared to 45% of females.

However, even after controlling for location and role, male compensations are 10–20% higher across the board.

Fascinated by these insights and want to know more? Be sure to check out the full profile for details on social lives, dating, courses, life plans & more!

For any inquiries or comments about the data, methods or analysis, say hi at krishnr@gmail.com or @KrishnRamesh on Twitter.