Alumni Perspectives: Al-Shahna Jamal, Microsoft

“This might all sound obvious, but the simple truth is that forming good habits and time management takes effort and practice.”

Al-Shahna Jamal completed her BAsc and MASc at UBC Electrical and Computer Engineering, graduating in 2016 and 2018 respectively. Today, she’s a software engineer at Microsoft, and living in Seattle. We caught up with her to learn about her direction since her graduation from ECE, and how her time in our department has impacted her career.

Career Path

I completed my BASc. in Computer Engineering at UBC in 2016. I chose the co-op option which was an excellent way for me to gain exposure to fields within the software industry, as well as take a break from courses and experience the real world! For one of my co-op placements, I chose to do a research internship at the System-on-a-Chip lab at UBC, supervised by Dr. Wilton. I already had some exposure to digital systems design and FPGAs through coursework and wanted to learn more. Long story short, my undergraduate research time at UBC convinced me to pursue a MASc. at UBC as well.

My master’s degree was an excellent experience. I got to write and publish papers and present my work at conferences. During these conferences, I met students, professors, and industry professionals from around the world. I was very interested in the Catapult group at Microsoft Research since they were pioneering the use of FPGAs in the cloud. I took advantage of the networking opportunities at these conferences to connect with folks at Microsoft Research and interview with them. Our group has since become a product team in Azure, where I still work within the realm of FPGAs, using them as important accelerators in our data centers and cloud applications.

Current Position at Microsoft

I have been a Software Engineer at Microsoft for three years now. My work includes interdisciplinary projects, which involve developing the full stack, from software to hardware. I work with both software and hardware engineers daily, and a big part of my job is understanding the customer’s requirements and delivering what they need.

Previous experiences

You’ve already read about my undergraduate research experience at UBC. As part of the co-op program, I worked as a Quality Assurance Analyst at Atimi Software, where I tested the mobile applications that were developed in-house for third-party customers. I then worked as a Software Developer at Ericsson, where I wrote router software for the Smart Services Router. My final internship was at Altera (now a part of Intel), where I wrote software for the compiler team, targeting their Stratix 10 device.

Each of these experiences exposed me to different fields within the software industry, from mobile applications to networking to FPGA compiler tools. For me personally, I noticed that I had a continued interest working at the intersection of software and hardware and I actively pursued more opportunities in this area. I now feel lucky to be working with very talented and interdisciplinary engineers in the Azure Hardware Architectures group at Microsoft. I would absolutely recommend students to take advantage of the co-op program at UBC Engineering; this is where your career and network start, not after you graduate.

Biggest Obstacle

My first two years of engineering school were quite challenging for me. I think it was a combination of the intense workload, a new environment from high school, and not knowing how to effectively manage my time. I started paying attention to the students who were performing well and noticed some good habits and patterns from them. They were typically active learners who asked questions in class, tried to solve problems early on their own, and then went to office hours to seek help proactively when needed. These students also dedicated time for extracurriculars that they enjoyed, whether that was sports and fitness, or clubs on campus. They understood earlier than me that taking breaks for activities you enjoy is very healthy. This might all sound obvious, but the simple truth is forming good habits and time management take effort and practice. My own good habits didn’t form overnight, it was a process. So, start early and practice often.

Impact of ECE

ECE has an incredible faculty. It is worth taking the time to read about your professors and the research they are doing outside the classroom. From developing techniques to improve robot-assisted surgeries to powering electric vehicles in a sustainable manner, they are solving problems that can impact our society for the better.

In addition to faculty, UBC ECE has several clubs if you want to expand your horizons. I personally participated in the Engineers Without Borders chapter and the IEEE Women’s club.

And finally, my classmates. The students in your cohort will become lifelong friends and an important part of your network. It is inspiring to see the career paths of my fellow ECE alumni and to keep learning from them.

Connect with Al-Shahna on Linkedin.