Thursday, January 1, 2015

Life in Twenty-Fourteen

A recap of my life in twenty-fourteen...

Since I started university back in 2010 (seems like eons ago), I've maintained a tradition of writing a blog post at the end of every year. This year's post has been at the back of my head for several days, but I still haven't been able to figure out what I'm going to write. And I don't think I can do monthly sections this time round... So I'll just let the words flow...

Random Thoughts © Osama Sidat

The Desire2Learn Experience

D2L HQ © Osama Sidat
The year started off solidly. My second-to-last co-op term, with Desire2Learn (officially "D2L" now), initiated in January as a Software Developer. Work-wise, it was certainly new, exciting territory (mostly C# .NET and SQL Server, with lots of helpings of HTML, CSS and JavaScript for component redesigns, along with some Scala and AngularJS for a hackathon), with the advantage of familiarity in terms of awesome friends and a fun working environment. I'm immensely happy with the help I got, the things I was able to achieve and the people I was able to meet. A grateful "Thank You!" to my manager, my mentor, my teammates, and everyone else who contributed to my professional growth.

Cybernetics and Society

During the Winter 2014 term, I also took the on-campus Cybernetics and Society course (STV 205, taught by the awesome J. A. Deman). If you're kinda geeky, or interested in the social impact of technology, and at UWaterloo, I highly recommend this course! Great in-class discussions, fun group assignments and essay (it was basically "Write about your favourite cyborg"; I wrote about Chuck from Chuck), all enabled by a highly passionate instructor.

The NASA Space Apps Challenge 2014

NASA Space Apps Challenge 2014 at The Tannery Event Centre © Osama Sidat
One weekend in April 2014, I participated in my first ever outside-work hackathon with three (at the time) complete strangers. We developed an asteroid prospection game using the Unity Game Engine - "Rocks! Lasers! Protfit!" - check it out! A detailed account is on my tech blog here - the awesome bit was that (to our surprise) we won the Regional round, and proceeded to the global judging phase, where we came out as among the Top 5 Projects in Use of Data.

Spring 2014

Columbia Lake in Spring © Osama Sidat

Chipmunk in my backyard © Osama Sidat

After three study terms of a lighter (four instead of five) course load, I returned to school in Spring 2014 with a full-course load. My schedule composed of CS 349 (User Interfaces), CS 341 (Algorithms), CS 360 (Introduction to Theory of Computing), HRM 200 (Intro to Human Resource Management), and, ENGL 108F (The Superhero). Outlined below are some of my thoughts about each:

User Interfaces: To date, the best CS course I've taken, with the right amount of (useful) theory and hands-on stuff. Byron Becker did a great job with a course, and he was highly responsive to emails, even if they were about relatively unrelated content. Also, it was my first real foray into the Java programming language.

Algorithms: Mark Petrick was a great teacher, and unlike the precursor of this course (CS 240: Data Structures), the content was quite interesting. However, rather hard exams.

Intro to Theory of Computing: I'll admit, I took this one because everyone said it would be easy. What I didn't realize before that the content was barely, if at all, interesting for me, making the course not so easy. In retrospect, I would've been better served by taking Software Architecture or something else...

Human Resource Management: Took this one to complete the Business Option requirements of my degree. I was taking it with a friend, else the lectures would've been incredibly boring.

The Superhero: I accidentally found this course when I was looking for things that Deman (from STV 205) taught. In a nutshell, this course discusses Superheroes - mostly from comic books. Quite a fun course, covers Batman too... I'd recommend this one if you're ok with writing a comprehensive final essay (it was definitely interesting to analyze Superman's behaviour in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns). As before, Deman was awesome (he has a Ph.D in comics!) - I spent an office hour with him discussing the change in Batman's depiction in the animated series throughout the 90s...

Overall, a good term, can't complain too much. The JobMine process (I opted to get back in it for my sixth and last co-op term) resulted in a nicely revamped resume, over 30 job applications, 5 interviews, 1 offer and 3 ranks. I took the risk of turning down the offer and playing the numbers game with the ranks, and was placed at Akamai as a Software Developer for my Fall 2014 work term.

Experimenting with Shrimp © Osama Sidat
After being in Waterloo since Winter 2013 (my longest stretch of time spent living in 'Loo), I moved to Ottawa at the end of August for my work term.

The Passport Renewal Fun

I arrived in Ottawa on Tuesday, August 19. I had made a silly assumption - since Ottawa has a Pakistani Embassy AND Ottawa is the capital - I would/should be able to get my Pakistani passport renewed there (hoping that would save me an extra trip to Toronto). Well... when I visited the Embassy next morning, I was told (in the usual, traditional, infuriating way) that the Embassy could not process or renew any modern documents (really, what purpose does the Embassy have, then?), and that I would have to go back to Toronto.

Embassy of Pakistan, Ottawa © Osama Sidat
Eventually, later that day, I took the overnight Greyhound to Toronto, (luckily) got my passport renewed at the Consulate in York Region, and later that afternoon/evening, took a bus back to Ottawa (after waiting around the Bay Street Station for a few hours)...

I don't know, but that was thoroughly exhausting...

Seen in Toronto © Osama Sidat


I started exploring Ottawa after returning from my passport trip...

Parliament, Ottawa © Osama Sidat

World War Small Weapons, Canadian War Museum © Osama Sidat
This was the first time I was travelling to Ottawa. I definitely loved the architecture, especially in the downtown area. I was able the catch Mosaika 2014 on its last night. The museums were great, especially the War Museum and the Diefenbunker. The Rideau Canal is quite lovely and the Hintonburg area (or "Hipsterburg", as a friend calls it!) is pretty neat with it's quaint little shops.

The Locks at Rideau Canal © Osama Sidat
Mosaika on the Parliament Centre Block © Osama Sidat
I also went kayaking with a friend on Dow's Lake - it was immense fun!

Kayaking © Osama Sidat
Lots of food places in Ottawa. Shawarma Palace has some of the best beef shawarma I've had, to date. I also tried SuzyQ's fancy doughnuts and Flapjack's thick pancakes; delicious stuff!

SuzyQ's Doughnuts © Osama Sidat
The Flapjack's Truck in Westboro © Osama Sidat
I visited the Ottawa Humane Society and the Ottawa Cat Show - both full of cute felines!

Selfie with a kitty © Osama Sidat
As for the city, Ottawa is quite widespread (unlike the main Toronto city, which is kinda tightly packed). Traffic is moderate (though still quite significant, compared to Kitchener-Waterloo). Buses on the Transitway are nice and speedy, but transit times of buses on the main roads (Carling, for instance) can vary by time of day and by the traffic on the roads. I was living about 35-40 minutes from my work in Little Italy (not too bad, but I'd prefer closer if I were to return in the future).

I maintained a one-or-more photo a day throughout my days in Ottawa - check it out on my Instagram!

The Akamai Experience

Had a great time working at Akamai! I was working on tools for internal use using Ruby on Rails or NodeJS. Was able to get a good insight into how the web works through web requests and responses.

Akamai Gear © Osama Sidat
I had the opportunity to do a fair amount of solo development, which taught me a lot about taking a project from an initial idea to deployment. A big "Thank You!" to my team at Akamai which allowed me to experiment on my own, but were ready to help out if I got stuck on a problem!

The Trip Back Home

Last time I was home in Karachi, it was August-September 2012. A visit was long overdue...

I finished up at Akamai on Friday, December 19, travelled back to Waterloo from Ottawa the next day to dump my stuff and repack, and took the PIA flight to Karachi on Sunday evening. Even though my visit is short, I'm thankful for the opportunity to see family and friends.

Calico Queen © Osama Sidat

Stargazing with Abba - The Orion Nebula © Osama Sidat

The Next Year?

InshaAllah, I'll be starting my last term at UWaterloo on January 5, 2015, expecting to graduate the following April. I'm currently working my way through the job application and interview process for post-grad work.

Alhamdolillah, this year has been interesting for me professionally and academically.

And finally,

Dear Allah, 
On This New Year, And The Years To Come,
Grant Us The Serenity,
To Accept The Things We Cannot Change;
The Courage, To Change The Things We Can;
And The Wisdom, To Know The Difference.


  1. May Allah Be With You Always, InshaAllah.
    Love You.

  2. Your food pictures are so tempting, i want to grab it from the screen. I'm definitely going to try this recipe tomorrow as I've all the ingredients at my home (yess!) plus it's not time consuming and it looks Delicious. Now i know what I'm going to eat tomorrow morning. Thanks for sharing.