Overture No. 6.

A Summer in Toronto as a Software Developer Intern and lots of music.

~22 minute read

Chapter 1

- How did we get here?

My second time at Hack The North

This story began at Hack The North 2018. I had the opportunity to talk with one of Deloitte Digital's partners at the event. We had a great coffee chat. Afterwards he asked me where I would be interested in working: Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver, or Toronto? I replied "Toronto!" without hesitation.

I had one more phone interview with a Senior Manager from Deloitte, then I received an offer later in October! Toronto 2019 had just become a reality.

Chapter 2

- Moving to Toronto

The train station at Union

The day had come. After days of final exams, dozens of phone calls to arrange housing, and getting rid of a lot of things that I wouldn't need anymore, I was finally at the train station with my friend Joyce.

I had previously been to Toronto, but it felt different this time. We took a train that got into the city at around 12 pm. (picture yourself listening to this song as the train moved in) I got excited when I saw the Deloitte building on our way to Union Station.

As expected, the Toronto "traffic" was there as we got off our train. My friend had to go see her family right away. I was standing outside Union station carrying a luggage, two bags, a set of bedding, a guitar and a ukulele. The Khalsa Day Parade was taking place this weekend. Many of the streets downtown were closed and it was havoc outside the station.

The Shiba Inu that lived in the apartment 🐕

Luckily, the 5% of battery left on my phone was enough to call an Uber. I had to memorize the direction that the car was coming from and the plates as my phone died, walk two blocks with all my stuff. Lots of fun 😂.

My Uber drove through downtown towards Regent Park. In good "Toronto Fashion" he was honking at almost every street light and he at one point drove through a closed street to which he said, "look behind us, let me know if you see cops." (this was my first hour in Toronto and I had already learned that the drivers there really are something else lol). I got home about half an hour later and everything slowed down for the first time in weeks.

The view of the city from my apartment near Regent Park

Chapter 3

- Open mics & sahara

I had previously sung at an open mic in Toronto. The Cavern hosts open mics every Tuesday and Sunday. Many singers and musicians frequent this place to share their original songs or perform covers.

The same day I moved in, I checked to see if the open mic was going on that Sunday and prepared a few songs. I headed to The Cavern later that day and wrote my name down on the list of performers.

A girl carrying an acoustic guitar walked in and sat in the same table as me. I thought to myself "hey, I actually wanted to sing 'Shallow' today, might as well ask her if she wants to sing with me."

My first time performing at The Cavern during Summer 2018.

I said, "hey! I just moved here today lol, do you wanna sing the song Shallow with me?" She replied, "I'm sorry, I don't know how to sing that song haha" I then asked her how long she'd been singing to which she replied "just about one year!"

She then told me about how she originally moved to Toronto to study commerce at Ryerson University. She taught herself how to play the guitar and fell in love with it so she decided to take a year off of school to start working on an album, focus on music and to get to know the city. She had been singing for about six years but began to write her own music and perform publicly for about one year.

She also mentioned that she was planning on going to New York City the following weekend to play at The New York SongWriters Circle.

That following week we went to another open mic at The Boat in Kensington market. I met a lot more singers and musicians, every single person I met that night had a very unique story.

Meeting sahara was one of the things that made me want to stay longer than the original four months planned. Stories like hers really motivate me to always pursue music no matter where I am.

Since then she's published a couple of singles on Spotify!

She also gave me a list of her favourite restaurants in Toronto! You can find it here.

Chapter 4

- Deloitte

It had been one week since I moved to Toronto and I could not be more excited to begin my internship.

I had heard many things about the firm, mainly good things but a lot of comments about the amount of work that working there represented such as:

"You're gonna work A LOT" & "Talk to EVERYONE"

One of the banners at a company social

The first week of orientation was full of meetings, long presentations and talking to other interns, and of course, a lot of fun and company socials. I met some of my closest friends during that time.

Deloitte does things a bit differently than other companies when on boarding interns and this might be due to the nature of the consulting industry. Some of the interns had already been paired with projects across the firm, most of us weren't and we had a certain time frame to find a team that wanted to work with us.

Solving problems during orientation

During orientation, many of Deloitte's directors, partners, and senior managers talked about the projects that they were working on and what they did at the firm. One of them was Jeff Lui. He talked about his team, Emotion Plus (previously referred to as Emotion A.I.). This sounded like an amazing project. Computer Vision + Machine Learning + Emotions.

Every intern from a Computer Science background was interested in being part of that team in some way or another.

At first I was assigned to a team doing SQL testing as part of the migration of a client's massive database. This came as an unexpected surprise, and it definitely felt like a bummer at first since the partner that first interviewed me was the lead of Front End Engineering at Deloitte Digital and I was expecting to be working in projects related to that area.

I talked to my coach about it and she was able to pull me out of that project. She started searching around in the Front End Engineering area, in the meantime she asked me to start reaching out to people that I was interested in working with.

She set me up in a meeting with two software developer leads of a really cool project that might be of my interest. I went over Web Development principles to prepare for the meeting.

I sat down and everyone introduced themselves. I mentioned what I did at school over the last year and what I wanted to get from the firm that Summer. They followed with:

"We're part of the Emotion Plus Team"

Yes, that EmotionPlus team that I talked about earlier. The team lead by Jeff Lui. The team that every Computer Science student wanted to work with.

I couldn't believe it.

We talked about my background, some of my hackathon projects, my interests and what I would be doing in the team. They told me I would hear back soon with an update.

The following week I received an email with the subject:

"Emotion Plus team on boarding"

I was officially part of the team.

The EmotionPlus team (missing some members in this picture)

They did mention that this would mean a decent amount of work and that I would be expected to pick up things quickly. As expected, as soon as the interns were on boarded we already had deadlines to meet.

I did have many late nights at the office and I did work some weekends, but every single one of those days was worth it. I had never felt so satisfied with how fast I was able to learns things quickly. Maybe it was the short deadlines that we had to meet, but I believe it was the motivation that we, the interns, had that pushed us to solve the problems we faced.

This was the period of time in which I've learn the most in such a short amount of time so far in my career. Definitely not something for everyone out there, but I am thankful for the guidance that my managers gave me throughout my internship.

TypeScript, CSS, React, D3.js and Figma.

These are the tools that I would come to learn and develop during my internship. I worked mostly with building UI components using React and Data Visualization using D3.js.

Design with Figma -> build with React ->animate with CSS -> bring to life with data and D3.js

We had a social almost every month, the Consulting Kick Off was one of them. They rented out all of Rebel, had live music and a lot of food.

The Consulting Kick Off party at Rebel

The big 4 consulting firms (KPMG, Deloitte, AY, and PWC) and other smaller firms organize an ultimate frisbee tournament every Summer for interns!

The Deloitte Ultimate Frisbee intern team came in second place that Summer

I had an incredible experience. I met so many students from across Canada that are passionate about technology, made a lot of friendships and a lot of connections that will last for a long time.

The intern team (missing one member) + style at the office

Chapter 5

- My picture ends up on the cover of a book

Unsplash is one of the most popular stock photography sharing platforms.

I began uploading some of my pictures back in December 2018. I never intended for these pictures to be uploaded to Unsplash. They were pictures that I, at some point, used as wallpapers.

One of my first pictures uploaded to Unsplash

This is the one^^

One weekend, some of my friends from Ottawa came to visit me and we went to many of Toronto's tourist attractions as well to many book stores in Korea Town.

Inside one of these stores, they had a lot of Lego figures and sets, and a MASSIVE Lego wall. A simple Lego wall that I could take a picture of to use as wallpaper.

This picture turned out better than expected and I used it as my phone background for a while before uploading it to Unsplash.

I reverse search my pictures once in a while to find out where they are being used. Turns out this picture was being used by The Caine Prize for African Writing organization.

Not only was this picture used as the cover of the book The Canine Prize for African Writing 2019, but it was also used all over the place at the event where the book was announced.

I was given credit in the opening pages of the book. This was perhaps the most random thing that happened during the Summer.

Chapter 6

- Choir Choir Choir

Before moving I had done a bit research about the music scene in the city, specially choral music. I found Choir Choir Choir.

Every week, dozens of singers from all ages, backgrounds and levels of expertise come together at The Clintons to learn a song. People are split into three different sections, Low, Mid, and High. Call it a simplification of Bass, Tenor, and Alto.

The crowd of singers lead by Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman (AKA “DaBu”)

The sessions are three hours long from 7 to 10pm. The first two hours are usually for learning the lyrics and the melody. The last hour is used for recording a video of everyone singing.

My friend Michael was interning in Mississauga at the time and he came downtown once in a while to hang out. Him and I used to sing with in our High School's men choir.

He was in town the same evening I was planning on attending my first Choir Choir Choir session so he decided to come along. We had a lot of fun! We had never sung in a crowd like that before. The song that we were part of was Beyonce's Halo. Here's the video from that evening.

Chapter 7

- Auditions

During the previous school year I had been singing with the Carleton University Choir and the Ottawa Regional Youth Choir (ORYC).

One of the concerts at the NAC that the ORYC was part of

As you'd expect, one of the first things that I looked for was a choir to sing with.

The first thing that came to mind was searching "The best choir in Toronto" on Google.

Two results came up, The Toronto Orpheous Choir (OC), and The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (TMC).

I applied for both, I only had to send my personal information for OC in order to receive an audition.

However, to get into the TMC you had to apply to receive an audition, this meant that not every single person who applied got to audition. These are some of the things they asked for:

  • Years of singing
  • Range
  • Pieces you've sung in the past (i.e. Handel's Messiah)
  • Previous musical education such as The Royal Conservatory of Music certificates of which I had none
  • Previous music lessons with singing teachers
  • Why do you want to sing with us?

This lengthy application really made me wonder, is it really that difficult to get in? Why?

Little did I know I was applying to audition to the most recognized choir in Canada.

This choir is 125 years old, the oldest in Canada. They sing on a regular basis with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO), also one of the best orchestras in Canada.

They have countless records with many labels and ensembles. One of which earned them a Grammy nomination along with the TSO.

This only lead to me being even more anxious about receiving an audition.

Fast forward to May 28th I got an email that read

"We are pleased to offer you an audition for the 2019/20 season."

Ayy. Now I had to prepare for the audition in June. This audition would cover a bunch of things

  • A piece of my choosing
  • A rythm test
  • Sight reading
  • Singing scales

The day had arrived. It was June 10th. The audition was scheduled for 6:00 p.m.

What should've been a simple journey to Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, where auditions were held, from the Deloitte building downtown turned into an adventure lol

That evening

  • 4:30 p.m. Figure out how to print my music for the audition at the office
  • 4:40 p.m. Realize that I have to get permission to print since it was my first time and that would take too much time. I thought "I'll find somewhere along the way"
  • 4:45 p.m. I need to go
  • 5:10 p.m. Leave the office and walk two blocks to Queen station of Line 1
  • 5:15 p.m. Get on the subway which is packed
  • 5:45 p.m. Get off at St. Clair station to look for a place to print my music
  • 5:48 p.m. Walk into The Printing House at a mall nearby to realize that they don't print single pages
  • 5:50 p.m. Let's try Shoppers Drugmart, I'm sure they'll have a printer. Nope.
  • 5:53 p.m. I'm running to the Toronto Public Library at Deer Park nearby
  • 5:55 p.m. OH REALLY? I need a LIBRARY CARD TO PRINT? 😃
  • 5:58 p.m. After waiting for 3 minutes I finally get on a computer, now let's deal with Windows XP
  • 5:59 p.m. If only logging onto your Gmail account from Internet Explorer wasn't sketchy enough. I use a USB which luckily I was carrying my USB C adapter for my pixel phone to transfer the music which I downloaded earlier that day
  • 6:00 p.m. Run. It's raining outside, it's warm and I'm sweating a lot
  • 6:03 p.m. I arrive at the waiting room. I'm greeted by a really nice lady that asked me, are you Omar? Don't worry! There is still someone finishing up their audition
  • 6:05 p.m. Deciding whether or not is a good idea to audition with my yellow jacket while trying to calm down

Thankfully everything was alright, I sung this piece at the audition. They asked me about why I liked singing. We talked about my previous experience. I then sung a bunch of passages from a book that was in front of me and a bunch of major and minor scales

The conductor smiled at me and said

Thank you for coming! You'll receive an email in the coming weeks with more information

I remember I was fixing bugs with my team at the office when I got an email saying

Dear Omar, Congratulations! We are pleased to offer you a position as an Apprentice member in the tenor I section of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir for the 2019/20 season.

"JHEEEEEEEZ" I made it. I remember I couldn't stop thinking about it that day.

Attached on the email was a schedule that contained all the pieces and concerts that we would sing that season. (I would only sing with them for half the season since I had to bo back to Ottawa for the Winter).

  • 125th Anniversary Gala
  • Beethoven's 9th Symphony with Orchestra Toronto
  • Thais Grand Opera with the TSO conduced by Sir Andrew Davis
  • Festival of Carols
  • Handel's Messiah with the TSO conducted by Alexander Shelley

I also found out that as an apprentice singer I would also receive a stippend for renting a tail coat (yes, the ones that look like penguins) for some of our concerts.

It was going be an insane experience singing with them. The rest of this story will continue in the next story.

Chapter 8

- Food & Live Jazz

THE FOOD. The Pizza in Toronto was delicious.

As I mentioned before, the list given to me by sahara was a good start to try out the food in Toronto. Some of my personal favorites were:

  • EggBae
  • Juicy Dumpling
  • Burger Priest
  • Pizzeria Libretto
  • Butter Baker
  • The Porch
  • Tsujiri
  • Mean Bao

One of my managers and my buddy at Deloitte loved Pizza so we got Pizza delivered to our office from different places a couple of times. New York Pizza, Makers Pizza, Brooklyn Pizza were some of them.

I've always been a fan of live music, but had only been to a live Jazz restaurant/bar in Cholula called Jazzatlán, the city where my parents live.

I had read about The Rex beforehand and tried to visit in previous trips to Toronto but was never able to find the time.

One of my visits to The Rex

I visited this place a couple of times during these 8 months and it was a unique experience. It looked almost exactly as this scene from La La Land. Every single person paying attention to the musicians, clapping after each solo, nodding their heads to the rhythm.

Definitely do visit the place if you're ever in the city!

Chapter 9

- Designing cuHacking

cuHacking is Carleton University's hackathon. Taking place every winter term since 2017. This year we hosted over 600 students and had over 100 projects that people built over the weekend!

Richcraft Hall at Carleton University

I joined the team in late June. The design team was made out of three Computer Science students including myself. We were tasked with designing the event swag, the website and many marketing assets.

cuHacking was rebranded. We took the decision to adopt a series of icons that looked like abstract feathers. Why? We realized that most hackathons out there have a certain "icon" that they use as part of their theme. Some examples are Hack The North: cogs, Hack The 6ix: buildings, ConUHacks: Honeycombs.

The feathers

The design team used a Figma library to manage all of our designs and this went extremely well. The ability to use components across files, share designs in real time and have other organizers comment on our designs all in one platform was really helpful.

However, we did have to face a few challenges given the fact that I was in Toronto and most of the organizing team and design team was in Ottawa. This lead to a lot of online meetings and brainstorming sessions.

cuHacking 2020 logo

To be continued

Living in Toronto during this time was an incredible experience. I was also lucky enough to be there the same season the Raptors won the NBA Champtionship.

Nancy, Andrew, Simran, Letitia, Imran & the Digital interns, thank you all for making these 4 months the best they could've been. 😊

And to my friends back in Ottawa, I missed you guys every single day. You have no idea how excited I was whenever I found out that you would be coming over even if it was for a couple hours.