Each of their career pathways has been filled with multiple twists and turns — and one constant — key lessons learned during their time as students at Bayview Glen School (BVG).
“It is always great to have the chance to contribute back to the community that I benefited from when I was young,” says Daniel Mak ‘05, one of three invited BVG alumni to present at the final Career Breakfast of the school year. “It was an honour to be a guest speaker and thank you for your trust to deliver a note or two that might benefit the students.”
Daniel began at BVG as a Grade 8 student in 2000, recalling how he felt empowered to try new things during his time at the school, including creating an investment club when one didn’t exist.
“I was trusted by many teachers and especially Ms. [Dina] Astrella,” shared Daniel. “She gave me a lot of flexibility in leading extra-curricular activities that were not offered by the school back then. It also made me realize that I could do new things that are not part of the standard offerings and allowed me to have my own journey,” he says.
All of which has served him time and again in various professional experiences, including, helping run a family business selling carpet and wallpaper to casinos and hotels in his homeland of Macau, working in cybersecurity, deep tech and quantum computing, to his current role as General Partner, Strategic Growth at Awz Ventures, a multi-stage venture capital firm headquartered in Toronto.
“Fail early, fail fast and just try not to make the same mistake again,” Daniel told the packed audience of more than 100 students, faculty and staff who gathered in the Moatfield Campus Learning Commons for the event.
Reflecting on the high school version of himself, Daniel says he would offer today’s student this simple advice:
“Everyone’s path is different, hard skills on paper are only one part of qualifications and get you to the table/job interview, but soft skills, the human element, is what will actually land you the job or provide you with opportunity to lead. Be smart and not always right,” he says.
Saba Ketabchi Haghighat was the youngest BVG alum on the panel — having graduated in 2016. She was also the only one to join virtually — from California — where she is a hardware engineer who works on the Apple watch.
“I believe representation in every field matters, especially as a woman in engineering, and I would love to see more women in our field,” she says. “The Career Breakfast is a great opportunity to encourage more BVG students to pursue a similar career path if they’re interested and aren’t sure how they can get started.”
Following BVG and a degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Waterloo,
Saba has worked in Canada, France and the U.S. as a software developer, among other roles, in industries including healthcare and technology.
“Joining STEM-related clubs in high school allowed me to learn about some engineering-related concepts through hands-on projects and math/programming contests,” she says. “So when it came to looking into universities and applying for various programs, I had an idea of which engineering disciplines I liked more than others.”
Her advice to students stems in part from her own career trajectory, during which she has had to be resilient often.
“Don’t be afraid of failing or bad experiences,” says Saba. “They’re all experiences that lead you on the right path, and learning about what you don’t like is just as important as knowing what you’re passionate about.”
As a student at BVG, Konstantine Tsotsos says he “liked spaceships. I thought they were really cool!”
That passion has propelled him to a variety of experiences centered on cutting-edge technology, since graduating from BVG in 2007.
“I’ve been very lucky in having the right mentors and sponsors at the right times in my life, but not everyone has that,” he says. “If I can play that role for even one student [who is] unsure of how to tackle their future, then I consider that a huge success. That’s why it was important for me to join this event, to try to give back and support the growth of the next generation of engineers.”
Konstantine’s academic and career journey has included an internship at NASA, a PhD in Computer Science and his current role at Google in San Francisco, as a Staff Software Engineer and Manager, a role that involves working collaboratively to develop real-time 3D perception and sensor fusion technologies.
“STEM is an amazing path,” he says.
When it comes to offering words of wisdom to students, Konstantine says: “Keep working both harder and smarter. If you can’t figure out how, look for new people to learn from who are more successful than you. If you want to keep growing, avoid situations where you feel like you’re the smartest person in the room.”
Pathways to Professional Life: Career Breakfast Spotlights Media