Designing technology solutions for a better world

- Anne Tolson

Lee at Mason Lake, near the Microsoft Headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Photo credit: provided

As a high school student trying to decide on a university major, Robert Lee recalls wanting to find a field where he could cultivate his keen interest in science, develop innovative technologies, and make a positive impact in the world.

“Ever since I was a child, I was interested in science, math and technology,” says Lee, who graduates this spring with a BEng in computer engineering, specializing in computational intelligence and machine learning.

I saw engineering as chance to combine my strengths and interests in science with an opportunity to design and build the next breakthrough technologies, while also embodying the positive change I want to see in the world.

—Robert Lee, UVic class of 2021

It’s remarkable how successfully Lee has already been in achieving those early goals.

Building breakthrough technologies

During his time at UVic, Lee spent three of four co-op terms at Microsoft, working on software solutions that have since been deployed and made available to the public. In the company’s Vancouver office, he worked as part of a team in an incubator-style environment to build a mobile application that demonstrated the deployment of machine-learning models. Later, at the company’s location in Bellevue, Washington, Lee worked on a software feature that generates a demo application for a search service. His final co-op, during which he worked remotely, involved creating another feature that improves search results when filtering or sorting data.

Last semester, Lee led a student team to develop a computer vision application that performs human pose estimation (HPE)­—predicting the location of 17 key joints given a person’s input image.
“HPE is a difficult problem domain because of its unique challenges – variations in clothing and body physique, overlapping and strongly articulated joints, and complexities of the human skeleton,” explains Lee, whose work was featured on Streamlit, a website that helps developers build and deploy web applications for their data science projects. “Improvements in HPE can benefit industries such as animation, security systems, pedestrian detection, and much more.”

Later this summer, Lee will be joining Microsoft in Redmond, Washington, as a full-time software engineer with Azure, the company’s cloud platform for building, testing, deploying and managing applications and services.

Pursuing a passion for STEM

In addition to the hands-on experience Lee gained through co-op and course work, he embraced several opportunities to test his STEM and leadership skills during numerous student competitions, which he says provided some of the best memories of his undergrad.

In his first year, after winning the UVic Engineering Competition, his team headed to the inter-provincial Western Engineering Competition (WEC), which was held in Banff during the middle of winter.

“In between competition days, we enjoyed hot springs, dinner events and games, and my team even hiked up Mount Sulphur despite all the snow,” Lee recalls. “I met some very close friends during that time and will cherish the experience forever.”

Early in 2020, Lee was part of a team that placed first in WEC’s Senior Design competition in Saskatoon and then competed nationally two months later at the Canadian Engineering Competition in Winnipeg. The events, which took place shortly before COVID-related travel restrictions went into effect, involved working on intense, timed engineering challenges with limited materials.

In hindsight, says Lee, the team was extremely lucky to have been able to compete in person.“These competitions were the highlight of my senior year,” he says. “It was an incredible experience to meet engineering students from across Canada, and to apply four years of theory from my courses to design, build, program and test an autonomous robot within eight hours.”

Championing positive change

In the midst of courses, co-op terms and student competitions, Lee has still found time to give back.
He founded and led the UVic Senior’s Program, an ongoing series of free workshops designed to help seniors become more comfortable with using computers and the Internet. Over the past several years, the program has brought together UVic student volunteers and seniors from across the community. During four semesters, Lee also co-chaired the UVic IEEE Student Branch, organizing skill development workshops on topics ranging from circuits to machine learning.

Late 2019, he led a conference attended by more than 200 people featuring product managers from three top US tech companies who spoke about the fusion of technology and business strategy.
Lee, who at the start of his undergraduate degree won the highly prestigious Schulich Leader Scholarship, intends to keep looking for opportunities to make a difference, particularly in the area of climate change.

“Growing up in BC, I’ve been lucky to experience the sheer beauty of nature and want to do everything I can to help preserve the Earth for future generations,” he says. “I hope to make a positive difference and tackle the biggest challenges facing the world today.”


In this story

Keywords: convocation, engineering, technology, co-op, administrative, student life

People: Robert Lee

Publication: The Ring

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