Another year has passed by and it’s time again to write my yearly reflection article. However, because I joined the co-operative education program, I only had one school term during the past year and spent the other eight months working. So therefore this article really only covers half of my third year in regards to school terms, but it is about the third year that I spent as a university student. As always, I’ve been brewing up a storm wherever I went… just kidding. Unlike previous years though, there were a couple of moments/events that were out of the ordinary, so read on if you want to find out more about my third year as a university student.
At the end of my second school year, I bid farewell to the 2-4 months long summer vacation that I had ever since I went to kindergarten. This is because I joined the co-operative education program at my university, so I had to work during the summers. Joining co-op was a pretty easy decision for me, because it gives me a chance to get relevant work experience, meet industry professionals, and also finance my education. Besides, most of the students in my faculty join co-op, so I was not be about to be left out.
Joining the co-op program was the easy part; the hard part was finding my first placement. The first job is always the hardest to find because most second-year students like me don’t have much previous work experience. To a potential employer, work experience is more important than grades, so even though I had good grades, my lack of previous employment made my job search harder. After applying for around 30 positions, I managed to score one interview. Fortunately, this was the only interview I needed, as I was placed with the company soon after. The job was a typical example of what a junior student can expect to get: it was a software quality assurance (QA) job and it didn’t require much advanced knowledge or technical skills. This was probably one of the reasons why I managed to survive my interview, since I didn’t have much in terms of technical skills at the time. The spiffy new suit (at the time) I wore probably helped too.
I started my job almost immediately after my second year exams ended. My employer was a small upstart company that made mobile phone software. My primary responsibility was to manually install and test the software on various devices, and report bugs if there’s a problem. Obviously it wasn’t the most exciting job in the world, but it sure beats working in a fast-food restaurant or supermarket. This job is also the first time I have worked in an office environment. One thing about working in an office was that even though it was a software company with a casual dress code, I couldn’t just wander around with track pants like I do at school. Now that I think about it, I probably can’t wear track pants to a job unless I’m an athlete or a sports coach of some sort. Still though, it was probably the first time in my life where I actually wore jeans on a consistent basis. I was also a little worried about things such as office politics and getting along with people at the company, but those worries were unfounded as the people were friendly and office politics didn’t really concern co-op students like me.
Even though my job was fairly mundane, there were a couple of things I liked about my first employer. First of all the office was located close to my home, so transportation was never a problem. Secondly because the company is small with only around 50 people, pretty much everyone knew who everyone else was, and overall the company was a close-knit community. The small size of the company also probably has something to do with the fact that there were free food in the cupboards and fridge, although I rarely took advantage of the snacks because I was trying to watch my weight. The last thing that was good about my first employer was that they did a lot of fun stuff. Some examples include playing soccer against other companies, a movie day, and bi-weekly “meetings” that are more or less for eating and having fun. I also attended the company’s summer barbecue(s) and I actually won a pretty nice prize during the lucky draw.
Despite the good things about my first employer, I chose not to seek an extension with them for my second co-op term. This is mostly because I wanted to get experience from various different environments from co-op and I wanted to try something new. To get my second placement I did go for a couple of interviews. There was one interview for a software developer position and I got hammered during that interview because my software background was a bit weak, since I’m not a computer science or computer engineering student. In the end, I was placed into a software QA position yet again.
My second co-op employer was a much larger company that made telecommunications equipment. The office I worked at had around 150 people and it was quite crowded. Instead of getting my own cubicle like my first co-op term, I was shoved into a small window-less room in the back of the office with a couple of other co-ops. I was still doing software QA, but this time around everything was more or less automated, so the only times I had to do anything were to set up test beds and configure some scripts. Most of the tests took a while to run, some even more than a day, so in between running tests I was mostly chatting with all the other co-ops that were sitting in the room.
In terms of the pros and cons of my second employer, one of the cons was that the office was located at a somewhat out-of-the-way place and it takes quite a while to get there by public transit. There was also the cramped little room the co-ops had to sit in, although that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as it gave us a chance to chat among other things. The good thing about this employer was that it also had plenty of social events where I had fun and free food, although it’s not free food all the time like my first co-op employer. Employees, including co-ops, also had access to the building’s fitness room. This was a good thing for me since I needed to work off the pounds I gained through my first co-op term. The last pro about this placement was despite the (relatively) simple job duties, we (the co-ops) are actually paid very well. I’m not sure why that’s the case, but I certainly didn’t mind it.
As always, time passes very quickly when I actually have something to do, so it was Christmas before I realized it. Overall, my first two terms as a co-op student was pretty positive. I acquired some work experience to put on my resume, made some money to pay for my tuition and expensive but mostly useless textbooks, and gained a couple of acquaintances who I could use for references. It certainly wasn’t a bad way to spend eight months, and working as a co-op was definitely less stressful than going to school. At least I didn’t have to do homework or study when I worked.