This post is a reflection on my experience through all stages of the co-op process from student to employer. I was recently awarded “Co-op Super Supervisor” in 2021 which prompted the writing of this post. If you are a prospective co-op student from UBC you will likely find a posting or two from my company, xyzdigital each work term (at the time of writing Summer 2022 openings are filled).
From Prospective Student Co-op
I entered the Faculty of Applied Science (aka engineering) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in 2010. The first year of the engineering program is common across all engineering disciplines. One course is specifically responsible for introducing the different kinds of engineering and how the program works in general. My dream was to build video game hardware, so I selected Computer Engineering after hearing that this was the discipline most closely aligned with that goal.
This course also introduced the Co-op program to me and I knew right away that was something I would join. Only half a year in and I had already racked up several thousand dollars of debt for tuition and housing. I knew I was going to need some way to fund the rest of the degree, and the co-op program seemed like a great option.
What is the Co-op Program?
At UBC (University of British Columbia), each faculty runs its own co-op program to help match employers with students in fields related to their studies. The Engineering Co-op program advertises that it helps you: “develop your technical skills, make industry connections, gain firsthand experience, test out career options or apply your classroom learning to real-world problems.”
Prior to university, I lived in the U.S. and due to my immigration status was not legally able to work there. Having a program specifically focused on getting a job in my field was tremendously helpful to overcome this. The program taught me how to make a resume, write a cover letter, interview, and apply for a job.
To Co-op Student
I remember feeling like I was never going to get a job during my first round of applications. My co-op coordinator recommended that I apply to locations outside of Vancouver and lo and behold - I landed my first job as a Game Developer in Kelowna BC. My experience there is enough to fill its own full post. By the end of my 8 months working there, my understanding of software rose to an entirely new level.
Over the course of my degree, I completed five 4-month work terms across 3 different companies. My final co-op placement was on the FIFA game team at Electronics Arts; this led to a full time position with them right after I graduated.
Along the way I met many mentors that helped shape me into the person that I am today. Each one offered a different perspective, helping me better understand the software development process as a whole.
Thanks to the co-op program, I was able to walk away with a degree almost debt free - with 20 months of industry experience, and a full time job offer. I was also able to experience what working in a variety of software companies was like. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how valuable the whole experience really was.
To Co-op Super Supervisor
At the tail end of 2019 I started to make plans for hiring software developers in Vancouver. You can all guess why this plan didn’t pan out for 2020. Flash forward to January 2021 when two co-op students arrived on my virtual doorstep.
Having been through the co-op program, I still remembered what it was like to start your first work term at a company - challenging. Worse yet, these two co-ops were joining mid-pandemic and would be starting out fully remote.
The one thing I didn’t like about most of my co-op positions was the overall lack of ownership and responsibility. Ironically, it was my first work term that I was given the most hands on software development work. When hiring new co-ops, I told myself (and them) that I wanted them to be as involved as any other employee.
I couldn’t have asked for a better first pair of co-op students. The energy and excitement brought by both of the co-ops had a huge effect on everyone at the company. Despite only being physically in the same place a handful of times over the 8 month work term, our team felt like a tight knit community.
I was surprised to find an email at the end of their term notifying me that I joined the ranks of Co-op Super Supervisors.
In a time when hiring experienced software developers is difficult and prohibitively expensive for a nascent software company, I knew the co-op program would help bridge the gap. It is imperative that employers take their share of responsibility in teaching the next generation of software developers. Instead of doubling max-min salaries and other ridiculous compensation tools employed by top software companies, we should be looking towards engaging the younger generation to close this gap.
Despite having no previous web development experience, both co-op students were up and running in less than 2 months. By the end of their work term, they were nearly indistinguishable in output from a regular full time employee. Their University coursework has given them a wonderful base knowledge of fundamentals, and it is the industry’s responsibility to build upon that knowledge.
I’m happy to have come full circle with the co-op program. I intend to continue hiring students and encourage any other software companies across Canada to do the same.