For much of my life, when words like “Information Technology” came up in conversations, all I could picture was a bunch of computer geeks lined up in an assembly line formation in a basement doing “computer stuff.” I knew that I didn’t want anything to do with that. However, my co-op experience has changed my perspective and has opened even more doors for me than I could think of.
Now working in the technology field, it is not what I had imagined initially. It clearly requires a lot of collaboration with stakeholders, finding requirements from clients and problem solving within a team or individually. I’ve had the opportunity to spend the last eight months working for SFU’s IT Project Management Office as a Project Administrator and it has been one of the most value-adding and enriching experiences of my life. The opportunity to apply the things I learned in a practical business environment has forced me to think beyond what I learned in the classroom. In fact, it has drastically shifted my view on how I produce quality work as it requires constant adaptability, patience, and dedication to a task; and most importantly, I had to apply my skills to a real working environment.
The one thing I would constantly ask myself, even before my co-op term began, was - “how can I provide value to an organization?”
In attempting to tackle this question during my co-op, I’ve made an interesting discovery - providing value to an organization was not just a one-way exchange. Instead, it gave me so much more in return. I like to think that people are unique in their own ways, and for this reason, there are certain things only I can do when working for an organization. Despite not possessing any prior experience in a technology company, I relied on my skills and emotional intelligence that I had acquired over years of failures and successes in different work environments.
One of the key things I wanted to work on in my co-op term was how to ask quality questions and offer solutions in a work environment. In my opinion, the best way to provide value to an organization is coming up with a solution first (even if it’s bad) and then asking what your supervisor’s thoughts are. It is a lot easier to ask a question before attempting to tackle it, and I did not want the easy way out. I made it a point to offer my own opinion first when working on projects, and it paid off! I was able to come up with creative solutions, on my own, for technological workflow enhancements with patience and collaboration.
The organization uses SharePoint for a lot of its business processes; including documentation storage, collaboration, task management, etc. My task was to improve processes within the IT department and I was able to utilize licensed third-party software to create automated workflows and forms within SharePoint. A lot of information had to be gathered by researching and collaborating with people that were not on my team, allowing me to find a footing before I reached out to my supervisor for help.
I was also privileged to be part of SFU’s Email Calendar System Team as we migrated the university from the old email system to Microsoft Exchange. This was another area of work that focused more on documentation of email desktop client setups, email tutorials and meetings with staff from all over the university as this was a campus-wide initiative. I had to continually listen to the requests and needs of numerous different users of the email system. They all had their own personal use for it and I had to cater to the type of training that suited their email functionality. I was able to take a behind-the-scenes approach with the email system at SFU and see the wide impact it has on the university. It was an honor to play a part in enhancing this important tool for both students and faculty.
SFU’s Project Management Office now uses the workflows to help with documentation intake, automated notifications, project site development and other features that enhance the fluidity of their processes. Never had I thought that my work would be used by actual SFU staff!
This experience has allowed me to take an agile approach to the projects I’ve been working on because it allowed me to take a continuous improvement approach. It has taken many reiterations and trial and error processes to constantly make it better. Even though the workflow product is in place, I am always communicating with stakeholders and listening to their changing requirements because the only way to grow is by being adaptive to change and by listening to what the consumer wants.
As someone who didn’t have a lot of direct experience in a technological setting, providing value to the organization had to come from something much bigger than my direct skill set. I had to go out, talk to people, figure out my own solutions; and if I failed, I had to try again. From my own experience, I highly recommend the co-op program as it helped me to grow beyond the classroom, and I even surprised myself with the value I could provide to my organization.