As a student, it can be daunting to decide which co-op positions to apply for, considering many postings will ask for skills that may not be in one’s repertoire. When I first started applying to co-op jobs, I chose to ignore software related postings. I was not comfortable working in such roles because the required skills were often not in line with the skills I had. In this article, I will provide a brief overview about my co-op experiences, how I finally decided to apply to software related positions, and how this decision has impacted me.
My First Co-op
My first Co-op was with MENRVA Research Group at SFU, where I worked in the development and testing of a biomedical device which aims to help people suffering from hypertension intolerance by assisting the flow of blood by applying external pressure on the calves. I was working on development of the User Interface (UI), improving the electronic driver, building a prototype of this device and assisting with human trials. UI development was a major component of the job because without it, there would be no automatic way to control the electronic driver and to use the device for human trials. Along with that, I worked on building prototypes where I redesign and 3D print various parts which pruned my engineering skills and pushed me to learn more. This co-op gave me further confidence in my abilities due to the fact that my existing skill set was challenged.
As a Mechatronic Systems Engineering (MSE) student, I have not done many programming courses and had no experience in software development or testing. I had a lot of self doubt regarding the responsibilities required by such a job. Would I be able to successfully complete the tasks and provide optimum results for my employer? However, after developing a UI at my first co-op, I overcame my fear of programming. This experience made me rethink my approach for applying to co-op jobs because it gave me confidence that I could do any software related jobs well.
Getting a Software Co-op
For my second co-op, I started applying for software engineering related positions. Although they were not within my comfort zone, I faced my fear head on by taking any opportunity that showed up. This outlook landed me a position as an Embedded Software Engineer Co-op at Exegin Technologies Ltd.
My first week was challenging and I was worried about how I was going to succeed in the job. Everything was new to me and although it was a great opportunity to learn and develop my skills as an engineer, it came with its own challenges. To overcome them, I decided to go over the responsibilites of the job and what skills I would have to apply. This particular co-op often switched between software testing & development, I had very little work & course experience in either of those two fields. However, I managed to excel at my work by focusing on paying attention to details, adapting to situations, and continuously learning in order to prepare myself for various problems that I may come across.
A week into my new job, I was given various products to test based on a wireless technology known as ZigBee. This is used in various products like smart electric meters, gas meters, and to control lighting & other devices in smart houses. The first thing I had to do was to learn how they work, and next to test them. In order to do this, I made full use of all the resources provided to me. I started reading books about ZigBee protocols and payed close attention to my seniors when they answered my questions. For testing, I had to be extra careful as our company was preparing for an test event which required the product to be working.
By carefully following the test specification which consisted of different test cases, I tested our product’s functionality. After the first month I was getting lots of positive feedback from everyone at work. The company's managing director said to one of my supervisors that I am a fast learner. Both of my supervisors noted that I was swift in understanding the code and I provided accurate working test outputs
Also, they pointed out that I am good at rigorous testing because I pay attention to every minute detail. Receiving this feedback was very encouraging and it helped to approach my tasks with more confidence. With this new confidence I have, I felt able to work any type of engineering position.
When I began my mechatronics degree, it was one of my dreams to get experience in mechanical, electrical and software fields through the co-op program. Overall, these co-op positions not only gave me a phenomenal understanding of all three engineering fields (which was one of my dreams) but my experience has also helped me to overcome my fear of entering the software world, a place I was not very experienced in. My advice to anyone who is similar to myself is to apply to jobs that make you uncomfortable and challenge your skills. You will grow and learn a lot by inserting yourself into unfamiliar environments.
Beyond the Blog
Interested in learning about opportunities like Ramandeep's? Visit the Engineering Science Co-op homepage.