This article was originally published on SFU News on Feb. 1, 2016.
Steven Phan professional journey started long before he got a prize job as an interaction designer at Google. The SFU student’s career success started after he enrolled as a SIAT student and took advantage of the school’s co-op program.
What Phan didn’t anticipate is that his co-op experience would take him from SAP’s Vancouver-based office, where he learned the ropes of user-experience design, to the fast-paced world of the Silicon Valley, working for tech heavyweights Facebook and now Google.
“SAP helped put my foot in the door with real credibility. It gave me an amazing opportunity to work with designers in the field and was a great learning experience that got me out of my comfort zone,” says Phan. “But I knew there was a bigger world out there. I knew I had to learn from the best, and the best were in San Francisco working in companies that were right on the cutting-edge of technology and design.”
Although Phan’s work experience developed the talents tech companies were looking for, it was his effort to maintain a strong network of colleagues, mentors and co-op alumni that gave him the upper hand in hopes of cracking into Silicon Valley’s tech scene.
“Discovering the opportunities in the Silicon Valley was a great extent thanks to connecting with SIAT alumni on LinkedIn. I learned about the opportunity at Facebook by reaching out to a SIAT alumnus who was connected with the company. I told him that I wanted to try something different and he suggested working at Facebook. So I applied, went through a very rigorous interview, and ended up getting a position as a product designer intern,” says Phan.
SFU President Andrew Petter says that co-op is an important part of the university’s commitment to engaging students in an educational experience that will prepare them for success in their careers.
He says that the development of a strong network of peers—especially SFU alumni—is a hidden gem of a student’s co-op experience.
“With co-op’s 40th Anniversary, we’ve had opportunity to not only reflect on the program’s growth, but to strengthen the relationships with co-op alumni,” says Petter. “Today, many SFU co-op alumni have gone on to be leaders and innovators in their fields, and are now completing the cycle by creating opportunities for current co-op students. Stories like Steven’s demonstrate why SFU is Canada’s engaged university.”
Phan, now reflecting back on his co-op journey, says he can’t stress enough the importance of holding-on to the connections a student makes.
He says it only takes one contact to get the referral to the dream job you always wanted, and the co-op alumni community is a great place to find those contacts.