Co-op student leads national project for Microsoft

Gaining business experience with a tech giant

After I applied for a co-op term at Microsoft, I didn't think a lot about it. Being in an Arts program, I thought I wasn't a student they'd typically hire. I was wrong.

Nicole and fellow co-op student work on laptopsI landed an interview and with my previous experience, I was able to show that I could make an impact at Microsoft. I was hired as a Marketing Associate on Microsoft's retail services team.

A project I led and am proud to be taking forward is Microsoft's Retail Demo Experience (RDX), a program that's pre-installed onto Windows devices such as the Microsoft Surface and is activated when that device becomes a demo in retail stores.

My job was to customize the content for select retailers across Canada and to help in the activation & RDX removal process.


A great place to work

I was drawn to Microsoft because of its strong brand in technology and because it had a reputation of being collaborative and a great place to work. I also wanted to diversify my work experience because the world is so tech focused. And it's especially true coming from an Arts background where employers often don't think you have the skills to be successful.

I like to challenge myself and learn new things. When a task came up, and I maybe wouldn't have been the first choice co-op to take it on, I raised my hand and was able to learn something new.

The autonomy and creativity to lead projects

At Microsoft, I worked on a lot of initiatives that I was able to lead on my own, which was very cool. I wasn't just given support tasks that maybe someone would think that an intern would take on.

microsoft surfaceMy position developed into a project management role where I was given the autonomy and creative freedom to execute projects – with responsibilities that I would be given as if I were a full-time Microsoft employee.

The Retail Demo Experience was quite a technical task and I was able to take that on. When managers were looking for a co-op student to help, I volunteered, knowing that while I didn't have a technical background, my previous experience and what I could bring to the role made sense in having me take on that role.

I'd have calls with the Microsoft head office in Redmond... then I was responsible for executing the program throughout Canada.

To be a co-op student and be the point of contact for a program throughout Canada was very cool. Every week, I'd have calls with the Microsoft head office in Redmond, Washington, and then would convey that information to the Canadian team. Then, I was responsible for executing the program throughout Canada.

Microsoft headquarters in Redmond

Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, which Nicole would call each week to discuss her project. Source: Microsoft

Arts + business + Microsoft co-op

My Social Development Studies (SDS) major has complemented my Honours Arts and Business degree so seamlessly, especially in my co-op terms in communications, marketing, and promotions. This is because SDS has taught me how other people think, behave, and make decisions.

Bringing a human element to the workplace is very important. An arts degree allows students to think strategically and critically about difficult situations. For example, when something complex would came up at Microsoft, I could think critically about the problem, come up with a plan of attack, and then execute on that strategy.

You learn different perspectives as an Arts student. You can learn technical skills on the job but Arts teaches you broader skills, such as motivations and behaviour in the workplace.

Seeing problems in a different way

As a student in Waterloo's Faculty of Arts, I take a wide array of courses that provide an interdisciplinary perspective in seeing problems in different ways. My sociology courses help me understand groups and how people can work together while my psychology courses provide insights into individuals and the way that people think.

My business courses, where there's a lot of group work, helps co-op students become better team members, which is absolutely vital for going into the workforce.

2 students standing and talking to an advisor
Social Development Studies is one of 25 majors in Waterloo's Faculty of Arts. Advisors can help you pick the major that's right for you.

Tips from Nicole for succeeding in co-op

  • If you have lots of interests or you're unsure of your career direction, Waterloo's co-op program is a great way to figure out what you like.
  • Learn how to bounce back. For example, after some interviews where I didn't get the job, I gained some volunteer experience so that I had a better résumé and more talking points during interviews.
  • You'll always learn something during co-op terms, even if it's that you're not interested in that career area.
  • Co-op showed what me what I needed to learn outside of class to help with my goals.
  • Co-op is a great way to learn about companies, even if you don't get the job. Just reading job descriptions and getting interviews is really valuable to learn what jobs are out there are what skills are needed.