Skylar Ji, a second-year Computer Science student, shares her very first co-op experience, the skills she’s developed within mobile development, and how she aims to expand upon those skills within future CS and software roles.
I'm currently working in my first co-op work term as a DevOps Engineer at RBC, where I'm responsible for deploying and maintaining the company's various mobile apps for iOS and Android devices.
What’s it like working at RBC? How did you get the job?
Working at RBC has been a really nice experience! I was able to obtain the job through participating in RBC's Summer Tech Labs program as a high school student, but I mainly participated in the program remotely and thus I wasn't able to fully experience the work environment and culture that RBC has to offer.
As a co-op student this term, I was able to realize how much RBC values its employees. Everyone on my team has been super nice and easy to work with (with occasionally free food during our standups), and I was able to join a few events/socials as well which I'm hoping to do more of during my last few weeks of the term.
What is the most important skill you have brought to your specific role and what new skills will you leave with?
Throughout my co-op term, the most important skill I brought to my specific role was my willingness to learn and take initiative when faced with new tasks.
Transitioning into the DevOps field was challenging since I lacked foundational knowledge compared to my colleagues. To bridge this gap, I proactively enrolled in online courses to familiarize myself with the tech stack and sought clarification whenever needed. Additionally, I volunteered for various projects, allowing me to gain insights into different DevOps aspects and collaborate with diverse team members.
Regarding new skills, I have gained a lot more experience in command-line operations and applying concepts from the CS136L course to the real world. In addition, I honed my ability to construct Jenkins pipelines for automated building, testing, and deployment, and I became proficient in cloud technologies, including Docker and OCP for containerization and orchestration. Beyond technical skills, I also developed essential soft skills such as communicating effectively in both professional and casual settings and collaborating harmoniously with individuals of different personalities.
Have you developed any working habits that you will use within your next work term or even to attack your next study term?
I think the biggest working habit that I will use within my next work term and my next study term is to document everything and plan my day/week in advance.
In terms of documentation, I often find that I tend to forget a lot of the concepts that I've gained through tackling different projects/tasks throughout my work term, on top of the different challenges and learning situations I've faced. Making sure that I note everything down using Notion has helped a lot.
In addition, I felt like I struggled a bit at the beginning in terms of not making the most out of my time throughout the day. I would spend a large majority of it finding tasks to do, but also having a backlog of tasks for the week as well. Writing down a plan in advance has definitely helped a lot and I will also be taking this into my next study term as well as when I'm balancing my classes and extracurricular work.
What has been an example of a challenge or a learning experience you’ve encountered?
One particular challenge I faced was designing a series of alerts to track the online/offline status of the company's MacBook Minis.
Implementing this required using the search processing language in Splunk, which I had no prior experience with. Despite extensive research, I struggled to synchronize the alerts with all MacBooks.
Realizing the need for assistance, I reached out to my team for guidance. Though they lacked direct experience with Splunk alerts, their expertise in DevOps helped me approach the problem creatively and technically. This experience taught me the value of seeking help from teammates and leveraging their collective knowledge to solve complex issues effectively.
What has been among your biggest accomplishments this term?
At the beginning of the term, one of the biggest goals that my manager wanted me to pursue was to gain more confidence in my communication abilities, which was quite difficult for me at first as I'm someone that's pretty reserved when it comes to meeting and talking with others.
However, I pushed myself throughout the term to interact with as many people as possible and to not overanalyze everything that I say, which has definitely helped me be more authentic and confident when I talk.
I was even able to utilize this during RBC's T&O Student Program Case Competition, where I was able to apply the communication skills that I honed throughout the term to deliver a successful pitch. I offered a solution to solve a real problem that the company has been facing which allowed our team to place first out of 21 total teams which I'm incredibly proud of.
What was your job search process like? Did you find your role internally or externally?
I feel grateful for discovering my co-op role externally through RBC's Summer Tech Labs program, which I participated in last summer as a high school student.
Although I received a return offer, I still went through one round of applications on WaterlooWorks to gain experience with the platform and the job search process. Though it was stressful, the experience gave me valuable insights that I will apply when seeking my next co-op position in the future.
Do you have any advice for other co-op students?
I would say that my biggest advice is to go out and talk to as many people as possible.
I was pretty reserved when the co-op term began as I was working with a bunch of adults for the first time, but as I was able to pair with my team members and have lunch with them, I was able to understand their working styles and what they're interested in outside of work. Something that I found to be extremely valuable.
In addition, don't be afraid to reach out to people to work with them if you're interested in what they're working on! For example, it was through reaching out that I was able to learn about a variety of things ranging from Docker and OpenShift to Jenkins pipelines and MacBook hardware.
What’s next for you?
My next step would most likely be to continue exploring different areas of CS/software engineering and see which aspect I would be more interested in as a future career through my courses and future co-ops.
I think my biggest fear is to be stuck with something that I don't feel fulfilled with doing as a career, so I want to take my time to properly explore each aspect to ensure that I'm making the right choices in the future.