Cracking the code to a successful co-op term

Prabhsharan Singh Sethi (he/him), a second-year Mathematics student, shares what he’s learned from his first co-op term at the Centre for Work-Integrated Learning. From interview preparation to finding a sense of belonging in his first year, Prahbsharan shares real challenges facing co-op students.

Prabhsharan's co-op journey

Work term one: Prabhsharan began his co-op journey as an e-learning developer assistant at the Center for Work-Integrated Learning (WIL). Using HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Bootstrap, he developed student-facing websites and worked on the backend of Waterloo LEARN to update courses and modules while following accessibility standards.

Q&A with Prabhsharan

lWhat was your experience with applying to jobs? 

“Initially, I was super nervous about whether I would get a job. A lot of my friends struggled to find a co-op placement and did the Waterloo Experience (WE) Accelerate program or the Bridging Entrepreneurs to Students (BETS) program instead. It was pretty brutal, so I thought I would have to do the same.”

“Until WaterlooWorks opened, I tried to apply for as many jobs as possible on LinkedIn, but I didn't get a single interview. I think that may be because on LinkedIn a lot of professionals are applying so employers tend to pick professionals over students. Looking on LinkedIn is still useful though, because you can get an idea of the future jobs that you want and the type of skills that you need.”

“When the job cycle started, I applied to a bunch of jobs in WaterlooWorks, but I never thought I would get selected. Out of the blue, I got interviews and then I was ranked for multiple positions and offered the one I currently have. It was pretty shocking to me because I never thought I would get an offer, let alone a coding job.”

“One thing that I would like tell students reading my blog is that even though I am an international student, and I didn't have access to the jobs that were reserved for Canadian citizens, like many startup ones, I still got a job. Even if you are not a Computer Science student and you want to apply for software jobs, it doesn't hurt. People get scared by looking at the number of applicants, but there’s no harm in applying. Even if you get an interview but not the job, you can learn from your mistakes in the interview so that you can improve for next time.”

Prabhsharan doing a peace sign with his hand. How did you prepare for your first cycle of co-op interviews? 

“To prepare for the job cycle, I did a bunch of mock interviews which were helpful. They helped me improve my answers and think about what interviewers are looking for. I also asked fourth year students what types of questions they usually get asked during interviews. They told me to prepare to use LeetCode, but I think it depends on what type of job you're applying to because in some interviews they want you to code, but others are basic question and answer.”

“What helped me stand out were my projects because I didn't have that much work experience as a high schooler. When reading job descriptions, I saw that JavaScript and React were two trending languages in the market, so I spent most of my time working on personal projects. But learning the language isn’t enough. You need a project to go along with that.”

“I also made a professional portfolio using React, which was a fun experience. I think that's what got me a job offer, because it’s something that I don't think many Math students would make in their second year.”

Prabhsharan in fornt of Gurudwara Singh Sabha in CambridgeHow can you find community and belonging in your first year?

“Home sickness was a major thing that impacted me. I didn't think that it would be that bad when I first arrived, but after a few days went by I was getting homesick a lot. I tried to immerse myself in work and studies, but that's the curse of the creative mind, whenever you stop thinking about work, you start thinking about something else and that was home for me.”

“I think clubs are a really good way to connect with people. I joined the Computer Science Club and the Data Science Club as a graphic designer because I wanted to do something I like in my Math degree. I also joined the Sikh Student Association (SSA) where I met a lot of fourth year and third year students.”

“Since I'm an international student I tried to find people from my country. I ended up meeting a fourth year who is like an older brother to me. He is from the same country and city, which is pretty coincidental because I’m from a small city. So, finding him was really like finding a needle in a haystack.”

“I also missed homecooked meals and Indian food, and I got to have homemade food at the end of the term because the SSA always has an end of term event in which families who live here bring homecooked meals for everybody.”

Prabhshran on campus at the University of Waterloo.What did you love about working at the Centre for WIL? 

“I really enjoyed trying the new accessibility tools. When designing our website, we check that we’re meeting disability standards for blurry vision and grayscale vision so that people with disabilities can view our site. We also test out websites on the screen readers and on different web browsers like Safari, Chrome and Edge. So, that was a cool experience.”

“We had fun Fridays in which the whole team played virtual games like Scribble. We also connected with different departments like the Professional Development (PD) department. It was a great way to make friends. We were also given the option to join one of three teams: the wellness team, the team building team and the green team. I joined the team building team, which gave me the chance to learn event co-ordination and planning skills.”

“We also have an Adobe subscription, so I have access to all the premium Adobe apps which is cool. We’re currently working with Illustrator, After Effects and Photoshop, but I’ve been experimenting with all of them. I’ve watched a bunch of YouTube tutorials [outside of work]. For Photoshop, I just add my own photos and then try to edit them like people do on Instagram.”

Selfie of Prabhsharan.What achievement(s) or goals are you most proud of? 

“My supervisor told me that co-op is all about self-improvement. I think I’ve become a lot more independent. I used to be given soft deadlines and hard deadlines, but now I set my own. I also used to have set project feedback milestones, like at 10%, 60% and 90%, but now I set up my own independently.”

“In terms of projects, I built a whole PD page with HTML, CSS and Bootstrap. It took three weeks to build but it was totally worth it because I got to do something new and experiment with Bootstrap. I used references from the other courses that have been set up to stay consistent with formatting and even added my own suggestions for the type of content that should be included in the modules.“

Having just started your co-op journey, what’s next for you?

“Academically, I'll be taking CS 136 and trying to score as high as possible to get transferred into Computer Science. However, my fourth-year friend told me that it doesn't matter if you go into Computer Science or stay in Math. What matters is the types of projects you make outside of co-op and school. That's what will get you a job.”

“In the future, I would love to work as a software engineer at Google or Apple because I love coding and I love working, learning and experimenting with new technologies like Adobe and Artificial Intelligence (AI).”

Visit Prabhsharan’s YouTube Channel where he leverages his AI prompting skills to create fully AI-generated videos. 

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