Finding your way when things don’t go as planned

Paniz Ojaghi (she/her), a second year Software Engineering student talks about her first attempt at the co-op application process and discusses how she navigated employment in the engineering field.

Paniz did not find a co-op position in time for her first work term. After a lot of research and hard work, she found her first work experience with the help of the Waterloo Experience (WE) Accelerate program.

Work term: Paniz worked as the project lead developer in the Microsoft Azure Artificial Intelligence stream at the University of Waterloo. She worked in the field of data science and machine learning in this position.

Q: Can you share something you achieved while on co-op?

An image of Paniz

At my first co-op, my greatest achievement was that I expanded my knowledge in a very short period of time. Initially, I was not very confident and didn’t know my potential. However, after I interacted with everyone on my team and spoke to my fellow peers in the WE Accelerate program, I was able to understand where I needed to improve my skills and practices.

In my second co-op, I was able to improve my teamwork skills. Until then, I did not have a lot of experience with sharing my work and collaborating with others. As such, working in this position allowed me to understand when and how to share my workload with others. I was able to receive consistent feedback about my collaboration skills from my peers and supervisor which was very helpful.”

Q: Did you have to overcome any obstacles during your co-op?

A: “I remember having several technical problems where I was not able to figure out the next steps to a problem because my colleagues had different expertise and strength areas. However, I decided to make the most of this challenge and create a guidebook for myself. Every time I faced a problem, I found and verified my solution and then catalogued it for future use.”

Q: What did you learn about yourself on co-op?An image of Paniz's work set up

A: “Through my work term, I was able to leverage my skills in terms of the hands-on work. However, I was also able to identify a few characteristics and preferences of mine that I was not aware of before. My biggest learning was that I really enjoy working independently. When I am working on a task, I enjoy being able to give it my undivided attention and look at it from all angles. I often find that several individuals are more interested in getting the work done rather than relishing the process of learning and implementing knowledge.”

“Before starting this work term, I was certain that I was an extremely shy individual. But as I worked on various tasks, I discovered that I am more of a leader than a follower. I enjoy having the responsibility of getting tasks done and ensuring that everyone is doing their bit to contribute to the project.”

Q: Your experiences have shown you both sides of the application process for co-op. What tips do you have for first time co-op students?

A: “Always write your résumé before you enter the study term. Not having my résumé ready in time was one of the biggest reasons why I was unable to find my first co-op in the regular manner. I had underestimated how demanding and immensely challenging my 1B study term would be. I did not have time to produce my best version of a résumé. There were too many things going on and I felt a lot of pressure. Therefore, having your résumé ready as soon as possible is always the best way to go.”

“For fellow engineering students, my advice would be to join a design team on your first co-op. If you do not have any prior experience in the tech field, this is a very good introduction into that space. My last tip would be to always have a personal passion project. Having something that is not related to your work term or study term is beneficial to your résumé as it shows your ability to innovate and take initiative. For example, I created a code on my computer to control LED lights without having to use the remote control at all. This is just my example, but finding your passion is so important.”

Q: What’s next for you?

A: “I am a transfer student, so understanding the processes of a new university was interesting. Now that I have an idea of the direction I am headed in, I can focus all of my energy on my work and projects. My biggest goal is to find a balance between my personal life and academic career. I regularly try to learn tips and tricks on how to carry of practical time management skills.”

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