Stefan Zivkovic, a third-year Management Engineering student shares his co-op experiences and how he went from a web developer to stock trading in two years.
Term 1: Systems and process engineer at Epic Parking Control Services, Canada.
Term 2: Web developer at Horizn, Canada.
Term 3: Equity derivatives trading intern on the Structured Notes Trading Desk at TD Bank Group, Canada.
Term 4: Trading intern on the Euro Relative Value Desk at Capula Investment Management LLP, England.
Stefan’s co-op journey
Management Engineering co-op is a great program, I truly enjoy it! My peers and I love having the freedom to explore various opportunities each co-op term and will usually end up having very different co-op experiences. For example, some go into tech, some do product management and others go into finance and a variety of fields in between. It's very broad. I have heard many interesting stories from other students in my program.
My first co-op was definitely the most challenging to find. It was right at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. March 2020 came around and almost no one could find a job through WaterlooWorks. This was a huge stressor for me at the time and pushed me to arrange my own placement for the co-op term. It ended up being a fantastic opportunity! I was working as a process engineer at a small business called Epic Parking.
Term 1: While at Epic Parking, I worked alongside my close friend and fellow classmate, Michael Clermont. On our first day there, there were some internal issues and we didn’t have access to the technology needed to complete our work. Because of this, Michael and I worked to rebuild the whole parking management system from scratch within the four-month term.
We taught ourselves for the first month and a half about web development and the tools that we could use. Then we spent the next two and a half months rebuilding everything and they actually still use parts of what we built to this day. My first co-op is what got me into tech to begin with. I didn't have much coding experience before that. It was a great learning experience.
Term 2: I spent my next co-op term working as a web developer at Horizn. In comparison to Epic Parking, this was a larger company - around 70 to 100 employees, and it was still growing. To my benefit, the platforms and coding languages I used at Horizn were all based on what I learned for my first co-op. However, it was a completely different experience as it was no longer just me and another co-op student working together to decide what gets done. Now I was part of a team where I was following other professionals and learning how to take my coding skills to another level.
I went from being self-taught and having complete autonomy to learning from established professionals and becoming familiar with the industry standards. My first co-op was like jumping into a pool for the first time and learning to float, whereas my second allowed me to redefine my skills and learn how to swim.
Term 3: I spent my third co-op working as an equity derivative trading intern at TD Bank, which was a big pivot for me. I still wrote a lot of code but the role was a lot less focused on web development and more on derivatives trading. On the side, I have always been passionate about trading and learning about financial markets so I was really excited for this opportunity. Conveying this passion coupled with my previous web development experience led my team to hire me. They wanted someone with a strong technical background that was excited and driven to learn about the finance side of things. Their thought process was that they could teach me the basics related to our niche market over the term but having a strong technical background is something that I’d need to refine over a few years first. I learned so much during this co-op and it was eye-opening in terms of getting involved in trading.
What I learned from TD led to my most recent co-op, working as a quantitative research intern at a hedge fund called Capula Investment in London, England. In this role, I was conducting research, back testing strategies, developing python scripts and creating internal tools. One of my main projects was validating and presenting a trading strategy to the senior executives. I would take a trade idea and write a program that would check historical data in order to see if the beliefs were supported in the past and under which conditions the trade idea would be profitable.
Throughout my co-op journey, my entire philosophy was to take advantage of all the opportunities and try as many things as possible, and I did just that. I wanted to try a job in tech, finance and product management. Going in, I thought by the end I would have settled on what jobs I liked. I thought when I graduated, I could look back and decide, okay, out of all my co-op experiences, which one was my favourite? What industry do I want to go in?
Term 4: However, working at Capula in London was such a great experience that I decided to use my last co-op to go back. It would have been great to try out a different role related to product management with my remaining co-op but I couldn’t let this opportunity pass and had to take advantage of it.
The work was amazing and the environment over there was very welcoming. I really felt as if they valued me rather than just being someone to do work for them. Although I was only supposed to be there for one co-op term, I never felt like a temporary employee. I could tell they were invested in my long-term success, whether that be with or without them. They made me feel as if I was part of the family and they knew how I could positively impact them.
My time in London, England
Thankfully my company handled flights, visas and provided a monthly accommodation allowance so I didn’t have to worry too much about that. I gave myself two weeks before I started work to fly into London, visit family in Croatia and visit friends/family who happened to be in London too. It was nice to familiarize myself with the city and experience the nightlife before getting to work. Once I started working, I made sure to plan some weekend trips. Some of my favourite trips included Scotland, Croatia, Bosnia, Hungary, Czech Republic and Spain. I also took advantage of my free time by exploring London and its very diverse neighbourhoods, mostly on foot as I found walking was one of the best ways to see the city.
The culture in London compared to here is completely different. Europeans know how to work hard and then be very social afterwards. Co-workers would always go out for drinks together after work and would stop and chat in the office and lounge spaces. Throughout the day, if you ever want to talk with someone, you just ask if they want to go for a quick break upstairs to the lounge and chat for a bit or grab a coffee or even play some ping pong. Everyone's always open for a conversation and they're always inviting you out to football matches or other activities.
The overall European culture was amazing and my team's culture was even better. Whenever something interesting was going on, they'd call me over and tell me to sit behind them and explain everything they were doing while they were doing it.
In my first month, I was completely lost with the jargon they used. But once I got the hang of it, it was quite simple. If I ever had a question they would invite me over and chat about it. You have an idea, let's go through it. Even the office space was just rows of desks instead of cubicles so you could see everyone. Everyone would talk to each other throughout the entire office.
In this job, you need to collaborate with your team constantly and it can get very loud. If there was a big news day, about inflation or anything like that, everyone was glued to their screens, all watching together, felt like you were watching the Superbowl.
Advantages of WaterlooWorks
I found all but one of my co-op jobs on WaterlooWorks. I love the platform and the co-op program because I don't think I would have had these opportunities without it.
WaterlooWorks also entices its alumni to help current students with their career search. One of the partners at Capula, as well as one full-time trader and two analysts, had all graduated from the University of Waterloo. I believe that this is why Capula knew to advertise its posting on WaterlooWorks. They are slowly building, slowly creating a Waterloo culture. Learn how Capula is investing in Waterloo students.
The interview process was super straightforward for me. I did two interviews, one interview with HR and one with my supervisor. WaterlooWorks helped standardize and organize the interview process while providing me with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I will always be grateful for.
My advice for other co-op students
1. Don't be afraid to look at international opportunities. There is so much to learn from travel and you never know what you might discover.
2. Use co-op like a four-month trial period, take advantage of that. Even if you think your first co-op is your favourite job ever, make sure you try different things - this is the time to do it pre-graduation!
3. Just apply! Even if you don't think you could possibly get the job, still apply. I didn't think that I was going to be able to get into finance and then two co-ops later it's what I think I'm going to be going into full-time after graduation.
4. If you're interested in something, go outside of what you think you're suited for and just try it. A lot of companies like teaching people fresh because sometimes students come in with these predetermined ideas they learned in school that don’t match the companies. If you want to give it a shot, go for it. Don't hold yourself from applying just because you think you're not going to get it.
Following my London co-op and my 3B term, I have decided to take my next co-op term off. I have chosen to take the time to work on a start-up with my roommates. While devoting much of the term to the start-up, I would also like to get some traveling done. I wanted time to be able to focus on everything that I want to do. I am still treating this like a co-op term and seeing if working for myself is something I would enjoy doing in the future.
I'm excited to see what the next four months bring and then return back to Capula in London for my final co-op term.