Willow Carmount (she/they), is a third-year Honours Arts and Business student majoring in Peace and Conflict studies, who’s called the University of Waterloo home for five work terms. During this time, she has used co-op as a chance to venture into industries she never thought she would - ultimately discovering a future career in technology.
Willow's co-op journey:
Work term one: Willow’s first co-op role was with the University of Waterloo’s English Language Institute as a programs assistant. Her role was to promote community by organizing and implementing events, completing weekly newsletters and writing articles.
Work term two: Her second co-op was with Renison University College as a marketing and recruitment assistant. During this term, Willow was able to develop her copywriting skills and participate in important conversations regarding equitable opportunities for prospective students. She spent workdays connecting with current and future students and created content for Renison’s social media channels.
Work terms three, four and five: For her past three work terms, Willow has been with the University of Waterloo’s IST department as a WCMS 3 migrations specialist, returning as a senior migration specialist for the latter two. Her responsibilities have included leading the remediation of many University websites post-migration, bug testing, creating and editing technical documents, deleting sites in applications such as Pantheon and supporting stakeholders across campus in learning/optimizing the way they use the new CMS.
Q&A with Willow:
As a programs assistant for the English Language Institute, what were some of the strategies that you used to engage audiences and maximize personability from a remote environment?
“One way we maximized engagement was by meeting the students where they were at. For me, this meant hosting events until 11 p.m. at night to help accommodate students in various time zones and becoming familiar with different text applications from across the world like WeChat, Kakao Talk and Line.”
“The other important part for me was to not think about it as a job all the time. I think as a co-op student in their first placement I had this idea that I’d be wearing suits all day and that everything needed to be super structured/hierarchal. This isn’t necessarily the best fit when you’re trying to cultivate community. Instead, I’d host fairly casual events, and I approached my one-on-one check-ins with the students as just two peers chatting.”
“I was a student just like all the students I was supporting, and bonding over that huge part of our life that we all had in common helped foster some really genuine connections, and it helped students feel more comfortable opening up. I still keep in touch with a few of the students I met through the English Language Institute.”
Do you think venturing out of your comfort zone on co-op is something that will ultimately benefit you in the end?
“Definitely, because at the end of the day, it’s just four months. Worst case scenario you spend a little time working at a job you’re not in love with, but that’s still really valuable information to have regarding what you don’t want your career to look like in the future. Best case scenario, you could be opening yourself up to a whole new world of opportunities, which is what I’ve experienced. I’ve realized how much I enjoy working in the tech sector and have found a passion for digital accessibility.”
“When I applied to work as a WCMS 3 migrations specialist, I honestly didn’t think they would hire me, but I figured if I didn’t apply, I wasn’t even giving them the chance to say yes. I assumed that everyone around me was astronomically more qualified than I was, but the truth is most of us probably feel that way.”
“As an Arts student working in tech, I learned that at some point, your attitude and your willingness to learn can be just as valuable as the hard skills you already have going into it. Being positive and willing to listen is key. To this day I’m thankful I didn’t let my fear of rejection stop me from applying, because I’ve been able to spend the past year in a role that has been life-changing for me.”
Having a tenured résumé at Waterloo, have you had the chance to gain valuable mentorship? How have your mentors guided you to where you are today?
“I think those who work at the university are definitely drawn here because they want to see students succeed and provide guidance to them. It shows in the way I’ve been treated as a co-op student - even though it's ultimately a job, each of mine have been more of a learning opportunity.”
“They understand that co-ops need support. My supervisors and the environments I’ve worked in have all been fantastic. You’re going to have awesome days and some harder days. I think in some cases, workplace culture matters just as much as what you're doing. If you're looking for a supportive environment, I would highly recommend Waterloo.”
“My first term, I remember my boss and I would have weekly one-on-one chats where we would talk about work, but we would also talk about life and school. My first boss actually helped me connect with my second co-op boss, by letting me help with a couple of projects for him during my first co-op term.”
“Then my second co-op boss took the time to write me a fantastic recommendation letter which I’m sure helped me secure my current co-op role. That’s something that he didn’t have to do, but it shows how much the staff here at Waterloo care about your success as opposed to just your output. Every co-op job I’ve had here has helped me get my next one. That speaks volumes about the close-knit community that Waterloo possesses.”
“Now I get to work for Charlotte Armstrong, someone who’s helped teach me how to find future career opportunities at Waterloo, about USG’s, and has shared some really helpful resume tips. Even after spending three terms in the same role I haven’t felt stagnant, because she has continuously prioritized my growth and learning opportunities.”
What has your time in co-op taught you in terms of technical skills? What has venturing into this line of work given you that maybe you wouldn't have learned if you’d taken a different path?
“In my first two co-ops, I saw myself headed towards a social media, marketing, and copywriting career. I enjoy all of these things, but I wasn’t sure I saw myself doing it for the rest of my life. I realized co-op is the perfect time to try new things. We’re not expected to know exactly what we want our career to look like right away, we figure that out as we go.”
“I've become very comfortable using our CMS which is hosted on Drupal, and there's a lot of institutions all across Canada as well as the world, that also have content management systems hosted on Drupal. I’m really grateful to have this skill under my belt. I’ve learned about sprints, agile workflows, Atlassian, Pantheon, and a bit about different code languages. The funny thing is, myself from a year ago would have no idea what half those words even meant.”
“Becoming familiar with the workplace culture of IST and learning the lingo has also been really interesting. When I first started, I got to listen in on developer meetings, which was super cool, but I couldn’t understand a single thing they were saying. Now when I listen in, more of it actually makes sense.”
What has been an example of an accomplishment within your terms that you've been proud of?
“Honestly, I think I’m just proud of myself for the progress I’ve made, and how hard I worked to get to where I’m at today.”
“An accomplishment where everything came full circle for me, was getting to lead the remediation of the Renison Student Experience and Housing site. When I worked at Renison, I could barely make my own blog post without help. Remediating their site a year later was a reminder of how far I’ve come.”
“My first term with IST was a learning curve for sure and there were definitely some things that didn’t come naturally to me. I’ve always enjoyed this job, but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t moments I felt discouraged because it wasn’t as easy as my previous roles, so much of what I was learning was new to me.”
“Having a great supervisor that played on my strengths while helping me develop other areas made a world of a difference.”
“I began by doing a lot of client support and technical writing which is what I was comfortable with. At the same time, it was important to me to take advantage of my time in co-op and learn everything I could about the role and I think that curiosity played a huge part in what I’ve accomplished to date.”
“In saying this, I know there’s still so much for me to learn.”
“In my second and third terms in this job, I’ve been able to be someone that new co-ops can lean on for support and ask questions to. For me this is extra cool because I remember how appreciative I was of the person that was to me, I never thought I’d be that person to someone else.”
What’s next for you? What career do you envision yourself entering in the future?
“I would love to continue working with websites at the University while I finish my degree, and even after that. I’m hoping to pursue a post-grad or Masters in something tech related.”
“Even though I’ve learned so much working with IST, I feel like it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Ultimately the dream job is getting to manage a whole bunch of websites and make creative decisions about design and information hierarchy.”