By: Namish Modi (he/him)
When the world of work went remote during the global pandemic, Hypotenuse Labs was already ahead of the curve. The consultancy firm has mastered engagement in a virtual world to become a favourite of co-op students.
Founded by three co-op alumni, Calvin Chen (BSc’19), Matthew Reyes (BMath’19) and Anthony Zhang (BMath’19), Hypotenuse Labs builds high impact web, blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) products for exciting, early-stage startups. The company gives students a unique work term experience where they can develop technical and communication skills in a fast-paced environment. The company also encourages students to work while also experiencing the world at the same time.
“We trust our co-ops quite a bit. Because we are a remote company, there are many people at any given time nomadizing across the world in different countries,” says Reyes (he/him). “One thing we’ve learned from ourselves by personally travelling a lot was the character building that goes on when you live alone.”
“The experiences you get, the mistakes you make when you’re travelling alone and getting to see the world changes you, and your character,” Reyes says. Hypotenuse Labs provides tools and support for students looking to take on the adventure of travelling while working.
Hypotenuse Labs prioritizes positive student co-op experiences with events and coworking meet-ups. The team understands that not everyone prefers a solely remote model.
“Hypotenuse Labs provides students with outstanding opportunities to develop their skills,” says Ross Johnston (he/him), executive director of Co-operative Education.
- Ross Johnston (he/him), executive director of Co-operative Education
Hypotenuse Labs gives students the autonomy to take on impactful projects, communicate with anyone in the organization, and work closely with clients on important requests.
During onboarding, new students are paired with a co-op mentor, who does a goal planning and career mapping session with each student. Leadership works with students to track their goal progression throughout their work term. By working directly with the leadership team, co-op students learn more about entrepreneurship, leadership skills, and how to run a business.
“We have a pretty open-door policy in terms of anyone being able to ask anybody else for help,” says Reyes. “Anyone in the company is just a message away.”
Autonomy a key factor for co-op students
Co-op students work with the Hypotenuse Labs team to determine what to build, what features to design and the tasks associated with those features. Students collaborate directly with clients to provide solutions based on the client’s needs.
“I think it’s super important for students to have real world experience,” says Zhang (he/him). “Ideally, the kind of experience that they’ll bring in the future, when they’re leaders of the industry, when they’re really making things happen in the real world. That’s what we’re trying to give them here.”
Balancing the development of soft skills and technical skills
The bulk of Hypotenuse Labs’ workforce is comprised of Waterloo alumni, which helps them understand what the current co-op workforce can bring to the organization.
“When they join us, students are working at the same level as some of our full-time engineers, because they’ve already got a lot of experience,” Reyes says. “That has been one constant draw for us. Waterloo students always deliver and they bring a lot of street smarts and experience from other companies. They help us grow as a company because we are always learning from them.”
“Waterloo students that we’ve hired are consistently very skilled, very motivated and are very good at what they do,” says Zhang.
Reyes draws parallels from his own experiences as a co-op student, explaining that learning some of the soft skills can be just as important as technical ones.
“Having gone through six co-op terms, the most important skills I learned from co-op were not necessarily straight technical skills, but actually people-related things,” he says.
Waterloo Systems Design Engineering grad, Enoch Wong (BAsc’ 2022), worked his final co-op term at Hypotenuse Labs in spring 2021 and is now a full-time member of the organization.
“Everybody is very willing to help,” says Wong (he/him) of his experience. “We get paired with a mentor right at the beginning and go through the entire process with them.”
Wong managed several projects during his co-op work term at Hypotenuse Labs. He spearheaded client discussions, helped with product launches and designed and implemented new features.
- Enoch Wong (he/him) (BAsc’ 2022), full-stack developer at Hypotenuse Labs