Training the tech talent of the future
Co.Lab co-founders draw on their co-op experiences to build a Forbes recognized global business
Co.Lab co-founders draw on their co-op experiences to build a Forbes recognized global businessBy Nancy Harper University of Waterloo
An industry serving a global audience should reflect global diversity. Yet diversity in tech, with people of different backgrounds bringing unique perspectives and lived experiences to the table, still feels a way off.
Co.Lab co-founders and University of Waterloo alumni Helen Huang (BSc ‘17) and Sefunmi Osinaike (BASc ‘17) aim to change that. Their company is a hands-on digital training and mentorship program for people from all walks of life who want to break into tech. It brings together teams of product managers, designers and software engineers to help participants develop their collaborative thinking skills and create a tangible product.
Both Huang and Osinaike found their feet in Waterloo’s co-op program — and having since been named to the prestigious Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list, their entrepreneurial star power is on the rise as they use their co-op experiences to train future talent.
“The passion for what we’re working on now really came from my experience struggling to get into tech and not having the right credentials to prove I was a fit,” says Huang, who majored in earth sciences.
“Going through co-op was an interesting experience for me. I worked really hard to land my first tech job, and Waterloo already had that brand to give me a significant push. I’m super grateful for that. Not everyone has that community around them to really push them forward in their goals.”
Osinaike, whose sole focus was to enroll in Waterloo’s Enterprise Co-op program when he left his home in Nigeria, did exactly what he set out to do — gain experience and learn what it was like to work in the tech industry.
“I wanted to build a product and solve a problem,” he says. “That process of being able to figure things out really helped my career. To build something tangible is the goal of E Co-op, and that environment where you get to be creative and dedicated is something we take on [at Co.Lab].”
Both Osinaike and Huang love that they met through co-op and have since built something meaningful and successful together.
The business is entirely remote, and its approach is in step with the rise of global talent, with an emphasis on learning to communicate with others who have a completely different upbringing and work style.
Making the Forbes list has propelled Co.Lab to the next level. The company has now helped more than 1,000 people in 50 countries switch careers and land roles at Apple, Google and Amazon, among others.
“It just opens us up to a larger community,” Osinaike says. “It’s great validation that we’re doing really impactful work. Nothing like what we do exists. We just hit our 1,000-learner milestone, and we’re interested to see how the next couple thousand will work.”
Huang adds, “It’s super cool years later knowing that we built this machine together. Many people are actively looking to switch careers into tech. Some just want to explore and have a better sense of what it feels like to build a product, to build a team, maybe be an inspiring entrepreneur.”
“The reason they come to us is because of this experiential approach when it comes to learning. We are not lecture-based. The entire point is that it instills in everyone who comes our way that they know they don’t need an expert to tell them what to do. They already have what it takes to succeed and solve problems. We’re here to remind them of that as they go through our program.”
The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is co-ordinated within the Office of Indigenous Relations.