Waterloo/Laurier CS/BBA, Campus Involvement and Coop
Updated: Jul 28, 2020
Written By Patricia Mielnik
Tell us about your experience in the CS/BBA Program:
When applying to post-secondary education in my grade 12 year, I was honestly paralyzed by choice. Not only am I quite indecisive, but I am someone who is interested in lots of different subject areas, so I was very hesitant to commit to a single option. I came across the CS/BBA program at Waterloo while researching different programs, and was very intrigued. The program seemed like a unique but very useful blending of subject areas and university experiences (the culture at UW is quite different from that at WLU), and sounded like quite a challenge (which motivated me even more to apply). Looking back, I’m glad I chose to be more indecisive; being in this program, I don’t get tired during study terms that quickly because I can take a break from the more technical side of my degree by working on the more interpersonal and communication related work and vice versa. Moreover, it’s given me a very holistic view of the field I am building a career in, as I understand both the granular tasks I’ll be doing as an employee, and how those tasks impact the business I’ll be working for.
One surprising thing about this program is the amount of flexibility you have in your upper years. This program makes a lot of people shy away because the course outline seems quite rigid, given that you have to satisfy the requirements for two entire degrees that are on subject with very little in common. Although it is true that there are a lot of requirements to be met, especially in upper years those requirements are quite flexible. I have so much room in my schedule for upper years that I am currently running out of ideas for courses to take because I was able to fit in all of the courses I am interested in taking with plenty of room to spare.
Talk about the extracurricular activities you have contributed to on campus:
Math Orientation — Media Divisor
The math orientation group is a group of students who help plan the math orientation events for the first week of the fall semester every year to help welcome first year students to Waterloo. As a media divisor, it was my role to coordinate all the media-related aspects of math orientation. This specifically involved brainstorming and ultimately putting together the annual theme release video, which is a video that announces the theme of the year’s orientation, as well as running the various social media platforms that math orientation has, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, in which I promoted volunteer opportunities, as well as generated excitement for o-week among incoming students.
Blueprint — Project Developer
UW Blueprint is a student-run organization that aims to use tech for social good. Blueprint is made up of students from different backgrounds who use their technical and non-technical skills to help local non-profit organizations by developing technical solutions such as web or mobile applications. As a project developer, I worked on a team of 4 other developers, a designer, a project lead, and a project manager to build a web app using typescript, react, and apollo for a local non-profit. Being a more experienced individual, I was also able to mentor some of the younger students and take lead on various development tasks that were assigned to the group for the term. It was a very rewarding experience as we were also able to meet with the non-profit we were building a product for and learn about what they did and how they planned to use our product. This is definitely one of the most fun extracurriculars I’ve been part of, not only because I learned a lot, but also because it has introduced me to so many wonderful people — in fact, I am planning to volunteer again for the upcoming term because I enjoyed working with the people on my team that much.
Women in Computer Science (WiCS) — Mentor
WiCS undergrad is an organization of students who aim to promote women to pursue careers in technical fields by providing a supportive environment and plenty of opportunities for those who have been traditionally disadvantaged in the tech industry.This term, I am volunteering as a mentor for WiCS. Throughout the month of February, I’ve been running mock technical and behavioural interviews for students who have signed up, in order to help them prepare for their actual interviews. I have also sat on a panel along with other mentors at an event hosted by WiCS, during which I was able to answer questions and share my experiences with younger students.
How did you get involved?
Usually, it’s been friends who get involved who have encouraged me to join — without them, I’d likely have been drowning in my studies and not doing much else. Saying yes to doing an extracurricular with a friend is much easier than throwing yourself into a brand new environment where you don’t know anyone. It’s also often very easy to sign up for things, you only need to fill out a simple application and possibly do an interview or two.
Why should students join? What have you gotten out of these organizations?
Overall, I think all students should join an extracurricular. Not only is it a great chance to meet new people outside of your program with similar interests, it’s also a great break from school that gives you the chance to learn new skills, explore your interests, and gain awesome life experiences. Personally, extracurriculars have introduced me to plenty of friends, provided me with much-needed fun during school terms, and relevant experiences that have helped me polish up my resume.
Talk about your experiences with the Coop Program:
One of the most important pieces of advice I have to give to anyone who is looking for jobs is that you should apply to anything and everything you’re interested in doing. Applications are free — never avoid applying to something because you don’t think you’re qualified. You never know what might come from it, and the worst case is that you’re rejected and you’re right back in the same position you were as if you didn’t apply, perhaps even with more interviewing experience under your belt — no bad comes from it.
When it comes to learning what actually interests you, networking is a fantastic tool for this, since the best way to learn about a job — second to doing it yourself — is to hear from the people who work it. Places like clubs, employer information sessions and open houses, company-sponsored events, and conferences are all fantastic opportunities for you to go out, meet new people, learn about their experiences, and possibly even put in a good word for yourself.
Once you start applying to jobs, the greatest weapon you’ll have is your resume. One quick way to enhance your resume is to look through the job postings you’re most interested in and pick out common ideas, key words, or key phrases and be sure you emphasize or at the very least communicate them in your resume. If you don’t have much job experience, there are still many simple ways to buff up your resume: join clubs that align with the work done in the roles you’re applying for (executive roles can definitely be helpful), compete in hackathons and case competitions and volunteer. One very common way to improve a resume in the tech industry is to complete side projects. My other tip for improving your resume is to ensure every sentence demonstrates the impact you made; try asking yourself the question “so what” after writing a point on your resume to see if you can answer it with the importance of what you did/why it was valuable.
Eventually, you will be able to land a few interviews. One of the things I wish I knew when I was first applying to internships is that you can and should do a lot to prepare for these interviews. Specifically, mock interviews are incredibly valuable because you not only get exposed to the kinds of questions you will be asked in an actual interview, but you get to practice answering these questions in a similar environment. In the actual interviews themselves, don’t be afraid to highlight your personal achievements and accomplishments, even if the work you did was part of a group project — ultimately the employer is considering hiring you, not your group.
Throughout the work terms I have done, I’ve learned a lot of things about myself that go beyond just my technical skills. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s been a great opportunity to work on any issues I have and to truly better myself as a person. I’ve done three internships at this point in time, and have experienced something different in each one. My first job was one that seemed to be made for a CS/BBA student — I did some development work, but I was also exposed to a lot of different business work, including marketing, project management, and business analyst work. I also had a wonderful manager who made sure to introduce me to plenty of opportunities and really push me out of my comfort zone. My second job was at a smaller company where I worked a software engineering position. I was able to do some very impactful work that gave me a great glimpse into the world of software engineering, through a project I entirely owned from start to finish. As for my current job, I am now working at a large tech company that I applied to on a whim. I am greatly enjoying my experience, as the people I work with and the culture at the office make coming to work everyday not feel like a chore, and the work I am doing is both challenging and interesting.
Overall, coop programs have their benefits and drawbacks. It becomes super difficult to juggle both work and school at the same time since most students in a coop program alternate work and study terms — given that the interview season overlaps with midterm season, you’re very likely to underperform in at least one of the two areas unless you’re pushing yourself incredibly hard. Moreover, the strange scheduling of school terms introduced by coop can make things unnecessarily difficult; is it hard to stay close to people you meet at school if you are off sequence, housing is more complicated than necessary, and many companies have less capacity for hosting interns during times that are not the traditional may-august internships. With that being said, however, I still think being in a coop program is incredibly valuable because of the experience it gives you. This is not only limited to work experience either — you also gain enormous amounts of experience in building a resume, interviewing, selling yourself to other people, communicating your accomplishments, and networking. All of this experience can put you ahead of individuals who are in traditional programs and who work part-time jobs in the summer, and the resources provided by the school for getting this experience make the process much easier than if you were to look for summer internships on your own.
Any other tips/recommendations for future students?
Take advantage of the resources around you: This can include anything from professor office hours to professional development funds and employer information sessions and conferences. There are a multitude of resources dedicated to ensuring your success.
Switching programs/career paths is perfectly fine — college/uni is all about exploring your interests and finding what it is that you’re truly passionate about (or something that you wouldn’t mind doing to make enough of a living that allows you to explore your true interests): The amount of people i know who have dropped out of a program or switched into something different, or graduated from one field and gone on to do a masters in something completely unrelated is insane; they all took time to reflect and realize what they were doing currently was not something they wanted to do/was feasible/their heart was into, and they decided to take that leap and switch to something different; there is nothing wrong with that. It’s not a setback, it’s not a failure, what it is is you broadening your horizons and setting yourself up to succeed. No matter how much it might feel like this, nothing is set in stone, and if you have the resources to switch, I strongly encourage you to consider doing so for your own well being.
Be realistic about your standards — grades, social life, extracurricular involvement: university is hard; you have to be ready to sacrifice some things in order to keep yourself healthy.
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