It’s hard to believe that there was ever anything average about Radu Postole – engineer, sailor, polyglot, traveler. However, when he began his Integrated Engineering degree at the University of British Columbia in 2007 he insists that he was, at best, a mediocre student. All that changed when he became involved with the UBC Engineering Co-op Program. By the end of a series of co-op work terms, and as he launched into his final year of academic studies, Radu was an A-student on the Dean’s honour roll.
“While I was in the classroom, I had trouble seeing the big picture of how to apply the knowledge that we were being taught,” he says. Radu joined the Engineering Co-op Program. The hands-on experience that he gained from his first four-month and subsequent eight- and four-month work terms caused him to have an epiphany.
“After Co-op I went back to school and suddenly it dawned on me how all the academic learning is applicable in the real world. The important thing is to use that body of knowledge to create real solutions that address the pressing needs in society,” he says.
Radu’s first co-op work term was in Germany in 2009. He knew that he wanted to work in Europe and set about researching a German government recruiting database called DAAD to find a company that interested him. Co-op helped him secure a position with the GKSS research centre that works on producing lightweight, magnesium alloys to be used in the manufacturing of cars. Radu feels that this first position is the most vital in any engineering student’s path.
“The first placement is the hardest to find,” he says. “The pool is big and you’re a newbie with no previous experience.”
This also makes the first placement the most valuable, according to Radu, as it is a way of ‘getting your foot in the door’ and gaining real experience. Working at GKSS affected Radu in a myriad of positive ways. He had the opportunity to travel across Europe, work with people from all over the world and develop relationships with his co-workers thus garnering good reviews that helped him secure positions further down the line. It was also stimulating for Radu to be involved in cutting-edge research that produces lightweight cars that reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and our impact on the environment. The work, along with his interest in sustainability, fostered a life-long passion to pursue the field of alternative energy technologies.
Radu talks about the transferability of experiences that he gained while in co-op. His four-month work term in Germany helped him transfer to an eight-month work term in the Physics and Astronomy Department at UBC. He saw the posting while still in Germany, did the long-distance phone interview while sitting in a tent late at night at the edge of the Black Sea “with the sound of clinking bottles and splashing water outside” and secured the position as a teaching assistant for the next tranche of his co-op journey. UBC hired Radu because of the hands-on experience he already gained in Germany.
During his second work term at the lab in UBC, Radu designed and constructed demos to help professors explain complex engineering principles to first and second year Engineering and Physics students. He learned how to communicate difficult concepts in a clear and engaging way to students and was able to parlay his experience into securing the final four-month co-op work term. One of the professors he met while working as a teacher’s assistant was affiliated with the Structured Surface Physics laboratory. One day a job posting on the UBC Engineering Co-op web site caught Radu’s eye. It was with an alternative energy project called the Solar Canopy Project which works on drawing sunlight deep into the bowels of buildings by using arrays of mirrors and reflective light pipes. He was immediately interested.
“The professor put in a good word for me which proves how important networking can be,” says Radu. “Networking may seem like a challenge at first but by meeting people and staying in touch, you make great connections, even friendships,” he insists.
On this final four-month co-op work term Radu was able to prove himself further. He was also able to refine his hands-on and technical skills and ended up getting his first ‘real’ job with a local start-up company called SunCentral, where he helped to develop the UBC solar lighting technology into a marketed product. He has recently moved on from there to his latest position at Morrison Hershfield where he works on making buildings more efficient by analyzing heat flow in 3D and helping set new construction standards and guidelines for architects and engineers. He also volunteers with the Tetra Society of North America, using his skills to build assistive devices for people with disabilities.
Radu is a UBC Engineering Co-op enthusiast.
“The staff taught me how to shake a hand properly, write an excellent resumé, conduct a good interview. They taught me how to market myself to an employer and that there may be times when you have to compromise a bit to get a position but there is always something to take away from a work experience.”
He notes that some friends did not participate in Co-op and had difficulty not only finding a job after graduation but also discovering what they are really passionate about. Radu’s many experiences gave him the luxury of finding the field of expertise that he relishes and gives him great satisfaction. The UBC Engineering Co-op Program builds many doors for students like Radu Postole to knock upon. After that it’s up to the individual to step through the door and turn on the light.
Sylvian Marcotte – (Alumni)
Building a Legacy One Co-op Student at a Time
Little did former UBC Co-op student, Sylvain Marcotte, realize when he graduated from the university in 1995 that he would become a legacy maker. Co-op was still in its infancy back then with a mere 240 students taking part in the program. Since those early days the numbers have burgeoned steadily to 1,679 successful placements of students last year – and counting!
Marcotte became partly responsible for the positive incline in numbers when he employed another former Co-op student Dan Lefrancois who he originally met while they were both working at Brooks Automation – Marcotte as a permanent employee, Lefrancois a co-op student. Two years ago Marcotte decided to branch out on his own and set up 14 Oranges, a dynamic software company providing state of the art mobile application. He needed a Chief Technology Officer. Marcotte didn’t need to look any further than Lefrancois with whom he had become friendly during their work time together.
Students leap at the opportunity to gain exciting experiences offered by the Co-op program. Employers benefit by hiring bright, motivated students who are learning cutting-edge technologies and engineering strategies. This quid pro quo yields what Sylvain calls, “a double benefit all around”. It’s no wonder Engineering Co-op work terms have sky rocked seven-fold since 1994/95. Marcotte has high praise for the program; “It’s a great interview tool,” he says – a tool that he has put to good use over the last couple of years, hiring two more UBC Engineering Co-op students to help 14 Oranges flourish.
Entering the summer 2013 season, the legacy of Co-op continues with new hire Trevor Siemens.
“New hires keep things fresh and keep you current,” says Lefrancois. With a strong legacy already in place at 14 Oranges, one can only imagine what the future holds for our current “fresh” minds.
Going the Distance – A Co-op Student’s Story of Perseverance
Last year, Engineering Co-op student Samuel Li, with the help of basic running skills and a mild Vancouver day, became a shining example of the “can-do” attitude that we have come to expect from our students over the last few years.
His work-term employer, Kerr Wood Leidal, was racing against the clock to complete and submit a proposal for a substantial project in Delta. Many thousands of dollars and many hours of effort had gone into compiling a proposal submission to the Corporation of Delta – a proposal which had to be delivered for two o clock that afternoon. So much depended on Li in his role as delivery man but Lady Luck was not on his side. Traffic was flowing with ease when Li began to drive his precious cargo to Delta but, with three kilometers to go, a truck that was full with gravel lost its load in an accident – the contents spewing all over the road and causing traffic to become gridlocked in both directions.
Like a character from a Mission Impossible movie, Li sprung into action. He pulled his car over, grabbed the documents and began running toward the Delta office. Frustrated passengers in stalled cars all along the road stared in disbelief as they watched our unlikely hero sprinting past parked car after parked car. In his day-to-day life Li was not a runner but in order to succeed in his mission he was forced to rely on basic running techniques acquired in high school many years previously. With just minutes to spare he successfully delivered the important documents to the Corporation of Delta.
Word quickly spread back at Kerr Wood Leidel about the spirited young student’s determination. His “do-or-die” attitude and quick thinking were awarded when the President of the company presented him with a gift certificate for the local running store. He has since used the certificate to purchase a brand new pair of running shoes which he uses at his leisure whilst jogging now and again on the sea wall in Vancouver. Mission accomplished.
Q&A with Co-op Student Murtadha Al-Tameemi on his Work Term with Facebook.
Murtadha Al-Tameemi, a fourth year Engineering Co-op student, recently arrived back in Vancouver after his eight-month work term in California with Facebook. Eager to tell us about his experiences, Murtadha was kind enough to share many of his insights with the Applied Science community.
What interested you in working for Facebook?
When I started looking for a job I knew I wanted to work for big name company, and have the opportunity to work on challenging projects that would end up potentially affecting millions. Besides Facebook, I was also interested in Microsoft, Google and Apple, but was fortunate enough to secure work at Facebook first.
What was your first impression when you started working there?
When I started at Facebook, I was quite surprised to find out that the environment was not entirely dissimilar to the university environment I had grown accustom to over the last few years. The majority of employees were young-spirited people who had enthusiasm and passion for the work they were doing. I also realized very quickly that hard work is an integral part of Facebook’s culture. That being said, the company makes a point to acknowledge hard work with frequent celebrations and events recognizing the accomplishments of their employees.
If you are able to comment, what kind of projects did you work on?
During my eight-month work term, I was involved with the Photos team, and worked on a photo syncing product. The idea behind the feature was to give users the option of having their smartphone photos automatically uploaded to a private album on their Facebook, making them ready for sharing with friends and sparing users the extra step of having to manually upload photos. Near the end of my work term I also worked on a feature that allowed users to attach multiple photos to a status update. This was exciting as I had the opportunity to contribute to something that would be used by over a billion users.
What were a couple of highlights from working at Facebook?
There were two major events that occurred while I was working at Facebook. The first one was the celebration of reaching one billion users. This accomplishment was celebrated with reflection on how far the company has come in the past few years, but was also an opportunity to recognize how much more work lies ahead for the people working at Facebook. The second major event that occurred during my time at Facebook was the company’s IPO, which again brought forth celebration, but also many integral changes.
Do you have any advice for students looking to land a job at a place similar to Facebook?
I found that during the interview process, I was asked questions that revolve around algorithms and data structures. I think it’s a good idea that students invest some time learning these topics, as they happen to be areas that are most valued by companies such as Facebook. I would also focus on high level programming concepts versus learning a specific language. Lastly, it is always important to do your research on the company and be prepared in the event you get an interview. These companies are definitely looking for skill, but they are also hiring for culture.