Co-op #3, Month #2: Back To The Office

Just like that, another month has gone by, and I’m now more than halfway through my third co-op term. Let’s see what I’ve been doing and learning! What’s it’s like being in the office for the first time? What new projects have I been involved with? And how have I been able to take ownership of my work?

February went by so quickly and having taken a week away from work at the end of the month, this article is a bit shorter than usual. It’s also a bit more philosophical. In February, I got to go into the office for the first time ever. I also helped out with a few new projects and took a stronger foothold in my main project. Let’s see what happened!

Back to the office

Having started my undergrad just six months before the pandemic, all of my co-op terms have been virtual so far. I’ve written in the past about making the most of virtual co-ops, working well from home, and lacking a point of comparison. Well after 9 combined months of work experience, I finally got to step foot into an office.

At first, it was definitely a confusing experience. My access/ID card was in Vancouver, not Toronto. My desk booking and later meeting room booking got cancelled because I couldn’t figure out how to check in. I got stuck in the elevator lobby because I didn’t realize I had to swipe my card on the pin pad that looks nothing like a card reader to get onto each floor (and even to exit some floors). And don’t get me started on our “smart” elevator system.

It was a lot to learn, but I quickly got the hang of it. And there were plenty of pros too! Turns out I didn’t need my laptop charger, because each deck and most meeting rooms have a charger since everyone has the same firm-issued laptop. All the workstations have nice office chairs and dual monitors (1080p though). Plus free tea and coffee – what’s not to love!

But beyond the superficial stuff, it was nice to be in an office, working in downtown Toronto. Something felt fundamentally different between working in my PJs in my bedroom and taking the GO Train early on a weekday morning to downtown. I joked with a few colleagues that I felt much more like a real-life grown-up now.

I’m thankful my company offers us complete flexibility in when and which office we chose to work in. The commute is long, the city can be tiring, and I’m definitely more productive at home. But there’s something really nice about having a face-to-face meeting with someone, about grabbing coffee with colleagues, about meeting friends for dinner after. 

The value in going beyond

In all of my co-op terms, I’ve looked for ways to go beyond what I was assigned. It’s definitely less typical among co-ops, who are often just getting used to things by the time their term’s over. And in this way, it’s absolutely a risk to take on more, especially when I’m not always 100% certain I have the capacity for it, or the skills to handle it. But it’s always been worth it!

In February, I leveraged some of my connections from coffee chats to find opportunities to work on two proposals. The first was a large proposal for the federal government, using the same technology I had been working to help deliver all of January for another client. It was interesting to see how we present and “sell” our capabilities having seen the day-to-day actualities of an implementation like this.

The second proposal, on the other hand, was a much smaller one. I helped prepare our presentation to a mid-sized Canadian retailer for their IT budget assessment. The content was definitely farther from my experience, so it provided a great opportunity to learn about our approach to benchmarking and determining IT budgets.

I learned a breadth of things about both areas of tech strategy very quickly by getting involved in these proposals, and I wouldn’t have had the chance to learn this way if I hadn’t gone out of my way to find these opportunities. Proposals and other smaller projects are great ways to make meaningful professional connections beyond your project. In particular, they let you showcase your skills and abilities without actually doing a project. If you can show you’re able to deliver quality work, these brief opportunities can turn into something even bigger.

What does it mean to “take ownership”?

We hear that term a lot, “take ownership”. It’s often something I’ve sought in the past, without always fully understanding what it meant. Sometimes it’s an expectation, sometimes it’s an accident. But everyone takes ownership of something at some point. What exactly does that mean?

At the risk of being overly pedantic, the Cambridge dictionary defines it as “​​the fact of taking responsibility for an idea or problem”. I don’t disagree with that definition, but I think it’s a little lacking. A recent example might highlight what I mean.

On my main project, I’ve “taken ownership” of our reporting pipeline. Early in the month, I designed new reporting dashboards in PowerBI and worked to get them greenlit by project leadership. I also put together an Excel sheet that automates multiple weekly reporting emails to hundreds of individuals based on our project status. Now each week, I refresh that report and send off those emails. It’s become another task on my list, but it feels different because of the investments I’ve made to make it my own.

In this way, “taking ownership” means more to me than just the action, it’s about making an investment in something. That description feels analogous to business ownership, usually bought or earned, and delivering ongoing value as a result of that earlier investment. The same goes for taking ownership of a task or workstream. It means you invest and feel an ongoing sense of connection and commitment to that work because of the ways you’ve invested in it.