Co-op #1, Month 1: Virtually Started

And just like that, my first 4 weeks of co-op at BDO have come and gone. What’d I learn? What’d I achieve? And what’s in store?

These past few weeks I’ve been getting used to my new role and used to working virtually. I’ve taken the initiative to reach out and meet some new people on the team. I got to know my project by writing up our first formal test plans, and now I’m working on developing the requirements for our new data-first dashboard. Soon, I’ll be branching out into writing new and different requirements to shape the future of this product.

Working virtually

No one anticipated the situation we’d be in now, myself included. I never imagined I’d be starting my first co-op term from an office chair in my bedroom. Getting started virtually has had it’s pros and cons. For one, there’s no commute to the office. But it’s also harder to find your work life balance. I found that getting fully dressed in office attire, and changing out of it at the end of the day, helped my brain separate work time from “me” time. 

I also improved my webcam setup. I started by moving my work laptop onto a desk so I’d be at eye level. I also placed a desk light on my left side to balance the sunlight from the window on my right, for an even and well lit look.

Working virtually also brought with it new norms. I learned to start calls with “Can you hear me/see me well?”, and learned to give others some time to get their camera and microphone setup after they’ve just joined a call. After a few dozen calls, you start to build the habit of muting and unmuting yourself, and you become a pro at sharing your screen. These new “skills” have arguably become critical in our new work-from-home environment. 

Meeting the team

Work from home also brought with it the challenge of not getting to meet the team in-person. After my first week, I’d gotten to know the people on my project, but I barely knew anyone else, and decided I had to do something about that! So I set up video calls with the other co-ops, and I’ve started now to meet some others on the team as well.

It was great to get to meet the other co-op students joining the team this semester. Most of them were also from UWaterloo, adding to my list of familiar faces on campus. We got to talk about their program and prior experience, their hobbies and interests, their current project with BDO, and where they saw themselves in the future. It was great to hear about the work they were doing, and how they saw it shaping their career path. I particularly liked hearing the advice of upper students on how they’ve shaped their University experience and how I can shape mine.

I’ve also gotten the chance to speak with a few Senior Consultants and Project Managers in the firm, and hear about the work they do. Getting to understand what brought them to this industry and why they love their work has given me new perspectives as I choose my career path. They all mentioned that they enjoy the diversity and excitement that working in consulting brings, and that’s something that resonated closely with me. They shared plenty of career and life advice, much of which I hadn’t heard before.

Finally, I got the chance to talk to some new hires. First, I met a newly graduated starting in their first full-time position. We chatted extensively about how he chose BDO, and how he thinks the new reality of the job market will shape my future. I also got to talk to a new partner at the firm. We talked about his career journey and experience, and what drove him in a particular direction. It was interesting to hear how his past projects and roles had culminated to his new position.

Writing test plans

My first task in my new role was to create a test plan for our product, to help us have a defined method for robustly testing our new releases. To be honest, I wasn’t stoked about this. I knew it would be a lot of detailed writing, and it required me to spend time diving into every part of our software product. In the end though, I found that I knew our software inside and out, and being able to say that, meant that it was worth it.

Writing test plans really pushed my detail-focused analytical skills, and needed me to use some critical thinking. Each button on each screen on each menu had to be accounted for, without creating a test plan so long it would never actually be used. I needed to analyse the critical components and features, and focus on those, while still accounting for everything else. In the end, I had created several pages of documentation that could be followed to thoroughly but efficiently test our entire platform before releasing it to our end users.

New requirements

My next task after the test plan was something more exciting. I got free control to brainstorm our new role-focused dashboards. The idea was to give a Partner, or Project Manager, or Resource Manager a different view than any staff member. This view would be full of useful charts and graphs, KPIs and other data points. Which data points were shown though, that’s what I got to work on. 

With the help of the manager on my team, I got to understand the different roles in BDO, and wrap my head around, for example, the difference between a Client Relations Partner and a Project Management Partner. We shaped this understanding of our users and of the data available within the scope of the project, into mockups for each of the different user types. I played around with different formats of charts and grids, and regularly ran my ideas by my Manager to get his feedback.

Once I found a good layout and balance of critical information, I began discussing technical feasibility and implementation timeline. We wanted the new home pages done sooner than later, but some features that would be displayed on the home page weren’t to be implemented until later. So some features would be replaced with a placeholder, and some would be developed alongside the home page. Finally, I just finished turning these homes pages into technical requirements for our developers.

Next Steps

Probably my favorite part of the home page was how much it made myself and the rest of the team think about our strategic direction. It forced us to realize our priorities and goals for the users and prompted some new ideas. After all, if this was going to be the first thing a user saw on login, it had to really capture our goal with the project.

In the next few months, I’ll be creating more requirements and focusing on understanding and meeting the needs of our users, who are in the case of this internal project, our “client” in a sense. I’ll be doing my best to shape the future of the project to be one that creates the most value and impact, and I hope at the same time, I can have a valuable and impactful experience myself.