Co-ops provide insights to the office

Since Tech totally got blown off by B.J., now that he’s too busy with The Office, I’m taking the liberty to talk about all sorts of office fun…in the real world!

As a co-op student this semester, I feel like it has been a really refreshing change of pace. It’s actually kind of fun in a lot of ways, like not having to worry about class during the week or homework on the weekends. Plus, working at a corporate office is a constant source of entertainment for me, which is pretty convenient.

For instance, I get my very own desk and cubicle complete with a computer and an office phone. I get to answer the phone in my cool professional voice, with a cool official-sounding greeting like “Engineering Division, this is Jonathan Saethang.” Occasionally, my supervisor pops his head over the top of the cubicle like a gopher popping out of its burrow, thumbing a message on his Blackberry while initiating an acronym-filled conversation.

I thought that Tech had a lot of acronyms, but the office is an alphabet soup of workspeak; my TL (technical leader) is probably wondering if the LEs (lead engineers) submitted their PEs (performance evaluations) into the QMS (quality management system). OMG.

The endless shower of freebies in the workplace is also pretty awesome. Cruising for free food at lunch-n-learns and buzzword-laden motivational power lunches has become a noontime pastime for me. Last week I got a free lime green mug from Engineers’ Appreciation Day and a goody bag of cookies, pens, planners, notepads, calendars and stress balls.

Aside from all the little perks here and there of working in a corporate setting, there is actual work to be done. I think that many Tech students have the misconception that all co-ops or interns do is brew coffee, brownnose with the head honcho and spin around in their office chairs. Although the aforementioned might be all in a day’s work, I wouldn’t say that those are the only things I do in the office.

Maybe I just got lucky, but I’m actually pretty happy with the assignments that I get at my job. I support the other employees by chipping away at their workloads, which means that I work on some of the same projects as full-time hires. It’s nice to be paired with a full-time mentor that knows the ropes and can offer me cynical but nonetheless helpful insight into what a job related to my major is really like.

In my experience so far, I feel like co-ops and internships offer a very different experience than what is taught in Tech’s classrooms. I find that learning major-related material through coursework is completely different when it is applied in a workplace setting. I believe that it is crucial to get a taste of what lies ahead on a career path, and work experience offers just that.

Not to mention that the experience looks awesome on a resume, and the possibilities for networking and connections are really great. Sure, it takes courage to nervously stumble through a conversation with a high-up VP or CEO at a reception, but it still is incredible to hear about what professionals are doing these days. To give an idea of the diversity of people in the workplace, I’ve met people who were training engineers in Dubai last week, others who were closing on multi-million dollar contracts yesterday morning and others who got a plaque today because they patented a process. Although those might be extremes, it still holds true that lots of people who have “been there, done that” are in my midst.

It’s interesting to strike up conversations with those people and learn about how they got where they are today, because everyone had to start somewhere similar to where I stand today. To me, it really hammers home the realization that after these four, five or six years at Tech, there’s a career to be had and opportunities to be pursued. It makes me excited about the possibilities in the “real world,” but at the same time, I can better appreciate the college experience that I’m going through in the present.

The “real world” is a long way ahead, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to get a glimpse of it. For now, I’ll be content with laughing at people. While they stress out over tests, I’ll sync up my Outlook and sip coffee from my awesome lime green mug.