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Getting The Most Out Of Co-Op Programs? 236

co-op-ted-out asks: "Myself and several other high school students from local school districts are currently co-op employees at a fiber-optic company. The first several weeks of the program were quite interesting and informative, but over the last month or so we have been used primarily as cheap labor in simple, repetitive jobs, such as equipment tests and upgrades. Although we are certainly getting a glimpse at a high tech industry, several of the other students and I don't feel that the company is living up to its end of the bargain, nor do we believe we are being used to our fullest potential. We certainly didn't sign up for this program in order to be cheap labor; we signed up because it was marketed to us as an "engineering project," and the majority of us plan to pursue engineering-related careers. What can we do as students to improve our experience, and what guidelines should any company follow when conducting a cooperative education program such as this, particularly with high school kids? Is there anyone out there who has found a successful way to run such a program?"
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Getting The Most Out Of Co-Op Programs?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    We all did the same in our time, plus you guys are lucky. If you were complaining they have you making coffee for management, running copy jobs or playing messenger boy then that would be pretty irritating.

    The lesson you are learning is that engineering is not always glamorous. There are lots of tedious tests and tons of annoying paperwork to fill. And yeah, meetings, meetings and more meetings!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    You might want to have a serious talk with the counselor or whomever put you into this position. What were the schools agreements with the employer? How did the program come about? Does the company really have a plan or is it just some executives idea of a neat thing to do?

    I've been invloved with working with co-op or summer hires. Typically, I would get notice from some manager that a summer hire will appear in about a month and I'd better find something for them to do. I'm sure they exist, but I've never seen a program where the company made a concerted effort to provide a structured experience for these people.

    Of course, the last time I was involved, it was a "project from hell", so all the regular employees were so involved with meetings and metrics that all the interesting technical work was assigned to the summer hires. Go figure.
  • Having gone through 5 Co-Op terms as part of my CS degree at university, I can tell you that what you're experiencing is generally the way it is. The fact is, no company wants to hire an "uneducated student", give them lots of responsibilities, and lose more money when the student fails to meet the challenge than if they had simply hired a "trained professional". This is true when you first start working full-time as well. You'll almost certainly get no major responsibilities in the first few months. It takes time for people to get to know you, see how eager you are to perform and learn, and find the limits of your capabilities...

    The best thing you can do right now is be eager to do as much as possible, within your own limits. If they give you grunt work, just do it without complaint, and do the best job you can. People will notice, eventually. Try to ask questions and appear interested in things you aren't currently working on as well. If you show an interest, and more importantly an understanding of more complicated tasks, you'll be more likely to have them assigned to you, or at least be asked to help.

    As for what would make Co-Op programs better? Longer terms. The program I'm going through has alternating 4 month cycles of School/Co-Op. 4 months is fine for classes, but is too short to get to know the company and people you are working for. If the terms can't be lengthened, then you should definitely try to go back to the same company a second time, if you have the opportunity to do so. Once people know you, the whole experience is MUCH more rewarding, for both you and the company involved.
  • Can somebody please clarify the star treck reference?
  • I second the notion about cheap labor. Usually, when the idea of "let's get some interns" it's been in the context of "I can't get these cool things that I know how to do done because i have all these other boring things that need doing". Management answer: get an intern to do that grunt work.

    That said, there are usually a few cool people in the company who are willing to point you in directions where you can learn cool new things. Find some of these folks and ask them what would be useful for you to learn. You might have to read a few manuals, learn a new programming language, etc. Read these at home if you must. Then *do* something with it, then ask what you can do next.

    Prolly the most important thing you can learn is that there are always things you can learn on your current job which will better prepare you for your next job. Don't wait for management to tell you what to learn: take the initiative yourself.
  • Don't want to throw cold water on anything but let me just as you a question.. what can you do about it?

    you are quite obviously not in a position where you can tell the company what work to allot to you. A company will trust those who are more experienced.. you will need to accept that. In the mean time, keep your eyes open, ears open...observe and learn.. Do whatever you can to make the best of what you have.
  • Alot of stuff you are doing are what people would do in the field. What you should do is finish your job as quickly as possible then ask ok what else do you want me to do. Or ask to be on a particular project. Well have fun
  • ...that your last interaction with adults didn't include "You want fries with that?"
  • Well, as has been said before, that's the real world and what you get out of it is up to you. You could be bitter and get nothing or you could be active in the group socializing (like lunchtime conversations) and gain knowledge and experience from that. I've been in the CS field for 20+ years and done almost all of it, including VP of devo. I have hired PhD in CS students that have had to go through the same thing you're saying. What can you expect from someone that's been in academia for 6-8 years and the biggest project they've worked on is under 1000 lines and probably in one source file? I'm dealing with projects that are 1 million lines or more, including legacy code that nobody on the current team fully understands that spans departments and in some cases, companies. You need to learn to deal with 6 months to get changes/features out to the field. The real world isn't edit, compile, debug, repeat, distribute. Being low man on the totempole means doing the stuff everyone else doesn't want to do. Getting some experience and letting people (informally at lunch if you don't have another method) know that you can do other things is important. Many of the kids we've had come in have done their time but then noticed something we're not doing and been given a chance to prototype something and show their stuff. It won't be earthshattering but it might be something we missed or dismissed due to not having the resources to do it. Keep in mind the expectation levels for co-ops and even fresh outs is initially low, until proven otherwise.
  • by AviN ( 9933 )
    If you don't like you the job, and think you're just being taken advantage of, quit.
  • The truth of it is that most engineering companies have a lot of grunt work to do... for the company, its either done by cheap co-ops or by high paid salary engineers. Your case is not unusual. You'll find that most co-op programs simply get your foot in the door. If you want to get ahead, do extra homework, speak up and gain your employers trust. No manager, engineering, co-op, or otherwise, would throw some of its important projects to you without gaining your trust, especially if there's grunt work to be done.
  • Get back to work slaves! [whip!]
  • What you need to realize is that you are going to be Cheap Labor almost all of the way through high school and in to college. An internship gives you valuable skills but it isn't tutoring. You'll find yourselves getting coffe and doing a lot of scut work for low pay. Near the end of any Internship you could find yourselves with a small non-mission critical project. But this project is of no real importance to the company. The reason behind this is that the business doesn't know how reliable you are and while you may have a high oppinion of your ability you have no real expiernce to back it up. For that reason you can expect to be doing scut work for 3 or 4 more years. Or yo can apply for a real job and accept real responsibility.
  • The only reason they're hiring coop kids is that they ran out of H1B visas.
  • You sir, are an idiot.

    Fuck you.
  • Welcome to the exciting industry! Your now just a step above the people who make Nike shoes!
  • find something that you can do that will save the company money (or make them money). do a cost analysis detailing how you think X will save the company $Y. ask your boss if you can talk to him and give him a short presentation on what your idea is. this shows initiave on your part. if you want to be an engineer this is it. making something from nothing... well really optimizing and doing what you can with what you have.

    This is a good idea - but as an intern/co-op be sure to tell your boss that your project will only save half the money you think it will.

    That way if your project runs a little over budget, you'll still be seen as the guy who got 85% more savings than he promised. Underpromise, overdeliver. Your boss will probably fudge the numbers to his boss anyway.

  • This is the way the world is. Get used to it. Expect when you get out into the "Real World" that your first job will probably be as bad, if not worse.

  • And welcome to the working week.

    Basically, that is all any employer hires anybody _for_, to get something done that they find too time-consuming and/or mundane. BillG hires software engineers because the project has become too big for him to handle by himself - he'd love to, because then he'd get to keep ALL the money, but he can't.

    The only way to get something more interesting to do is to do the stuff you're assigned, and then look for something more interesting, and do that, too. If you get noticed doing things beyond the requirements, particularly if they're difficult, you might get promoted or a raise. Your employer DOES NOT CARE what you do and do not find "interesting" or "exciting".
  • Testing and design verification are both very important steps in the design process. They may also be quite boring. Any programmer can tell you that debugging is quite boring...and I can tell you that as an engineering student, I must test and verify every one of my designs...sometimes enumerating every possible input and output condition and checking them by hand. Also, you must consider that somebody must perform those boring jobs, and it requires some intellegence to handle many of those jobs...they can't hire somebody out of McDonald's and pay them minimum wage to do this stuff...therefore, they must be paying you something better than minimum wage. In any case, I suggest that you get over it and make the most of your can have fun with virtually any job, so go have some fun with it!!!
  • My school (University of Cincinnati []) claims to be where co-op was first started in 1908 by Herman Schneider. While that claim is debateable, my school is also one of the few schools that requires students to co-op, though not all colleges within the university require it. The College of Engineering certainly does, and that's one of the main reasons I decided to go to UC even if it doesn't have the reputation of UIUC, Rose-Hulman, or other such name schools. Yes most of those schools allow you to do co-op but you have to jump through hoops to get your classes scheduled approriately.

    Students that co-op are required to do at least 4 quarters of coop, with students who stay on schedule completing 6 or 7 quarters of co-op depending on whether you take your first summer off or not. It's a five year program where you take classes for freshman year and then you can start co-op, with most students alternating co-op, school, co-op, school, etc on a quarterly basis. Works out nice since by the end of a quarter, you're often ready either to stop working or get out of classes, and do something else.

    I'm currently with my 3rd company on my 6th co-op quarter. Students are required to stay with a company for at least 2 quarters, with a lot of students staying with one employer for the whole time. I decided at the beginning that I wanted to work for as many companies as I could since I had (and still don't) have a clue what exactly I want to do after I graduate.

    I've learned a lot of things from my various co-op experiences, and I've also had some really stupid co-op experiences. My first co-op was with a fiberglass company that made parts mainly for the heavy truck industry (i.e. body panels for Freightliner semi's) and I worked in the lab there. I learned that small companies can be a bit screwy. The lab I worked in wasn't the most organized lab, and it was quite out-dated. Lots of 486's and the likes, with a lot of work being done in DOS based applications. I was stupid back then and didn't understand that a lot of a co-op is what you make of it.

    My second co-op was with a DOE lab, where I worked in the ceramics group, which was interesting. I got my first experience with SEM there, but I also came to realize that your supervisor while on co-op makes a huge difference. My advisor didn't really interact with me, and didn't give me much to do, dishing me off to his post-docs. His post-doc's had no idea what to do with me since most of the work they were doing was stuff that they needed to do, and couldn't rely on someone else to do, so I ended up doing a lot of routine sample prep and the like. I also ended up working 4-6 hours a day and getting paid for 8 since all co-ops there are given a weekly stipend. Again, I probably could have got a lot more out of the co-op if I'd taken the initiative, but it would also have helped if the management had a better idea of how to utilize me. Other students were kept busy and productive, doing meaningful work because their advisors had taken the time to plan out what they'd use a co-op student for before they arrived.

    Now, my third co-op is with a large computer company, which does more consulting now than hardware. Anyway, I work in a failure analysis lab, analyzing all kinds of things that come from production. This has by far been my best co-op, and I think a lot of that has to do with my getting along with my supervisors. Granted, my first two weeks here weren't the greatest since the guy I was supposed to work for was so busy he didn't really have time to set me up, but I ended up meeting one of the other engineer's in the department, and since then I've had lots of challenging work. I've developed some analysis techniques, refined my SEM and light microscopy techniques, and really learned how to cross-section and polish samples.

    So, looking back through my rather long winded post it looks like a good co-op relies on two things. One being your initiative, the other being how well prepared the company is for a student. Rather difficult for companies too. They want to challenge the student, but they don't want to overwhelm and frustrate them either, and they have to do this w/o knowing the student except for a resume and an interview.

    My co-op department does point out that your first quarter with most companies will usually be kind of boring, where you're mainly going to learn the ropes, and how things work, and probably won't be given lots of responsibility. The longer you stay with a company, the more responsibility you'll be given. I know I've done my fair share of grunt work on all of my co-ops.

    My advice to you would be to find someone you work with who will really act as a mentor for you, and has time/energy to teach you and also pass work on to you. The longer you stick with one or two people, the more trust they'll gain in you (unless you turn out shitty work), and they'll give you better jobs. Yeah, you'll probably still end up doing the stuff no one else wants to do but that's what happens when you're on the bottom of the ladder . . .

  • As a former co-op employee of two different companies, I have a combined total of over three years experience in that kind of job, as well as a good bit of experience on the flip side of the coin, so I believe I'm qualified to give you some perspective of both sides of the issue.

    When I was a co-op, I too felt that I was a mis-used resource: first of all I'm a programmer, not a network guy, so my time in Support I felt was completely wasted. The rest of my positions were ostensibly programming positions, but the kinds of programs I was given to do were almost completely worthless (only one of the 9 projects I worked on made it onto my resume). The kind of work I did that actually did make it into the products were, as you said, menial--QA, debugging easy stuff, etc. I felt like I was not getting any kind of useful experience doing these kinds of jobs. More on that in a minute.

    On the flip side, you have to realize what your employer is dealing with: an almost completely untrained technical employee with (usually) no real experience other than tinkering with a home computer or in a high school class. In addition to assigning the co-op work to do, they have to make sure the co-op CAN do the work, on top of all the other stuff that goes on your managers desk: REAL programming, infrastructure planning, interdepartmental meetings, phone calls, and eventually life in general. So you have to realize that in general, a co-op is only a tiny blip on his manager's radar. Most of the time they would LIKE you to be happy with the work you're doing, but if nothing else, they'll settle for keeping you busy. The best way of doing that without having you intrude on the hundred other items on their daily to-do list is to give you easy, menial tasks that you'll be able to do with minimal assistance.

    The way its supposed to work at this point is that as you require less assistance, you get more responsibility assigned to you until your assistance level rises to what it used to be and a sort of equilibrium is established. What usually happens is that because you're dropping off their radar, they forget you're probably getting bored; if you're like most co-ops, you don't get to sit in on the status meetings and other such things that tell everyone else what needs to be done without having to ask.

    What's the best way to ensure a good co-op experience? First of all, realize that part of the reason you should co-op in a particular area of IT is to find out if you really find it interesting; all areas have something about them that sucks; for software development its QA... for networking its tech support, etc.... While it doesn't seem fair that you should have to do all the crappy stuff, you have to realize that until you can do that well, you won't be able to do the cool stuff well. And if you find at this stage that you can't handle the crappy stuff at all, then you may not want to go into this field after all. That's how I found out that I wasn't meant for network security.
    Secondly, get through your work quickly and let your boss know when you need more to do. If your daily routine consists of some boring network task like reading logs, try and automate it. write scripts or something. If its qa'ing, write scripts for what you can, and do a good job with what you can't. Especially in QA, if you have access to the source code and can try to pinpoint the area of the code which is causing a particular bug, you demonstrate some capability in your field. (don't spend too much time doing this though.) Stay there long enough and you'll work your way up enough to be satisfied.
    Above all, demonstrate some initiative. That's what gets you cool things to do.
    Realize too, however, that as long as you work for this company, you'll be looked at as a "co-op" and thus an inferior, even if you get hired on as a full-timer. It sucks, but that's the way it is. When you're ready to move up, be ready to move on.

    Good luck
  • You guys are lucky your not interning where I work. I make sure that our interns understand the facts of business upfront. No one cares how smart you think you are. I love when some little fucker tries to tell me how to do my job, and I love it even more to verbally slame him when I show him that his idea will not work, and would of cost X amount, and to shut the fuck up and get me some coffee. It's just a shame when the parents call wondering why Billy came running home crying with his ass bleeding. Play the game like everybody else. Watch, learn, and don't get in the way. Because guess what? Here's a clue- YOU DON'T HAVE ANY EXPERIENCE PUSSFACE Snot nose rich whiny kids piss me off.
  • Great! You managed to become a token employee. That will get you far. Lot's of good personal references coming from that job. Glad you like the field you choice to be employeed in, asshole.


    Want to compare paychecks? I bet that I make at least 4X as you, you piece of shit...
  • As a Senior UNIX Architect, this is the person I'm looking for in a co-op situation. If you give menial work and the person simply grinds through it without even wondering if it could be automated, then you know that this person lacks ingenuity/motivation/creativity/etc.

    It seems like it's getting much worse out there when I go to movie theaters and the kids behind the counter cannot get "coke, half full with ice" right.

    If you are one of the 2% of kids out there with an actual brain and a tiny amount of creativity, these co-ops would be breeze work because it's almost certain that the people with these same qualities above you on the ladder will recognize this. (Then there's always the possibility that you work at a company that is nearly devoid of real talent. Run for the door!)

  • this is common in the biotech industry. i'm not sure if it is because of regulations or what. you just dont get the kind of expirence required for pharmaceutical research with a masters.

    use LaTeX? want an online reference manager that
  • it's true for chemical engineering when you are talking about the biochemical engineering aspect. it's really depressing.

    use LaTeX? want an online reference manager that
  • oh how wrong you are. they are cleaning up after phd's. thats one of the reasons i decided to stay in school after i got a masters. i didnt want to be a dishwasher.

    use LaTeX? want an online reference manager that
  • Getting a co-op isn't about getting a kickass job. It's about having a shitty job in business, and learning how businesses work. The lessons you'll learn will tend to be more of the "how to be an effective employee" type than the "gee whiz cool" type.

    Think about this... you're getting paid to learn how to work. Companies don't hire co-ops to get anything productive done, they do it to do a favor to the co-ops.

    "Don't trolls get tired?"
  • That sounds like a friend of mine who got a computer grunt job at a government agency. His boss was gone so often, he had to make up useful things for himself to do. (No, reading Slashdot doesn't count.) Some places really don't take advantage of the people they have working (or volunteering) for them.
  • Many people in seasoned jobs also have this problem, but I too did some internships and I also had this problem. It didn't bother me too much because I used the idle time to work on my business [], which at the time was a side project or hobby with college buddies. One of the most important things I learned was that the business world is typically happy if you are product 5 out of 8 hours of the day. I'm pretty self motivated, but if someone only expects 5/8ths from you, you might as well use the 3/8ths for yourself in a good way.

    This advice may not apply for your situation, but in reality everyone needs things to fill the gap. The workplace tends not to keep you engaged fully or utilize your skills well, so having some personal goals and projects is helpful. You might want to pick things that emphasize your core skills in case a conflict of interest is ever brought up.

    Plenty of people will tell you ways to be assertive or this and that, but I say make good personal use of the time. Build a side business, hobby or some kind of thing with the spare time.

    If they keep your day completely filled with mundane tasks and you don't have much in the way of spare time then I would politely approach them with suggestions and a gameplan. Don't go to them and just tell them your vision, be prepared to say how you could put it in action, but by the same token if they aren't interested don't stress it because it is their loss to not utilize you. At least this way you can list on your resume that you "recommended innovated ways of improving productivity." :-)

  • Reading over some of these posts, I see initiative as a recurring theme. And it makes me wonder: Do any companies have an unvoiced or unconscious goal of career Darwinianism to identify who's got the moxie to go after additional, more interesting challenges? The drones would get their drudgery and paychecks too, but they wouldn't necessarily get the offer letter upon graduation.
  • While I'm sure you're all competent, I don't think you'll find many companys will give you much of a high risk job until you have more than proven yourself (read gone to college, and gotten a little more experience than your 18 years has afforded you). You may not be in an extremely challenging environment, but the skill here is to be able to do an exeplary job even when the work is brainless. Trust me, if you can prove you are an excellent worker, and can deliver things on time, then you'll be given more challenging projects to work on.

  • ...thats how many businesses look at co-op students.

    Boss #1 Hey, we need someone to do this drudgery

    Boss #2 We won't be able to get anyone to do that work, its menial and crap

    HR Dweeb Hrm, I just got this information from WestNorthSouthern University, and they have a co-op program. They earn 'credit' for doing work for us, if we give them good reviews, and its dirt cheap!

    Boss 1&2 in unison Brilliant!

  • And what is it that makes your idealistic views believe boring, repetitive tasks aren't the real world? Stop into your local research facility and ask how many of the guys cleaning test tubes have Masters degrees.
  • [I expect our narrator to continue thusly:]

    At that point, I was sweating with excitenment. I was sweating so bad, & I was afraid she'd smell my sweat & lose interest. But she just gave me this look, & I decided to go with the flow.

    ``You can keep a secret, can't you?" she asked, her voice a husky whisper.

    ``Uh, yeah," I said, trying to sound mature & knowing that I failed.

    ``Good." She reached behind her desk, & brought forward a waste paper basket that had been covered with a binder, & put it in front of me.

    ``What's this?"

    She quickly sat down, & looked as if she was gong to cry. ``I just found out I'm pregnant, & got sick earlier with morning sickness. I need someone to clean up the evidence, & get me some pickles & ice cream on the double."

    Needless to say, this special assignment did not lead me to further technical ability, although I did learn how to quickly clean puke out of those plastic waste paper baskets. And where all of the grocery stores were in near the business park. In return, she was able to hide the fact of her pregnancy for another three months form her employer.

    [well, I doubt our narrator will write the above, but SMPs to 8086s he will end his tale with the following words:]

    But she gave me the best review & recommendation I ever received from a work place.

  • Here's what I'd do. Realize you still have a good thing going here. This is excellent work experience even if you're doing the dog's work now.
    Talk to the boss and tell them you like what you're doing and understand that alot of the repetive work will fall to you and the other students, but you really want to learn all you can.. so what other new things can they slip into the schedule too? Tell them you want to do more, learn more, make your self more valuable to them all the while increasing your skill levels.
    Have fun while you're at it too!
  • Finally, a use for a new ICANN top-level:


  • My employer gets unpaid interns for the sole purpose of doing the grunt work (mostly data entry). We're very upfront about what you'll be doing (which may not have been the situation in your case), but the interns still have an opportunity to learn.

    Even though you may not find yourself doing the work you thought you could, you do have access to people who are doing it. Talk to them. Ask them questions. Learn!

    Of the last 3 interns my section had, we hired one, offered a job to another (who took a job at another firm), and another section hired the third. Think of the internship as an extended interview. Make contacts and even if you don't want to work at that company, you can get some nice letters of recommendation and perhaps an inside track at other jobs.

    Or you could go around whining and making a pain of yourself and poisoning any future you may have had. It may be too late for that. If I ran a fiber-optic company that had a high school co-op program, I'd be a little suspicious of those students right now.
  • As someone who just finished his search for a postgraduation job, here's a bit of advice (forgive me if you already know this):

    If you are an expert programmer in some language, you almost certainly have done some projects in that language. (How else could you be considered an expert?) Now, anyone can claim to be an expert in X, (and a lot of liars do, unfortunately), but if you put down the projects on your resume rather than just the languages you know, it'll go a lot further in showing your competence (and credibility).

    Plus, it'll give you some cool stuff to talk about when you meet recruiters, since they'll see it right away. Recruiters see lots of resumes littered with languages and/or buzzwords, but showing that you've actually used those technologies to do something useful or cool will help to set you apart. You especially want to put down anything you've done for fun or just for the hell of it or just to see if it would work. A real common question for me in job interviews was "What's the most interesting programming project you've done outside of work or school?" If you tell an interviewer that you love to program but don't have an answer to that question, you're in trouble.

    And if you're saying, "But I haven't done any projects in language X!", than you probably aren't an expert in it. If that's the case, now's the time to think up something and do it.
  • Still, a lot of larger companies that have well funded interesting projects you might be interested in have degree requirements. I know AT&T requires ~10 years in the field without a degree and others will be forces into restricting your pay for a period if you are hired without one.

    Absolutely. Many of the positions I looked into did require specific degrees. I wouldn't advise anyone to drop out of school. But it is interesting to notice how the market is changing somewhat; IT positions are in such high demand. I think that one of the major influences the Open Source Revolution will have on the market is produce a supply of developers (without or without formal education or training at a corporation) that are more than capable of fulfilling the demand of the market.

    Perhaps getting a degree via night school would be the best option for you. If your current role evaporates (can in some lines of work) then you may like having that piece of paper to fall back on. But then again some people are so well motivated and so skilled at presenting themselves professionally that it doesn't matter.

    I would like to do that. The company I work for now offers tuition reimbursement, which is really nice. I've already started checking out evening classes at some local colleges and universities. It does feel sometimes like my 2 years were somewhat in vain...I'd like very much to complete what I started.

  • An Educational Co-op is a program in which students work in a coporate environment for a period of time, often a semeseter, usually taking off from school. The idea is that the student receives valuable experience and more ammo with which to base his or her career choices. The employer receives cheap labour and the opportunity to tempt the student worker into coming on board full-time upon graduation, already trained (at a cheap rate) and spun-up. I took a full-year off of school (after my sophomore year at Washington University in St. Louis, MO) to participate in two co-ops, one at the Washington University Electronic Radiology Lab, and the other at Unigraphics Solutions, Inc. After working full-time for a year at $14/hour (sure beats washing dishes at your local bar and grill), it was very difficult to motivate myself to go back to school. In fact I dropped out two weeks into my junior year to pursue a career without a degree. What I found is that a large number of companies viewed my year of experience and my involvement in the open source community as more valuable than the piece of paper saying I had a bachelors. I somehow expected the degree to be the all-crucial key to getting a job in the tech industry.
  • As a high school student there is no way anyone is going to let you do anything that's super -ool. Because with super-cool comes some risks that someone has to take responsibility for. If something goes wrong and money is lost someone's head is going to roll. No one wants to be the guy who gets fired because some high-school kid screwwed up.

    So the first thing you can do to maximize your experience is to realize that you aren't going to get to do super-cool things, you're going to get to do the menial things the people with the experience don't want to do. And get over it.

    The next thing you can do is meet people. Start networking and the job where you get to do the super-cool stuff will be closer. If you seem to enjoy the menial work, a future manager may be more likely to hire you on.

    Learn things from other people. Keep your trap shut and listen to what us old folks have to say. Chances are there are quite a few people who have a lot of knowledge where you are. Maybe try to establish a mentor relationship with someone.

    Bottom line is paitence. You are there for cheap labor, there's no getting around it. You don't have enough experience for anything else. But if you keep your eyes and ears open you probably can learn a lot.
  • One thing that could well be successful (at *any* job, from a co-op/internship to a real-world position) is to take the initiative to find things around the company that you think look interesting and you might want to learn more about. This might be new piece of technology (hardware or software) you think the company could get use out of, a programming or networking project, or whatever. Write up your idea as a formal proposal, detailing what you want to do, how you plan to go about doing it, and how you think it would benefit the company, and present it to your supervisor. Don't pick something that would radically change the way the company does business ("convert all production servers to Lunix"), but do try to pick something that's actually useful, and not just a "toy" project.

    Even if you don't get the green light to do your proposal as originally envisioned, chances are very good that your boss will be impressed by your initiative and organization, which will increase the chance of getting to work on something more interesting in the future.

    I'm sure there are shady outfits out there who happily will use co-op/intern programs as just a source of cheap labor, but I suspect there are far more cases where the people assigned to supervise aren't themselves managers, and don't always have the best perspective of how to use your skills most effectively.

  • Oh.. so you think managers have the best perspective on how to use peoples skills. heh.. right.

    Actually, in my 6-7 years of being a paid coder & admin, I've found that the supervisors and CIOs I've had to work with have been, by and large, pretty reasonable, intelligent folks. There have been some who had PHB tendencies or had a different work style, but in the great majority of cases they've been smart people who knew a lot about computers.

    Upper management and interdepartment politics, on the other hand, have often been the bane of my existence. But there *are* plenty of shops that have competent IT departments. That doesn't mean that I've never had to work with incompentent people, or people with maddeningly strange personalities, but by and large I've been pretty successful in being able to use my skills effectively and learn new things at every job I've had.

    All your base are belong to us. []

  • Every industry has lots of mindless grunt work to do, much of it cannot or will not be automated for the foreseeable future. Someone has to do it. Someone is defined as a) the new guy. b) the interns. c) someone who doesn't speak english well.

    People who never have to do this sort of work ever tend to take this work for granted and misunderstand it. All work you do has a lesson, and some day you may have to be responsible for a bunch of people doing it OFR you -- better you should have appropriate expectations. You may earn more respect and get more work out of them.
  • and wait until you get to grad school. if you took my monthly allowance and divided it by the number of hours i work i would make about $3.00 an hour, and that's with two degrees in engineering.

    when i was in highschool i worked at mcdonalds. if you dont feel loved testing equipment then you should go work at a fast food place to gain some perspective.

    most of my friends who co-op'ed in college had about the same problem. this is the deal:
    to give you a good project and get you up to speed on the stuff you need to know to get it done and then have you leave after a semester is money wasted by the company. you expirence walks out the door with you. they will want to give good projects to full time employees who will take the knowlege they aquire and put it back into the company.

    there is also the realization that a good project might not be accomplishable in a semester (possibly two).

    i'm not saying that the training would be wasted on you. you may come back to this company after college. i'm just saying that you have to see the companies perspective on this. if you want to do something cool this is my advice:

    find something that you can do that will save the company money (or make them money). do a cost analysis detailing how you think X will save the company $Y. ask your boss if you can talk to him and give him a short presentation on what your idea is. this shows initiave on your part. if you want to be an engineer this is it. making something from nothing... well really optimizing and doing what you can with what you have.

    use LaTeX? want an online reference manager that
  • There's a reference to it in 'Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home', and in 'First Contact' picard is quoted as saying 'money doesn't exist in the twenty-fourth century'. Various refrences to it in most of the series. The only ones portrayed as interested in money are the ferengi who are also portrayed as liars and cheats.

  • In the military, the oft-heard advice is "never volunteer for anything". That's sucker's advice. Do the oposite. Always volunteer - but do it selectively.

    Look at existing taks for something you want to do. Can't find any? Come up with new tasks that take advantage of your stronger skills and get whoever is in charge to bless them. Make yourself as busy as you can. You'll end up spending the majority, if not all, your time doing things you like.

    And the grunt work? That'll be assigned to the suckers freeing their time by not volunteering.

  • Making copies and ordering parts is not terribly useful practical experience, and isn't likely to lead to Real Work.

    But ordering parts is one of the most vital skills an engineer needs in any company, large or small. And an engineer who can't make his own copies will end up as a dilbert joke around the office.

    My first few co-op jobs were purely practical and had lots of hands-on experience, mostly as scab replacement for striking workers. I was thrown into the deep end of the job after one day of training, and did the same repetitive job for 3 months. I was too exhausted at the end of each day to learn more than about another 4 hours of whatever I could before going home :-) But what I didn't learn was how offices worked.

    My first real job out of school I started as a low level grunt, despite my shiny new degree. One of the first tasks I had to do was order a whole bunch of parts for a project, and it took me weeks to figure out the purchasing system, how to properly write up RFPs following company guidelines, who to charm in the purchasing department to get things to happen quickly. If I had learned as an apprentice how to run a purchase order through the system, I could have completed my first real task in about 2 days, not 27. A real eye opener, and a skill I have to rely on no matter what type of job I'm doing, even today.

    So when you are a co-op, you should be learning all the little office skills that will become a constant background noise later in life. Learn how to make photocopies, and how the copier works (ask a secretary how to load toner and special paper). Learn how office phone systems work, and how to leave a professional sounding voice mail OGM every day. Learn how shipping/receiving works. Learn how to run a purchase order through the system. Learn how to send faxes properly with cover sheets. Learn what not to do, such as changing the inhouse network without the express permission of the network manager, lest ye become BOFH [] fodder.

    I know one big organisation where the IS/IT directorate gets a load of PFYs every summer school break. Even though these kids are the offspring of upper level administrators and diplomats, they all get the same grunt job for the first three days, cleaning telephone handsets and keyboards (this was in Germany, where almost everyone smoked, you can imagine how bad a handset smells after a year with a chain smoker). Even I had to spend my first day scrubbing them clean, despite my supposed role as high-priced and very experienced telecoms consultant. It was a time honored tradition in the telecoms group that every person, no matter how high a job they held, had to spend at least one day doing the job nobody ever wanted to do, but it provided a steady supply of clean and working telephones to put on new employees desks.

    So get over your whinging about just doing grunt work with test equipment, and keep your eyes open for tons of other skills you can pick up while there. Later you will look back on those halcyon days with almost no responsibility and no expectations.

    the AC
  • My company has, in the past, hired a few coop students on for 10 week stints. We stopped the practice after we realized that the drain on our permanent resources was greater than the benefit of having the coop staff around.

    We had to hold their hands when we did anything "interesting" and even then, more often than not, they got in the way and used up a great deal of time asking questions which they thought were pertinent but actually were off base and shouldn't have been asked then.

    As a company, we generally support education of tomorrow's workforce...just not at the expense of today's work.

    This is why you are given the crap jobs...they don't require handholding and the senior staff can get on with the real work.

    Plus, there is a general feeling that after we've spent all that time training you, you just leave back for the pack and we are forced to start all over again.

    Just some thoughts...
  • I've worked for Dupont, and have friends that have worked for SGI. Often times they give boring, repetative tasks. But there's a good reason for it. It's hard to develop real projects that are both learning experiences for the co-op and profitable for the company. Anything given to the co-op is most likely going to require constant attention from the supervisor, which doubles the process's cost.

    Many times, the descision to hire co-ops is made at a high level, with no clear understanding of what the students will actually be doing. Often times when employees are over-worked and ask for more help, middle-management will jump right to co-ops (if they're sufficiently funded). But from experience, this can actually be counter-productive. Many co-workers will see this and thus resolve the co-ops to menial tasks.

    A student is there to learn new things, but a company wants students that are already skilled, so it's adverse selection. Thus I can't imagine there's much practical use of a High school student (though we've managed to hire one or two for a summer).

  • I'll note that in my experience, when a company takes on co-op students from local colleges (this does not apply to all colleges, of course, but I'm talking here about the local ones and about students that are almost finished their programs), they simply aren't capable of anything more than menial work.

    My experience is similar, I work as an astronomer/programmer [] and have ran a couple of co-op programmes. People coming in without a PhD in my place of work are usually assigned the grunt work (they're called grad students), when we have a undergraduate (college to you 'merkins), or a school pupil (err, 'college to you 'merkins) coming in for a couple of months, its fairly rare they can contribute anything other than hard work. Which isn't to say that the work isn't appreciated, it had to get done anyway, if they weren't doing it, we'd have to!

    My advice is to work hard, do the stuff they assign you to do, ask for more, and look over the shoulder of the more approachable members of the team to have a look at the cool stuff you'll be able to do after another 10 years of schooling.

    Sorry, but even ``trivial'' cool projects can sometimes get complicated very quickly, they aren't going to give you anything that might get complicated because if you fail that will discourage you, and make you think that engineering is too hard, and that sort of defeats the point of a co-op programme.

  • I oppologise this sound a bit harsh... I'm in a hurry, but I've got a lot to write on this subject.

    Ok... we are a research engineering firm. We work on everything from telecommunications to maglev to industrial robot design to --- whatever... pay us enough for something we're interested in and probably we'll do it. We can manage many multi-million dollar projects simultaneously, yet we can't effectively manage our co-ops.

    Since we do everything, it is common that you cross-discipline, as in I'm a CompE by trade but I know a lot about ME stuff now. With a Co-op, its hard to instill the additional knowledge in a usefull way... plus its hard to slow down to explain to them what we need done... The co-op needs to learn by osmosis and asking questions, figure out when and how to put their hands in, and otherwise stay alert and help out.

    Strictly from a corporate standpoint, when there are no co-ops around, I'm the low man on the totem pole. Theoretical design at the system level and complex mathematics is handled by the PHDs, and the staff engineers get responsibilities delagated to them according to their tallents, availability and socio-political boundaries. Senior engineers (probably middle-management in other businesses) act to advise, help out and handle the larger project portions.... Co-ops are...well, lower than the low... If we need it done, then they get to do it.

    As one of our projects, a co-op got to BOIL RANCID MEAT for the entire time. Think about it, four months of bubbling rancid meat... YUCK! I'd have quit if they had asked me to do it. That's the honest truth. God bless Vinny, who found out that he wasn't thrilled with our company, and who landed a job with a really great company and pulls in the big bucks. Did I mention Vinny was working on a BS not a HS diploma?

    Face it, for the most part, we need the co-ops to do the tasks which are not cost effective for us to do... That means, "wire this up" and "machine me this" are two common things said to co-ops... We don't have you design circuits or robot parts because we have enough people to do that that don't have to be trained. Co-oping at a company is not where the company bows down and bends over backwards to provide the co-op an oporunity to learn. Co-oping provides you with access to real engineers doing real engineering work. Evrey once in a while, if you prove yourself useful, they pass you a task

    You say your job got repetative after a month or so? Surprise, when you get a real job, your job will get repetative after a month or so. One does not go from college to millionare CEO unless they start Napster. Co-oping with a real company (as opposed to starting one) means that you get treated like a real person. That means low man on the totem pole...

    as to your comment:
    We certainly didn't sign up for this program in order to be cheap labor; we signed up because it was marketed to us as an "engineering project," and the majority of us plan to pursue engineering-related careers. What can we do as students to improve our experience, and what guidelines should any company follow when conducting a cooperative education program such as this, particularly with high school kids? Is there anyone out there who has found a successful way to run such a program?

    That's what you are. You are cheap labor. I am cheap labor as well. However, my experience makes me more useful labor, and with the fact that our contracts last from 3 weeks to 5 years, either the information necessary has to be rapidly picked up and executed (higher skillset than most HS students and many college) or the project is so long that to have you design something (potentially poorly) and then you leave leaves the company with no one who "owns" or knows that part.

    You probably don't know statics in depth, dynamics is right out... coding is likely suspect... probably your documentation skills are poor.... and well so on... These things are picked up as you go along... Believe it or not, sweeping the floors and machining a couple of parts is the ground floor enterance for most. (other than IT and so on*)

    Having interned in HS as well, I sympathise with you. I found that bleeding mice and running electropherisis tests was boring, but a different kind of boring.

    anyways... gotta go.

    * someday I'll rant on this.

  • seriously, big fat deal. i did a highschool co-op as well. i was in charge of entering names into a database, faxing, and doing tech support on Wordperfect (DOS) when people couldn't figure it out.

    so it wasn't the most glamourous job, but i was just a highschool student! i put that job on my resume, and made it sound like i was integral to the team. then i got a better job through that. if you're looking for enthrauling work through your high school co-op, you're delusional and naive. go there, do the grunt work, see how things are done. the very fact that you did a highschool co-op will guarantee that you're looked at in a better light than your competition when you're going for that next job. what looks better: working the summer at McD's, or doing tech "gruntwork" at an engineering firm?

    so get over it. you're in highschool for Christ's sake! i have highschool co-ops working for me now, and while i try to keep them involved and interested, at the end of the day it's one of them who's going to be doing the data entry. this is just your first step, so don't get too far ahead of yourself.

    - j

  • You are no doubt making much more $$ than you would be at any number of standard high-school-type jobs (McDonalds, grocery store, etc. etc.) that offer quite a bit less in the way of career building and/or interesting tasks. You're doing real, useful work not involving getting burned by the fryer, and getting paid well for it. This puts you well above the status quo for your peers. Maybe it's not thrilling, but most jobs aren't. Make the most of the experience and get on with your life.

    Now, if you weren't getting paid, that's a whole other story. I had an experience in high school with a computer maker who shall remain nameless, who expected us to work 15-20 hours per week, for free. I'm glad I got out of there as fast as possible!

  • by 4of12 ( 97621 )

    I appreciate your problem.

    I was once an intelligent young person, but due to my age I was not considered of "sufficient maturity and experience" for tasks for which I frankly had most of the brains.

    Now I'm on the other end. I'm 25 years older and have lost that 100 millisecond rapier wit that I had in high school.

    As such an overworked technical person, I find that it is difficult to spring loose the time to adequately mentor a young person, even if I do enjoy it.

    From that standpoint I'd suggest this:

    Be a self starter. Learn everything you can about the business and look for opportunities to creatively apply something you've learned to improve their quality of life.

    I'm thinking here of things like Perl and PHP programming, setting up a web page to dynamically update their view of what's going on in the company, etc. But don't be limited by my suggestions. Use your own mind to create your own suggested job!

    Be assured, if you don't figure out something creative to occupy your mind at work, someone there will assign you some drudgery to keep you busy. They might still assign you drudgery, but if you start to show some sparkly creation, you might get a reprieve and get to dom something you enjoy that will be of greater educational and vocational value to you in the longer run.

  • Since day one every body has known what a CO-OP program is for. CO-OPs are for exactly what you are doing -- get cheap labor for meanial tasks.

    You will never be involved in a project as a CO-OP student for several reasons:

    You are a student -- by definition you are still learning and thus may not have the technical knowledge needed

    You are temporary -- the company knows you will be leaving, as such they will not involve you in anything that might require more than 15 minutes of your time

    You will eventually work for a competitor -- since you are a minor you can not be bound by a contract and as such what you learn you can take with you to whomever your future employer is, why should your CO-OP company pay to train you to compete with them?

    Here is what you, as a student, use the CO-OP program for:

    Resume builder -- when you graduate at least you will be able to say you've seen the inside of an engineering shop this will give you some advantage over other graduates that will get you past the HR machine and into an interview (list the projects your CO-OP company was involved in regardless of how little you actually participated, if the projects are high profile you'll look like a little genius)

    Contact builder -- DING DING DING DING -- this is the biggy. When you apply for a job most HR departments don't know squat about engineering, they do a global search on your resume for buzz-words, if they are there they forward you resume to the department. Now that you are sitting in an interview you can use "in the know" knowledge (i.e. peoples names, industry inside jokes, etc) that will make you seem like less of a newbie and more like "one of the guys". There is a big difference between not hiring the "green-horn" and not hiring Joe the guy who CO-OPed at BFD Engineering with Al (get the picture).

    So, basically stop BMW-ing about your meanial work and start rubbing elbows. Go to lunch with the engineers, ask questions about what they are doing and about the industry as a whole. What you get out of a CO-OP is not the ability to be a part of designing the next generation of space flight vehicles, what you get out of a CO-OP is the ability to develop personal relationships with the people who are designing the next generation of space flight vehicles.

  • My local grocery is a co-op : great high quality selection, mostly organic, kind of expensive.

    I understand that kind of co-op. I'm an owner along with about 5000 other people.

    What kind of co-op is this being described? Is it basically the same and I'm just missing the connection? Or is the relationship build on a different foundation?

  • Hmm... I can appreciate your desire to get on with life, especially if your talent runs deep and your passion for your job is there.

    Still, a lot of larger companies that have well funded interesting projects you might be interested in have degree requirements. I know AT&T requires ~10 years in the field without a degree and others will be forces into restricting your pay for a period if you are hired without one.

    Perhaps getting a degree via night school would be the best option for you. If your current role evaporates (can in some lines of work) then you may like having that piece of paper to fall back on. But then again some people are so well motivated and so skilled at presenting themselves professionally that it doesn't matter.

  • I'm a junior in CS/Engineering at one of the top CS schools in the country, and I'll tell you for a fact that most internships/co-ops for friends of mine have been stuff like this. You HAVE to do some share of the dirty work before you can ever really get something interesting going. So you're doing testing, etc... big deal. Many of my friends do that 8 hours a day all summer at their jobs, and they have more than 2 years of a college education under their belt, not just most of a high school degree. You most likely don't have anywhere near the necessary education to do anything fun/engineering related just yet. Hang in there though, this will be great to put on a resume. "Yeah, I spent part of my high school years working for this great tech company, doing the kind of work I'd do for you guys. I've already got 2 years of experience over any other potential intern that you were considering." When you talk to the recruiters in the years to come, play it up, don't make it sound like you did menial little jobs. I'm sure if you do a good job, your bosses won't mind sending in nice letters of recommendation to potential employers. (or, for that matter, hiring you themselves.)

    Just some advice from someone who's been there (well, actually still IS there...)
  • What did you expect to do, start at the top? You may be the brightest employee since time began, but are almost useless without some practical experience. This is how to get it.

    Making copies and ordering parts is not terribly useful practical experience, and isn't likely to lead to Real Work.

    My advice to would-be co-ops: Figure out what skills will make them sit up and take notice, and acquire those skills. When I was a senior in HS checking out various colleges, the head of the CS department at one (the one where I ended up) told me that if I knew C or some other common programming language, I'd have no problem finding a co-op job. So I went home, bought a copy of an inexpensive C compiler, and set about teaching myself the language. The department head proved correct: I easily got a job, and was writing real code (in C) just a few weeks after I started working there.

    I have to admit, it also helped that I was a programmer surrounded by hardware engineers who didn't have a lot in the way of programming skills. Basically, I was in many ways a "support" person (i.e. the work I was doing wasn't as core to the organization's business), I was trusted with more responsibility than someone who was doing hardware engineering would be.

  • I was a co-op student, and I make a point of hiring them whenever I can, as co-op is a wonderful concept. I try to make it interesting, and educational, and blah blah blah, but the simple fact of the matter is that there's a lot of 'scut' work that pops up. And a lot of it gets dumped on the person who's other tasks would suffer least, from a business point of view. Guess what; if there's a co-op, it's her. But here's something that most co-ops never realize: if the co-op wern't there to do it, it would still get done. It would still be there. We're not creating the scut work specifically to give to you, and yes, guess what, for every exciting relational database you get to design and implement, there will be thousands and thousands of crap assignments; inventory, renaming documents, etc etc etc. Might as well learn that fact now.
  • You forgot number 3: valuable contacts. FUCKING VALUABLE 'networking.' In my college course (university is right out; I didn't want an education. I wanted a job. And as a Senior Systems Administrator at 23, who has co-ops of his own ;-) I think it all worked out) literally 2/3rds of the class (who wern't weeded out, at least) didn't graduate because their co-op employers begged them to stay on. Myself included.
  • Yay Ottawa! My first college co-op was for National Defense. Keep in mind, kids, co-ops are like shit. There's plenty to spread around, nobody wants to step in it, but it'll float to it's proper level, and it's a prime ingredient for growing things. In other words, go in expecting the world, you're in for a grand disappointment. Go in prepared to demonstrate your skill and abilities, and you'll probably be given tasks consummate with said skills and abilities. But nobody likes a teen-age punk know-it-all whiner; at that point, you're fufilling stereotypes.
  • Learn how to use the phone & copier system the first day. Be nice to all secretaries, mailroom people, etc. Never go anywhere without a clipboard or other work-related object in your hand.
  • I'll note that in my experience, when a company takes on co-op students from local colleges (this does not apply to all colleges, of course, but I'm talking here about the local ones and about students that are almost finished their programs), they simply aren't capable of anything more than menial work. We had one girl who claimed to be a C++ expert but it turned out she had only had two months of training in C++ and knew next to nothing about the language.

    I can imagine the situation would be similar for high-school students. While perhaps the company should try to give you more interesting stuff to do, you should be aware that there are going to be severe limitations on how much 'cool stuff' you are actually capable of.

    And, of course, you should realise that most jobs are fairly repetitive.


  • There's a perfect Dilbert for this:

    1. Alice grabs Asok (the intern), tells him it's an emergency and brings him to an airduct.
    2. She tells him "You must crawl through the Jeffries Tube and shut down the furnace before it fries us all!"
    3. Asok gets stuck, ass out, in the duct. Alice, holding a "spank the intern, 50 cents" sign, tells Dilbert "Today young Asok learns that life is not like Star Trek."

    My first intern-style job was at a defense electronics company. I spent entire days counting resistors.

    Believe me, some day you will look back fondly on days like that.

  • Even if you are doing grunt programming and debugging, it still is helping your skills.

    You learn by reading good code, you learn by reading bad code. As long as you recognize bad code as bad, you learn what to avoid.

    In many internships, you end up doing the grunt work, but as long as it's practice or related then it's not bad.

  • --You can't hear it, but I am clapping really loud.

  • My browser (NS4.75) core-dumped on me. Here it goes again:

    From personal experience as an employeer, we tend to ask co-ops to perform as difficult a job as they are technically qualified to do.

    Having said that, every employee, co-op or not, will find him/herself performing boring tasks very so often.

    As Dilbert says, this is the reason why the pay you: if work was all fun they would charge admission prices at the entrance!

    This is not to say that there aren't unenlightened co-op employers out there who think of co-op students as under-aged janitors, as opposed to trainees, but from what you write yours doesn't seem to be one.

    The schools I'm familiar with keep tabs on co-op employers, and if they treat their students as sources of menial labor with no training component the employer gets an earful.

  • ...and then you woke and realised you'd creamed your bedsheets.
  • Sorry if you were misled to believe that you were anything *BUT* cheap labor. You are. Don't feel bad, not many jobs are actually like the 'job description'. Most of the time you are doing 'other duties as assigned'. :-)
  • Yup, The training was cool now you get to learn why people are paid to go to work it is because you would not do most of it because it is fun. Just be glad you have something to put on your resume. Work can be fun but most of it is not that is what home is for. Sounds like a good program to me.
  • that's inane
  • As a full time employee of a high-tech company, my question is: where are we supposed to get cheap labor, if we can't use high school co-op students? I certainly don't want to do it.

    I know this sounds likes like a smarmy dismissal of the question, but there really are some crappy jobs that need doing, and somebody's got to do them. Perhaps you should look into trying to automate these boring tasks (Perl, Python, VB, whatever makes sense in your environment) and not only will this make your life more interesting, you'll learn something in the process.

  • I couldn't agree more.

    I co-oped three summers at IBM in San Jose. Every assignment I had, and the reason I was invited back twice stemmed from one assignment I fought for. I could have been a copy boy the entire time, but because I proposed something, and did it, they offered me further employment.

    Just because someone has you filing or doing inventory, does not mean that there is not more you can do. It's up to you to find a void and fill it.

  • Hmmm, so let me see if I got this straight... The company spends its money to train and educate you, and now you are experiencing engineering work you complain that the company doesn't keep spending its money on you?

    I know it may be difficult to believe, but a lot of engineering is spent doing menial chores... like testing and validation. Very few find themselves perpetually at the forefront of "cool" new technology.

  • Tounge in cheek but TRUE.

    I attend a college with a co-op is part of our curriculum. I will be going on my third and final co-op this spring. What have I learned most from my two previous co-ops?

    1. Engineering is full of menial tasks.

    2. No one starts off doing the really cool stuff right out of college anyway, unless you are a genius. Engineers work in teams and you will most likely start out working under a more experienced PE until you learn a special skill or prove your self to be engineering management type material.

    3. MOST IMPOSTANT LESSON. Not all jobs turn out to be as cool as they are cracked up to be. Not all management cares about giving co-ops meaningful work. They hired you for a purpose and intend to exploit you for it. This is a valuable life lesson.

    My advice for the posters: Ask to get involved in projects that you are interested in. Talk to your supervisor and let him know that you would like to work in some more challenging work along with what you are currently doing. Be open, and if he/she does not respond well then leave and take that lesson with you for the rest of your career.

    Remember, you got an opportunity to see real engineering in person, even if you could not actively participate. That should give you an idea of whether you want to spend the next 4 years studying it and the rest of your life doing it. Not everyone gets that type of opportunity.

  • Plus, companies tend to value what they pay for--even if you're a whiz, they'll trust an idiot that they're paying 90K a year before they'll trust you. There is tremendous pressure to validate their hiring decisions, so they may not see your value because it devalues someone else. In other words, no one wants to hear... "So, if this high-school student, who we're paying absolutely nothing, can do Larry's job in half the time it takes Larry, why exactly did you hire Larry at 90K? You're fired." They're gonna let Larry take care of things and keep you fetching coffee.
  • Some posters have responded to your question with the answer "tough shit; get used to it kid"(paraphrase). While they have a solid point you may want to absorb on your travels into the work world, you have a good point as well: you feel you were misled by promises of engineering experience. You are getting engineering experience doing the grunt work--that is part of engineering. But you have every right to assert your desire to do more interesting things. You have nothing to lose by diplomatically bringing this issue up with any of your supervisors, including any teachers who helped you find the position. And this could be a great experience in asking for what you want at work. Most people are so afraid of approaching the same issue you're talking about, for fear of losing their jobs, they never even try. Give it a shot--you won't know unless you do. But when you're talking with your supervisors, try not to argue and be pissed off, as angry as you may be. Be assertive and insistent and clear about what you want. And be prepared to not get what you want: if you get to do even a few fun things among your other work, you can consider that an improvement. Hope this helps some; good luck!
  • MAybe you think that anyone with half a brain can run cable, perhaps that's true, but without that cable the whole project may not work. For example, I'm a field service engineer with Compaq Federal, my job is to maintain systems. Replace, repair, test, troubleshoot. But before I can do that, I need systems, which means I may be sent off to help build the systems. And then when enough are ready they get clustered. In clustering them and running the storage, there is a lot of cable work. Without the cables the thing wouldn't work too well. And On a test system I've already pulled over 12 hours on a shift just helping with the cable work. I imagine once the production system arrives I'll be doing that day in and out for a week or two. Cabling is all part of the total experience. And you get out what you put in.
  • My highschool purchased a large amount of outdated army computer systems from our town's neighboring army base. The next year a new class came out, a "computer hardware" class. Well, the class taught very little about computer hardware, especially when all we were working with were outdated 8088's & such. Our "class assignment" was to sort through all these computers and see which ones worked, and then set them aside, the ones that didn't work, we had to try to fix them to put them in the working computer pile. It was supposed to go on like this all year, but us students didn't like the idea of being free labor for the school so we mostly destroyed these machines and told the teacher that most of them were broken. Then the ones that worked, we just played around on them and pretended we were actually getting stuff done. It was really bad ethics on our part, but we all got a free credit for the most part.

  • I agree with you completly. My first co-op job started sophmore year of college for a small startup software company. They used me for cheap labor and I used them to get as much experience as I could. I started there as a quality assurance tester (endlessly testing bug-ridden software). When I found bugs, I would sit down with the programmers and go over them and watch over their shoulders as they fixed them. Soon I asked if I could start fixing minor bugs and they gave me the chance.

    As it turns out, I was not a good programmer (I can code most anything as long as you are patient enough to wait for me, a long wait sometimes). They then gave me a chance to become their IT department for all 30 employees since I knew how to fix PCs. I ended up staying there for 3 years as a full time IT person after I graduated and that is where I got all of my on the job training for my future career, and they paid me for it (a great deal).

    Now (10 years later), I am still in the IT industry and work in the networking group of a large corporation.

    The point is that, a co-op job is what you make of it. Be aggressive and try to learn what you can and take whatever opportunities are given to you, no matter how small, they may grow into great opportunities. Use this job not just to learn but to help figure out what it is you want to do in the high tech world. There are many options, try out as many as you can before you settle down to a specific career path.

  • Don't ask how they are running their program wrong. Ask how you are intereacting with their program incorrectly.
  • What did you expect to do, start at the top? You may be the brightest employee since time began, but are almost useless without some practical experience. This is how to get it.
  • I forgot to add that for last summer we had a few interns. A bunch of college kids and one kid still in high school (not even a senior!).

    So what happened?

    Some of the college kids got lucky enough to learn Macromedia Flash, so we put them to work on a project. The lazy ones were sent to do quality assurance on a project and the bored one ended up being sort of a stage hand at our media studio.

    What about the high school kid?

    We took him to our web development team, and paired him with a mid-level programmer hoping he could keep him busy and out of trouble. A week later the kid had mastered Pathware and LearningSpace (nobody else had a clue). Two weeks later he was functioning as a staff programmer, and he was training OUR guy on Pathware and Learningspace!

    When summer was over nobody wanted him to leave and we almost issued him a laptop and cell phone so he could do contract work for us. Only reason we did not do it was because we did not want to make a wreck out of his senior year in HS. He stays in touch and if I am lucky he will come to work for me this summer before he is gone for college.


  • Guess you should have taken the blue pill.

  • by MatriXOracle ( 33400 ) on Thursday February 22, 2001 @12:01PM (#410374) Homepage
    I suppose I can add to this discussion, considering I'm currently on my third co-op education term. Living in Ottawa, I've fortunately had the ability to experience work at many different high-tech companies.

    My first co-op was in grade 11 at Newbridge Networks (which is now part of Alcatel). In a way that term was like the one described by co-op-ted. I was working in an assembly plant and performing labor for free. On the other hand, the program was attached to an electronics course, and I did learn about electronics there. Plus it was basically my first job...I got alot of exposure to how the workplace actually functions which was very important.

    The next year, I did another term at Nortel. This one was linked to my computer science course, and it proved very valuable for me. I was able to learn what the process of designing software in the real world was like, and they gave me the time and space to learn a new language (Perl) on my own from scratch.

    Now I'm in College taking computer science, and I'm out on my third co-op term at Canada Post. (Yes actually mail can be high-tech). I'm really enjoying this experience. We're working on developing applications on PocketPCs (yeah yeah, MS, I know..) which is something not many companies have done and definitely not something I'd get to experience at school.

    So I dunno, maybe my case is a little extreme, most people won't get the chance to do that many co-op work terms. However I have no doubt that they've helped me become not only a better programmer, but someone who knows how to handle the workplace. And when future employers see three companies on the resume of a guy fresh out of college, that's an impressive thing.

  • by glitch! ( 57276 ) on Thursday February 22, 2001 @11:02AM (#410375)
    [tounge in cheek]
    Consider this a good educational experience. The company management apparently does not recognise your intelligence or ability to solve problems, nor do they seem to even place a decent value on your contributions.

    Later, once you have your credentials (and some real world experience), you will find that company management does not recognise your intelligence or ability to solve problems, nor do they seem to even place a decent value on your contributions.

    And far in the future, when you are a top professional, having proved your worth and intelligence many times over, you will find that company management does not recognise your intelligence or ability to solve problems, nor do they seem to even place a decent value on your contributions.

    In short, the experience you gain now will be relevent for the rest of your career.
  • by aardvarkjoe ( 156801 ) on Thursday February 22, 2001 @11:54AM (#410376)
    First off, as many people have said, this is what you were hired to do. No, it's not exciting, but if you do it you'll have that much of a headstart when you join them as a "real" employee.

    However, I did the co-op thing last year, and had a pretty good experience. The one who was in before me did grunt work -- the few times when he did anything at all. They weren't too inclined to give anything that could be important to someone who didn't want to work. Although I did my share of the dull stuff, after a few months I was doing quite a bit of programming and system administration ... the things that didn't require a whole lot of experience, but still needed to get done.

    Another thing which helped out ... I sort of went in the back door. (I was lucky, my father works for this company ... but check around with any friends you have with engineering positions; they very well may be able to steer you into something interesting.) HR people generally have their own ideas about where they want the co-ops, and if you do some of the legwork yourself, you may be able to get more choices as to where you end up.

    The primary thing I took from my job was that I never want to work in a corporate environment, if I can possibly avoid it ... but the six months of experience waas many times more valuable than a semester of school. Think for a second ... what would you rather be doing, reading a textbook (generally badly-written confusing trash by a faculty member) and doing pointless homework and tests, or doing and watching the same work that you hope to be doing some day? It may not be fun, but there are lots of advantages.

  • Since the highest-rated comments are on the level of "Get Used To It!", I hope I can inject some positive comments into the group...

    Co-op's don't have to suck, but they often do. The problem is, many companies look at you as cheap labor, paid only in experience. You can't be trusted with new engineering tasks, only grunt work that a temp could do, or things that aren't mission critical.

    If you are stuck in one of these, and not getting paid, get out. If you are getting paid, stick around, but you'll probably learn more taking another class.

    If you are getting paid in a boring, repetative job, you may have to take some initiative to make it a good experience. The best way is to shadow engineers doing the "exciting" stuff, and get them to talk about their jobs. You'll learn something, and, if they like you, you may get moved somewhere more interesting.

    If you can't shadow, then spend a lunch with them. You may get a free lunch, if they are feeling guilty, and you'll learn a lot while they talk over sandwiches. Same benefit - you learn something, they may like you enough to move you to something better.

    I haven't had a work-for-credit situation, only summer jobs and part-time work during school. I haven't had a bad experience, but that was mostly luck. The best ones were jobs where someone had a pet project, but couldn't justify putting someone with experience on it.

    One summer, I worked for an energy trading company, filling out forms required by new industry regulations. EXTREMELY boring, but I took my spare time to exhance the original Excel form into something much better, learning Visual Basic along the way. I was able to make a one-hour task take 3 minutes, teach someone else how to do it, and left the process better than when I found it. I got a nice sweater out of it, and a good recomendation.

    In another job, I had to analyze a set of dial-up computers, used as remote terminals over slow-bandwidth connections. Again, boring work, plus the computer room was freezing. I took the time to automate the process, put together some presentations, and learned a bit about how the company worked. I also had many interesting lunches, and learned much more than the scope of my job.

    To make a co-op or part-time job sucessful, you need to get yourself interested in it, find something to like or something new to learn, and talk with those with experience. Again, if you can't do this, or have no interest in the work, you are better off taking another class, rather than working a co-op.

  • by PD ( 9577 ) <> on Thursday February 22, 2001 @11:01AM (#410378) Homepage Journal
    It won't get you out of the work you are already assigned, but you can volunteer for new projects. You can invent something cool and ask your boss permission to do it.

    Nobody's going to challenge you but yourself. Nobody said to Edison, "I need something that I can talk into and play my voice back to me." Edison dreamed it up and had his lackeys build it for him.

    You don't have the lackeys to do stuff for you (yet) but you can still dream up things for yourself. Personal challenges are always internal.

  • by bgarcia ( 33222 ) on Thursday February 22, 2001 @11:27AM (#410379) Homepage Journal
    ...nor do we believe we are being used to our fullest potential. We certainly didn't sign up for this program in order to be cheap labor...
    But that's what companies want. The last thing they want to do is to become dependent upon you. You'll be leaving in a few months, so it would be a waste of time on their part. It's easiest for them to use you on small, simple projects, which usually translate into something mundane.
    What can we do as students to improve our experience?
    Two things:

    First, do everything they ask of you. Do it quickly, and do it well. This shows responsibility. Acting like you are above this sort of work will not endear you to the people who normally have to do that job when you're not around.

    Second, since you've done the assigned tasks quickly, you should have some time left. Show initiative and ask for some more complicated, additional projects.

    This worked for me. I was able to turn a snoozer of a summer job into something pretty interesting.

    Good luck!

  • by Greg@RageNet ( 39860 ) on Thursday February 22, 2001 @11:16AM (#410380) Homepage
    You are being oppressed by the capitalist pigs.

    We must overthrow the tyranical captialist who makes us work at gunpoint and forces us to take their money in payment to perpetuate the capitalist system.

    We will overthrow capitalism and install a perfect socialist society where we can all comment on how great Ralph Nader is and we can all make ice cream together. Our society does not need money, because Star Trek told us so. Some people will do the dirty work like being garbage men because they love our society and our fellow man so much that they don't mind smelling like rotting sealife.

    Meanwhile we can live in the trees and eat small nuts and berries and save all the plants and animals, even the ones that eat us sometimes.

  • by mmmmbeer ( 107215 ) on Thursday February 22, 2001 @11:36AM (#410381)
    I remember when I thought I wasn't being used to my full potential. When I thought I was undervalued by my company. When I felt I could recode the whole world without bugs in under an hour. How I yearn for those days. How I miss last week.

    Ok, enough kidding. Actually, I do still feel this way, I've just learned not to harp on it. Most of the other engineers I know feel that way, too. Most non-engineers seem to think that way about themselves, as well. You just have to learn to make the most of your situation.

    First, look at it from your employer's perspective. There are three reasons why a company hires high school students: Cheap labor, good PR, and in a few rare cases, a real interest in helping high school students find their calling. A lot of people on here are probably saying, "Of course they just want you as cheap labor, deal with it." I'm not going to say that. What I'll say is, take advantage of it. To make the most of your situation, here are some suggestions:

    1) Accept that you are going to do some crap work. It's inevitable, whether you're a grunt or a top engineer. Sometimes, the only difference between way cool and big-ass lame is a few thousand repetitions.

    2) Ask questions. Lots of questions. Try to make them good questions. (There are no stupid questions, but lots of inquisitive idiots, blah blah blah...) This will: keep them aware of you, let them know you're interested, and possibly lead to them revealing more interesting secrets.

    3) Find the mentor. Somebody there is truly interested in helping you out. Most likely it is some old geek who will never have kids of his own. If you can get one of these guys to take you under his wing, chances are he will let you in on the cool stuff he's working on.

    4) Play on their motives. If you can find the real reason the company hired you (cheap labor, pr, etc.), you can work it in to your discussions when you try to get cooler assignments. Try this, "Oh, there's no need for [engineer] to spend his time on that, I can handle it."

    And never forget, you're just in high school. I know that seems insulting right now, but you'll be saying it yourself in a few years. People are supposed to have crap jobs in high school - it's like a rite of passage or something. And boring crap is better than manual labor.

    And in conclusion, stand up straight, fly right, don't forget to floss, and pull up your pants!
  • by rw2 ( 17419 ) on Thursday February 22, 2001 @11:01AM (#410382) Homepage
    Think being a co-op high schooler is grunt work, try being a post-doc or god forbid a grad student at a major physics lab. Grunt grunt grunt.

    Seriously. You will get out of it what you put in to it. The company may not be 100% what you think they promised, but you must put in 100% anyway. So they have you doing crap work. What do you do at lunch and on breaks? Are you talking with the engineers (or hanging with your buddies)? Are you reading whatever they have laying around (or did you bring in a copy of you sociology text to study)? Are you showing a willingness to learn (or are you moaning about the grunt work)?

    Sometimes experiences are plain old rotten, but often times they can be made much better just by having the right attitude at the right time.

    Luck, after all, is mostly just preparedness meeting opportunity.


  • by Dominic_Mazzoni ( 125164 ) on Thursday February 22, 2001 @11:51AM (#410383) Homepage
    I can't believe how many people have posted things along the lines of "pay your dues", "shut up and quit whining" or "what'd you expect"?

    In all of my internships, I always found a real project to do and did interesting work. And a lot of my friends did, too. You know how? By doing it.

    My first internship was at RealNetworks (at the time called Progressive Networks). I knew how to program Macs, which was rare, so they put a Mac on my desk and told me to be a tester (I think my instructions were to keep clicking until it crashed). Well, I found a bug, but instead of reporting it, I opened up the code and tried to find it. I didn't understand the code, but instead of asking my boss, I found other engineers who were happy to answer my questions. And I found the bug. And about 35 memory leaks. Then I showed my boss that I had actually fixed those bugs and many others.

    By the end of the summer I was given full responsibility for the new Installer Wizard and I also ported the first RealVideo proof-of-concept to the Mac.

    You're going to have many bosses who don't know how to take advantage of you in such a way that you make a real contribution and learn, too. But others may have projects for you to do, and once you impress them they'll be more likely to give you a try.

    Of course, you may have to do some menial labor, too. That's part of the job. But that doesn't mean that you can't also learn and have responsibility, too.
  • by FortKnox ( 169099 ) on Thursday February 22, 2001 @11:06AM (#410384) Homepage Journal
    In high school, just watching what an engineering job *is* is a learning opportunity. But there are 2 truths you must understand.

    1.) Co-ops -ARE- cheap labor. They hire you as an employee at a lot less rate than college grads. You get experience (and trust me, you get experience just making coffee if you are exposed to how the corporation works), and they get cheap labor. Its how the world works.

    2.) Entry level jobs (even engineering) is a lot of tedious, repetitous tasks. Especially in large corporations. Only after a few years of that do you get to do interesting work. Its something we all go through.

    Take this as a learning experience when you get to college and co-op as a college student, take a job in a smaller company (like 100 employees) and you'll have a slightly more interesting job experience. Always do 110%, because employers recognize that with more interesting jobs.
    Oh, and kudos on co-op'ing. You'll find yourself a much more desirable possible employee with co-op experience.

  • by Hairy_Potter ( 219096 ) on Thursday February 22, 2001 @10:59AM (#410385) Homepage
    For in a real job, every day is filled with incredibly interesting experiences.

    There is no boring paperwork to fill out, no stupid software tests to run, no boring software reloads, no drinking coffee and St John;s Wort endlessly just to stay awake in front of your web browser.

    No tedious pruning of the 2000 odd pieces of mail in your inbox, no hard drive maintenance, nope, just laughts and giggles.

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp