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SOCS Inside-Out: The Definitive Survival Guide

Introduction - Disclaimer - Feedback - Legend
Contents - Verbose - Glossary

LAST UPDATE: Tuesday, 08-Sep-1998 10:56:59 EDT
SOCS Culture::Internships
- Christina Swindells


You can get the basic details about the Internship Year Program for Engineering & Science (IYES) on page 211 of the 1998/99 McGill Calendar. With 15 to 45 core and elective credits left in your program (one to three full-time semesters), you can apply for internship positions in hopes of working for a company 8 to 16 months. If you're in a rush to get your degree, it won't be too appealing, as it will delay graduation by at least a semester. But if finding summer jobs on your own hasn't padded your resume with the kind of experience employers look for, it might be right for you. Before you decide, I can answer some of your questions.

The Application Process

Q. When should I start thinking about applying?

A. Sometime in U2. Most of the positions start in May, with two or three selection rounds. For each of these, the available positions are first posted. Next, you submit applications to the IYES office for the ones you find interesting. After this, companies interview those applicants who sound interesting. Finally, both the interviewers and interviewees submit a ranking form which is used to match you up with the employers who want you.

Round 1 applications are due in early January, round 2 in early March. If you want to know where you'll be in the summer by the end of February, opt for round 1. Laeve at least a day before the deadline for printing and stapling the applications. The CACEE (Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers) software you must use for IYES has never undergone usability testing; the printing process is particularly annoying. Don't worry if you didn't apply to round 1 - round 2 ought to have tons of postings too.

Q. Where do I find these postings and where's the IYES office?

A. In the past, there have been bulletin boards dedicated to IYES outside the Physical Sciences and Engineering Library, in the basement of Burnside, on the second floor of MacDonald Engineering, and near the Computer Science admin office. The IYES office is in the Frank Dawson Addams Building (FDA), Suite 20. If you get lost, try calling them at 398-8100. They like you to pre-register with the program before applying.

You can also look at the available positions through InfoMcGill.

You can access this via a tn3270 terminal emulator or from any web browser by opening the above gopher locations as you would any other URL.

Q. How many positions are there for computer science students?

A. It depends, but generally tons. Be glad you're not in mechanical engineering. Not all the jobs are in Montreal- being willing to relocate for a year increases your choices.

Q. Should I submit applications for a lot of positions, or only for the ones that sound perfect?

A. It doesn't hurt to apply for some jobs that don't sound so appealing; it can only help to give you more opportunities. Some of the postings are incorrectly or misleadingly written, so that may turn out to be better than they seem. Having excess interviews allows you to work on your interview skills and hopefully get the job you really want. You should also take into account that some of the positions will be filled at other universities. The only downsides to applying for too many jobs are having too customize the "Why I'm qualified" section of each application and possibly having a lot of decisions to make when it comes time to rank the jobs you were interviewed for.

Q. How do I increase my chances of getting hired?

A. Good grades help, as a lot of employers filter the applications on that basis. Relevant work experience also helps. Write a CACEE application that is attention-getting enough that you get an interview, and practice for it. If it's a phone interview, make sure you can be clearly heard on the phone you're using.

Getting an interview is important, but to get the job you'll need to have a good interview. CAPS, the Career and Placement Service in the Student Services building, is a good source of interview tips and similar material.

Q. Are there questions I should ask in the interview?

A. Beyond the obvious ones about the job under consideration, yes. Find out what the dress code is like so that you don't show up for your first day in a suit, only to be greeted by your jeans-clad manager. Ask what the policy towards overtime and vacation time for students is, as this will vary. Find out if they've had co-ops or interns work there before, what type of work they did (updating the web pages or taking on real responsibilities?), if any of them have come back as regular full-time employees post-graduation. Also, ask about benefits- your empoyers want to know whether or not you care and are aware of the job you are getting into.


Q. How well does it pay?

A. It depends. Most companies put the salary (or salary range) in their posting. With more work experience or years of schooling, you should be closer to the upper range. Companies in Ontario generally seem to pay more, but the cost of living is also higher. Your salary will be lower than that of a regular employee with a degree, but you'll probably be bumped into a higher tax bracket. Take this into account when estimating how much you'll be able to save for your return to school. In 1997-1998 dollars, at Nortel in Ottawa, I was making about $17 per hour. I was also given two decent merit increases (bonuses, in non-corporate language).

Q. Will I get paid vacations or overtime?

A. As I mentioned above, this is a question to ask in the interview. Even in the same company, if it's large enough, policies will vary from department to department. If you don't get paid vacation, provincial regulations will probably result in vacation pay, the equivalent of 2 weeks' salary doled out over the course of a year. It may also be possible to work flextime, and bank enough time that you can take a week off here or there.

Q. Should I ask for a raise?

A. Maybe. If you feel you've been taking on a lot of responsibility, showing value, and all that, bring it up at a performance review. You've probably signed a contract that sets your salary for the full term, but as long as you're not obnoxious, no one will be annoyed that you ask.

On the Job

Q. What will they get me to do?

A. All together now: it depends. You're in computer science, so it will probably involve programming. Some people get stuck with more routine jobs like building loads or maintaining web pages, others get to program applications, and others do research. Because you'll be there for at least eight months, you might get involved in a large project, or even get to create your own.

Q. What if I hate it?

A. There's a four-month trial period, where you and the people you're working with can figure out if you're well suited to each other. If not, you can leave the program at that point. If you feel you're being abused and cheated, talk to the IYES Office and let them know. They might be able to work something out.

Q. How does this compare with the standard four-month long co-op term? Isn't sixteen months an awfully long time?

A. Yes and no. There are some months where you'll be anxious to get back to school, while others where you'll be happy with what you're doing and in no hurry for it to end. The program is long enough that you'll have the opportunity to get bored. One advantage over a co-op program is that you might get to see a project from start to finish. One disadvantage is that if a project is floundering, you can't just run away after four months. But you'll spend less time, proportionally, learning how to do your job, and more time actually doing it and solidifying your skills.

Q. Are there any mistakes I should avoid?

A. Be careful about departmental politics, and pay attention to rumours and reorganizations (a.k.a.: reorgs). Don't be too argumentative or opinionated, or people may stop letting you eat lunch with them (this happened to an intern in my department). Don't worry if it seems like you're not getting anywhere for the first month- this is normal as you figure ouw aht's going on and how you fit in. Don't date your coworkers, it's messy. Even if you feel like you're not being productive, don't mention it at work- people will start believing you and give you unmanageable loads of work. If you're friends with other students at work, make sure they're discreet about not mentioning how you got hammered at the pub-crawl. If there is a social group for students, don't be shy about joining if it sounds fun. Go to the gym if you want to keep fit, because desk jobs are just nasty for the metabolism. Don't spend all your money and get used to a yuppie life-style, or people will hate you when you get back to school and you'll be poor.

Long Term Effects

Q. Do I get credit?

A. No, but it will show up on your transcript. You can laugh at the students from other universities who do get credit and as a result must write work-term reports.

Q. Will I get a better idea of what kind of work I want to do when I graduate?

A. Probably. You'll also be able to decide what kind of work environment you like, whether you like the size of the company you work for or would prefer somewhere larger or smaller, and if you're cut out for a job in the software industry (some people find they are unhappy sitting at a desk all day writing code for projects they find boring).

Q. Is doing IYES worth delaying graduation for a year?

A. If you haven't got much technical work experience yet, yes. If you are getting really sick of school and want a way to get out for a year without paying a fee to get back in, yes. If you want to work on your presentation and negotiation skills, yes. Not only does it enhance your résumé, but it should help you make a decision about what to do when you do graduate. You should also be able to increase your post-degree starting salary. But if you're already gaining experience and learning about corporate culture through summer or part-time jobs, it might not be worth it.

Q. Is IYES a good jumping point to a permanent position?

A. Yes, particularly if it's a large company you're working for. Most companies who hire students are looking for people they can train at lower salaries and then hire if they turn out to be good. Even if the group you work for is just in it for the cheap labout, you should be able to make contacts that will help in your eventual job search. If you decide that the job you're doing is not for you, though, be tactful so that they still give you a good reference and help you find something more suitable. If there are internal job fairs, take advantage of them.

Q. So, what was your work term like, Christina?

A. It was a good experience, though after about ten months I started looking forward to being back at McGill. I was working for Nortel's Software Engineering Analysis Lab (SEAL), helping customer departments within Nortel improve and sometimes automate their software testing. For the first month I felt seriously useless as I scaled the learning curve. After that, I worked on several large projects: integrating some features into a customer's cell phone emulator, customizing a vendor's code coverage tool so that it would work on a customer's embedded system, writing script drivers that would take a set of test inputs and generate the code so that those tests could be run automatically. I learned Tcl/Tk, C++, some proprietary scripting languages and Perl. I read a lot of papers, I was sent on a business trip to Calgary, I went to a conference, I learned a lot. I also met some really great friends, as SEAL usually has a lot of co-op students. The only annoying thing was that they'd leave after 4 months and I'd still be there, but the non-student coworkers were also fun. My manager and his superior were happy with the work I did, so they're having me work part-time while I finish at McGill. There were times when I was between projects or waiting on vendor support when it was boring and annoying, but overall it was a very positive experience and I'm glad I did it. I even learned to appreciate Ottawa, after spending many months wishing it were more like Montreal.

Contents - Verbose - Glossary
Last modified: Tuesday, 08-Sep-1998 10:56:59 EDT

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