Co-op to Career
Thu, 30 Jun 2022

Co-op to Career: A Journey to Tech and VertiGIS

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Students are an important part of many of our teams here at VertiGIS, and we take pride in the partnerships we have with local colleges and universities to offer students co-op positions and internships. These programs are a win-win! They provide students with the mentorship they need to make informed decisions about their futures and build the technical skillsets required in today’s workforce while giving our staff the chance to give back by educating and learning from the next generation of tech industry talent!

Often students who participate in VertiGIS’ co-op and internship programs return as full-time employees after graduation. We took some time to chat with one of these former students – Hannah Swan – who is now working as a professional DevOps Developer in our Victoria, Canada office. Hannah shared their journey into tech with us and offered some insight into the role that VertiGIS played in kickstarting their career.

Could you speak a little bit about your journey to tech starting with your university experience? What made you decide to go into the tech industry?

[HS] My journey into the tech industry wasn’t direct. I started out at university in astronomy, then moved to physics, then math. I initially wanted to pursue a career in academia but after doing two years of research I decided that wasn’t a good fit for me.

After working at VertiGIS as both a Quality Assurance (QA) Co-op Student and a Software Development Co-op Student I decided that I wanted to change my career path from academia to tech.

How was your Co-op experience at VertiGIS?

[HS] I loved working as a Co-op Student at VertiGIS! Co-op was essentially a risk-free trial to try out software development before I graduated, and it allowed me to gain a passion for development. The Co-op experience was instrumental for me. It kickstarted my career in tech, helped me figure out what I wanted to do in the future, and I got to learn about things that I never knew were options before.

At VertiGIS everyone was prepared to help me learn. It was an environment where I felt comfortable making mistakes and where I could benefit from a wealth of knowledge that my colleagues offered.

What advice would you give to other students thinking about doing a Co-op program?

[HS] Everybody should do Co-op. It was invaluable and I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without Co-op. The beauty of Co-op is that it allows you to explore and figure out what you’re interested in. When I first started working at VertiGIS I was open to trying anything. After working at VertiGIS for two semesters I was sure that tech was a good fit for me!

You are now working as a DevOps Developer. Could you explain why you chose this area of development?

[HS] I did software development for a year at VertiGIS before accepting a position in DevOps. I felt like DevOps was more up my alley than software. Software was fun, but DevOps allows me to use more of the research skills that I gained when I was in university. Working in DevOps also allows me to touch all the areas of the development process so I’m interacting with different teams on a daily basis to solve problems. I also have opportunities to be self-sufficient which I like. If you want a mix between individual work and teamwork, it’s a great career to have!

How has your experience been so far at VertiGIS?

[HS] VertiGIS has helped me grow in so many ways. There’s a unique eco-system at VertiGIS where Co-op students are expected to go from not knowing anything at the start to being able to develop applications at the end. That’s a huge leap to take and it offers a lot of opportunities to learn and grow. Everyone at VertiGIS is also super friendly. And, everybody knows something which makes it easy to get the support you need.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far in your career?

[HS] I’m a queer person with a disability in tech. That’s not the most typical description of someone you expect to see working in tech. Sometimes it can get a bit lonely not really seeing anyone else like me. It’s a challenge professionally and there will always be a need for more diversity in the industry but working in a supportive environment where I can be unapologetically myself helps. People at VertiGIS are friendly and we all get to learn from one another. That helps me to feel less isolated even if I don’t always feel like I fit in.

If you could start your career journey all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself?

[HS] Doing a math degree now seems like it was unnecessarily hard, but I did get to learn a lot of cool things. I got a very intersectional degree but if I could go back, I think I would have chosen to be a Computer Science major. If I were to go back in time and tell 18-year-old me that I was doing DevOps at a tech company, I would have laughed. When industry became an option for me, I never imagined I would go down a development path. But now I’m learning every day and it’s been a great experience so far!

What skills have been most important for you throughout your career progression?

[HS] Problem solving. The better you are at problem solving, the better you will be at your job, guaranteed. Every part of my job is figuring out how to solve different problems.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a career in the tech industry?

[HS] If you’re motivated to work in tech, then go for it! You’ll get there eventually. One determining factor in finding a place for yourself in tech is your willingness to get out there and challenge yourself. Putting myself out there and advertising myself has been a driving force to where I am. It can be big hurdle to jump over mentally, but the worst that will happen is someone says no! 

Another important thing is being willing to learn. Tech is an industry where continuous learning is vital. You’ll never stop learning. You’ll always need to keep up with modern ways of doing things, especially when you’re first starting out.

Are you interested in joining our team at VertiGIS – either as a Co-op Student or a full-time employee? Check out our careers page to find out how you can start your own journey in tech.

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