I started my ‘Co-op’ in January 2001 working for a Fortune500 Power company based in Richmond, Virginia. I was working in transmission line engineering department. Evidently, my hiring manager was my department manager. ‘Co-op’ is a short of Cooperative Education. It is a little different from internship in terms of duration of work. Internship lasts only a semester or the summer vacation. Cooperative education lasts at least three semesters. Some Cooperative Education students ‘co-ops’ even stretch it to five semesters. Sometimes, it depends on how eager one is finishing the degree or working for a company a few extra semesters.
Frankly, I was pretty nervous in the beginning. Having no previous work background at all, the corporate world was a whole new ball game for me. On the first day, I was introduced to the engineers and staff working in my department and other closely associated departments. I was provided a cubicle, a desktop, a phone and other necessary items needed for the job. Next, I was introduced to my mentor whom I was supposed to be working with. He is a very kind and hard-working gentleman. I think I could not have a better mentor. At that time, the department was going through digitizing their documentation and my mentor was working to get that work done in the quickest and most efficient way. I started working with him and at times, during his absence, I was responsible to work on it independently.
There were other co-ops from various institutions in the U.S. like Penn State, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and many more. The company made sure to provide us the time for interaction with each other to learn and share our experience. There were also many instances when there were exciting events planned. We also had interactions with the executives of the company. The power industry lagged in hiring and most of the employees working for the power industry were getting ready to retire. So the company wanted to keep us engaged in work and other work-related activities so we could build a strong association with the company and decide to come back after our graduations.
I worked through my Spring semester and Summer vacations of that year. I learned a lot during my time about transmission engineering. This experience also proved to be critical in determining my future endeavors. When I went back to college after my first co-op term, I changed my major to Electrical Engineering from Computer Engineering. I also focused on studying power engineering in Electrical Engineering. The internet boom was at its peak in 2001. So I was considered a traditional, scared of new technology and lacking the motivation to learn new things in Electrical Engineering by my class fellows. However, the time has proved them wrong. The power industry jobs are the most stable and lasting. On the other hand, the computer related jobs are short-lived. And the trend for computers fluctuates. Since all the electronics need electricity to recharge and operate, therefore, the demand for power and power-related jobs is continuously growing.
I would also encourage my blog readers to motivate the upcoming undergraduates to look for the opportunities during their undergrad education. This will help them to broaden their horizon. This will also help to decide better for their future path whether they are interested in pursuing their particular field for the rest of their lives.