A New Year’s Reflection

source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/spatterd/

source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/spatterd/

This article was written by Megan Fernandes, a 4th year international affairs student at NU as a guest blogger for The Works.

With the New Year upon us, it’s natural to find yourself reflecting back on the year’s events and some of the life lessons you’ve learned. They say that understanding your history helps you plan for your future, and I think the start of the New Year is a good time to revisit and learn from the personal journey you’ve been on over the year—what have you gained this past year? What contributions have you made? What were your successes and your failures? New Year’s isn’t simply about new beginnings; it’s also about looking back in order to better determine what new beginnings lie ahead. In personal and professional terms, it’s also important to reflect on how past work experiences shape who you are today and who you want to be in 2014.

Co-op is an opportunity to gain experience and learn about the workforce. I’ve been very deliberate in my attempt to find and gather “takeaways” from each co-op to help me make better work-related decisions in the future. For example, after several rounds of interviews, I’ve noticed that one of the qualities most appreciated by employers when they first meet you is genuine thoughtfulness. This doesn’t simply mean preparing thoughtful questions for an interview, but being able to explain why and how a particular company/position fits into your overall career goals. Employers appreciate when you go into an interview knowing what skills and industry knowledge you want to gain from working at that particular organization and in turn, how the job will make you a more qualified future candidate. A compelling way to articulate this isn’t by rattling off the benefits and superior qualities a particular company or position has, but by providing the interviewer with solid examples of how you’ve leveraged past experiences to get closer to your ultimate career goals. Being insightful and thoughtful about these aspects of your past experiences is a meaningful way to create a story about yourself for interviewers.

Additionally, relaying to employers that you understand how your previous experiences have built upon each other allows them to trust you more easily. While not all work experiences seem to relate to each other (like going from a weightlifting nonprofit working with gang youth in Boston to an agriculture start up in Cameroon in my case), making simple and meaningful connections between experiences is always possible. These connections can exist on many levels. For example, I worked with very flexible bosses who didn’t have the time to micro manage me in both positions. That similarity taught me to take initiative when I saw problems or inefficiencies in different types of situations. Another example is that due to organizational, physical, and cultural differences, I developed stronger interpersonal skills with people from various cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, and I learned how to be more thorough and concise in my communication as face time with my supervisors at each co-op was rare. A large takeaway from both work experiences was a more solid understanding of what I like and need in a work environment in order to be successful; such as a lively office culture and structured time commitments. You can always find connections, and while it may be difficult at first, this is precisely the first step in cultivating the sort of thoughtfulness that really resonates with people, especially employers. Eventually I’ve also found that I’ve been able to make decisions about my work experiences with a greater level of deliberateness and confidence because I’ve taken the time to draw these parallels and connections from past experiences.

So take this New Years to do a little brainwork in tying all of your past work experiences together into a thoughtful and compelling personal story. Remember, telling this story will help you to make those connections between experiences, show people your ability to process and grow from each experience, and give people insight into you as a person.  And this does not work well as a one-time process right before an interview; it should be a constant undertaking that helps make those yearly new beginnings and resolutions all the more meaningful each time. So give yourself a new beginning career-wise this coming year, one that starts with a more thoughtful version of yourself.

Megan Fernandes is an international affairs student in her fourth year at Northeastern with academic interests revolving around global poverty alleviation. Megan is originally from Houston, but went to high school in Bangkok, Thailand before moving to Boston. She loves learning about other cultures and would be happy to show new people around Boston! 

Happier after working at Happier.com

source: happier.com

source: happier.com

It was an honor to have the opportunity to interview stand-out student, Andrew Barba. A 3rd year computer science major set to graduate in 2016, he recently finished his co-op at Happier.com, an extremely successful tech start-up in the Boston area.  He gave me great insight into what a co-op at Happier.com is like, how to navigate the interview process, and what it is like to work for a start-up.  All of you entrepreneurs out there or people interested in start-ups, listen up!

Ashley LoBue (AL): Can you tell me a little bit about Happier.com?

Andrew Barba (AB):  Nataly Kogan, one of the founders, had worked for well-known companies like Microsoft and was extremely successful. She thought that she would be happy when she hit a certain level of success and made a lot of money, but Nataly found that it wasn’t the case.  So, she and her co-founder, Colin Plamondon, got the idea to create something that can make people happier in other ways—they did some research and found that if you write down three happy thoughts a day, then you were scientifically proven to be happier. Happier.com started out as an iPhone app but then got extended to the web since it was cost effective.

(AL): What did you do day-to-day as a co-op for Happier?

(AB): I actually got to work on the iPhone app for three months, and then they said “here, build a website”, so I was really excited about the amount of responsibility I had. Yoav, the CTO of Happier, was my mentor, and I did it all as far as coding—all of the other stuff was on him.  It was a lot of fun! Yoav actually designed the system we work with, which is called Agile Software Development.  The idea is that you release products and features quickly so you learn quickly—the key to this system is that you don’t release it when it’s perfect, you release it when it’s ready, so that you can get user feedback and adjust things according to that feedback.  We are able to do this through “Sprints”.  Every Monday we have a big planning day where the whole team gets into different groups (like design, product engineering etc.) and we try to brainstorm on what we can get done. Natalie leads the meeting and talks about the direction she wants to go in, and then we triage from there—the design team says we can do this, and then product engineering says that they can do that etc. We release in two week chunks.  On the web, we release as soon as the app is done.

(AL): What are the challenges?

(AB): One of the challenges working for a start-up is that you have to start projects that you don’t really know how to design. You might think something will work, but in actuality it won’t.  One time I literally deleted everything that I worked on for a long time because it wasn’t functional and I made a mistake. For every mistake you do though, I think you always learn two or three things, so that you always are a better programmer today than yesterday.  As a student, you are taught to do things in a certain way, but you need to learn to think outside of the box if you want to solve a problem or do something that hasn’t been done before.   

(AL): What do you like most about it?

(AB): Freedom is what I like most about this position—they don’t call me an intern because I will build a product for them like the other engineers, so they treat me like another member of the team. They give me a huge amount of responsibility, which I don’t feel like I would’ve gotten at an internship at say, Facebook.

Tech Startups Image Source: entrepreneur.com

Tech Startups
Image Source: entrepreneur.com

(AL): How did you get your co-op with Happier?

(AB): I met happier at the Co-op expo.  They really liked that I had already made two apple apps—I started learning how to make apps by signing up for 12 one-hour classes on how to do it. It was time consuming, but I loved it.  I gave them my resume but actually showed the apps I made. I believe this side project helped differentiate me from the other candidates and say more about me than my resume could.

(AL): What about post graduation?

(AB): I would love to start something on my own one day—the startup space is fun, a lot of work, and moves very quickly, but I just love that environment.

(AL): What is the best piece of advice you can give other students to be successful in co-op?

(AB): I would say to definitely speak up to your supervisors.  Don’t be quiet in a meeting and voice your opinions. Your team really wants to hear what you have to say.