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Getting The Most Out Of Co-Op Programs?

Cliff posted more than 13 years ago | from the (co-op=engineering-challenges)!=cheap-labor dept.

Education 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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Co-Op (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#410150)

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!

Not Atypical (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#410151)

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.

Second Time is Always Better (1)

Earthquake (4014) | more than 13 years ago | (#410152)

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.

Be Happy... (1)

coreman (8656) | more than 13 years ago | (#410157)

...that your last interaction with adults didn't include "You want fries with that?"

Baby steps. (1)

unsung (10704) | more than 13 years ago | (#410160)

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.

Internships are unavoidable (1)

Carbonate (13973) | more than 13 years ago | (#410162)

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.

H1B Visas (1)

swb (14022) | more than 13 years ago | (#410163)

The only reason they're hiring coop kids is that they ran out of H1B visas.

Testing is indeed important (1)

Metuchen (23254) | more than 13 years ago | (#410169)

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 job...you can have fun with virtually any job, so go have some fun with it!!!

Co-op in college (1)

HoldenCaulfield (25660) | more than 13 years ago | (#410170)

My school (University of Cincinnati [uc.edu] ) 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 . . .

former co-op's advice (1)

tongue (30814) | more than 13 years ago | (#410171)

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

Re:Glimpse of the real world... (1)

gimpboy (34912) | more than 13 years ago | (#410177)

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

Simple Economics (1)

The-Pheon (65392) | more than 13 years ago | (#410183)

If people are willing to do the work for the price the company is offering, then there is no reason the company should pay people more. If you want more money or a different working experience, find a different employer.

Repetitive, simple tasks. That IS the reality. (1)

LordOmar (68037) | more than 13 years ago | (#410187)

I started in tech support and quickly made my way to sysadmin. Since then I've learned that most jobs in the tech sector have a high degree of repetitiva and dull tasks. It's the reality. As a sysadmin I pictured spending my days dealing with complex problems and interesting projects, but most of my time is spent applying patches, cancelling run away print jobs, and adding/deleting user accounts. Sure this is broken by the occassional "We're replacing all the printers in the building and implementiong a central print server, GO!", or "Write a perl script to automate this new process implemented by the developemtn team", but this is the exception. I'm sure developers wish they could spend a lot more time writing killer code than meticulously debugging lines of someone elses code (or their own), but that's the nature of the bussiness. However, just keep in mind that system testing and upgrading is an important part of the operations of many tech companies. Someone has to do them, and when tech workers can usually (and easily) change companies at a whim if they don't like their work environment, who do you think is going to be doing the menial work?

Re:Glimpse of the real world... (1)

alprazolam (71653) | more than 13 years ago | (#410191)

sounds like they're working for a company thats on its way under. if it can't efficiently use its resources, i would find work at another company.

Re:Where are we SUPPOSED to get cheap labor? (1)

alprazolam (71653) | more than 13 years ago | (#410192)

i kind of agree, you need to set up a system that automates what you are doing now as much as possible. after you show a little initiative, people will notice, and when you ask for more work they will probably try a little harder to think of something for you to do.

Re:Glimpse of the real world... (1)

alprazolam (71653) | more than 13 years ago | (#410194)

those guys are cleaning up after themselves, not sitting there for 8 hours a day cleaning test tubes or whatever.

the REAL grunt work starts when you get promoted (1)

Akatosh (80189) | more than 13 years ago | (#410199)

you dont get paged at 3am on a regular basis. you dont have to wory about loosing money, or getting sued. you dont have to listen to hundreds of people like you whine. guess what the higher up people do. the same stuff you do when they arnt managing a zillion ppl like you. trust me, the upper ups would much rather be doing upgrades and testing than paperwork. a job is not a school, it is a job. you are there to preform tasks for the company. learning this is what your internship is all about.

Re:Get over it (1)

Pulzar (81031) | more than 13 years ago | (#410200)

Don't forget that most of the useful work is done at the bottom, so it's not a bad idea to have some people with experience down there.

Managers just need to run around telling people how wonderful of a job they are doing, and figuring out who really needs a raise, and who won't complain too much if he doesn't get one.
----------

Welcome to the real world (1)

oldstrat (87076) | more than 13 years ago | (#410202)

Get yourself a copy of "The Soul of a New Machine" by Tracy Kidder ISBN: 038071115X.
The real world of engineering is cold, hard, dull and boring. People colapse from the boredom on a regular and predictable basis, also check out "Death March" by Edward Yourdon ISBN:0130146595

Read those and toss out any ideas about glamour, fame, riches or glory. Then decide if you enjoy the good stuff that come with the bad.
A boss (co-worker) of mine once said to me, "If this were all fun we could get people to pay us to do it, instead we have to pay them."

I sure hope the military recruiter doesn't get too close to you guys.

Be good at something... (1)

drnomad (99183) | more than 13 years ago | (#410208)

1. they're not good at;
2. they don't have time for;

(Aplaud-for-yourself-alert!!) I am good. I got all the best projects within the companies when I went on traineeship. These were either the-most-fun-projects, or the-most-prestegious-projects, stuff the ordinary people didn't have time for. So in the case you're good, be better than the regulars, and teach that to the people who work for your company.

I was also a cheap labour, but I learned a lot, then you get a win-win situation right?

For your situation now, if they don't give you good projects, get another company if possible, or take a deep breath and search for 'projects' on your next co-op.

Co-op Jobs... (1)

Gorbie (101704) | more than 13 years ago | (#410209)

Yes, Co-Op students generally get the shaft in terms of doing the duties no full time person wants to do, and are certainly viewed as a way to get menial jobs done. This is unsatisfying and frustrating, I know, but it is also really valuable time. It might not seem like it, but time will tell you it was.

The first thing is that as a highschool student you are getting an early opportunity to see how the corporate environmet works. Pay attention, because it is information you will need to succeed later in life, and others you graduate college with might not have it. Second, you get a first hand glimpse of age discrimination, which is unavoidable. To the "adults" at the company, you are just kids, more likely to screw around than get things done reliably, and they will treat you as such. They might not be right, but it will happen. This is also something you can learn from and be prepared for when you are all gung-ho and thinking you are really knowledgable with a degree fresh out of college. You won't be looked at in this light until you have a wrinkle or two.

The third thing is probably your biggest benefit, and that is that you get to see a part of a real process that is necessary to get a job done or a product built. Someone has to do this job, and knowing it will be infinately beneficiary when you go to perform a higher level function pernmanantly in the same process.

At your next Co-Op, og back and see if you can get a job one step up the food chain. Be patient and you will learn a great deal. You can't change it yet, so try and work with it.

Welcome the the real world (1)

SirWhoopass (108232) | more than 13 years ago | (#410210)

Not to sound too cynical, but a whole lot of jobs can be tedious and repetitive (or have aspects that are that way). Are you now working with different people, or is this the boring part of the job?

Of course, some companies are just clueless about how to use people. Where I work, the lab director had a flight simulator programmer scanning photos for his PowerPoint presentations.

I'm not saying that it should be that way. It's supposed to be an educational experience. If this is the boring part of the job, then I would say it's fair game. If it's completely unrelated work, however, then that is not appropriate.

Re:co-op? (1)

SirWhoopass (108232) | more than 13 years ago | (#410211)

Co-op employees are typically students who work at a company for credit (instead of taking a class). It gives the student some "real world" experience in a particular field.

Here's a description [umich.edu] from the University of Michigan.

New the working with a employer (1)

Bork (115412) | more than 13 years ago | (#410214)

A coordinator inside of the company runs most of these programs. It was his job to find these co-op students and find placement with the company. If you feel that things are not right, talk to this person.

Explain to the coordinator that you feel there is some sort of miscommunications between what you are expecting and what you are doing. Is this what was planned for me for me? It is fair to ask that you would like to get a reassignment to an area that has what you are looking for. Now what are you looking for? Did you have some input or did you just let them stick you somewhere? Two sides here :)

This is a two way street. They are trying to lure you into work there when you finish your education and for you to find out what is out there.

that's life... (1)

m.o (121338) | more than 13 years ago | (#410218)

i've been very idealistic for a long time, switching lots of jobs looking for "the perfect one" - i.e. as little testing, paperwork, etc. as possible, smart people around, interesting projects, and so on. some places were better than others, but in every single one of them i felt exactly as you describe - repetitive tasks, huge underutilization of my potential, and so on... so i said "fuck it" and went to grad. school. you don't make much money in academia, but everything else is great. i'm sure there are other solutions, or maybe i just hadn't been looking long enough, but it seems to me i made a pretty good choice. science is much more fun than the real world...

stop your bitchin' (1)

Lord Omlette (124579) | more than 13 years ago | (#410221)

and enjoy what experience you're getting. remember, some people's idea of a co-op experience is, "fetch ma coffee boy!" and so on. the company's taking a big chance hiring high school students when for just a little more money, they could have gotten real engineers that are more reliable and less likely to cause trouble. when you're older, they'll give you more responsibilities. or when you've been there longer, whichever comes first.
--
Peace,
Lord Omlette
ICQ# 77863057

network, be aggresive. (1)

friscolr (124774) | more than 13 years ago | (#410222)

The problem is that you are starting out and most likely know very little about the environment you are working in, thus the tasks you can perform, or, more importantly, that the Company feels you can perform are menial.

But menial tasks need not be solely menial. Ask a lot of questions. find out why you are doing what you are doing, what happens next in the process, the reasons thing run the way they do. Let the Company know you are an inquisitive person who wants to learn. The powers that be will see this, and will eventually give you more responsibilities.

We have a high school student interning in our Unix department. I would love to be able to give him root and have him install upgrades, etc, on our servers, but, quite frankly he doesn't have the experience for me to trust him with such a task, and it's my ass if something goes Wrong.

Instead we must give him more menial tasks, and if he is self-motivated enough he will explore the boundaries and beyond of these menial tasks, and gather enough knowledge that we will trust him with more responsibilities.

The other problem is that while i would love to sit with him and show him all the ropes, i simply don't have the time; my job must get done too. Instead we show him one or two things to do, and let him go. Luckily he is self-motivated enough that he is also teaching himself perl on the way. We hope to have him complete one largish programming task before his Sentence is up.

-f

You foot is in the door (1)

Pointy_Hair (133077) | more than 13 years ago | (#410225)

Even if you are the guy shoveling poop behind the Clydesdales, you have made it past the security guard. Make sure you get the job at hand done first then focus on getting to know people and find a permanent job you could move toward. I like the earlier post on inventing your own job. I do that daily!

Make the Experiance into what you want it to be (1)

Brownstar (139242) | more than 13 years ago | (#410228)

The univerisity I go to, Kettering [kettering.edu] , is based on the idea of co-op education. Every one has to have a co-op, usually for all five years that you are there.

And I know many college students who have the same problem you do. I know I did at my co-op when I first started. They had me doing mostly paper work for new job contracts and it was driving me nuts(especially because there wasn't much of it because of y2k upgrades).

I don't fault them for doing this, they didn't know what I could do. It would be much worse for the company, and the student, if they expect you to already be able to do the same job that the engineer's that have degrees are doing. It takes a balancing act to figure out where each individual's skills fall in.

As I was saying they had me doing paper work, and not much of it, maybe 8 hours worth a week. So I spent my free time productivly. The company did database programming in a language called PICK, so I spent all my free time at work teaching myself PICK. After a while my mangers walked by and noticed what I was doing. They were shocked that I already knew how to program, and took the initiative to learn the language that they used. The next day I came in and had a stack of modifications that they wanted me to make to different parts of the code.

So put forth some initiative and show them that you are capable, and want to do more, and you just might be suprised.

Even if not, be happy you're actually doing something. I know plenty of co-ops that sit at their desk all day and just twiddle their thumbs.

It's a business... (1)

Alomex (148003) | more than 13 years ago | (#410231)

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.

Keep your chin up (1)

woody_jay (149371) | more than 13 years ago | (#410233)

Keep working hard, make a lasting impression. Don't make it seem as if you are not liking the job or the details of it. You won't want this to be a bad reflection on you after college or wherever you decide to go from here. Most people start out in goofy positions like this. Don't let it get you down and just do your best. Who knows what can happen. If they like your effort, you may end up with a position with them in the future that you really enjoy. The worst thing you could ever do for yourself is close a door.

Real world experience (1)

ustawas (152408) | more than 13 years ago | (#410236)

My co-op days were as a 35 year old college student. Much, but not all of what I did was menial. It was of great value to graduate with some real world experience. I just recived an award from my company that includes ca$h and a Carribean vacation for my valuable contributions. Guess what? Much of what I do is still menial and repetative. But not all! If it were I would move on.

The Joy Of Recruitment (1)

DecoDragon (161394) | more than 13 years ago | (#410239)

It may not be the lesson you wanted to learn, but you did learn a lesson. The next time you're up for an opportunity like this, you'll have a lot of questions to ask that you wouldn't have without this experience. Remember, if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is. Also remember, job interviews involve the company selling themselves to you, as much as you to them. It's all about sales. Read the fine print. Caveat Umptor, and all of that.

What to do now? There's already a lot of good advice on this board, so I won't repeat. Some of it is going to bruise your ego. Let it sink in, come back to this board a week from now and see if some of it doesn't sound true, once you've had time to get used to the idea.

It may not seem like the greatest now, but getting in your grunt work period now, is an advantage. We all do it, it's just a matter of when and for how long.

take initiative (1)

belterone (176605) | more than 13 years ago | (#410244)

I was a co-op, too.... And the same thing happened to me. What finally started changing things for me was when I started trying to change things.... I don't mean random .5ass stuff. Find a way to make you job better/easier in some way. For me, that meant automating a tedious process that previously had to be done by hand. Make sure that whatever you do, follow these:
1. It shouldn't cost extra money. The extra storage we required was found spare on unused machines.
2. It shouldn't detract from "normal" duties. YMMV.
3. Present boss/superior/etc with a completed solution or at least a complete plan. .5ass solutions, activities don't work.
4. Your plan should do something substantial.
I can't think of anything else immediately.

here's the best solution (1)

litewoheat (179018) | more than 13 years ago | (#410246)

quit crying and pay your dues!! what do you expect? i'd hate to have you on my team in a few years... me: your assignment is to code this dialog box you: but why can't i work on the core routines? me: because you don't have enough experience you: whaaahhhh...

Get in line (1)

bob_sakson (189091) | more than 13 years ago | (#410250)

Most employees fight over the good jobs at work. Do you think they're going to give you something like the flux capicator at work?

Re:Get over it (1)

keesh (202812) | more than 13 years ago | (#410254)

You obviously haven't seen how the company I work for is run... Those with experience relevant to the company stay at the bottom, the managers are all clueless (and don't have business experience either).

We're not quite like Dilbert, but fairly close...

There are good reasons why co-op is like that (1)

Kushana (206115) | more than 13 years ago | (#410255)

I'm going to concur with most of the other decent posts: co-op is there to teach you practical stuff they don't teach in school: work is often boring, lots of time is spent doing activities in support of your main task, and people don't trust those who are unproven.

The very best co-op positions combine two aspects: they teach you l33t bizne55 sk1llz while not letting you screw up anything important. Let me illustrate.

I'm a senior programmer, and my rule of thumb is: Don't give an intern programmer any programming job that you can't afford to completely re-write once they've left. That means no time-critical tasks and nothing important that can't be put off until afterwards.

This is because the skills that they need to make good programs are exactly the ones that we need to teach them: design, documentation, style, and maintainability.

Hopefully by the time they leave they will have acquired some skill in those areas. But even if they did, the code they wrote to learn them is probably crap. If it's flawless then you can count yourself lucky and integrate it. If it's crap, you can count yourself an idiot if you counted upon it being flawless.

Having Run an Intern Program Last Summer. . . (1)

Zeus72 (228822) | more than 13 years ago | (#410266)

I did the co-op thing in college for the phone company. The people I reported to were bordering on incompetent and I had full access within a week of coming on board. I successfully wrecked havoc for a full semester but learned a hell of a lot. They paid me as an entry-level engineer as a junior in college (30,000/yr in the early 90's). I loved it and learned a lot.

Fast forward, summer of 2001. I am the director of development for a huge corporation. I am in charge of bringing in the interns for "cheap tech labor" in the words of my boss. I got a mix of high school and college students. I gave them all projects that they did not know how to do. "Write me an internal web page that displays the following calculations. Here's the server's ftp info, the database logon and a computer with all the software a geek could want with unlimited internet access." Not a single one failed me all summer. I didn't ask them to launch the space shuttle, only do what a programmer with a little experience should be able to do.

I don't know what the circumstances are at your company but likely, the people in charge don't know how to utilize you. Our society expects little to nothing from our youth (as a 30 something geezer) and that is our mistake/loss. This co-op is just an extension of that.

So, in answer to the question: A successful internship program pushes the limits of the intern's potential (resulting in cheap labor, granted) but is challenging and rewarding enough to make the trade off worth it for the intern.

Re:Quit whining! (1)

Bug2000 (235500) | more than 13 years ago | (#410271)

Let me disagree a little with that view of yours. Though it is true that uninteresting tasks are part of our daily job, it is not the case 100% of our time: there is almost definitely an interesting and teaching side to our jobs. So when a company claims that students are welcome to participate to an engineering project, they should also be given interesting duties on top of the braindead stuff. Otherwise it is no longer a true engineering project.

You have the choice as a student to enjoy your student life and leave the stress matters to later which is fine (otherwise they will regret their student life). But if students are worried because they want to have interesting things to do, then there are plenty of ways. Why not taking part of an open-source project ? Why not working on certifications ? As a recruiter, I always have a much better impression of open source people and certified students because that shows a strong will to learn for the sake of making progress. They are the same people who can work independently, make wise decisions and make a project be successful. Of course that does not pay for your moppet at the end of your internship, but when you start your real professional life, your salary will very likely be 50% more than all your friends because of your experience and the potential that you show. So it's a longer term prospect.

Lessons learned as a college coop (1)

gte910h (239582) | more than 13 years ago | (#410273)

There are a few things to do/think of: 1. Since you have some work experience, you often can leverage this in a real job to not get as much grunt work.
2. Volenteer for every little cool thing...you will seem motivated and will be givern more cool stuff. Be a go getter. Then you will find yourself in more interesting areas.cause you went and got that.
3. Ask to do more interesting work. Often you will get it if you ask.
4. Use the skills you learn in solving problems and interacting with people in an adult way to run programs at your school and in your community. You will find yourself more capable then many of your peers, and you will be able to leverage this to do better things in and out of your job.

REAL advice... (1)

Scratch-O-Matic (245992) | more than 13 years ago | (#410275)

I agree, to a certain extent, with the "tough...get over it...pay your dues" advice here. But here are two pieces of more helpful advice, based in part on a similar situation I had years ago just out of high school.

1) First of all, grab someone and tell them what you told us. In my case, 3 weeks into a 5 week program, someone in charge was shocked when they were told what I was doing, and I was immediately moved to much more interesting work.

Even if that doesn't work...
2) Remember this rule forever: Knowledge is Good. While you're at this place, touch and use every piece of equipment you can. Ask every question that pops into your mind. Take tours, guided or otherwise, of every corner and every room you can get your nose into. Try to get through the locked doors. Maybe even sit in on a meeting with the suits. If nothing else, it may get you out of the menial tasks for a while. And you may be surprised when down the road you find yourself saying "Oh yeah, I did|saw|heard that when I was at XX."


Scratch-o-Matic

Count Those Blessings (1)

ICEPHREAK (250325) | more than 13 years ago | (#410277)

Personally speaking, cooperative education has changed my life for the better. In highschool I was volunteered to work at a photofinishing retail store. It wasn't my cup of tea, but I procrastinated in picking out my own choice of brew.

Anyhow, I completed a semester of the co-op work, learning plenty of photofinishing and ended up working for one of Canada's largest photofinishing retalilers selling photographic-related equipment and processing film. At some point I earned enough money to take part time UNIX courses where I eventually met a guy who worked for a large ISP. Bam, new job instantly.

Four years later I became a network administrator for that same large ISP.

Moral of the story? Though you're working for free, consider that the experience you're gathering is worth its weight in gold for the progress of the career you plan to pursue. That's a good something to power up the resume with. Being a student, I'm sure you could use the resume fuel as well.

ICEPHREAK

Re:fp (1)

Safety Cap (253500) | more than 13 years ago | (#410278)

Damn you!

Re:Quit whining! (1)

icebeing001 (259902) | more than 13 years ago | (#410280)

I agree with Wav...Cliff, what is it you are looking for in this job? Sounds to me you have a heck of a start in the high-tech sector. I know what my first tech job was like...doing COBOL work on an antiquated IBM 370, in the Canadian gov't! If you want to see brain-dead work, there it is. I was half-way through my term there, and they didn't have anymore projects for me. I spent three termd as a gov. grunt, and it almost killed my chances at getting a cool tech job like yours...I eventually got one, but I spent the entire time doing testing and validation, cause you learn the most doing that. And a bit of coding, but coding does not an engineer make you know. As many ppl have said, your job exp. is what you make of it; if you feel you got short-changed, then you won't really know what u have until you get a crappier job....and believe me, for the job you have right now, at least 10 ppl would love to do what ur doing right now, so don't knock it.

Re:It will be worth it when you get a real job (1)

StJohnsWort (260566) | more than 13 years ago | (#410281)

Believe me, it will be worth it just so people wont keep taking a piece of me. StJohnsWort

Ask and ye may receive (1)

somethingwicked (260651) | more than 13 years ago | (#410282)

The first several weeks of the program were quite interesting and informative

It sounds like they DID live up to their side of the bargain. This is as good as any co-op experience I have heard of, ESPECIALLY for high school level.

What to do? Go to your supervisor and say "In ADDITION to what we are already doing, is there a way we may expose ourselves to more of the (engineering related items) we were working on before?"

I'd be shocked if they didn't respond favorably.

This happened to me on my co-op (1)

typical geek (261980) | more than 13 years ago | (#410283)

The co-op started out great, but it got boring, so I went to see my manager. She was an older woman, mid 30's (I even had her son in one of my classes), but she still looked pretty, long blonde hair and she wore short skirts a lot.

I told her that I needed more challenging work, I was a bright young man, full of energy, and in relatively good shape for a computer nerd.

She leaned forward, and I got a nice look down her blouse. She crossed her legs and her skirt rode up a little on her thigh, and through narrowed eyes she mentioned that had a particular position she wanted to try on me.

Re:This happened to me on my co-op (1)

typical geek (261980) | more than 13 years ago | (#410284)

"Now, this opening is very important, and if word got out that you were filling it, things might get awkward." She stood up, straightened her skirt, then walked to her window. She lowered her blinds and closed them, and then walked to her door to do the same thing. Then she walked up next to me and laid her hand on my shoulder.

"You know tpyical geek, I've pretty much watched you grow up. I remember you coming over to Jordan's 6th birthday party, and now look at you, 6 foot tall, 180 pounds, rugged good lucks, and you sure fill out those jeans, if you know what I mean."

Things to do about this (1)

Mhrmnhrm (263196) | more than 13 years ago | (#410286)

Sorry to hear you're having such a bad experience. There are a couple of things you should probably look into. First is what exactly was "promised" to you, and what did you think they promised. Remember that as high-school co-ops, you are probably second from the bottom on the totem pole, barely above the janitorial staff, and just under the college co-ops. You haven't had any of the technical classes that the college kids have had, and even if you guys are pure Einsteins, the time it would take to teach you how wave guides and optical switches function, let alone how they are built, would be a huge drain on the time and resources of the company you work for. The college kids don't have it much better.... They've had some of the theory, enough to be dangerous, but not enough to be really helpful (Me being one of those college kids just a short time ago). Second, remember that even if you flew through college and got your Ph.D. before your first job, you still have to put in the 'grunt' and 'gopher' jobs until you learn how things around the company actually happen. Keep your eyes and ears open. If you see something lying around, read it. If the engineers around you are talking, listen (and if they don't mind, ASK QUESTIONS!!!). Show a real interest in what's going on around you... break out of your high school shell, and into their's. The easiest thing to do is just put in everything you've got. If it's a true co-op, you don't have any homework to worry about, so ask if you can take tech manuals home. Knowing how to do more will make you more valuable to the company, and get you better positions (as well as looking cool on your resume's 'skills' section). Do your work quick so you can take on new tasks. You'll get out of the experience whatever you put in. And the more you put into it, the better the return. If you put in 100%, that's what you'll get. If you put in more than that (110%), you'll get more than what you started with out (120%), but put in less (90%) and you'll get even less back (80%). Granted, my numbers aren't exactly scientific, but just my own personal experience through my time as a lowly serf.

First-hand Experience (1)

KupekKupoppo (266229) | more than 13 years ago | (#410289)

I was a "technical intern" for a large semiconductor company, and their program was laid out no better than the one you describe.

We were all trained on a lot of the test equipment, then dumped in the class 1 clean room with a ton of employees who had no idea we were coming.

Some of us were told "go stand over there." That could last hours, literally. I stood next to a wall (there is about 1 chair per 50 employees in the clean room) for 4 hours one time, went to lunch, stood for another 3 before I got a break.

Just a personal note: I quit and got a job for the University in their computer support area. Less pay, less hours (clean room was 12 hour shifts), but a lot more livable.

Intern != cheap labor.

Being a co-op Student myself.... (1)

turacma (266828) | more than 13 years ago | (#410290)

I go to school at Northeastern. There the co-op program is mandatory for graduation. Unfortunately, the majority of first co-ops, as with those first jobs (i.e. MickyD's) are going to be grunt labor type jobs. My first co-op experience was as a Helpdesk operator at a law firm. You want to talk about boring... Anyway, all I can say try to develop things that semi-automate or shorten the amount of time you spend on your job. Then show your boss how productive you've become and ask if you can have more responsibilities. Repeat as necessary. Even if you don't get a raise, the experience will be worth every penny. Give it time, it's taken me 3 years off and on within the co-op program to make it to the level of semi-valued employee.

Getting the most out of coops (1)

The-One1 (267407) | more than 13 years ago | (#410291)

I'm afraid that is the life of a coop. Even college students (I worked for a university that is known for its coop program) end up doing grunt work while on coop. It comes with the territory.

That said, the key to getting the most out of a coop is the same as any other job. Watch what people around you are working on. Ask questions. Look for something that you'd like to be doing, and then volunteer to do it. No, this doesn't make your job easy. It means doing MORE work, and you will probably still have to the grunt work. But depending on your supervisor, you might ALSO end up doing something more chalenging.

Even if you don't get to actually work on a project, you can still learn by paying attention to what's going on around you.

And don't hesitate to suggest to your boss (in a polite way) that you would like to do more. You might just get what you want.

Of course, you might get _more_ than you bargained for. ;-)

Catch-22 (1)

limboman (307079) | more than 13 years ago | (#410293)

This can be a tricky situation, particularly for the employer. A co-op is as valuable as the mentoring he/she is given, in my experience. The typical sequence of co-opdom is this:

  • Co-op is hired because engineers are overworked
  • Co-op does menial tasks or (more often) sits around because the engineers are too over-worked to think up stuff for the co-op to do
  • A 'good' co-op project comes around; co-op does a good job and is given more responsibility
  • Co-op gets more and more stuff to do
  • Co-op becomes equivalent over-worked engineer; newbie co-op is hired...

I guess the moral here is to stick it out, do a good job and keep asking for more responsibility. Nothing pissed me off more than seeing a co-op playing solitare instead of pounding the bushes for stuff to do. Having been on both sides of the coin, I can say that 'industry experience' is worth it, whatever you're doing - especially in high school!

Sounds Like a good deal to me. (1)

wirehead_rick (308391) | more than 13 years ago | (#410294)

Engineering is 10% creative and 90% crap work. What you should take from this is crap work makes you money, the rest is just fun stuff you get to do for a while.

In the real world, money rules. You will find you _always_ have to justify your existance to your employer in terms of how you make a company money. That is the lesson you should learn. Doing the crap work will distinguish you from your peers. Trust me on this.

Is there a problem? To me... (1)

jgreenst (309694) | more than 13 years ago | (#410295)

.... it seems like you are getting a top-notch education with respect to: (1) how high-tech companies function, (2) how engineers are truly perceived within the industry, and (3) what an engineering-related career at a corporation really means. Come to think of it, there is a source that can answer all of your questions. Just click on the following URL: http://www.dilbert.com :)

c'est la vie (1)

JohnnyKnoxville (311956) | more than 13 years ago | (#410297)

My experience had lead me to believe that unless you run your own business, you will end up being somebody's pee-on no matter what you might be qualified to do. Sadly, also people see age as a factor, since you are in high school, it has probably been determined by someone that you are "too young" therefore "inexperienced" and "unable" to do certain things. Piss on them. Start your own company, and put them out of business.

Same woes @ Drexel University (1)

dogas (312359) | more than 13 years ago | (#410298)

I've had nearly the same exact experience at my last co-op provided by Drexel University. The want ad billed the job as 'PC Tech Specialist' that promised cutting-edge work in many computer related diciplines but the real job mainly consisted of moving boxes in the basement, upgrading Pentium 75s to meet the minimum requirement for their Office 2000 rollout (which we had to perform on all 700 machines), and nothing (going to work and browsing the web for 2 weeks with nothing to do). So far, my experience being a co-op is nothing but crap. We're used for cheap labor or labor that no one else wants to do. We're not treated like regular employees, but more like kids. Experiences like these make co-op seem like a benefit for the university and the employer, not the student.

Pad your fscking resume! (1)

steevo.com (312621) | more than 13 years ago | (#410299)

What is resume going to say?

Student co-op with bug high-tech company: duties included sweeping floor, fetching coffee and untangling cords.

Probably not.

You will use this experience to load your resume, legitimately, with experience that few people of high school age can have.

Don't forget about the contacts you will make. They might even lead you to a real job someday.

Just a glimpse of what the working offers you (1)

screwballicus (313964) | more than 13 years ago | (#410300)

There are people out there with university degrees in the field who have to do this sort of menial labour. One simply can't expect to be handed a breadboard and told "have fun", because the market just doesn't have a place for many people of that sort. That's something you do in your basement for kicks, not something a corporation hires you to do.

Same thing happened to me.. but it was cool. :) (1)

BlackIceGT (314421) | more than 13 years ago | (#410301)

I was one of a few students that was accepted into the co-op program with Ontario Hydro. I worked at the Western Nuclear Training Center as a computer tech for a year, and yet I spent most of my time unpacking boxes and tying up cables in classrooms.. I really enjoyed the year however.. It was all work that needed to be done, and I got along well with the other students I was working with, and since we were doing relatively simple work, we had time to talk. I learned a lot about car stereos that year, and even had a chance to work in one of the shops and learned how a laser printer worked.. fun stuff. Not the most challenging, but since we were unpacking stuff, moving computers, typing help desk calls into the database.. it allowed the techs there to concentrate on more important stuff like setting up a new server, upgrading the computers to P166s, rolling out NT4 (this was a few years ago) and wiring up the LAN to include new classrooms.

Anyway, I mostly didn't get to do that I thought I would.. but I still had fun and learned a bit.. too bad I barely learned anything about what I was supposed to from working there! ;)

As everyone says, "Get used to it" (1)

gimped (318920) | more than 13 years ago | (#410303)

That's why it's called work. The benefit of working in engineering is that you're a gimp that actually gets things accomplished. If you don't like it, go buy a blue shirt and khakis and go speak marketing bull for the rest of your life.

Stop whining (2)

mosch (204) | more than 13 years ago | (#410314)

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?"

Common problem (2)

ragnar (3268) | more than 13 years ago | (#410316)

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 [spinweb.net] , 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." :-)

Gleaning the wheat from the chaff? (2)

alumshubby (5517) | more than 13 years ago | (#410317)

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.

Part of life... (2)

Zaediex (8399) | more than 13 years ago | (#410318)

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.

Zaed...

Unfortunately.... (2)

Bob McCown (8411) | more than 13 years ago | (#410319)

...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!

Glimpse of the real world... (2)

coreman (8656) | more than 13 years ago | (#410320)

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.

talk to the manager and politely.. (2)

Duke of URL (10219) | more than 13 years ago | (#410322)

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!

Cooped up? (2)

vees (10844) | more than 13 years ago | (#410323)

Finally, a use for a new ICANN top-level:

sucks.coop

--

Interns (2)

Col. Klink (retired) (11632) | more than 13 years ago | (#410324)

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.

Re:co-op? (2)

Skeezix (14602) | more than 13 years ago | (#410327)

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.
----

Meet people - Learn things - duh. (2)

trcooper (18794) | more than 13 years ago | (#410328)

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.

Writing your own ticket... (2)

double_h (21284) | more than 13 years ago | (#410329)

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.

stop your complaining... (2)

gimpboy (34912) | more than 13 years ago | (#410332)

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

The real issue perhaps... (2)

GNUCyberKat (62503) | more than 13 years ago | (#410336)

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...

both sides (2)

maraist (68387) | more than 13 years ago | (#410337)

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).

-Michael

who cares? (2)

iso (87585) | more than 13 years ago | (#410340)

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

Work is only part of a CO-OP program (2)

4/3PI*R^3 (102276) | more than 13 years ago | (#410343)

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.

co-op? (2)

chancycat (104884) | more than 13 years ago | (#410344)

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?

Advice (2)

YIAAL (129110) | more than 13 years ago | (#410351)

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.

Re:Get over it (2)

yamla (136560) | more than 13 years ago | (#410352)

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.

--

grunt work. (2)

www.sorehands.com (142825) | more than 13 years ago | (#410354)

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.

Business experience (2)

Alomex (148003) | more than 13 years ago | (#410356)

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.

Re:This happened to me on my co-op (2)

cyber-vandal (148830) | more than 13 years ago | (#410357)

...and then you woke and realised you'd creamed your bedsheets.

Re:Where are we SUPPOSED to get cheap labor? (2)

SquadBoy (167263) | more than 13 years ago | (#410359)

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.

Where are we SUPPOSED to get cheap labor? (2)

IvyMike (178408) | more than 13 years ago | (#410361)

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.

Quit whining! (2)

Wavicle (181176) | more than 13 years ago | (#410363)

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.

Re:Part of life... (2)

ScuzzMonkey (208981) | more than 13 years ago | (#410365)

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.

good for you(not sarcastic) (2)

musselm (209468) | more than 13 years ago | (#410366)

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!

Get over it (2)

GreatBallsOfFire (241640) | more than 13 years ago | (#410371)

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.

Uh-huh (2)

Iscon in Siiscon (318648) | more than 13 years ago | (#410373)

Guess you should have taken the blue pill.

It's good practice (3)

glitch! (57276) | more than 13 years ago | (#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.

volunteer (4)

PD (9577) | more than 13 years ago | (#410378)

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.

How to get an interesting co-op experience. (4)

bgarcia (33222) | more than 13 years ago | (#410379)

...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!

This is why capitalism is bad. (4)

Greg@RageNet (39860) | more than 13 years ago | (#410380)

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.

Hurrah.

ahh, idealism... (4)

mmmmbeer (107215) | more than 13 years ago | (#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!

The experience will be what you make it (5)

rw2 (17419) | more than 13 years ago | (#410382)

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.

--

HS Co-op (5)

FortKnox (169099) | more than 13 years ago | (#410384)

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.

--

It will be worth it when you get a real job (5)

Hairy_Potter (219096) | more than 13 years ago | (#410385)

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.
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