The UBC Science Co-op Supervisor Recognition Award acknowledges supervisors who have provided exceptional work term experiences for its co-op students. The award is based on providing meaningful experiential learning; excellent coaching, guidance, and mentorship; and encouraging opportunities for professional growth.
This year, Copperleafer Alejandro Erickson was honoured with this award. We sat down with Alejandro to discuss what he looks for in co-op applicants, his approach to mentorship, and his advice for other supervisors.
What is your role and what do you do?
I am a software developer on the Predictive Analytics team. My time is shared between research and development (R&D) projects and developing software for production.
Can you tell us a little about your background and what led you to Copperleaf?
Prior to Copperleaf, I was doing postdoctoral research in applied graph theory, with the intention of pursuing an academic career. I came to the point where I realized I would likely be happier as a software developer than I would be if I continued in academia, and that I was facing my last chance to make a career switch. I did so by joining Copperleaf and thankfully, my background in research opened the doors for me to work on some of our most interesting challenges in algorithms and software.
What does this award mean to you?
I was extremely fortunate to work on an R&D project with Anita Mahinpei, who nominated me for the award. Anita's research insights and massive code contribution continue to play an invaluable role in this project. This award reaffirms my approach to mentorship, and I'm happy that it has positively affected at least one student. I am overjoyed to receive it, and I am motivated to continue to refine my mentorship skills and hopefully use them to help many more co-op students and colleagues in the future.
Alejandro went above and beyond to answer my questions and help me gain the necessary technical skills... he also gave me the freedom to implement some of my own ideas. Working with Alejandro was a great pleasure and an amazing learning experience.
You mentioned your approach to mentorship. Can you elaborate on that?
If there's a single unifying characteristic in my approach, it's that I try to put the mentee first. The mentee is making their own career path, has their own interests they want to pursue, their own questions they need to answer, their own strengths they want to make use of, and their own weaknesses they want to improve upon. Their multi-dimensional and deeply personal story is of the highest importance. Therefore, even though a co-op student that works with me has done some measure of self-selection, I still need to discover and understand what part of the project best suits them, and how I should adjust my expectations. I also try to be as approachable as possible in order to create a safe space for discussion.
Why do you think Copperleaf is a great place for co-ops to gain valuable work experience?
Copperleaf is very proactive in the UBC Science Co-op Program, frequently participating in workshops, hackathons, and career fairs, because we see each developer co-op term as an extended interview for a Junior Software Developer position after graduation. As such, co-ops participate in Copperleaf's full developer training program, they make valuable contributions to our code base, just like any full-time developer would, and many former co-ops return to Copperleaf.
What advice do you have for other co-op supervisors?
As a non-team-lead, the co-op program has been an opportunity for me to lead small projects and develop a number of skills, such as assessing a person's abilities and interests, apportioning work, and collaborating in a supervisory role. My advice to existing co-op supervisors and team leads, is to foster opportunities for growth by letting others on your team supervise co-ops on sub-projects, even if not for an entire term. It's a great learning experience.
I try to put the mentee first. The mentee is making their own career path... I help match them up with work items that will teach them something, and I give honest and timely feedback... I also try to be as approachable as possible in order to create a safe space for discussion.
What kind of traits do you look for in a co-op?
There are almost always more co-op applicants deserving of an internship at Copperleaf than we have positions for, so my search goes beyond the basic technical skills someone needs to be successful here. I usually look to differentiators such as personal software projects and other activities that signal a passion for their career and life in general. My hope is to find someone who is self-motivated and determined to deliver something excellent.
How do you help cultivate a co-op’s skills?
I help match them up with work items that will teach them something, and I give honest and timely feedback. I am approachable and available to discuss any topic at almost any time.
What are you looking forward to in the next year?
Next year I hope to see the R&D I did with Anita and other co-ops start to impact our software, and begin on new avenues of research with other talented collaborators.
As one of the fastest-growing software companies in Canada, Copperleaf is always looking for talented individuals to join our team! Check out our current job openings here.
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