2019 Student of the Year Award Winners - Where Are They Now?

Christina Weng
Product Designer at Facebook
Sheridan College

We recently caught up with one of our 2019 Student of the Year Award winners, Christina Weng, who graduated in 2020 as the world went into lockdown with COVID-19.

Christina graduated with a Honours Bachelor of Interaction Design from Sheridan College in June 2020. Christina's path to her graduation day was not a typical path of a UX designer. She initially pursued a Business degree at another school with eyes on a career in marketing and advertising. While in her third year of studies and much to the disappointment of her parents, she realized that she was not passionate about this path.  Her boyfriend's sister, who continues to be a prominent mentor in Christina's career, encouraged her to look at Sheridan's design programs.

Despite her hesitance in applying to a design program with no background in the arts, Christina enrolled at Sheridan’s Interaction Design program. What she lacked in art experience, she excelled at the ability to see patterns in design by researching trends and creative problem solving. She is able to see form and structure and apply this to design.

Christina developed skills through her three co-op works terms. At Kinark Child & Family Services, her work term was focused on communications putting together documents and user guides. By putting herself in the user's shoes, she was able to create easy-to-follow documents for the organization.

For her second work term, she sought out a job in data visualization. At RBC, she created dashboards and improved processes so that information was easier to digest and saved the company time and money. Her supervisor was a big influence on Christina's learning. He recognized her analytical skills and taught her how to use Tableau while being open to Christina teaching him about user experience design.

Christina's third and final work term was with Microsoft Garage in Vancouver. She described this experience as a "four month hackathon" where her team was tasked with improving an existing Microsoft experiment. She recounted that the innovative team environment was more like a summer camp incubator which enabled her to form deep bonds with her co-workers while learning and developing skills.

During this work term, she felt something wasn't right with how users were interacting with the product. After thinking about how she would bring up this topic to her experienced team members, she did some user testing and presented her findings along with solutions to remedy the problem. The team accepted her ideas and the product was successfully received by their customers.

From this experience, Christina learned to trust her feelings and be unafraid to speak up. "The goal is to build the best product. If people don't love it, they will use it once and won't come back. You have to be unapologetic about what you're trying to do, but strategic in how you do it."

Christina has been strategic in her career choices while gathering a circle of mentors around her. Each co-op supervisor taught her many things and she continued to network with recruiters whom she had communicated with during her job search as a student. One of those recruiters worked at Facebook.

She has long held the dream of working in Silicon Valley and she made that dream come true when she was hired on as a Product Designer in Facebook's San Francisco office. Christina works on Ads Manager, Facebook’s highest-impacting the tools that allow marketers and advertisers to do their job. It is not lost on her that if she continued with her Business degree, she would have been one of those marketers and advertisers. Now, she gets to design the tools that they will use.
From Christina's unconventional path to Facebook, she has some advice for current co-op students:

  • When starting out with little work experience behind you, fill your LinkedIn profile with meaningful experiences through volunteering and freelance work
  • Think about where you want to be, not where you currently are
  • Find a mentor and when you can, give back to other students by mentoring them
  • Treat everything as a learning experience
  • Make connections authentically and nurture these relationships
  • Don't be scared to speak up during your work term, but do be strategic in how you communicate.

Although COVID, has meant that Christina has to work remotely from Toronto for the time being, you can rest assured that she will be in San Francisco as soon as she can.

Ahmed Jawa
Business Consultant, IBM
BBA, Brock University
We recently had the chance to speak with 2019 Student of the Year Award winner, Ahmed Jawa. Ahmed obtained his Honours BBA in Finance from Brock University in August 2019. His convocation wasn't held until Spring of 2020 and he along with thousands of other Canadian university and college graduates, was not able to walk across the stage in the presence of his family to accept his parchment due to COVID-19.
Ahmed chose co-op as part of his degree and knew that he wanted to gain experience in his co-op work terms in management, finance and consulting. With this strategy in mind, his first co-op work term was at the CAMI Automotive plant in Ingersoll, Ontario where he worked in a management role as a Production Group Leader in the paint shop. The position encompassed many duties from administering payroll to insuring quality standards were met in the production of the Chevy Equinox.

His second work term was as a Financial Management and Planning Student with Niagara Region which is a regional government in southern Ontario serving a population of approximately 450,000 people in 12 municipalities.  Ahmed's main responsibility in this position was to track development charges paid by developers and contractors. He learned the process of how funds were administered by government. If he finished his work early, Ahmed would ask for more work and soon developed a wide range of financial skills and broad knowledge of the operations of the organization. The managers were welcoming and provided as much opportunity as possible for Ahmed to contribute his enthusiasm and skills to their departments.

When it was time to start for searching for his third co-op work term, Ahmed was focused on finding a position that would allow him to gain experience in consulting. He noticed a posting with the United Nations Development Program and with the assistance of his Co-op Coordinator, submitted his application. After a few interviews with different countries, he accepted a Junior Consultant position in Cambodia.

Ahmed embraced this six-months opportunity with the desire to not only learn about consulting, but to embrace the Cambodian people and culture. He worked with an internationally diverse team and had to learn quickly how to fit into his new home. He worked in the Policy and Innovation Unit which conducted research on projects and proposed policies targeting macro-economic development issues in the country such as "social protection, financial literacy, de-mining, environmental sustainability, renewable energy, capital-based projects and many more".

While in Cambodia, as Ahmed neared the end of his degree, he began his search for a full-time job in Canada.  He followed the successful steps that he learned as a co-op student to carefully prepare a targeted application and used his growing network to search for a new grad position.  In March 2020, his efforts resulted in a full-time position as a Business Consultant with IBM in Toronto.

In this position, Ahmed uses his knowledge obtained through his academics and three unique co-op work terms, to help his clients communicate with their customers. Technology has provided many ways for customers to contact companies and they increasingly have higher expectations.

Throughout his co-op work terms, Ahmed had terrific co-op supervisors who taught him not only how to do his job, but also shared career advice. Jeff advised him not to take life and work too seriously. This wasn't to say that a person shouldn't work hard, but that they should try to flow with whichever way life takes you and to be comfortable with that.  Margaret advised that no matter how senior a person was in their position, you should engage with them. Respect their position and their time, but if you need something - ask for it.

Ahmed developed many skills throughout his co-op work terms and provided this advice for current students:

  • Co-op adds value to your degree and after graduation, gives you a competitive advantage over new grads without co-op experience. If you have the option to do co-op as part of your degree - do it
  • Communicate with your Co-op Coordinator. Ahmed credits his success from the help that he received from his Co-op Coordinators, and the entire co-op team at Brock
  • Take your own career seriously. The co-op office will help you, but in the end, you have to do the work yourself
  • Use your co-op work terms to develop the skills that you will need to do your dream job. For Ahmed, that was experience in management, finance and consulting. Work backwards from your goal and determine what steps you need to take to get there, but leave room to pursue another direction should you find one to follow
  • Each organization will have a different culture for communication. Some will be more diplomatic and formal while others will be more direct. Adapt your communication style to the organization in order to get your ideas across
  • Never stop learning.