CMS Training & Documentation Assistant - SFU IT Services ICAT

Learning to Brag and Other Life Lessons at SFU IT Services ICAT


My first co-op term as a CMS Training & Documentation Assistant at SFU IT Services ICAT was a huge opportunity for professional growth. Here are the top three lessons I gleaned from my initial 8-month work term.


Lesson 1: Freedom = Initiative + Responsibility

My co-op work environment was highly unstructured. The project assigned to me consisted of a problem, a desired outcome, and a delivery due date. A list of specifications was non-existent. The system and tools I would develop and implement to address the problem, what they looked like, and how they worked would all be up to me. My work schedule was also up to me. Each day I was the one to determine and set my priorities to ensure I stayed on track of my project goals. Given this much freedom was initially a great challenge. While I liked the creativity and independence that it allowed, my work freedom came with strings attached. With no-one leading the way or looking over my shoulder, ultimately I was responsible for what I did from hour to hour, week to week and month to month. This meant a lot of self-discipline and initiative on my part. The solution to staying happy and productive in a freeform environment? What worked for me was developing a suite of planning, productivity, and time management tools to keep me motivated, focussed, and productive. Tools like a goalsetting mechanism, time limits for completing tasks, and a technique for managing disruptions. Find what works for you and start using it.


Lesson 2: Trust Yourself 

The early days of a new work situation is the time for asking lots of questions and seeking regular feedback. It's understandable, as you want to get to know the ground rules and learn the lay of the land. Inevitably as you settle into your position, you'll be called on to do more to demonstrate your knowledge and skillset and contribute to the team. Yes I asked many questions and looked for feedback from my teammates during the first month of my co-op. As the weeks wore on, however, I was reluctant to let go of this handholding phase and continued to seek confirmation and approval of my ideas instead of acting on them. But doubting myself meant delayed action and delayed results. After a talk with my supervisor, I started to take chances, trust my gut and put myself out there. I learned that I could only move forward by trying and learning from my mistakes, but I learned nothing and got nowhere from standing still. When the time comes, release the safety catch and go with your gut! If you need a confidence boost, remind yourself of all your achievements thus far (see Lesson 3).


Lesson 3: Learn to Brag

In the second week of my co-op term my team implemented a daily "scrum" meeting. This was a quick 15 minute get together designed to inform and update everyone on each other's activities and resolve any roadblocks that came up. We all stood in a circle and took turns relaying 3 pieces of information: 1) what we accomplished yesterday, 2) what we planned on accomplishing today, and 3) any obstacles we had. Publicly bragging about my achievements to my teammates was uncomfortable at first, but I got the hang of it after watching and learning from my experienced peers. The gamechanger though was putting into play an achievements list. My first few weeks on the job were hectic with a high learning curve, so I just made it through the day with no time to look back on what I'd done. Once I understood the importance of tracking my achievements and made it a priority, everything changed! I started keeping a daily work log as one of my planning and organizational tools, and and it turned out to be  indispensable. In it, not only did I record each day's accomplishments, (helping me to prepare for the daily scrums), but I also logged my weekly and daily goals, enabling me to stay on track and focussed. Now at the end of my co-op work term, my daily work log has become my personal bragging list: a permanent record of my co-op achievements which I can draw on now and in future as I move forward in my schooling and career. I'm thankful that I was forced to learn how to brag about my accomplishments. Speaking confidently about yourself and your contributions is a skill everyone needs to develop.