Career Paths Are Never a Straight Line

Career Paths Are Never a Straight Line

By: Sheldon Maciel | SFU Co-op Student
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When I was in highschool, it was mandatory to take a graduation planning class in order to compel students to think about what career options to pursue. Some students, took it seriously, and others didn’t, thinking it was not important at the time. In that particular class, we were asked to write about our dream job and to research its career path. I had no idea what I wanted to do - I was only in Grade 10. I went home and asked my family for ideas, particularly my mom. She suggested engineering because I excelled in math and science, spent my spare time tinkering with things, and took everything (literally everything) apart to figure out how things worked. She thought it was a good starting point. 

I did some research about chemical engineering and found it extremely interesting. I wrote my presentation on that topic, handed it in and did well. However, I didn’t just stop there. I started researching other types of engineering fields because they all sounded really interesting. In Grade 11, my family and I went to a bunch of different open houses that the local universities were hosting, and I started talking to the students, interested in knowing more about their experiences in order to get a picture of what university is truly like.

The universities I visited seemed interesting, but more than often, I heard things like “if you can put up with the first two years, then you get to do cool projects in your last two years”. I already knew that I was a hands-on learner and needed to do projects to learn, so that was quite discouraging.

Nearing the end of Grade 11, I was running out of time because I needed to start applying to universities and so that I could start in the fall semester right after I graduated from high school. My mom and I went to one more university before making a final decision. You guessed it – we visited Simon Fraser University. 

Again, I talked to the students there but this time it was different. I ended up talking with three fourth-year students for about an hour and they took me on a private tour around the mechatronic labs and informed me that I would have the opportunity to start working on projects in my very first year. My mom told me later that she had called my dad right then and said, “I think we found the university for him.”

So long story longer, I applied to the Mechatronic Systems Engineering B.A.Sc. program and got an early acceptance. Ever since, I have been taking university courses and working on school and self-directed projects and it has been a ride. 

My first co-op experience

I strongly feel that the mandatory, integrated co-ops have been an essential part of my post-secondary education here at SFU. For my first year, I was so enthusiastic that I got into the university that I took six courses. Afterward, I re-assessed my program requirements and decided to “only” take five courses each semester from then on. I chose five courses as my limit because it seemed like a comfortable workload to allow me to balance my time and enjoy my university experience.

After completing my second-year courses, I was required to do my first co-op, which I was really excited about because I could work on projects and get paid to do them. I applied to around twenty companies and had a few interviews. They went okay but not good enough for me to secure a position. I was getting to the last month of the semester and I had to make a decision – if I wanted to take classes in the summer or if I would like to keep pursuing a co-op placement. I decided I wanted to work in a co-op position.

I remembered meeting someone two years prior in during a school project about sustainability and thought it was worth a shot to ask if they had any positions that I could apply to. They, unfortunately, didn’t have a job for me but she told me she knew someone who might, so I forwarded my resume. A week or two later, during finals, the CEO of a small company called me for an interview. I was super excited and a bit nervous, but of course decided to go. She and her husband interviewed me and showed me around their building. We chatted casually and then, because he asked me to, I mentioned different ways in which he could improve things about certain products and gave him a few other ideas. He also asked me how I would design a better battery-powered clock and I suggested some ideas from the little experience I had with microcontrollers. We finished the interview and he said to come up with some more ideas and get back to him the next day. Then, as we were about to finish the interview, he exclaimed, “You’re hired” I was so shocked and happy to say the least. I couldn’t believe it! I started the co-op next week which was exactly when I was supposed to start a new semester of classes.

During my third year, I needed to apply for another co-op and I was starting to get stressed again because it was going to be a busy school semester and I wanted more time to find a job. I was talking with a family friend I knew and after I told him what I was studying, he said that I might be interested in a company that he worked for. I prepared a mini-portfolio, a resume, and a cover letter over and sent it to the hiring manager. I then got an interview with him and he showed me what they were working on. We were just finishing up the interview when he gave me a page with schematics. I took my time and answered his questions. After he asked me the last technical question, he told me that of all the people he had interviewed that day, I was the only one who had managed to answer it correctly. He then proceeded to offer me the co-op job on the spot and asked if I could start the next week.

Back at it with another co-op

For my next co-op, I decided that I needed to apply to companies sooner so that I wouldn’t stress out, so I gave myself an entire year to search! One day, I noticed an email about a Tesla info session at the SFU Burnaby campus in my inbox. I was at the Burnaby campus working on my Solar Project that I was leading, and interrupted the meeting my friend and I were having to go to the info session! We quickly ran to the library, to print our resumes but the colour printer wasn’t working! We had to print it in black and white, which I thought was better than nothing and run to the info session. We quietly made our way to the edge of the room and listened intently with our “hot off the presses” resumes.

I still thought there was no way I would get the position, but I was passionate about renewable energy and hoped they could see that through my Solar Project. I gave out two copies of my resume to increase my chances, even though they said that our resumes would get passed around to the various teams. Around the same time, I applied to another company I had been pursuing for about two years at that point. I heard back from them but wasn’t offered an interview.

Then about 2-3 weeks from the Tesla info session, I got an email from someone at Tesla! I had gotten myself an interview! I couldn’t believe it! I had to walk outside and calm myself down because I was at work after which I called my family and texted some friends about the good news. I actually couldn’t take the interview offer right away so I told them I was available in about 6 months and they were accommodating with that.

I pretty much dropped everything to prepare for this interview of a lifetime! I practiced multiple times and felt I was ready. I was so nervous that I would mess up, I couldn’t even sleep the night before. Despite the nerves, my interview went quite well. I managed to get a second interview with the manager, and a week or so later I was hired!

I am currently on a co-op work term at Tesla and it has been a great eight months. I have learned many valuable life lessons that have positively changed my life. I am grateful for all of the co-ops I have completed and hope this inspires everyone reading this. Remember that your career can go in ways that you wouldn’t expect. 


Beyond the Article 

  • Connect with Sheldon on LinkedIn
  • Fellow Mechatronic Systems Engineering student, Michael Kotanist, shares his experience as a manufacturing equipment engineer with Tesla Inc. 
  • To learn more about co-op opportunities like Sheldon's, visit the Mechatronic Systems Engineering Co-op page.
Posted on November 21, 2018