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For an enjoyable co-op work term experience…

This article is intended both for employers to boost student’s moral and productivity, and for students to enhance their co-op work term experience with promises of the same.

A lot of Universities now offer co-op variations of their programs, especially among the Engineering and Computer Science degrees. My University tries to answer some common questions in their about pages.

What is co-operative education?

Co-operative education is an educational model that formally integrates academic studies with relevant work experience. Co-op students alternate terms of school and work in appropriate fields.

startup office

A startup office I worked at.

So similar to an intern position, though usually limited to a 4 months period (or rarely a multiple there of) and a student could be as young as in their first year of studies. There are many advantageous reasons to be a co-op student and to hire co-op students, but this article assumes that both parties are in the know. Now that a student is in the office, there are a few things that could make the experience better for everybody.

  1. Competitive salary – one of the leading reasons for hiring students is that they are considerably cheaper than full-time staff. Though paying minimum wage will result in minimal results. Here’s some basic math – if a $20/hour co-op student completes work in 3 times as long as it should, but otherwise the same work would have had to be done by a $60/hour developer instead – the employer still breaks even!
  2. It’s the little perks that count – students are especially receptive to small occasional bonuses in forms of food or drinks. Look for small, rewarding, investments. A $40 coffee machine that was bough for me during my last work term (I’ve asked for it during an interview) easily had the greatest Return on Investment for the company!
  3. Interesting work – students are here to learn and to get practical experience. Find out what the student is interested in. An occasional exciting assignment can easily counteract the onset of boredom from monotonous tasks. Tip for students: you can usually just ask for more work that you enjoy doing.
  4. A part of the team – co-op students want their work terms to matter. Just because they’ll be gone in 4 months, doesn’t mean they can’t contribute well to the team effort. A more comfortable relationship with other developers promotes cooperation – it’s easier to share ideas and get things done faster.
  5. Meaningful work – similar to the one above, it’s nice when the userbase consists of more than one person. More responsibility leads to more effort. It’s simply nice to actually care for the work done.

Not a complicated list. Co-op students are a competitive bunch that like to show off, otherwise they are not that different from the full time developers. Probably for a good reason, students are real people too!

There is a mutual understanding that a co-op work term involves learning and gaining experience. Though also, given a right opportunity, a student would demonstrate the best abilities. Unless, of course, the objective is to get away with the least amount of work possible – but that’s what the interviews are for.

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Uhh... nothing else appears to be relevant enough.


  1. Posted by Bashar | September 13, 2007, 9:14 am

    I can say one thing about students here. They are always terrifying with their ideas. The age 18-23 the person is simply building his character and skills for the years to come. He has motive, ideas, learning quickly new skills, with no fear yet.

    I love to hang out with those people, so if I had a company, good student candidates I think would help a lot.

    Reply to comment

  2. Posted by Onecore | September 13, 2007, 9:54 am

    There are many things to consider apart from these like peer competition & opportunities,family life that impacts on education.
    Co-op work just need to be nutrient for mind.Cause if you work alone or stay alone it eats lot of your energy.It deteriorates the health.

    You’ve written good article but i was thinking a lot apart from these.Anyway its worth to read.

    Reply to comment

  3. Posted by Tony | September 13, 2007, 2:03 pm

    Bashar – that is certain a good reasons to hire co-ops, they are full of fresh ideas and a new perspective. What surprises me though is when companies hire students, assign some mediocre personal project, and leave them on their own for 4 months. Seems like a waste for everybody.

    Onecore – student’s health is an excellent point, I should have brought it up. And to a larger extend – balance. A healthy lifestyle during and outside of work will help prevent a burnout, even from engaging projects.

    Reply to comment

  4. Posted by Donald T | September 14, 2007, 1:54 pm

    i would say that nothing beats hands-on experiences. to tell the truth, i learnt the most during my 3-month internship as compared to 4 years of my course. during the internship, interns are always challenged to perform, and when we did, a commend was enough to keep us happy for the day.

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