4 years ago I knew very little about the software industry, and I barely stepped into the “real world". Going through several years of schooling, unless you really put an effort to explore the world, you really do end up living in your own bubble, and you are only aware of people you are closest to - your friends, family, classmates, teachers, etc. I grew up with the mindset that doing well in school would eventually help me do well in my future, but I didn’t really know what that meant. You end up spending a lot of time proving yourself through tests, applications, doing a bunch of extracurriculars and talking about them — to get into the best school or program, or getting the best job, and because of your focus on doing those things, you stop working towards your hobbies.
My summer vacations as a kid comprised of summer camp, swimming lessons, the once in awhile vacation to certain Canadian or American cities, or home to Taiwan. I would usually go with my parents on these vacations.
The thing with my parents is that they believe traveling a new place is best done on a travel tour bus, since you get to see all the sights in a handful of days, and don’t have to do too much planning. We’ve done this for a couple of trips - Atlantic cities of Canada, Vancouver, NY/Boston, LA/San Francisco are the few that I remember. The thing is, you don’t really get to really understand what the culture is like, what the people are like, what the food are like in these bus tours. They usually find some all you can eat buffet as your meals. You spend a lot of your time on a bus, and you can’t go on your own schedule to further explore places you are more interested in. Back then though, I didn’t really have a desire to people watch or get the “real" experience of being in those cities.
Going back to Taiwan was actually experiencing life in Taipei since that’s where my family is all located. I’ve never really seen south Taiwan before. I guess with Taiwan though, my family actually knows where to take me for the best food, shopping, attractions, etc. so they don’t really rely on the tour bus thing.
In these past few years though, my view of the world has changed a lot. For me, completing undergrad was way more than just doing 4-5 more years of school, and I wouldn’t be this way without the amount of co-op terms I’ve had. Now, I have more of a desire to try out different food places, people watch, and interact with strangers in a new place; really seeing what it’s like to live there.
I don’t think I ever really kept up with industry news before my very first job at a software company. It just never occurred to me to be interesting. Plus, my network of friends didn’t get to the stage of people posting links to interesting articles yet. The internet wasn’t as developed for discovery: finding interesting content was still pretty difficult back in 2011, and even knowing what to learn about or know about was difficult for me at the time since I didn’t interact with people interested in software and engineering until I came to university.
Being surrounded by people who have similar interests or aspirations as you are one of the key takeaways from my undergrad experience. I’m not saying all my friends are interested in CS and software engineering. I happen to be interested in fashion and beauty products as well, and luckily I had some great first year roommates to help me on that sector. You will meet a variety of people during undergrad, and sometimes you really take it for granted. Well-rounded people are awesome and I’m thankful for knowing them.
Going to America for so many co-op terms, and interacting with coworkers of all diversities, I realized how important Thanksgiving was as a celebration to so many people. It felt very real, and it was definitely not just “a day off work or school". I guess the nice thing about co-op is that you get a chance to work with different types of people. Usually when you pick your friends at school, you aren’t being “assigned" into interacting with a new group of people like you are with work. I’ve had the pleasure to have lunch conversations with such a variety of people at the places I’ve worked.
Thinking about this more deeply, I chose to go down the path of not having summer vacations during undergrad (due to Waterloo engineering’s co-op sequence) without really understanding how different it would be from your typical undergrad experience. I definitely don’t regret it, but I know my experiences with academics, time management, and keeping friendships was completely different from any non-Waterloo student. My experiences are all really compressed into short amounts of time, with very short breaks in between. Moving around every 4 months gets tiring, and although I heard it from people who were older than me, you really don’t feel it until you’ve gone on to your 5th or 6th co-op term.
Anyways. I guess the takeaways here are to open your eyes to different cultures and take advantage of all available resources when being in a new environment (whether it be an internship, traveling, whatever), but at the same time, never forget your roots and where you came from.