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Joel Bierbaum (June 2014 - January 2015)

Name: Joel Bierbaum

School: Missouri University of Science and Technology

Major: Computer Engineering

Co-op period: June 2014 - January 2015

Co-op Experience

What was the interview process like?

Pat Hutsler, the recruiter for Hunter at the time, contacted me after seeing my resume on MinerJobs. I met Pat and a couple of co-ops at the Career Fair, where we set up an interview time for the next day. My first interview took place in the S&T library. I talked with Pat about the job and took a 20 minute aptitude test. A few days later, I received a call from Pat and we scheduled an on-site interview at Hunter. In that interview, I met with Dave Voeller and talked about my previous experiences, as well as the job I was interviewing for. Within the next couple of days I got an offer from Hunter. Overall, the interview process was very relaxed and efficient.

Most students just want some experience but they don't exactly know what type of experience they want.  Please describe some of the work you did and what type of skills you needed.  It is important to note what you could apply from school and what you learned on the job.

Coming into my co-op I was worried that my programming/technical skills would not be up to par. Much of what I did at Hunter involved coding, and I never encountered a programming obstacle I could not overcome. I coded in C++, C#, and Java. My first project was to develop a mobile application, using Xamarin, for Hunter's alignment suite. Though all of this was done in C# and Java, I was able to apply my skills from school in all programming I did. There is a ton of support out there for most languages, so if you understand basic programming concepts, you will be just fine. Beyond that, you will find that it is important to have strong technical communication skills, as you will be communicating with engineers on a daily basis.

What experience do you think will be the most useful for you in the future?

I think the independence factor of my whole experience will prove to be the most useful aspect in the future. From the get-go, much of what I did was done by me and me alone (mostly)…I am not trying to steal anyone’s thunder in any way, as Dave and other engineers were there to answer questions if I needed help, but I had to figure out many things for myself. The experience often felt like a large research project, in a way. I really learned how to use my resources and grind things out, when the going got tough.

How do you think the overall experience will help you in your career?

The experience will help in many ways. I got a glimpse of what being a professional engineer is like, on a daily basis. Coming into my co-op, I was not that sure about what emphasis area I wanted to tag onto my degree. Through the experience, I learned more about myself, and what I would like to do in the future. The programming experience won't hurt either.

How do you think the overall experience will help you in your next job interview?

Before working at Hunter, I did not have much to talk about during an interview. Like many first-time college students I had limited experience, with mostly odd-jobs filling my resume. Now, I can say that I have worked on real engineering projects, in the real-world. The experience I gained at Hunter definitely gives me an edge over many of my peers who have not been exposed to real-world engineering.

What aspect of the work did you enjoy the most?

I enjoyed the fact that the projects I worked on truly felt like they were my own. As I mentioned before, Dave and others were there to guide me when I needed it but other than that, I found my own way. This may not always be the case, but it was for me, and it turned out to be a fulfilling experience.

What aspect of the work did you not enjoy?

I remember the first two weeks being very difficult for me. Learning how the Team Foundation Server and Visual Studio worked was a stressful experience, but I ended up learning a lot. I knew that I could ask anyone questions about anything, and I did feel welcome. In the end, I got to use a source control/version control suite, used by many large companies.

Did you learn anything?

I learned more than I could possibly fit in a paragraph or even on an entire page. Before starting at Hunter, the large majority of my programming experience came from school, in the form of basic C++. Leaving, I am much more confident in my personal abilities. I also got to see what it is like to work in the ‘corporate world’. I gave a couple of presentations to upper-management, and I had a handful of lunches/meetings with full-time engineers. Day-to-day, I learned what the development process is like, and during the lunches, I learned what engineers discuss behind the scenes. Also, in the meetings, I got to see the reasoning behind numerous business decisions.  The entire experience has helped me realize what I want for my future.

What was the dress code?

The dress code was business casual (slacks/pants and a collared shirt) where I worked, in the West Garage.

Students often want to know if they will work alone or in a group.  Was the work you did more individual or group work and how does it compare with what you have done in school or at another job?

The majority of the work I did was with another co-op, Mike. However, before working with Mike, I was working on my own. Group work and individual work each have their own pros and cons, but it was great to experience both. The group work I did at Hunter felt a lot like a group project at school, except there were never any schedule conflicts with my teammate.

What are the pros/cons of working in Saint Louis? (Maybe compare it to other places you have been)

I enjoyed working in Saint Louis. I was born here, but I grew up in Kansas City. Thus, I was able to visit many of Saint Louis’s attractions for the first time, during my co-op. Personally, I like Saint Louis better than Kanas City and other places I have lived, because I feel like there is more to do. Not to mention, I am a huge Cardinals fan, so I enjoyed seeing the games.

What were your living arrangements during co-op?  This question is especially important for those that are not from St. Louis.

I lived at Sunbrook Apartments, by myself, in Saint Charles. The location was great, but the price was high. I did not have much time to look for an apartment, or else I would have found something cheaper. I can’t complain about the 15-minute drive though.

How was the supervision?

The supervision was rather laissez-faire at Hunter. When I first started, I talked to Dave maybe once a week, at most. If you don’t have questions for anyone, and you are getting things done, they let you work. That to me was one of the best parts about the job. Because of the approach Dave used, the success I had was very fulfilling. Later in my co-op, as the project began ‘heating up’, Mike and I had daily meetings with Dave. These meetings, called ‘Stand-Ups’, were part of the Agile development process that we modeled for future use at Hunter.

Anything else you'd like to tell us about yourself, Hunter Engineering, the coop program or the work?

I began my co-op with little confidence and experience. I am leaving much more confident and with a great amount of experience under my belt. Dave was everything you could ask for in a supervisor. He made me feel like the work I did was for a purpose. He was there to talk and answer any question, work related or not, that I had. Dave runs the program very well, and he was a wonderful mentor through the entire experience. Also, I can’t say enough about Dan, Kaci, Jacob, Trevor, and Ryan in the QA Garage. They made me feel welcome and were always very helpful. I had the pleasure of working with a couple of great fellow co-ops, Mike and Jon, as well. All of these things combined for an awesome co-op experience, and I would encourage any prospective student to give Hunter Engineering Company a shot.