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Jacob Armbrecht (January 2019 - August 2019)

Name: Jacob Armbrecht
School: Southern Illinois University: Edwardsville
Major: Computer Engineering
Co-op period: January 2019 - August 2019

Co-op Experience

What was the interview process like?

I was contacted by Mary Disney after submitting my resume at my school’s career fair. They worked around my busy schedule and I was interviewed near the end of the interview process. I met with Dave Voeller and Mike Douglas. I talked to them about home projects I worked on involving electronics as well as my school projects and classes. The next morning I was contacted by Mary and offered a position in research and development under Dave Voeller.

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.

The work mainly involved researching different hardware and SDK’s that we could use for our current projects. This taught me how to implement different libraries from the standard ones they teach in class. The other part was performing and documenting experiments for our current project. Many times, the experiments would reveal a new problem that I then had to analyze and then offer a solution or something different to try during the next experiment. Good, written communication is a vital skill whether writing an experiment report, README, or simply documenting the code you have been working on. C++ was also a very important skill to know coming into this position and I had to be able to program fluently in it. From my experience, school will cover the actual programming skills, but you need to be able to communicate and problem solve when things go wrong in experiments because things will eventually go wrong.


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

Working with others on the same projects and programs is going to be an incredibly useful skill for me in the future. In school, working on the same program is generally prohibited, however, in the real world, one needs to be able to work with others on the same program in order to succeed. This involves excellent commenting throughout code and the ability to use a source control to view the different edits others on the team made on the program. Both skills will be important for me in the future.


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

I had just switched majors from Computer Engineering to Computer Science just before accepting this position. After working at Hunter Engineering, I learned that Computer Engineering truly was the correct major for me to be earning. This was a HUGE help for me in my career. This experience showed me what type of work I want to do in the future as well as the work I want to avoid. I gained perspective on what I actually want to do after graduation that I maybe never would have gained if I had not accepted this co-op.


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

It is always useful to interview to learn how to communicate without being nervous. The overall co-op experience gave me more field related projects and work to talk to potential employers about. Instead of only having home or school projects to talk about in an interview, I now have hands on experience in the field of computer engineering.


What aspect of the work did you enjoy the most?

I enjoyed working with the latest hardware and learning how to interact and utilize it for the purposes of research and development. This is definitely something that I hope to pursue in my career.


What aspect of the work did you not enjoy?

I worked on a very difficult project. There were many times where we would hit a road block and progress seemed impossible. However, we always found a new course for the project and there were always solutions to the road blocks, even if they were not apparent at first.


Did you learn anything?

I learned C++ tendencies and project settings extremely well as I used them on a near daily basis at some points in the co-op. I also learned many different libraries with computer vision, chiefly OpenCV among them. I gained valuable experience in Python as well. I learned more problem solving skills, especially during the frustrating parts of the project


What was the dress code?

The dress code was khakis/slacks with a nice shirt (no t-shirts unless you are a Mechanical Engineering co-op). Most days I wore slacks and a sweater because it got cold in the garage where I worked.


Student 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?

My first three months I did mainly individual work on the project. When summer began, two more co-ops were added to our team and I then had to work in a group to achieve the same goal. The group work was more intensive than any school group work I had to do, however, since we all wanted to do our best for the project, it was relatively easy to work with others.


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

I come from central Illinois so working in a bigger city was new to me. I did not enjoy the daily commute through St. Louis. Once I got to work, I did not really mind working in St. Louis.

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

I lived in Edwardsville because of school. I was given a housing stipend from Hunter since I was not living at home in Illinois. The housing stipend was a huge incentive for me to accept the position at Hunter since paying rent is a very real concern.


How was the supervision?

Dave was an exemplary supervisor. He was very hands off, only telling us what to do when he had a specific idea he wanted to try. When we were working or researching, he allowed us to do it on our own without feeling like there was someone constantly looking over your shoulder. This supervision made me feel trusted and more motivated to work on the project freely instead of feeling forced to only do specific things from someone else.


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

Hunter Engineering was an extremely positive experience for me. I disliked the commute greatly, but that is a complaint Hunter has no control over anyway. As far as the co-op program, my only grievances were with the co-op exceptions to rules allowed to the full-time employees. Most of the time these rules made sense such as co-ops not being allotted vacation time or paid days off. Sometimes, however, I was annoyed by some of the exceptions made for co-ops. Many times I would have to spend my own money on items or materials needed for our project. Hunter completely reimburses you, but in actual, physical cash instead of simply directly depositing the reimbursement into your bank account. The only reason I was given was that they do not deposit petty cash reimbursements for co-ops, only full-time employees. In a world where loose change is not very useful, this felt like an arbitrary exception that did not make a lot of sense. This is a small complaint that did not affect my view of the co-op experience negatively; it is simply something I think Hunter could improve.


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