Returning to university means something different to everyone. For first-year and second-year students, this is a time to reunite with roommates and friends, getting ready for late-night hangouts and early-morning classes. However, if you are heading into your final years of school, you may have a few extra thoughts as you edge closer to graduation.
It’s hard to know if the decisions you are making will prep you for your future career. To get you started on the right foot I’ve asked two of Flipp’s co-founders, Chief Technology Officer David Meyers, and Chief People Officer David Au-Yeung (known around the office as AY), for their advice on going back to university. The company’s four founders met at the University of Waterloo’s Computer Engineering class of 2004.
Flipp is a high-tech, high-growth company, reinventing the way people shop. Today, we have more than 400 team members working on products like our Flipp app, the Flipp.com experience, a large content distribution network, and an insights and analytics powerhouse. Flipp is a big supporter of student co-op programs and we work with universities and colleges to hire students for work terms of 4 to 16 months. As our students and their peers head back to university, here is some advice from our co-founders.
What is your biggest piece of advice for someone entering their final years of university?
Meyers: In most programs, especially one like Engineering, the first two years of your undergrad are fairly general and all about breadth. You are given the opportunity to explore different courses, even co-op terms; I urge you to explore as much as possible and meet as many people as possible.
When you get to your final couple of years, it’s important to find a focus. One professor that really brought it home for me was an Economics professor at Waterloo, named Larry Smith. Smith told our class that even if your direction changes, it’s important to have a plan — otherwise you are just bouncing around. When students graduate, I see too many people trying to look for jobs that pay the highest, instead of jobs that they are actually interested in. Take a look at what interests you in your spare time. I volunteered on a solar car team in first year. I tried a stint at learning hardware. Both these experiences help me understand what I liked and didn’t like, and I ended up focusing on software systems and integrations. Use your last few co-op terms wisely to explore different industries and roles to determine what it is that drives you, and hone in on that feeling.
AY: I completely agree with Meyers. The tech industry will try to push you in one direction. There are certain roles that the market is always seeking. If you are happy in those roles, that’s great. If that isn’t what your focus is on, don’t let the market determine what you should be doing. This is a great time for you to look at where the market is going, look at your own strengths and weaknesses, and invest time in figuring out where your place can be.
Aside from finding a focus, I would say my biggest piece of advice is to strengthen your relationships. These are important years to build relationships and get to know people because it’s at this time that they are establishing their core values and figuring out the type of people they want to become. These relationships will be invaluable to you later on when you need to turn to your network for opportunities or to refer peers to a company, or, in my case, look for a co-founder to partner with. I made the most important connections of my life during undergrad because I worked so closely with my peers on memorable and valuable projects. Through these experiences, I understood how they worked and what they stood for as people.
Finally, use this time to hone in on what your values are. They will help guide you when you graduate and launch your career. Are you prioritizing your work or your work/life balance? Are your relationships the most important? These are the questions that will help guide you in determining what type of company, role and even city or country you want to work in.
Undergrad flashes by in an instant. What do you think was the best thing you did for yourself in those years?
Meyers: It is important to find yourself a good group of people that you can work with. For me, these were my friends but, they were also people that I worked on projects with and later built a company with. During school, many projects were team-based and in the working world, there isn’t much you can do alone. This mindset of appreciating teamwork right from the beginning will help you in your career while building your integrity. When you are working in a team, you are trusted to deliver. The people that I enjoyed working with were later people that I referred to companies or recruited for my own. The ability to trust the people you work with became the foundation of Flipp and is still true today.
We all spent a lot of time together in school as our friendships grew, and we continued to hang out often even after graduation. The idea of starting a company together came up during one of our regular meet-ups. That was 10 years ago. The friends you make in your undergrad will be your strongest advocates for your work so make sure you stay in touch on a regular basis to connect and see if your professional paths can cross in the future.
AY: I may be aging myself, but it’s been more than 10 years since I attended university. I don’t remember the details of my classes but here are the milestones that really made a difference.
I remember when I met my wife in undergrad, who became the mother of my children, my support system and life partner. I remember working for a smaller tech company, where my work came to life and where I worked long hours just for fun because I saw the impact. I remember meeting the future Flipp founders and team members — the people who I was first friends with and then business partners down the road. The point is, these four or five years will flash by. Take the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships. Today, classes are definitely important and they build the fundamentals of what you are going to do, but it’s the time you spend outside of class and the people you spend time with that will shape your future.
It seems like there’s a lot that you were able to accomplish. Is there anything you regret not doing?
Meyers: Undergrad was very kind to me and introduced me to the Flipp founders as well as many Flipp team members. There is not much I regret. However, when I was in my undergrad, I wanted to be close to home which meant that I didn’t explore any international opportunities. Looking back now, I am an advocate for embracing the changes that come along your way. At Flipp, we encourage students to get as much exposure as possible. We actually don’t promote the idea of completing multiple co-op terms at Flipp. Even if you’re an excellent fit for our company, diversifying the companies you work for and the cultures you experience now will shape you to become a much stronger team member later on.
AY: If I could do things over again, I would emphasize taking more risks in my opportunities. Build your network as early as possible — you’d be surprised by how many people are open to being a mentor if you just ask. It is also the ideal time to start building your professional relationships. Keep in touch with people you work with at co-op terms. When you graduate, these are all great people to reach out to for job opportunities because they already know the way you work.
Most of all, enjoy the time you are there. It’s easy to take undergrad for granted, and to have a “let’s get this over with” mindset. However, there are few times in your life that you get that level of freedom: the freedom to make new friends, to explore opportunities and to take risks. Take advantage of this time to become a stronger team member, student, and friend. And hopefully, we’ll see some of you at Flipp in the future!