Taking a Semester Off
It may just be the culture at my University, but it’s interesting to see how many students are afraid of taking a semester off to do a co-op somewhere. Many semi-conductor companies offer this as an alternative to a regular summer internship. You take a semester off and work full-time at the company. Often you’re treated pretty much like a junior employee would be. You’re given tasks to complete and you are assigned a mentor.
You could say that this is our industry’s equivalent of an apprenticeship. Often at many schools these Co-Op programs can be more formal as well - the University will have a career office which coordinates such things. The University of Waterloo claims to have the largest ‘largest co-op program on the planet, with connections to over 4,500 employers’. At those schools you’re probably going to gain at least two semesters of real world working experience.
But the University of Hawaii has no such formal program for engineering. Perhaps at the University of Waterloo the students are used to students taking a semester off.
There are several reasons that come up. Some students don’t want to move to a new city; some wish to graduate on time and not delay. Perhaps there is some fear of the unknown as well. I did take a semester off and had an amazing experience - it’s also likely that I’m also horrible at selling the experience in general.
I was always a more practical person - lectures didn’t sit very well with me (although I always thought that the content was intriguing), and I enjoyed my work most when I was involved with a design project. That and combined with my less than stellar grades, I saw the chance to go go away and work at a ‘real’ company such an amazing opportunity that I did not hesitate.
From my own observations, most ‘big’ software companies don’t offer the same opportunity. It could be that taking a semester off and doing a ‘co-op’ is such as strange thing that if you don’t even find much reference to it on the internet, it might sound odd. I can recall that one of my classmate’s parents had that reaction.
I can’t really offer advice to anyone - I can only offer my own testimonial to any student who is possibly looking for more information. I had a great experience going away and living in a new city. I had grown up in Honolulu and had never lived somewhere else. The perspective that I gained from living and working in a new place was tremendous. I had a chance to develop my soft skills and get some time away from courses to figure out how everything was applied and figure out how things in the curriculum really did matter.
There is some risk, of course. I had friends who were familiar with the company and the area, and I had co-workers who were friendly and always willing to help. Sometimes I wonder if it could have just as bad as it did good. But for the benefit I still have to say - if you can and you have the opportunity to do so, go for it. Try it, and you just might just not regret it.
 Here are some companies I know for sure are offering co-ops:
- Cirrus Logic