Degrees, job searching, portfolio etc

Subject: Degrees, job searching, portfolio etc
From: "naomi (n.) bulka" <nbulka -at- BNR -dot- CA>
Date: Sun, 12 Jun 1994 14:09:00 -0400

WARNING: long story

There has been so much discussion on the value of degrees, the
procedures for job searching etc, that I feel compelled to share my
experience with you as well.

I went back to university after spending 18 years raising my children.
(I had a few credits from my way back and had taught kindergarten in my
former life) I was aiming for a computer science degree but after my
first computer course, I quickly discovered that mothering and all-
nighters do not work well together. Carleton University offered a BSc
in Integrated Science, which allowed me to pick and choose my courses
within certain guidelines. So I settled on a Biology and Computer
Science joint major, taking the latter courses in the summer when things
were quieter both at home and at school.

My professor recommended that I take some Psychology courses since many
can be used as science credits as well (and require less class time
than science labs). One course, Product Design Methodology, combined my
interest in computers with my need for a Psych credit. This course was
given jointly by the university and BNR (the research branch of Northern
Telecom) and we were required to choose a project. I took a complicated
digital watch with impossible-to-follow instructions and rewrote the
accompanying documentation. That was my first exposure to tech writing.

When I graduated, I had decided that I wanted to work at a place like
BNR. Twenty odd years a home with 5 children did not give me much to put
on a resume but I headed to the library for 'What color is your
parachute?' and took a course at the university on writing resumes. The
instructor showed me how to do job searches (You are talking to a real
novice here) and I discovered that BNR was advertising for tech writers.
They were looking for the following educational background - Psychology
(cognition, perception etc), Computer Science, and English.

I had taken enough Psychology and Computer Science courses to qualify
and had done a lot of proof-reading over the years as my husband is a
prolific writer in his spare time. Voila! I had a career objective.

A friend who worked at BNR gave me some leads and passed my resume
around and I landed my first interview. I remembered my BNR project (in
the last minute) and took it along with me. I was interviewed by two
fellows and they asked numerous questions about my documentation
sample. Unfortunately, I had written it 2 years earlier and had not had
the sense to study it before the interview. I did not get that job but
two weeks later I landed an interview with Northern Telecom.

This time I was better prepared but when I arrived, the interviewer told
me that she had tried to reach me the day before to cancel the
appointment because the company had just announced a hiring freeze. This
was a typical December morning in Ottawa - blowing snow, icy roads. I
hated the thought of this whole exercise being for nothing so I
suggested that she interview me anyway on the off chance that things
changed and they would eventually be hiring. She agreed and proceeded
to ask me questions about my background and I offered my project (which
I read carefully before I came). As she was reading it, she suddenly
turned to me and said 'Did you just graduate?' I responded that I had
got my degree at the convocation two weeks earlier. Well, NT was not
hiring but they did have a 'new grads' program that was not affected by
the freeze. So... I got hired as a new grad.

So.. in my experience, the degree was essential. I have found that much
of the actual material I learnt in university has long since been
forgotten. But I did learn to do research (I always favoured papers or
projects over exams) and I use that skill constantly.

Naomi Bulka
Northern Telecom
nbulka -at- bnr -dot- ca

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