Former WIL Students - Where Are They Now?

Annika Downton
BENG, Civil Engineering, 2018, University of Victoria
Assistant Project Manager, Special Projects, Turner Construction

During a family trip to Australia and a tour of the Sydney Opera House, the seeds of a pursuing an Engineering degree were planted in a young girl. Annika Downton realized that she could have a part in building the environment that she lived in and this thought further cemented the dream of working in civil engineering.

Annika currently works as an Assistant Project Manager in the Special Projects Division at Turner Construction in Vancouver. In this role she works on smaller existing projects that are often technically challenging to make improvements and bring up to code.

As part of her undergraduate Engineering degree at UVic, Annika had to complete four co-op work terms. Her first work term was in Germany working with a family-owned and operated construction company. It was a challenging first work term because she had to learn the construction lingo which was very different than in Canada. Construction materials were also different with a focus on using concrete or CME blocks instead of wood.

Annika completed her next co-op work term with PCL in Richmond working on special projects and gained experience in the administrative side of construction. After returning to UVic for another academic term, she returned to PCL but this time in the Yukon working on a $150 million, ground-up project. This job proved to be Annika's favourite co-op work term.  As a city girl, she always thought that she wouldn't enjoy living in a smaller community but she absolutely loved the experience of working in Whitehorse.

The PCL job was challenging and the engineers made her feel like she was part of the team. She was working with students from other universities and was able to connect with other UVic students working in Whitehorse that summer. Outside of work, the students got together for hiking and camping trips and had a fantastic summer.

Back on campus, Annika participated in a Mock Interview Clinic and was interviewed by RJC. She kept in contact with the interviewers and when it was time to complete her final work term, they created a position for her in the Victoria office. The office environment at RJC was fun and Annika was given a lot of responsibility conducting site reviews and consulting on small projects.

During her work terms, she received great mentoring from the Engineers that she worked with.  Her supervisor in Germany cautioned her not to rush through things and to this day, she has a sticky note on her computer that says, "Don't rush". There is pressure in construction to provide answers right away, but taking a few minutes to think will result in a better solution.

At RJC, Annika found a strong female mentor who gave her career advice on how to navigate an engineering career and balance the demands of motherhood. So often, female Engineers refuse promotions or leave their profession when they have children. The advice was to focus on your career as an individual and find balance in meeting the demands of work and home by reducing the number of hours that you work.

In addition to managing a heavy course load and work terms, Annika developed her leadership skills by helping to form a student group called Leadership Through Diversity (LTD). LTD initially was formed to provide a safe place and support for female students in a male dominated field, but it evolved to include other underrepresented groups in order to encourage equality and inclusivity in the Faculty of Engineering. Annika eventually became Co-Lead of LTD and learned how to empower other members by letting them gain leadership experience through organizing events.

It was a natural evolution that after graduating Annika would want to continue developing her network of women mentors in the construction industry. Annika has recently joined the Board of Directors at Canadian Construction Women (CCW) as Membership Director.  She is passionate about encouraging female students who are interested in working in construction to take advantage of CCW's free student membership.  Student members are able to participate in bursaries, member breakfasts, social events, have access to the job board and receive discounted rates for events.

Annika knows firsthand the importance of building a professional network and the value of mentorship. She has paid this forward by returning to UVic to participate in a Women in Construction panel to share her experiences with current female Civil Engineering students. We asked Annika is she had any advice for students seeking their first work term.  "Be the biggest team player that you can. If you show that you are a team player and are reliable, you will be remembered. Treat each task with importance and execute it as best as you can."

Oscar Wong
BA, Communications, Simon Fraser University
Internal Communications Specialist, Development Technology & Services, EA

"Don't give up." This is Oscar Wong's advice for students seeking their first co-op work term. It was also the advice that Oscar's Co-op Coordinator, Liesl Jurock gave him after he had applied to 50 jobs and interviewed for 12 of them but had received no offers. Through this agonizing job search, he learned the importance of researching the company, understanding the landscape in which they worked and most importantly, showing a genuine interest in working for the company. During interviews, students often say what they think the employer wants to hear; Oscar learned that it was much better to be yourself and be honest. Although he didn’t have a lot of experience, Oscar demonstrated a willingness to learn and that set him apart from other candidates. On the last day of the term, he received an offer from a telemedicine startup, Porton Health for a Digital Marketing and UX Research Intern position that started his career trajectory.

Oscar studied social media in one of his classes and understood the theories and strategies around its use but he soon learned that in practice, you have to understand the work of the company and the unique needs of its stakeholders in order to use social media effectively.  Oscar became fascinated with technology and asked for help from his developer friends to explain technical concepts that he didn't understand. He realized that he didn't have to know how to create the technology, but he did have to understand how the technology benefited the company’s customers.

With solid job search skills under his belt and more clarity about his career path, Oscar directed his attention to working with SAP for his next two co-op work terms. He leveraged his professional network and through a connection who was already working at the company, created an opportunity to tour the SAP office. His goal was to learn about the culture and see what it was like to work there. His efforts were rewarded and his application for a co-op position was pulled from the pile of hundreds of applications that the company received. After progressing through the recruitment process, Oscar was offered a position as a Communications Specialist.

In this role, Oscar gained experience in internal and external communications and learned that you have to apply a different tone or voice depending on which stakeholder is receiving the communication. Oscar also had the opportunity to help the media understand the work that SAP was doing and this led to meeting Premier John Horgan during his work term.

As the work term progressed, Oscar had more and more responsibility and often was in the presence of much senior SAP employees during meetings.  His supervisor noticed how nervous he was in these meetings and gave him some career advice that he uses to this day. She told him to think of every meeting as a party, regardless of what he said in a meeting, those around the table would remember him by how he made them feel. Therefore, instead of focusing on being nervous about his words, he should decide how he wanted them to feel and make it his goal to make them feel good like a party host. The combination of this inspirational advice from his supervisor and his understanding of the needs of different stakeholders created the perspective of incorporating storytelling into his communications practice.

During his eight months working at SAP, Oscar learned about professional business etiquette under the mentorship of his supervisor and colleagues. And as commonly found with those who have received strong mentorship, it instills the desire to pay this forward by mentoring someone else. Oscar held leadership positions in student groups while at SFU and continues to help support students now that he is an alumnus.

Towards the end of his time at SAP, Oscar began thinking about graphic design and UX design. Without formal training in either area, Oscar developed his design skills through creating videos and promoting events. Applying what he already learned about the need to focus on the experience of the user, he created user-centric pieces and deepened his commitment to lifelong learning.

As he neared the end of his degree at SFU, Oscar created a spreadsheet of 100 industry professionals from the tech companies that he was interested in working at and emailed 50 of them. The combination of Oscar's communications education and experience as well as, his newly developed UX skills resulted in his current position with Electronic Arts as an Internal Communications Specialist for Development and Technology Services (DTS).

In this role, he focuses on internal communications for employees and learning development for all of EA's offices around the world. Oscar started in this role a month before the world went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Helping staff shift from office to remote work was a huge part of his job. He also helped to develop a Food for Thought" series that helps employees develop soft skills.  Technical skills might get you the job initially, but soft skills will take you to the next level in your career.

Oscar's work on the Food for Thought series has stirred an interest in organizational development and change management. Although he still has lots to learn in his current position, his desire to develop professionally is a driving force in his career.

"These are the three lessons I have learned over the years. To become a better version of myself, I believe that it's important to remain in constant growth, learn from past experiences, appreciate the beauty of my surroundings, and be in the moment."