#WIMTACHatHome: Joel Saji

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, WIMTACH has continued its efforts to support its Student Researchers to gain experiential learning, job opportunities, employable skills and industry knowledge of digital health sectors. This series will highlight how students and faculty who work with WIMTACH are managing the ongoing changes to their daily lives.

Virtual learning has increased learning opportunities for Centennial College students. With webinars, conferences and Q&As readily available, students can now hone in what skills their future careers require at their own pace. At WIMTACH, experiential learning makes the opportunity even greater. Joel Saji, a Software Engineering Technology student and WIMTACH Student Researcher, recalls his decision to take advantage of that opportunity in 2019.

His friend Akshay told him about WIMTACH and explained that it was a place to get paid work experience. He even introduced Joel to Majura, WIMTACH Research Associate, to learn more about open job opportunities. However, his program didn’t have a co-op component to it. When he changed it, he successfully applied to work at WIMTACH in April of 2019. Since then, he has worked on several WIMTACH projects – Cupanion, FOCUS Inspired and more recently Namena. Joel distinctly remembers his first project with WIMTACH industry partner Canawho:

“For me, it was a very new experience developing mobile applications. I had some experience, [but it was] mainly focused on Android. This time it was for Android and iOS…Back in my country I finished a Bachelor’s Degree. I didn’t have any experience working in a software company or working with software. We just learned how to program and how to do that kind of stuff. But no experience. This part-time work experience at WIMTACH gave me a chance to learn more and to use more analytical skills through which I was able to create the [mobile] application.”

When he ran into challenges, he relied on the support of his friends who had more experience with programming.

“…I had help through programming through Akshay and Majura. Jovani was an experienced grad because he had work experience from back in Brazil. He helped me out a lot. There were many people from WIMTACH who helped me a lot to grow in my career path, to learn more about many other programming languages. I started off in the front-end and by the end of 2019, when I was working on Canawho’s second phase, Majura gave me the responsibility to manage the backend…”

These projects, as well as the support from fellow students and professors, gave Joel more exposure to full stack development and broadened his understanding of his industry. It prepared him to take on more responsibility during projects, such as when he got the opportunity to manage the Canawho Student Researcher team during the second phase of the project. “We got around four people and he showed to me that I can help them out as a team lead. It gave me an opportunity to learn more…”

When the pandemic caused the campus to close, Joel, like most students, didn’t know what to expect. The Namena project had started in February and required a drastic shift by the first week of March.

“At that time, if I had any questions, I would meet people face to face. That kind of difficulty was there when the pandemic started because when you start working from home, you don’t have direct connection with that person. You’ll have to ask them if they’re available for a video call. If they’re not, you have to wait. I think I’m getting used to it now. But at the start, there were some issues with the transition from physical work space to virtual work space.”

These issues also applied to scheduling, school responsibilities and personal life. How Joel found a balance among everything was to allow the skills needed to succeed at each one to feed into each other. Across most things in life is studying, deadlines and punctuality. “As a student, you have to finish your assignments,” says Joel in an interview. “At WIMTACH, it’s the same thing.” While deadlines are not without their challenges, they are easier to meet when the right approach is applied.

As an aspiring Software Developer, Joel has gotten an early glimpse into what working may be like because of one detail many people overlook – headphones. Software Developer professionals have to wear headphones to remain focused on tasks and reduce distractions that are considered normal in the work place. Compounded with video calls, meetings and other working activities, many students like Joel are wearing headphones for long periods of time and looking at screens for long periods of time. Since the work is happening from home, Joel suggests that it is up to students to “create a habit of being more attentive”.

To explore his industry further, Joel created a blog to share his knowledge and experience with fellow Software Developers. He wasn’t keen on it at first. It had been a long time since he had written a blog post. Nonetheless, it was a huge success. Not only did his friends and professional LinkedIn contacts message him about it, so did other entrepreneurs, recruiters and companies. A London-based software company, for example, reached out to him and reposted his blog post, opening the door for new networking opportunities. Joel hopes to continue blogging on a weekly or biweekly basis.

His advice for students is to manage their time. “If you don’t time manage, you’ll get your work life and personal life mixed up. There should be partitions between them,” he says.

He also has specific advice for Software students:

“Whatever you do just put your best foot forward. If you’re a student who is programming like me, every 30-40 minutes, stand up and look outside for 5 minutes and then get back to work. If you’re sitting and staring at the screen without relaxing your body or exercising, it will be harder on your body long-term.”

For more #WIMTACHatHome stories, please visit: https://wimtach.centennialcollege.ca/news/

For updates on WIMTACH’s operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit https://mailchi.mp/d9a20aac07f0/covid-19-update 

WIMTACH proudly recognizes funding to support this work from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).