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My First Software Dev Position – What It’s Like To Be A Co-Op At Safe

Co-op students have been an integral part of Safe Software for over 20 years, contributing to core FME technology and often returning as full-time software developers. Adam Bignell is a student from SFU’s Computer Science program and...
Blog by Adam Bignell, Safe Software co-op

Co-op students have been an integral part of Safe Software for over 20 years, contributing to core FME technology and often returning as full-time software developers. Adam Bignell is a student from SFU’s Computer Science program and has spent 8 months developing support for raster, point cloud, and other formats on our PVR team.

Safe Software provided me with everything I didn’t know I wanted from my first software development position. As a fresh co-op student, Safe Software was my first job where I was to be actually programming on a daily basis. In my first weeks (and admittedly months) this was a daunting, challenging, and occasionally frustrating task. Safe, however, was the most fertile possible environment for me to experience these rites of passage.

In my first weeks, it became clear that greenness wasn’t just tolerated but expected, and maybe even celebrated. I was given tasks in such a way to teach me about the codebase as I completed them, and I was always encouraged to ask questions, seek help from my peers, and take my time to get things right. This Socratic Teaching approach made me feel capable while also highlighting the specific areas where I had to grow, and grow I did. The entire process was more than merely professionally fruitful; it was fun. My team lead provided me with constant support and coached me beyond what was needed to simply complete my tasks. Our feature demos gave me a chance to put something I had made on display, and take some individual pride in my work. We also had a week of innovation, where we were given free range to work on anything we so desired. It was exciting to be given the reins for a while, and to see what it feels like to build something truly from scratch. Going in, I had no idea what to expect. Upon leaving, I have a gold standard to hold other employers to. Safe Software knows exactly how to make an employee feel at home, and happy with their daily work.

Safe also works hard to keep its employees up-to-date with new technologies and coding best practices. Time was always made for professional development of the entire dev staff. We had a full week of afternoons devoted to modern C++ training that was invaluable, and had a handful of company lunches where we would watch videos given by leading industry developers. It was very rewarding to see the ways a real-world company applied the theory I have been practicing in school.

The company culture is also worthy of a mention. I’m sure most young developers with eyes on Silicon Valley have heard horror stories of cut-throat competitiveness, complete forfeiture of work-life balance, and so on. The culture at Safe Software could not be further from this. Team bonding and extracurricular fun is nearly unavoidable, and always genuine. The working hours are flexible and fair, allowing employees to tailor their hours to their personal lifestyle needs. Whether I was playing foosball over lunch, playing archery tag as a form of team-building, or attending the countless lunch-and-learns delivered by other staff, I always felt I belonged at Safe. In fact, many co-ops gave lunch-and-learns on topics that had nothing to do with the tech industry. This was a way for the company to learn about us as people and rather than just Software Developers. It is a social, friendly, and inclusive environment with management that leads via mutual respect and trust rather than the threat of strict deadlines and overbearing management.

I was also lucky enough to attend the FME User Conference during my work term. Here I got to talk to Safe’s clients, which itself was a wonderful opportunity. I got to see the various ways the software I was helping create was being applied in the real world. It was a really humanizing experience that coloured the way I saw all tasks moving forward. Features weren’t just enhancements but tools that would help someone I had potentially met. The days of the UC were a real celebration of FME and were very exciting as someone new to the industry. The ways our clients applied the tools we made were inspiring in their creativity. Here were people all over the world that were piecing together the Lego blocks we had provided them into structures I couldn’t have imagined before.

To job-seekers looking for a fulfilling and enriching place to work, look no further. For employers hoping to attract elite developers and impassioned people, take note. Safe Software took an unsure student and turned him into a confident software developer, and I can’t thank them enough.

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