When they entered their respective computer science programs in the late 1990s, they knew they’d made the right choice.

The high-tech industry was on the brink of historic growth and opportunity. A new breed of company was changing the way we looked at commerce. Companies with dot-com in their

name seemed to have a license to print money, as did those supplying the underlying technology.

Early in their educations, Kevin Barrett, 22, and Sammy Huen, 25, must have been rubbing their hands together like evil geniuses about to hatch their plans for world domination. There were more jobs than people to fill them. Friends were leaving school without their degrees to jobs with incredible salaries. But something funny happened on the way to fortune, if not fame: the industry suffered an historic meltdown.

On the cusp of graduation, Barrett and Huen are looking at a different picture than a few years ago. While they arrived at this point from different directions, their goals and thoughts on things IT bear a striking resemblance.

Barrett will receive his Bachelor of Computer Science degree from the University of New Brunswick this spring, while Huen will bookend his BCS from the University of Waterloo from 2001 with a master’s in mathematics in computer science.

“”I didn’t even take the co-op option because I didn’t think it would be a big problem finding work,”” Huen says. “”But when I graduated (in 2001) that’s when everything fell apart, and I did have trouble finding work.”” He says he regrets not taking the co-op option.

The extra time in school has paid off. Huen says there was a much better response to his résumés this time around and has landed a job in Montréal with a software development company. He credits his success this time to an improved market and having sought-after skills. “”Having a master’s did help because this particular company was looking for people with a certain mathematical background.””

When it came time to look for a job, however, he says he wasn’t an auction item looking to go to the highest bidder.

“”I was looking for industry experience in software development because I mainly have academic experience, and it’s starting to get harder and harder to see that. I wasn’t really concerned about location or salary,”” Huen says.

Barrett feels the same way. While he doesn’t have a job waiting for him, he is confident his two years of co-op experience will help him get a job with a software development firm as opposed to a company with IT needs. “”I have to enjoy what I do; that’s very important. Salaries are nice, but being a not-very-well-off student with even a relatively low salary seems pretty good to me,”” Barrett says. “”If they’re geared towards technology, the company as a whole will understand what a programmer’s needs are.””

At the top of their wish lists for qualities in prospective employers are support, the potential for horizontal and lateral movement and learning opportunities. Both say their respective institutions have prepared them well for life outside the classroom, but nothing can take the place of a workplace education.

They also praise the value of co-op programs, but simply being enrolled in one isn’t enough.

“”A lot of co-op people end up with at least one or two jobs where they’re just really crappy: they fill paper trays,”” Barrett says.

“”If they’re not really thinking about their career goals and they end up in any job, it’s harder for them later on,”” adds Huen.

With their entire careers ahead of them neither has yet to mentally pick out the furniture for the corner office. Huen says he wants to be a project manager, but has no designs on CIO or CEO at this time. Barrett feels the same way.

“”I would like to be a project manager or senior product planner, system architecture-type level,”” he says. “”My envisioned career path isn’t quite so high as the CIO, yet.””

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