When Lais Carvalho Leite Santos decided to attend a career fair at Langara, she did not anticipate it would change her life trajectory.
But as she wandered through the aisles filled with students, she spotted one booth that wasn’t busy and introduced herself to the company representative. They talked at length about the future of work and various kinds of jobs that could be automated in the future. The conversation piqued her interest in tech and in Innovation Networks, a leading provider of managed IT, cloud, and web services headquartered in Richmond, BC.
As Lais thanked the gentleman and said goodbye, he gave her his card. She was surprised to read 'CEO' in the title. She realized she had just spent the better part of a half hour talking with the president of the company.
"It was a lucky coincidence," Lais says of the timing of the meeting. She was looking ahead to her final internship term at Langara and wanted to move away from working in the hospitality field (she had a part-time job doing accounting for a restaurant chain). The time spent talking to Innovation Networks had given her a lot to think about, and the quality of her conversation with the head of the company had made an impression on her that would set in motion the choices she made next about her education and career.
Embrace the Learning Curve
After her conversation with Andreas Karakas, CEO of Innovation Networks, Lais took a chance and decided to reach out to him.
"I asked him if I could go to his office once a week and help with whatever things they needed help with, filing, data entry—whatever tasks might provide an opportunity for me to understand what his company was about." But the company wasn't looking for administrative help—they were looking for a sales manager. Despite the apparent lack of opportunity, Lais persisted and offered to volunteer her time anyway. "I was just curious and wanted to take the most out of my time as a student to learn— and not just in the classroom," explains Lais.
It wasn't until a couple of months later, in September 2019, that she secured an interview with the COO of the company. It turned out they were looking for additional support with their marketing. Lais shared an applied marketing project for a real-life client she had completed during her diploma. It was enough to demonstrate her strategic and creative skills, and she was hired as an Executive Assistant for one day a week.
By the time her work experience term started in January 2020, Lais had enough hours with Innovation Networks to fulfil her internship requirements, and she moved into the full-time role of Executive Assistant with the company for her work term. Unfortunately, it wasn't long after that the world started shutting down due to a virus named Covid-19. But the timing was, in some respects, fortuitous for Lais. The shutdown would have severely impacted her previous job in hospitality. But businesses were suddenly turning to companies like Innovation Networks to find tech support, particularly in cybersecurity. As droves of office workers began working from home, cybersecurity became a pressing issue, and the company's services were in high demand.
"It got really busy for us," says Lais. She gives a small laugh, adding: "I kind of missed all the yoga and baking everybody was doing on social media."
Since she was new to the IT sector, Lais took advantage of the free training available through the company and immersed herself in a rapid learning journey. "I watched hundreds of webinars and read a ton," she remembers. "The learning curve was just crazy as I was involved in so many meetings all day long. I remember at the beginning, nothing made sense. It was just like they were speaking Greek to me," says Lais. It was a steep learning curve at first, but she put her head down and focused on understanding the company's operations so she could contribute meaningfully to her work.
What You Make of It
During her internship, Innovation Networks was transitioning to a new file-sharing tool (SharePoint). As Executive Assistant, Lais became a central point of contact for contractors and staff during the transition. "I ended up doing a lot of jobs and learning a ton because of my role. I got to join meetings, take notes, and follow up with clients, partners, and vendors," says Lais.
At night, she'd feel exhausted because everything was so new. Adding to the complexities of her role, she was also navigating a new job in a virtual work environment. Covid-19 had just morphed into a global pandemic. "As a tech company", she explains, "we figured out the hybrid model pretty early on the pandemic."
As an internship student in a tech company, Lais was unsure if her undergraduate law degree would be of use outside of that career track, but she could see how the critical thinking and strategic planning skills she'd gained helped her spot solutions and remain organized and focused. "I realized when finishing my law degree that I didn't want to stay and pursue a career in Brazil. But during my internship in Canada, I learned that so many skills from law are transferable to my work," says Lais.
She also discovered that an internship is what you make of it, and that the classroom theory will only take you so far. "You have to come up with your own ideas. I learned about communications in my post-degree diploma, but it's not until you're thrown into a work situation that you realize you actually learn so much by just doing it."
Seeing the opportunity
"I think when you’re a student, it's the best time to go out and explore and to just look beyond the obvious. I would say to any student, it's best not to restrict your options,” says Lais. Her advice to students who have an internship or coop option in their program is more of a challenge—to go beyond your comfort zone.
“Even if a job posting says admin assistant and has nothing marketing related, just go and suggest an idea," suggests Lais. "Ask your employer, 'Hey can I take three hours of my week to build you a marketing plan?'"
There is something to be said about a 'beginners mind' and having the space (and support) to make mistakes and learn during an internship term. For Lais, being a student allowed her the opportunity to ask questions and bring an inquiry mindset to her role at Innovation Networks. "I think that when you are a student, companies don't expect you to be perfect. Companies know they will have to give you some time and supervision. You have that safe space where you can make mistakes, and you can try new things and ask questions about everything," she explains.
While completing her work term, Lais gained insights and opportunities into a company—and sector—she wanted to work with after her last term at Langara and she successfully moved into a new Strategic Planning and Corporate Development Manager role at the company. It's a job ideally suited to her skills and naturally strategic way of looking at a project or challenge. "Most people deal with a number of different systems/tools/portals at once, and you have to look at all the different information from an analytical perspective to identify what works and what does not work for the client." A key strength she brings to her work is seeing the big picture and all of the steps that need to happen between idea and execution. "I think if I had to put a name to it, I think it would be analytical, organizational approach," she says.
A Spirit of Entrepreneurship
At Innovation Networks, Lais found her entrepreneurial spirit could thrive. "It's why I love the company so much. I had a say in creating my roles there."
In what could be called a 'full circle moment', Lais represented Innovation Networks at a Langara job fair in search of potential candidates. "I went to Langara to try and find candidates, and I had a lot of students come up and ask if we had co-op positions. I would tell them, 'Don't ask people if they have a co-op or internship position; ask them if they have an opportunity.'"
When asked what her number one lesson or skill she gained during her internship was, she doesn't hesitate: "I think people management is the number one skill that I still learn every day. Every scenario is unique, and sometimes the classroom theory helps; sometimes it doesn't. You have to come up with your approach on how to solve it.”
After an intensely busy few years, Lais is happy to grow her career in the tech industry with a company successfully developing in-demand cutting-edge technical solutions. "I think I was very lucky to land at that company. The people are fantastic."