When Maia Chapman starts her new position as a product designer at the educational software company D2L in May, it will be her first “office job” even if she won’t be able to work at the downtown Toronto office on Day One. The Master of Information student, who will graduate in June, will be working remotely from Calgary where she moved in the early spring of 2020 after the first year of her MI program.
Since then, Chapman, who is in the User Experience Design concentration, has completed two remote co-op assignments as part of her program – the first working on an e-pedagogy team set up at the Faculty of Information to assist instructors during the pandemic and the second, at D2L, as an accessibility coordinator. She is currently completing her last term of courses while working as D2L’s Campus Ambassador, a role in which she answers students’ questions about her future employer.
Depending on how the Covid situation evolves, the plan at D2L is to start a voluntary, phased return to the office when it is safe to do so later this year. Chapman will move back to Toronto once conditions allow. “I’m finally starting a real job, never having been in an office even for a co-op position,” says Chapman, who worked in restaurants to pay for school.
She believes that without doing her four-month-long co-op stint with the e-pedagogy team, she wouldn’t have landed the job at D2L. The e-pedagogy team — composed of three co-op students supervised by Professor Dan Ryan — was set up in the spring of 2020 to help with the transition of courses to remote delivery at the Faculty of Information. Chapman, who had been part of the Accessibility Interests Group, which was founded by students in 2019 to reduce barriers and foster a culture of inclusivity at the Faculty, worked as the accessibility coordinator.
From May through August, she conducted research on the accessibility of remote learning and, along with her student colleagues, met with instructors to understand how the pandemic and remote learning was affecting both students and teachers. Among other things, the team designed home pages for courses as well as running bootcamps and workshops for instructors.
That experience made Chapman a strong candidate when D2L decided to create an accessibility coordinator position for a co-op student, a role for which she was selected in September 2020. “I had done all the things in the job description,” she said. “I wouldn’t have learned those skills without working with instructors and the team for the whole summer.”
Chapman tried to transfer and apply the knowledge she had gained on the e-pedagogy team mindful of the fact she was now part of a large company as opposed to a small team often starting with a blank slate, “coming up with solutions on the fly and then seeing if they worked.”
At D2L, in contrast, Chapman was often building on others’ work. For example, when she was asked to adapt D2L’s Accessibility Lab website to include online activities, she began by researching what the company had done at a conference where D2L had run an in-person accessibility lab with a variety of different computers. Once she knew the tangible tasks that were demonstrated, she looked for ways to accomplish this online.
Often, she was collaborating with far more people, talking to HR (known as People and Culture at D2L) and marketing teams, working with UX researchers and other people on the UX team. “It felt like a larger scale,” she says.
Doing a remote co-op meant Chapman had to make a special effort to engage and network with colleagues. She was helped by her manager, who made introductions and brought her into UX department meetings where she could get a better feel for what people did in their roles. By participating in a volunteer group of employees interested in accessibility issues, she learned what people in a variety of positions were doing to make products more accessible.
There were also more informal channels. “One of the best ways I was meeting people was with coffee chats every Tuesday and Thursday,” says Chapman, who met several product designers in the short, 15-minute sessions. Later, she would message them on Slack. “Everyone was super happy to set up time to talk with me,” she said.
When she learned that D2L would be hiring for a new grad product designer position, Chapman set out to find out what exactly the job would entail. She was especially interested in the mentorship offered to new grads and opportunities to work with senior designers.
After deciding that a product design job would be a good fit for her, Chapman applied for the D2L position open to new graduates and went through the full application process late last year. That involved interviews with recruiters and senior managers as well as a portfolio review. Early this year, Chapman was offered the job and the opportunity to serve as D2L’s “campus ambassador” in the meantime.
While Chapman was thrilled to have a job lined up and be able to enjoy her last term at the Faculty of Information, she has nevertheless missed the camaraderie of being on campus including “having people to discuss nerdy design stuff with.” Easy access to the mountains around Calgary and a comfortable home office set-up in her father’s house didn’t make up for not being able to participate in all the activities that made her first year of study in the Master of Information program so rewarding.
“I’ve met a lot of people over the last year, all online,” says Chapman. “But I’m wondering what the relationships would have looked like if I’d been in the same office, going out to lunch.”