Returning co-op to Manulife: witnessing the technology transformation

by Muhammad Fayk Chaudry  |  March 20, 2020

My co-op term at Manulife was fantastic! During this co-op term I gained experience with the latest technology stacks (React, GraphQL, Microsoft Bot Framework + Azure), got to network with exceptional individuals in the technology field and was able to collaborate on large scale projects. However, my initial expectation of my work term varied significantly from my actual experience.

I initially came into Manulife expecting a corporate, locked down environment where there would be several checks and blockers. This was far from the truth. I arrived at Manulife in the middle of a transitional period to a technology driven company.  This change was being driven by the usage of Agile methodologies and modern technology stacks in multiple projects.

Fayk working in Manulifes Waterloo office

Fayk working in Manulife’s Waterloo office

During my co-op, I had the privilege of being part of the Engineering Practices and Transformations Team in Core Engineering and Transformation. The work I did throughout my term was quite diversified. I was able to learn about Automation Frameworks and how to develop them, and was mentored by Manjot, a co-op that became a full-time employee who was able to guide me along the way.

Another valuable experience I had during my time at Manulife was the opportunity to aid in and participate in the Manulife Canadian Division Hackathon. My group consisted of 4 co-ops and 2 new full-timers. During the Hackathon we worked with the Microsoft Chatbot Framework and Azure to develop a chatbot that helped in the onboarding process of employees. The chatbot used Natural Language Processing using LUIS (a machine learning-based service to integrate NLP into bots) and was able to connect to various sources to fetch the data. We were able to train the bot on several different scenarios. This project allowed us to get a taste of both Software and Data engineering. In the end, we got to present our ideas to the executive team at the Hackathon, and they loved it! People were taking pictures and videos during and after the presentation. Word quickly spread about our bot, getting many people excited.

Fayk and his team presenting FAYKBOT

Fayk and his team presenting FAYKBOT

After the Hackathon, I had the opportunity to lead the project of the chatbot and continue development. I was able to re-write most of it in order to make the code more readable, add more features and then have another opportunity to present the capabilities of the platform and of our bot to the executive team in a private meeting. Many teams became interested in our project. We even had a team contact us with an entire plan to take this project to production, with our team’s help. The ability to lead a team on a project, then go through with it on my own, set up my own timelines, present it to executives, and have that project inspire further products is one of the main reasons I came back to Manulife for a second co-op term. As a co-op, I really enjoyed working on innovative products which had the potential to change the future of the company. Here at Manulife I was seen not just a co-op, but as a valuable team member.

Fayk and his team celebrating the success of their hackathon project.

Fayk’s team celebrating the success of their hackathon project.

Manulife’s commitment to the spirit of continuous learning is another factor that inspired me to come back for another co-op term. This spirit is promoted through the use of the internal Manulife University (MU) Program. Within this program, both new and experienced engineers spend 2 weeks in a classroom learning about new technology stacks (React, GraphQL, REST, etc.) and then spend 2 weeks in a Proof of Technology (POT) setting where they make a POT and present it to the larger Canadian Division. As a member of this program, I was able to partake in these events and get to know a whole new group of talented people. It was interesting, since I had just finished the school term, only to be in the classroom again to learn specific tech stacks and best practices. My favourite portion of MU was the POT phase. We were tasked with developing a system that allows for internal freelancing with a web-based front end. Throughout the POT phase, we were tested on our use of React, NodeJS, GraphQL, REST, and several other technologies. We ended up developing a fully functional product and had the opportunity to present it to the larger Canadian segment. It was quite fun! It was a great event because we got to work on something completely new for 2 weeks and meet new, knowledgeable people. MU was a blast, and I learned a ton!

Overall, my co-op term at Manulife was an engaging and valuable learning experience. Some of the most rewarding experiences this term were partaking in the Manulife HackITOut Program, going through MU and developing a POT, working with the automation framework team, and leading a project using technologies such as Azure and the Microsoft Chatbot Framework. The experience I got was diversified. Co-ops were encouraged to push the boundaries and question everything. The spirit of innovation and continuous learning was strong within the team, and it was spreading throughout the organization. For these reasons I chose to return to Manulife for my second co-op term. I want to witness this 133-year-old company transform into a tech-driven firm that pushes the boundaries, and I hope to partake in innovative projects that will allow it to do so.

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