September 18, 2018, by Jack
Five Things I Learned During My Internship
Jack Adams, BSc Computer Science
This summer I have been working as an intern iOS developer at a FinTech company in London. It’s weird to say that really. I’ve been planning to do a summer internship since 2014 when I first realised they were an option. A long time I know, but that’s me, I over-prepare.
It’s been a big summer. Having never even visited before, I moved to London all by myself. I learned a new programming language in about six weeks to get ready for the internship, while also revising for exams. I started working in my dream role, if only as an intern. And that was scary really, because if I hate it, what do I do next? Thankfully, I haven’t hated it and I’ve learned a lot. Here are five things that really stand out:
1. Project management is really important, and it looks very different to how you’re imagining it
I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say I’ve seen the two sides of project management during my internship. The first was a bit lax, lacking hierarchy, without a clear goal in sight. The second half of my internship was the exact opposite of that. In fact, I saw a manager come in, tip a project and a team on it’s head, and still manage to inspire that team to perform better than it had been doing before.
It was both impressive and inspiring and made me learn a lot. First I got a better idea of the kind of team and manager I would want to be a part of if given the choice. Second, I realised the importance of ownership of an issue, however small. I learned that you can’t be afraid to step on people’s toes or say what you think, but you must also be prepared to adapt if people don’t agree with your opinion. Most importantly, nothing gets done if it’s not clear what needs to be done, and when and how that’s going to be done before you start.
Also for any computer scientists who might be reading: Real scrum is nothing like the vague things they say in lectures, but it makes so much sense once you do it.
2. Learn something every day
When I first started my internship, I was faced with two problems. First of all, I didn’t have all that much to do. I had just joined the team and the project, and not everything had clicked into place yet, so I had a lot of time sitting idle, reading documentation and company policies. Second, I felt out of my depth. Sure I had spent two years studying computer science, but I had no idea how to code real software for real users. Half the things my co-workers said went straight over my head, and I felt a lot like an imposter.
On my third or fourth day, a guy who was in the full-time version of my role who graduated from Notts a few years ago and worked in a different team grabbed me and took me for coffee. I voiced these concerns and he empathised a lot. He encouraged me to take time in my day to learn things, watch tutorials online and not feel awkward about it.
I took that a step further. Every day I took at least an hour to wander off and sit in one of the ‘breakout’ areas to watch a lecture online, or follow a tutorial and learn something new. Sometimes it was related to the job I was doing, sometimes not at all. But by doing this, I made sure that I really and quantifiably learned something new every day. I definitely intend to keep this going for the rest of the summer and once I get back to uni.
3. 40 hours a week is really hard, even when you love your job
My main motivation for coming to uni has always been that I wanted to find a job I loved. I used to work part-time in retail, and full-time in the holidays. I hated every second of it. That hatred of my weekends really fuelled me to get the grades I needed to come to Nottingham. But it turns out, even when you’re doing a job you love – and thankfully I’ve learned that software development is something I do love as much as I thought I would – forty hours is a lot.
I would come home each day and be mentally exhausted. By the time I’d recovered, it was nearly time to go to sleep. Maybe you get used to it; I don’t have an answer for this one yet.
4. There are options in my field I hadn’t considered
For a while now I’ve had this problem in my mind. On one hand, I want to move around a lot once I graduate. And I mean country to country, not just city to city. A lot of people say they want to travel, but I don’t tend to say I want to do things if I don’t mean to do them. On the other hand, my career path doesn’t really allow time for that. Or so I thought…
A lot of the people I was working with during my internship were contractors. There was a big deadline coming up and the company had decided to bring in some more developers on short-term contracts – along with me, the big gun ;P – to see the project over the line. I was speaking to one of them about this. I’d never really thought about it before as it seems high risk not to be permanently employed. But he said the big appeal to him was that he was never tied down. He could leave London in a few months if he wanted, he could take six months off if he had the money, without cost to his career. He could go live in Berlin for a year if he felt like it. If there were big changes in a company he didn’t like, he was moving on soon. He could change technology if he was bored.
That appeals to me in a lot of ways. I still want to start out on a grad scheme, because that seems a smart and safe option, and I eventually want to stay somewhere long enough to move into more of a management role. But contracting could be fun at some point.
5. You’re never prepared enough
This is the main one. I spent six weeks learning iOS, and it helped, but it wasn’t enough. 12 weeks wouldn’t have been enough. You can’t cram the years of experience people have on top of their degrees into a few weeks with the help of some YouTube videos and online courses. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, it still helps, but there’s no point beating yourself up for not being prepared enough either.
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