Starting a one year placement with a company you don’t know much about and people you haven’t met before can be a fairly daunting experience. You’ve spent two (or more!) years of your life in ‘uni mode’ and now you’re entering the big bad world of work. I know I certainly felt like this when about to start my placement within Instil. Now here I am, nearly one year on with only a few weeks left until my internship is complete. As I reflect on what I have learnt, I would like to share some helpful hints on how to make the most of your work placement year.

1. Be Prepared

Before starting placement make sure to find out the following key facts;

  • The dress code - Software Engineering can vary from full suits to jeans and a T-shirt. In my experience with business casual attire, some offices lean more towards the business than the casual or vice versa. If you are unsure, make sure to contact the company to find out.
  • Which floor of the building you need to arrive on - Luckily here in Belfast our buildings aren’t exceedingly tall, however it can get very confusing when a company spans multiple floors of an office!
  • Who your line manager is - Knowing your manager’s name and introducing yourself and asking “Are you managerName?” can really boost your professional brownie points.

2. Network with other professionals

This is maybe the most important tip I can give, creating new contacts within the industry can open more doors than you ever knew existed. There are two sides of networking that are beneficial to you as a placement student; meeting new people from different companies and learning about new areas of the industry. Meeting people from various companies helps to get your name out there, the more you promote yourself as someone who doesn’t just want to code for a wage the better. Software houses don’t just want drones, they want real, passionate people. Discovering new fields in the IT industry can help you to realise exactly which path you wish to take in the future. By networking with others, I have discovered a personal interest in web application security and AI, two topics I had no knowledge of prior to meeting people in those sectors.

3. Take advantage of any training and travelling available

Be sure to ask (politely) if opportunities come up to attend training courses such as introduction to Java/C#/SQL or security etc. Even if you don’t get offered a place, by asking if you can attend, you show that not only are you willing to learn to improve your abilities, but that you have enough confidence to step forward and ask. The same goes with travelling to other countries with your company, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain from the experience.

Additionally, volunteering to help out with events will help you learn about new technologies and most importantly, meet some extremely talented speakers. I can guarantee that by attending meetups and events you will meet some excellent people and broaden your knowledge in many areas.

4. Make full use of any company library or books

You may think “Who needs books? Everything is online now!” and let me say, I used to think the exact same thing before starting placement. Having been given Clean Code by Robert C. Martin upon joining Instil, I have changed my ways. Well written technical books are a gold mine of good practices and expert knowledge. Even simple books like Android Game Programming For Dummies can be a lot more valuable than you’d think. The Android Game Programming For Dummies book was indispensable during my Android module of university.

5. Work on new technologies and challenging tasks

Where possible you should always push yourself outside of your comfort zone and work on projects with the latest languages and technologies. When I started at Instil, I was thrown into the deep end working on a Kotlin and Angular 1.5 web app, which was daunting at first due to having no experience in either. Learning a new language and front end framework has been extremely beneficial for my career, especially since Kotlin is now officially supported for Android.

Most Agile methodologies will allow you to pick the tasks you wish to do from the backlog and as an intern it’s extremely easy to fall into the trap of picking all the easy tasks and bugs. I implore you to grab more challenging ones as often as possible. This will expedite your learning and one day you’ll realise what you once thought of as tough is now a piece of cake.

6. Take up a hobby

In the beginning, the transition from university timetable to office hours can be tough, but after a couple of weeks it becomes second nature and the feeling of getting home from work and not having to do 6 hours straight of studying is glorious. Once you are used to having your evenings and weekends to do anything you want, I suggest taking up a hobby or sport. Whether it be Wing Chun, knitting or language classes, it will help you maintain a healthy work life balance and most importantly it’s super fun!

7. Use any downtime wisely

You may find between projects or assignments that you have some spare time, make sure to utilise this time sensibly to improve your knowledge or learn new things. Instead of scrolling through Reddit, why not check out some technical blogs, learn a new language or read a relevant book? That way, instead of keeping up with the dankest memes, you’ll keep your abilities top notch. However, if you find yourself with a lot of downtime, make sure to ask your colleagues and manager if there are any tasks you can assist with.

8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you get stumped by an obstacle, don’t be nervous about asking your colleagues for advice. You’re on placement to learn and spending hours going around in circles will not be very beneficial.

Make sure to spend sufficient time trying to come up with a solution yourself, StackOverflow and GitHub issues are your friends, you’d be surprised how many issues are solved by updating the version of a plugin! Once you exhaust various avenues of approach, reach out to a more senior developer, with their help you’ll learn how to identify the same problem if it occurs again.

Conclusion

Learn as much as you can from other members of staff, books and the internet. You’re on placement to learn and develop your skills so take advantage of every opportunity. Network, network, network. The best thing you can do for your future career is to make a name for yourself as an enthusiastic member of the community. Making new friends in different areas can give you a flavour for possible pathways and can help you to land jobs in those areas.

The most important thing to remember though is to learn things that you enjoy and spend your time having fun.