I believe that a useful meeting must have two things; a clear agenda and a resulting list of actions. So, in order to give some useful advice to anyone else that’s starting their placement year, I set up a hypothetical meeting with myself from one year ago (before I started my placement).
The Agenda was the following: Plan for the best placement year possible, in terms of being a good employee, enjoying myself, and setting myself up for a great career.
The following 5 points make up the list of actions from said meeting.
1. Make some friends
At the end of the day, work is work, and it always will be. I think it’s very much possible to love the work that you do, but few of us wake up each day excited to browse tickets and get started.
Having people that you genuinely look forward to seeing each day can have you coming to work with a far more positive mindset.
So, it is worth having lunch with colleagues, going out for drinks after work, and simply saying good morning on your way in. You’ll be glad of having someone to rant to over a cup of coffee when the time inevitably comes.
2. Ask way too many questions
Your placement year will likely be the first professional experience that you’ll have, and you will be lacking in experience compared to most of your colleagues.
This is not something to be nervous about. No one expects you to know a whole lot in your first year. You will run into problems that stump you. You will find yourself reading the same stack overflow article for the 3rd time, hoping that it’ll somehow make more sense this time than the last.
Get help from others around you
But while tackling problems yourself is a very good thing, there is no shame in getting help from the people around you, as there is a good chance that someone has already solved something similar.
Do this frequently, even if it’s just for a small piece of advice, as the more questions you ask, the better you’ll get at asking them. You’ll quickly realise that the more information that you gather and give with a question, the faster you will get a good answer.
And if you find yourself asking so many questions as to wear out your mentor, then it’s time to get asking around and find out who else is willing to help!
3. Discover what you enjoy
Over the term of your placement year, you’ll hopefully get to work in a few different areas of software development. Just because you haven’t worked on automation tests before, doesn’t mean you can’t try your hand at it.
It’s worth taking the chances that you get to work on something outside of your immediate scope. If it turns out that you don’t like it, then you’ve learned a valuable lesson in that you should focus on other areas instead.
As you work on different parts of the process, you should try and figure out which parts you enjoy most. Some people enjoy management, many don’t. Some people would rather write code, others would rather test it. Some insane people even enjoy dev-ops.
By figuring out which areas you enjoy the most, you can steer your career towards them, and away from the areas that you dislike.
4. Get Professional
Being professional and able to present to clients and other business people is an extremely underrated skill.
Working hard and consistently is crucial on any team, but the people paying for the work don’t get to see how hard you are working, all the bugs you’ve fixed or all of the beautiful code behind the scenes.
They see the presentations that you give, they listen to your reports in stand-up, and they remember how you react when they ask tough questions when you weren’t expecting them. Small things like paying attention in meetings goes a long way too, even if you’re bored to death.
The best way for you to learn these skills is to observe others, so make sure you take every opportunity you get to sit in on meetings, even if you’ve nothing to contribute. Gradually, you’ll pick up the professionalism that’s expected, and you’ll make far better first impressions when you start chipping in to those same meetings.
5. Take Lots of Notes
A great habit to pick up for your placement year (and carry throughout your career) is to be constantly taking notes on just about everything. It may sound super tedious, and you may be like me, and think that you will remember the stuff without notes, but trust me, you will be glad of them when the time comes, and there are so many reasons why.
Having them short-term is very useful when it comes to reporting back on your work. You may have days where you have had to help 2 or 3 different people with their blockers, and therefore make little progress on your own tickets. It’s always handy to have a list of things that you did to report during stand-up.
Monitor how far you've come
It’s always very useful for when you inevitably encounter a problem that you’ve already solved. It may take the form of a bash command that you won’t remember, or step-by-step instructions on setting up a new program a specific way. You’ll be glad when these problems take you half as long the second time around.
For me, however, the most important reason that you should take notes is so that you can monitor how far you’ve come.
Being able to look back a few months every now and then, to see how much you knew then compared to now, should make you very proud all being well. Take pride in what you’ve learnt, and use this to motivate you to learn even more.
For more information on current roles available at Instil visit the careers page.