This year I have the option to do up to one year in work placement. My award is a little strange in that the placement for me is optional. If I can’t find one I just transfer to the award that doesn’t require a placement and that’s that.

I initially jumped onto the placement bandwagon with enthusiasm. I’m getting such good feedback from the University that I figured I’d surely be able to find a good placement pretty early on. As time goes on however, I’m not finding this is at all the case.

The biggest problem it seems is me, or more specifically, my living situation. I can’t just up sticks and move like most students can, I’ve got a house and childcare issues. All the best placements for software development seem to be in Reading, Leamington Spa or London, that’s simply to far for me to commute. So I’m limited to the west midlands where the pickings, software wise, are pretty slim.

I polished up my CV and applied to everyone who was looking for something even remotely software orientated. Out of something like 20 applications I’ve only had a couple of interviews. Neither of them came to anything. One gave me no feedback at all and the other one told me to come back in a couple of months and then filled the position that I was supposed to come back for.

It’s like being back on the job hunt, only weirder. Where as before, if I wasn’t completely ignored by employers I was at least treated like a professional. It was assumed that I had the skills appropriate for the job and was occasionally asked to elaborate.
Going for a placement is all together more soul destroying. You still stand just as much chance at being ignored but now the interviewers treat you like, well… a student. I’ve been given full blown exams and hour long sessions of critically assessed programming. It’s stressful to say the least.

In their defence I’ve now had the pleasure of working with a variety of students for a couple of years and have, in that time, managed two group projects. If I was in there shoes I’d be testing candidates as well.

This week I had an interview for a role that I would be perfect for. All of my interests and experience are right on the money and the company is next door to the university. When interview day came I was quite nervous about what potential challenges awaited me, so much that I’d spend the days before pouring over all my past work trying to think of everything that I might be asked about or tested on. I even brushed up in my objective c, c# and c++ just to be safe.

As interviews go however this was about the most normal interview I’ve had since starting my degree. I was a relaxed and respectful and professional conversation. It was all very much, “This is what we do, this is what we want.” “This is what I’ve done, this what why I’m the man for the job.” a very familiar format and welcome relief from what I’ve come to expect from placement hunting.

I used to have a real knack for interviews. My trouble has always been getting my CV through to interview stage, without a degree it’s nearly impossible. There was a time when I could proudly state that if I got through to interview, then the job was mine. I seem to have lost that skill somewhere along the way. Maybe it’s just that I’m up against a higher calibre of competition now, I dunno.

I’m waiting to hear back from that interview them and I’m hopeful. Aside my compulsively pointing out every little bug or imperfection in my apps as I talked about them, I didn’t say anything that would have outright blown the interview. I was relaxed, professional and well prepared the whole way through. It’s nice to come away from the interview feeling good about it for a change. I’ve got another interview on the horizon as well so I’m not readying my award transfer papers just yet.

Not Smart Enough for the Room

I recently attended a group meet. The group is a pack of programmers from around the county that meet up every month and discuss issues and industry and so on. Each meet they decide on a small project together and work through it. This project can be anything from Programming Kata ideas to a full blown development project.

This appealed to me right from the start. It’s a chance to associate with people in the industry, do a little networking and maybe learn a little something. The meet isn’t that far from me a few of my lecturers attend and have been encouraging me to, so I decided to go.

I can honestly say that I’ve never felt so intellectually inferior in my life. Some of these guys are the people that the people I look up to, look up to. Every time I spoke up I regretted it almost instantly. My input was lagging and often needless, responded to with blank stares and patient slowly spoken sentences. I’m pretty sure that everyone in the room actually started dumbing down the language toward the end.

One of the highlights of the evening was when a team member from a company that had recently declined me for a placement came in. This team member then proceeded to talk about the poor quality of programmers they have had applying this year, my interview was even brought up as one such example.

By the end of the night I was drained and depressed. I felt like such an ameteur and well, like an idiot. Unworthy of referring to myself as a member of their industry.

I’m going to keep attending. I’m aware that I’m naturally very paranoid and have never been very good with those types of situations. I’d like to think that soon I’ll do better and that’s not going to happen if I run away screaming due to my own insecurities. I am just a student after all and all of these guys are seasoned veterans. They all seemed like genuine, nice, very smart people and I think in the long run it will be good for me on a number of levels. In fact, I learned a lot while I was there. I’m a big believer that if you truly want to get better at anything, spending as much time as possible with the masters is the best way. Coming away from the meeting feeling 2 inches tall is just an indication that I’ve still got a lot to learn. I’m going to be coming home from the meets with a lot of homework for quite a while.

Assignment Technique

I have a habit of diving head first into assignments trying to amaze and astound people by implementing very advanced techniques or the like into my work.

I’ve had several lengthy discussions with many of my lecturers about my attitude toward my work. Nearly all of them keep telling me to, for lack of a better phrase, take it a little less seriously. Generally they tell me to go for easy marks first, then go for the harder stuff. I generally dislike this approach to education as I don’t feel it really encourages students to push themselves. It’s hard to really push yourself when you already know that you’re going to pass. Also, bare pass marks are usually at a very low standard. I want top marks, all the time in everything.

This semester I’m amalgamating all the advice that I’ve had from my lectures and combining them with my usual approach. So far its serving me well.

For example, I have an assignment for concurrency. I’ve attempted this assignment several times and keep coming up against the exact same problem. Basically I have a resource shortage and I just can’t solve it. I’m reluctant to ask my tutor for any more assistance that he’s already provided me. It’s a huge class and I’m so far ahead of everyone else that it’s not really fair to be taking so much time from those who might be struggling.

I pushed onward and found come up with an implementation that solves the problem except for a very minor, but obvious, cosmetic problem. I’ve spent weeks on this assignment and it’s really starting to get to me.

So I’m taking a break, sort of. The assignment is done bar this single problem and I’ve got a lot of other, more difficult work to attend to. So rather than spending the next 4 weeks pulling out my hair trying to figure out I’ve applied my new approach, all be it, in reverse. I took a look at the marking scheme and have implemented each of the, extra marks, items. These are things like pretty graphics and other things that are might be slightly beyond the scope of the module. So counting up the marks I’m easily into the high 90% despite this little problem. The extra marks gained will more than make up for the marks lost. Now, if I don’t manage to get back to this assignment before the hand I’ll still be looking at an A. My assignment may not be perfect but I’m still getting top marks.

I realize that this might be considered contrary to things I’ve said in the past. But those were intended to be general student advice. This is specific to me.