Ankur looks back and what he’s learnt from his year long industrial placement, and prepares himself for his return to student life and a much smaller income!
I finished my industrial placement this September and it only feels like yesterday when I joined the company - an electronic design automation firm based in Fareham. I mentioned in an earlier diary entry that I was struggling to adjust to the “monotony” of work, but by the time I finished, I had really gotten used to working life.
One thing that you learn fairly quickly on placement is that there are qualities other than pure technical ability that are needed. You could be a good coder, but if you aren’t any good at documenting the code you write, it will slow down your colleagues when they look at it months later and try to figure out what you did. In fact, you can, and do, forget what you did with your own code too! Documentation is often considered the lowest of priorities during software development, yet this step probably saves countless time in the long-term.
In addition to my software development and testing responsibilities, I also worked on technical support for customers of our electronic IC design software. What I also discovered during the course of the year is that it doesn’t just matter whether you find a solution to a customer's problem, it’s also important to explain the solution and various options available as well.
Technical support, software testing and quality control, software development - primarily on scripts and macros...all of these tasks sound mundane. You realise when you join as an industrial placement intern that you simply don't know enough about the real world to do more complex tasks. Every now and then your manager may allow you to take a stab at something bigger when they feel you can contribute, but on most occasions you watch senior engineers solve a problem and realise it’s simply time and experience you need.
In university, I could come up with a solution for designing a circuit or a script that would, theoretically, be correct. At work though, there were occasions when colleagues would go: “that would work theoretically, but in real life...”. It is that exposure to the working world that I found invaluable. So if you're on an industrial placement or thinking about one, learn to listen and benefit from feedback.
Before I left my company, I spent the last few months training new interns. This really showed me how much I had learned technically over the year because when they asked me questions about less common scenarios, I understood them well enough to answer the questions, so I can say I’ve walked away having learnt a lot.
Leaving the company was an emotional moment for me and I had a wonderful company farewell. These goodbyes were so much harder than, say, when I left high school or the Singapore study exchange programme as I still keep in touch with those people. Leaving the company, however, had this sense of formality and finality. It feels weird knowing that I won't be spending eight hours a day, five days a week with these people anymore!
So now it's back to Guildford for me, for my final year as an undergraduate at the University of Surrey. This is going to be another year of hectic activity: completing research projects, hunting for jobs - or perhaps looking into doing further studies and also working for the societies I'm involved with.
What's probably going to be the hardest is to learn to spend like a student again, as I have gotten too used to being able to book a holiday, buying a fancy gadget, or even a meal at a nice restaurant without having to think twice about my bank balance. I might have to rediscover my love for pot noodles and energy drinks! But I can't wait to get back to uni though, as I haven't seen many of my friends for two years now as I've been away on study exchange and then placement.