The successes and challenges of my work placement

an employee sitting in front of two desktop displays with lines of code

Having just finished my placement, I have a lot of thoughts on what met my expectations and where I could do better during that time. As part of my Electrical and Electronic Engineering degree, I had an opportunity to do a six-month internship over the last term of my third year and the summer. Now that I’m going into my fourth and final year of study, I can fully recognise just how much it has shaped my career goals.

Let me give you a bit more context before I dive into the details. I did the placement in software engineering, so not quite in the same field as my area of study. Admittedly, as an electronics student, going into software engineering is not uncommon, but it’s not a completely straightforward choice either. I was very proud that I have secured an internship in software engineering, especially since I didn’t have too much programming experience when I was applying.

Turns out that a lot of companies are happy to take on candidates without the knowledge required for the job, and you can learn most things on the go. So don’t be afraid to apply for an internship or job outside your area of study, it might not be as difficult to get as you think!

So what went well?

Firstly, and most importantly, I gained an insane amount of new knowledge about software engineering, and successfully completed the project I was assigned with. I built up my skills from practically zero to the level that allowed me to work on a massive, complicated codebase for a commercial web application.

Developing new skills

I think the major advantage of doing a longer internship is that with the right guidance, you can develop new skills rapidly and pave the path to pursuing a new career. The hands-on approach can be a bit of a shock to the system, but this allows you to be fully immersed in the responsibilities of the job and gain the essential qualifications quickly. The caveat is that it can be quite challenging to keep up with the fast pace that is almost a given when so much learning is involved. But despite the effort, the steep learning curve is very rewarding in the long term, and it definitely gave me the confidence to pursue a developer job in the future.

Time management

To my surprise, time management was more difficult than developing my technical skills. At first, it felt like I have more free time than during term time as I could close my laptop and finish work for the day around 5pm, but I didn’t account for how straining working productively for eight consecutive hours can be. A major advantage of university (especially in the third or fourth year) is that there are maybe a dozen hours of teaching in an average week, and the individual study doesn’t have a set timetable, so if I feel tired I can choose to take a random Wednesday off.

Responsibility and stress

Another thing is that a job comes with a bigger responsibility than university, and being part of a team at work means that other people depend on you to deliver your tasks. I wouldn’t say it’s not necessarily a disadvantage, but one needs to keep in mind that maintaining a good work-life balance is key to keeping stress at bay, and it is as relevant at university as it is at work.

I fully encourage anyone who is looking to gain more practical skills to do an internship or a placement. As long as you plan for the challenges that come with a professional environment, it is an extremely valuable and developing experience.

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