Next Steps

TL;DR: I'm joining Overleaf. I'm sticking around in Portsmouth for a bit, but moving to London soonishâ„¢. Huge thanks to Radweb for the awesome 2 years there.

I'm super excited to say that I'm going to be starting at Overleaf in mid Feburary. I'll be working as a web developer on both the front- and back-end of their "Google Docs for scientists" product. It'll be a new challenge for me, especially learning Ruby/Rails and LaTeX (which the software is built on).

When I was little, I always imagined myself as a scientist and actually studied Biochemistry at university for a year. So I had a tiny bit of first-hand experience of the crappy tools that scientists use. Frankly it's amazing that they get anything done. Contrasted with the web, where almost by default learning materials and tools are free and open. I'm very happy to say that I'm now working to bring these two worlds together.

At least for the first couple of weeks/months, I'll be remote/commuting from Portsmouth. But I'm looking for a place in London (recommendations welcome for places nearish to the office in King's Cross). Hopefully I'll still manage to get back from time to time - at least to keep up our winning streak at Pub Hack!

Which brings me onto all the awesome people at Radweb - and in particular my fellow #DevsDoDesign-ers. They really have taught me everything I know about the web, so I wanted to finish up by saying a massive thank you to you guys.

Exciting News...

I haven't blogged in a while, which seems to be the way I start every post here...

Radweb logo

If you've visited my nameplate (alasdairsmith.org.uk) site in the last few months you might have seen a big banner at the top, shamelessly promoting myself :) I'm really pleased to announce that I can now take it down! For the next year, I'm officially part of the small but growing team at Radweb. We (feels weird to write that) create awesome stuff for the web, from WordPress and Magento sites to full blown, built from the ground up, web apps.

I'm going to mainly be working on InventoryBase, a brand new web app that is designed to help landlords keep track of their inventories. We just released a promo video, with an insanely catchy tune that's been playing all week in the office:

InventoryBase is built on BackboneJS, with a backend built from FuelPHP. This is a pretty big step up in level of coding complexity for me, and I'm really excited to dive in some more. At the moment it looks like I'll be full time on this project at least until September, to help bring it fully up to it's potential.

In addition, I'm going to open-source my big coursework project that I've been working on for the last couple of months. Check the blog post, or view the source code.

PS. Try the super-secret cheat code on inventorybase.com - press up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A on your keyboard to see what I mean.

Placement Year - Hire Me!

Ed's note: I got hired! See my update post.

This post is intended as unashamed self promotion for my placement year in the computing industry. Hopefully it'll answer some questions about what a placement year entails and what you might get from it.

So first of all, what is a placement year? Essentially it's a full year where you get an intern working for you. They should take on a role within the company, just like any other employee, and contribute to helping the business. There is a focus on developing skills so that they can become a more rounded employee in the future.

Why do a placement year? It's a great chance for starting some recruitment, and to give some training to someone who may well want to work for you in the future. It offers a lost cost way to bring new skills and lots of enthusiasm into the workplace, possibly onto projects which may have been on the backburner. Existing staff are freed up to complete more complex tasks, and it allows them to develop management skills while mentoring students. There's a more complete list available here.

Many other companies in the sector, small to large, take on placement students and have been extremely happy with them, and go on to employ them once they graduate. Here's a few examples.

What do you have to do to offer a placement? You have to satisfy the five following criteria (these are set by the university):

  • The Industrial Placement should be for a minimum period of 36 fulltime weeks (excluding holiday).
  • The type of work undertaken on the Placement should be relevant to the Student's degree/studies. For instance, a Business Information Technology Student's Placement should be Business/IT focused, - i.e. being involved in the Business and Information Technology systems within the Company
  • The Employer should treat the student as a normal member of staff, particularly in respect of induction, training and Health & Safety practices
  • The Employer should recognise the contract as an Industrial Placement, i.e. a fixed term contract for approx 12 months with no further commitment on either part beyond this.
  • The Employer should allow the Student and the Student's supervisor/line manager to be visited during the Placement by a member of academic staff (to review progress and discuss other issues that may arise).

Now down to the real question: Why offer me a placement? I'm a Web Technologies, at Portsmouth University. I am very enthusiastic about creating new applications for the web, and for mobile. The explosion of HTML5 and it's related technologies point toward a bright future of the web which I want to be part of.

In my first year of the course, which was a common year for all School of Computing students. I studied a variety of units, which cover a generalised look at the field of Computing. Web Authoring and Design, which gave me a grounding in HTML and CSS, and the basics of running a web server Introduction to Structured Programming in which I learnt the Python language; Object Orientated Programming in Java where I learned the basics of object orienatated programming through the use of Java; Computer Organisation which covered a range of subjects on the fundamental concepts of Computing; Social Aspects of Computing, where I looked at the ways computers have had an affect on ethical, economical, social, legal and political issues Developing Information Systems which gave me an introduction to project management and UML; Introduction to Data Communications in which I learnt the basics of networking and finally the Origins of Computing unit, where I looked at where computers have come from and what factors went into their development.

My first year results are shown below:

  • Web Authoring and Design: 87%
  • Introduction to Structured Programming: 86%
  • Object Orientated Programming in Java: 78%
  • Social Aspects of Computing: 91%
  • Computer Organisation: 87%
  • Origins of Computing: 85%
  • Introduction to Data Communications: 85%
  • Developing Information Systems: 74%

Overall I achieved a first class honours grade, although the first year does not count toward the final mark.

My second year (which I am currently studying) is much more focused on Web Technologies, with units based around building web sites, learning PHP and Javascript, advanced Java programming, web-based project management, databases, understand Unix and human-computer interaction. At time of writing I am in my first semester, I am working towards building an online shop for an external client, as well as designing and building a database and investigating data structures through advanced Java programs.

I love to learn more skills and technologies, and to increase my knowledge base. I think this would mean that I would be able to get quickly up to speed with projects and tasks while on my placement year. This is also one of the reasons I would like to do a placement year, I as hope that there will be many opportunities for learning new skills. I also have good organisational skills, which allow me to keep track of time, prioritise tasks and work efficiently. I have previously worked as an intern at the British Red Cross in the digital fundraising team, which gave me great experience of the office environment. I believe that I would be able to integrate easily into any office workflow. I also volunteered at Kandersteg International Scout Centre for 3 months, working as a Short Term Staff Hike Guide, which involved leading groups on hikes around the Swiss Alps. I also returned to KISC again over this summer, as a Snow & Ice Guide, which is similar but teaching mountaineering skills. I developed my leadership qualities, people skills and problem-solving abilities greatly, and was entrusted with risk management to lead groups safely over glaciers. You can see more and some of my photos on my Kandersteg blog (Ed's note: Posterous shut down on 30th April 2013, so this blog was discontinued. I may try to revive it sometime, when I'm finished tidying up this site).

I actively follow technology and web news, reading many blogs and listening to various podcasts, which I believe means I have a good idea of current theories and trends in Computing and on the web.

What else am I interested in? I do quite a few activities outside of my university work. I been involved in Scouting since I was very young, and I continue to help out with my group whenever I am at home. I am an Assistant Scout leader, which involves planning weekly meetings, running activities and assisting where needed. I have also planned out and organised the annual summer camp, which unfortunately I could not attend, because I was working at KISC.

Scouting has also allowed me to do a lot of outdoor sports, another big interest of mine. I love hiking and have been walking many times in North Wales, and other places in Britain. I completed the 3 Peaks Challenge in 23 hours and 49 minutes last year. I also enjoy climbing, and have joined the university climbing club, which run twice-weekly training sessions. I hoping to improve my abilities a lot this year.

I have played Ultimate Frisbee for several years, having joined the club while at Cardiff University. I immensely enjoy playing the sport, improving my abilities and competing against others. Do I have a CV? Certainly, my CV is available via Google Docs here: http://j.mp/alasdairsmithcv

How can I find out more? You can contact me via email, Google+ or Twitter, and you can also have a look around my blog or my main site

UPDATE (15/10/2011): Updated to include info about second year at Portsmouth, and second summer at KISC.