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.

Perfect counterpoint to my 'Web of Distrust' post - College Credit for Improving Wikipedia

The project also teaches students an important lesson in media literacy, helping them understand and appreciate how to assess the quality of articles found, not just on Wikipedia, but in all the publications and sources they come across.

(via readwriteweb.com)

A perfect (optimistic) counterpoint to my post about the levels of trust in media today.

The folks behind Wikipedia are reaching out to universities and encouraging them to get students editing Wikipedia for credit. I just simply love this, and I wish Portsmouth was doing this. Well done to all involved.

Ranting about 'genetic discrimination'

A quick rant about one of my lectures today...

One module I am taking as part of my Computing course is "Social Aspects of Computing", a subject that I really think is important to cover as computer scientists have a huge effect on the modern world, through new technologies and interfaces that we use everyday. I think it's important to get context around society and societal issues as software we could be writing in the future may well affect many lives.

However I think that there's quite a few issues with the course - first of all it feels like the lecturer, who will remain nameless, is far too biased against modern technology (ironic isn't it) and regularly takes sides in debates. I call it our "weekly dose of fear" about what the internet might do to us...

Secondly, and more importantly, there's quite a few things he's plain wrong about. I had a rant on Twitter earlier about his one of his latest lectures in which he talks about genetic discrimination. OK, fair enough, it may be an issue in the future, but the simple fact is that genetic analysis that could lead to discrimination is many, many years away from us. A quote from the lecture slides: "a drop of blood is easy to get and easier to analyse" in relation to future employers genetically discriminating against potential employees. Seriously, I can't think of a single instance of an employer getting hold of potential employee's blood, but I find the second part even more problematic. Blood DNA analysis is not easy to do. First the sample DNA is relatively small, so it needs to be duplicated using PCR. This is getting cheaper and easier, but it requires a large and expensive machine with specially trained scientists to operate it. Then the entire genome needs to be analysed, an enormous task - the human genome has over 3 billion base pairs (the simplest code level of DNA). This is vastly expensive and massively time-consuming. Think about it, if hospitals aren't taking samples of your DNA to analyse your genome, then businesses are definitely not screening people for certain genes.

I'm pretty disappointed that such an important topic is so mishandled. It's not like there's not enough important issues to be discussed; I'm pretty sure we're not going to cover the Digital Economy Act or net neutrality.

Referencing: A Student's nightmare

So it's late at night and I'm still annoyed from earlier about referencing - you may have seen my tweets, which were less than courteous about EndNote and Zotero, two different bits of referencing software that I've used. They basically try and grab meta data from websites, PDFs and other places to build library of references which they then can format it to turn it into properly formatted references. Here's the problem though they're universally crap doing the getting the meta data part - don't get wrong the bells and whistles of organising and sorting the references once you've got them are great. But I am completely fed up of manually entering data to fill in gaps where they've missed something or completely got it wrong. This is the real problem that needs solving - organisation of references is pretty easy if you set up a simple file structure, something that even a non-techie can do - its much harder to build something that can accurately guess the references.

So I'm hoping that somewhere out there someone will know of my frustration and send me towards something that'll work better. I've already had a couple of people on Twitter send me links to similar things, but they look suspiciously like EndNote clones but with more organisational features. I'll try them out and see how they work but I'm not sure if they solve the problem of manually adding meta data.

Personally I hope that the new semantic web technologies in HTML5 will go a long way towards this - being able to tag author, date, publisher meta data like this is going to make detection a lot better. But, it probably won't be adopted on many academic sites, and it doesn't work in PDFs that academics so dearly love. The open data movement really needs to get the word out to these websites.

Scoble interviews Blackboard mobile

(via scobleizer.com)

This is a pretty good interview from Scoble (yeah, I find him quite annoying too but he does give a good interview).

The app itself is a definite WANT for me, having been at Portsmouth Uni for just over a week now and definitely needing a better way to find buildings, rooms and other information. The UX looks really neat too, especially the 'windows' concept shown on the iPad app.

We use Blackboard software at Portsmouth and unfortunately it's shockingly bad - doesn't work in anything but IE, hides things in odd places, has terrible UX, looks ugly. But I think we must be using an old version as I had a look at the website and it shows a much nicer UI. It also sound like the app maker is more of an acquisition than an original Blackboard product.

It's good to know that there's some innovation in the education space of new tech.

In which UWE is Open Day'd

Today I visited the University of the West of England, Bristol (long name), for a open day. I applied to do Computer Science applied a while ago and luckily/thankfully received all five offers back unconditional (cos I've already done my A-Levels).

UWE

So... my thoughts: I had kinda thought that Computer Science was a "general" course - one that covered many different areas of computing and the issues. But turns out that it differs between different unis :(. At UWE it turns out Computer Science is very much a technical course and there's a different course called Web Design that is exactly the kind of thing that I want to do. The good thing is that it looks like I can switch if I do apply for UWE. The Web Design looks awesome - not only the graphic frontend as you would expect, but also learning to program for the web, databases, development of commercial scale courses, UIs - the backend stuff that I would really love to learn.

The uni is very much campus based, with the halls and lecture halls onsite, not something that I'm wild about because I like the dynamic of a city. There are halls offsite, and there is a free bus service into town and back, which I much would prefer. Crazily the bars onsite in the Students Union shut at 9pm (9pm!) which forces all students onsite to go into town and get taxis back again - not good UWE. The sports centre looks pretty nice, and I like that a free gym pass is available for first years, with a climbing wall and squash courts. Weirdly/funnily there was an Ultimate tournament going on inside the centre so I go to show my Dad bit of the game and explain what was going on.

So overall, whats the verdict; I really like the course and the job possibilities from it, but the campus not so much - though I think I could definitely live in the offsite halls. Decisions, decisions ;-)