Graduate Associate Bradley Gee reflects on his experience of completing a placement year at Informed as part of his degree in Computer Science at the University of York.
Here, he discusses what he learnt and the breadth of skills developed through his 12-month placement, and considers how they translated to ease the challenges encountered during his final year of study and became the catalyst to start his career journey.
As part of my Computer Science degree at the University of York, I was encouraged to take a placement year in industry, to gain real-world experience and to support my final year of studies.
I really enjoyed the field of my degree but wasn’t sure which specialisation I wanted to follow in my future career. Eventually, I decided that a technical consultancy would give me the breadth of experience and knowledge of the industry I would need to hit the ground running after finishing my degree.
I was able to gain a placement at Informed Solutions, a digital transformation practice whose mission is to develop the digital services that help make our world safer, cleaner, healthier, and smarter. Through a year in consultancy, I was able to achieve exactly what I wanted out of my placement year and much more besides.
My Placement Year
On joining Informed, I was given a thoughtful and in-depth induction, which laid out what was expected of me and what I would receive in return from my year in practice. Following my induction, I was quickly introduced to one of the practice’s largest projects, which was the design and development of a national environmental system for regulating and improving air pollution in designated towns and cities, working as a quality assurance tester. This was the perfect opportunity for me to improve my knowledge of the project lifecycle, as the role of a tester requires you to become familiar with all areas of a service. It was also great to be working on a project that would be having real benefit to the environment we live in. With the help of my colleagues, I was upskilled efficiently and effectively, and soon had a solid awareness of the agile principles that the team and client employed, as well as a strong understanding of many testing principles that would serve me well in my future work as a developer.
My time in quality assurance afforded me the opportunity to help design and implement an automated testing framework from the ground up as part of the same project I had previously worked on. This was my first real opportunity for responsibility that saw me grow a suite of end-to-end tests using Selenium software, adapt new solutions to overcome edge-case problems, and evolve them to meet the changing requirements of the project. This resulted in a very satisfying conclusion to this piece of work, knowing that it had been mainly designed and developed by me so soon after starting my placement, and also the result of some great teamwork and collaborative thinking in support of my process.
Following my grounding in the foundations of agile and project development, I was offered the opportunity to use the remaining time on my placement to explore different areas of technical consultancy to improve my wider knowledge and gain an appreciation of other roles in the project lifecycle.
It’s thanks to the structure of the placement programme at Informed that I was given the time, space, and opportunity to shape my own experience. As a result, I was able to further develop my computer science skills through roles in frontend development, backend development, interface design, and more. Notably, I also realised that I was beginning to spark an interest in user-centred design (UCD), and more specifically, user research techniques. I started to become aware of the bigger picture of the development work I was contributing to, which was and always is about improving the life of the user.
Following this realisation, I enquired about assisting in some user research sessions, and was soon brought on to an internal business initiative, aiming to improve the onboarding of new colleagues within the company. During this time, I was introduced to new UCD techniques, and was eventually able to lead a user research session with peers and colleagues from across the business.
Looking back on an enjoyable 12 months, I’d been given tasters in almost every aspect of the project lifecycle, from user research to testing, to development and interface design. I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity and exposure to helping solve real-world problems from my year in industry.
Completing a Degree in Computer Science
Following my placement year at Informed, the theory I had gained during my initial years at University was now combined with the context to utilise it in real-life situations. I went back to University in York with an open mind, refreshed excitement, and a better appreciation for the potential scope of the field.
This led me down multiple paths I would never have expected. Firstly, I found that my intrigue into the world of user experience began to influence the areas I wanted to investigate for my third-year project. Eventually, I landed on designing an online banking service for the elderly, a project that I was excited to investigate further as it touched on many of the UCD skills I had learnt at Informed including user research, prototype design, data analytics, and more.
The exposure I gained at Informed helped me manage my final year of study in many ways, my time on live projects had improved my time management skills; client experiences helped me to better understand what and how my users were thinking; and opportunities to carry out technical spikes helped me when filtering through research.
Additionally, I found I was able to tap into my placement experience to support my module work, where I found the focus on statistics and artificial learning to be quite a challenge, but I was still able to approach everything with a calm and inquisitive manner thanks to my experience and guidance from colleagues who have had to overcome similar challenges in workplace settings.
From Placement to Practitioner
Following on from a successful final year at University, I was offered the opportunity to re-join Informed on their graduate associateship programme, fast-tracked because of my previous placement year. I couldn’t wait to start my career and learn more as a graduate associate.
Taking a break from my studies to take year in industry was daunting but I’m so glad I made the leap. The experience I gained at Informed had a profound impact on my approach to the final year of my degree and undoubtedly boosted the grade I received.
Now having successfully come through the Informed graduate programme, I am a fully-fledged practitioner and look forward to what the next stage of my career holds, knowing I already have a wealth of knowledge and experience to help me take the next steps of my career journey.
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