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Simon Smale
Simon Smale

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10 things to improve your placement experience

This week I will have completed my placement at Greenwood Campbell. For the past 59 weeks I have been interning as a Software Developer, working within the back end team to support existing projects and break ground on new ones.
Below are 10 things I think helped me make the most of my placement year.

1. Say Yes, within reason

Saying yes will allow you to explore and take part in the most things on placement, whether it is "Can you help me with this task?" or "Are you coming down the pub?".
By saying yes to helping someone you are getting an insight into their role and the way they do things. It might also give you the opportunity to learn more about the person and building connections is an important part of the experience.
When saying yes don't do so blindly, be careful that by agreeing to a task you are not going to effect your current project or workload or is outside your skill set. If in doubt talk to your mentor/ line manager.

2. Ask good questions

Asking questions is how we learn. It allows you to gain the knowledge of those around you. Asking why is important to understand the process or reasoning behind a decision or it may lead to a change if you have a different solution.
Try not to ask a question more than once. Have a place to take notes and refer back to them when you need to do it again.

3. Try it for yourself

Before asking for help use Google and try to work out a solution on your own. It may not be the best way to achieve the task, it might not even work, but by trying yourself you are able to ask better questions when you do ask for help. If it does work then you will remember the solution much better because you found it.
Don't try it yourself if what you're working on is not sandboxed from live or production. There is no worse feeling than breaking something that is client facing.

4. Ask for help

Ask for help once you have tried to find a solution. The work you have done to try and find an answer will allow you to ask a specific question and save some debugging time as you will have identified the wrong solutions.
If the help you need is blocking progress it is best to ask the person face to face, if you can work around it a Slack or email is a good way to let them know without disturbing their workflow.

5. Saying "I don't know"

You are a placement student, not the expert. It is ok to not know the answer or know how to do something. Identify it as a learning opportunity and find out the answer, ether though research or by asking the relevant person.
Saying "I don't know" and asking questions is a much better solution than trying to blindly do something where you are out of your depth and then having to ask for help. If in doubt, say " no but can I have some time to work it out?".

6. Offer your opinion

As a fresh pair of eyes you may identify things over your placement that could be done a better way or go against the way you have done things. This may be for good reason or it may be because that is the way they have always been done. Ask good questions of why.
By voicing my opinion and offering to watch colleagues practice talks and pitches, I was able to show my interesting and understanding in the work or space, which lead me to working on some really exciting projects.

7. Read around your work

You will be learning loads on your placement but I found it left some gaps where I was learning so much so fast. Ask those around you for recommendation on what to be reading and sign up to blogs, YouTubers and experts in your space. If you're into web development check out my list.
Part and parcel with this is have some small side projects. This is a great way of practicing what you have learnt and gives you something to look back on when you need to use that concept. Having my own web server and little bits of different websites on my GitHub to refer back to has been a great help.

8. Get outside your department

If you have the ability to move around a little, take it! even if it is only for a few days, it is great to get a view of how you and your team fit into the organisation and flow. You might also find there is something else out there that you enjoy or are good at.
I was lucky enough to spend time with the Frontend Devs for a few days and help plan a project. Both opportunities gave me a chance to see how they work and allowed me to get a better understanding of the tools and processes they used, which were also a small part of my workflow.

9. Get constructive criticism

This is how you improve. Ask your manager or mentor for feedback on a rolling basis and at the end of a project. By identifying the areas you need to improve you can focus on these more and also get any support or training you need.
Part of this is to set yourself goals and targets. Quantify what it is you want to achieve and put a plan in place to reach your goals.

10. Enjoy it!

Enjoy your time on placement. You will learn more in this time than you will have at university. You will have the opportunity to meet new people and use your skills and technology in ways you might never have thought of. It may get challenging but you will come away with a ton of experience and knowledge.

Final words

My best advice for placement is to ask. Ask why. Ask for advice. Ask for help. Ask to work on a project that catches your attention. Ask to do R&D with a cool new tech. Ask to go on courses. Ask to go on training. Ask how you can help. The worst anyone can say is no.

Thank you for reading. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any comments, suggestions or thoughts, ether on here or I'm @simonsmale on twitter.

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