Saturday, 15 May 2010

Third year (placement)

Picking up where I left off (I believe some-when around the end of August), from September 2007 (seems so long ago...) I started working for a years placement at Anritsu in Luton. The degree I was doing at the time included a sandwich (mmmm) placement year, and that was to take place between second and third year.

Before starting work, myself and Dave (who also had a placement there) went looking for houses and soon discovered the main difference between student renting and non-student renting. With student renting, houses are allocated for a year ish (about 9 or 10 months usually) and are allocated from January, for that September. This is because the academic year is fixed, so student will all be started to move in at the same time, for 9 or so months, and all move out again over the summer (so the landlords can fix up any issues with the house (*cough* hole in the wall *cough* simon *cough*) for the next lot of student to move in). Unfortunately for me and Dave, anywhere that doesn't rent to students, will only give you about a week from reserving a place until you move in. So even though me and Dave were trying to be cautious and make sure we had somewhere to live for a year in advance, we had to wait around for ages until just before we were to start work for us to find somewhere. Luckily we managed to get a place reserved for two weeks before moving in, and I moved in about a week before starting work. We had a nice little place, about 5 minutes walk from work, 5 to 10 minutes from Luton town centre (although right at the top of a fairly steep hill), and fairly close to one of the bus stops of the Uno bus route. The flat itself was a living room and kitchen on one floor, and two bedrooms and bathroom up some stairs, with the flat itself being part of a larger house.

First day of work (eek)
All me and Dave knew about the first day of us working would be that we had to meet at the main reception of the building at 9:30. So we both got up early and get ready, not knowing the dress code both had suit and tie on and left early to make sure we knew the way. Took a longer route to where we had to get to (its on a business park); we didn't want to cut across the car park of another company (hah, started to the next day) and walked along some fairly impressive fountains. Arrived at the place early and sat around for a while in the reception until someone came and brought us upstairs into the office. At first, all three of us (there were three placement students from the Uni of Herts) sat at one desk with one computer to read through some long documentation about some of the things that the company does. After an hour or so, the other two got allocated different desks in different departments (it was a bit hectic when we arrived because the team leader for the team I was on had recently gone on leave, and the guy who was taking over temporarily was leaving the company in a few weeks). Got through the day without too much trouble, and went hope to do it all over again for the rest of the year.

A year of working
The first week or so started off fairly slowly, but that was so I could change the mindset of a) doing nothing over summer, and b)
doing nothing
working as a student, as well as read about what I would be working on over the year. So there was reading various documents, installing various programs, setting various things up, etc. During this week, myself and Dave were slowly dressing down - we had started off the week in suit and ties (everyone else was just wearing a shirt, I think a full suit is only worn in London, or if you're in marketing/management), and gradually dropped the blazer (yet still wore a shirt and tie for casual dress on Friday - d'oh!), and by the start of the second week was just in a shirt.

The first contributory work I did was to prepare some tests for the software (Quick aside: The company I worked for creates big hardware boxes that allow companies to test that the mobile devices they are creating conform to various standards, the work I was doing was on the software that made it easier for a human to interface with the big electronical box by creating tests to run to test the mobile device) according to a test strategy (a fairly big, but detailed document). After this, I got to run these tests on a couple of different versions of the software, which was handy as I got to actually use the software I would end up working on (kind of).

After a week or so of testing, I was given the task to write Unit Tests [1] on an external module of the main software (which also meant I had to find out what one was as we hadn't been taught it in second year; I also found out that BlueJ (the little software editor used to teach Java) isn't good for large software projects so had to find something that could handle hundreds of files, luckily someone on the team suggested Eclipse so I stuck with that). This was mainly done by looking through other Unit Tests that had already been written for other modules, figuring out what to do from the documentation, and preparing some inputs and expected outputs. In retrospect, it might have been a bit more complicated then it needed to be, but the software being testing was somewhat complicated in itself.

While all this was going on, I got used to having meetings - there was a weekly meeting where everyone in the team updated everyone else as to what they were doing, as well as what was going to be happening for the next week. A highlight of these meetings was that someone brought in some cakes (my first time at bringing cakes in was around Halloween so I got some pumpkin shaped gingerbread biscuits). There was also an occasional large meeting with everyone in the department (we were all in the same room - a big open plan office), but that was only every few months and was mostly charts and things showing how sales was doing.

After I had finished by Unit Testing of this external module, I was then set the task of writing Unit Tests for a
fairly large
huge module. This stared off with me looking at a bit of documentation, and a bit of previously written Unit Test code, and eventually starting from there. This took a long time, I think about 6 months of the 12 month placement, but by the end I like to think I have a good understanding of writing Unit Tests (I had even set up templates and auto-completed code specifically for writing them). After this, there was some improving of the Unit Tests, and trying to get them to automatically run on a separate machine. Unfortunately, as there were many, many tests, it took about two hours to run the full set.

With the end of the placement drawing closer, the last two of three months had me designing and then coding a little stand alone tool that ran a few other tests and checked the expected outcomes, to help out with the internal testing of the software. I spent about a month writing up the documentation, and a little over a week coding it all, kind of proving any lecturer I had saying that the Waterfall approach [2] is hard right. Having not really done graphical interfaces at Uni (something we had touched on, but not done too much of), the one I created was simple, and all in one big code file, but it seemed to work at the time.

The last week or so had me typing up some documentation for what I had been doing over the year (so someone else could have a look at what I had done and try to figure it out), along side me having random holidays (didn't take many holidays over the year, so had lots saved up to use up at the end of the year, so opted for one week with family, and a month or two of four day weeks). I also wrote up and got signed off a report for the year which would allow me to 'pass' the placement as part of my degree.

Other events I remember happening included an on-line health and safety test (...yay), having to change my password every month or two (bah), and loosing a day or so work early on due to a computer breakdown. Apparently it got fixed fairly quickly after I carried it over to IT support, although I didn't get it until a day later because they had sent me an e-mail saying it was ready to be picked up... with the only means of me accessing my e-mail sitting in their office. Not all was lost, as I spent my time not having a computer by reading some interesting books (one about pragmatic programming and one about test-first development).

Overall, it was an interesting year which I learnt a lot from. Oh, I also got offered sponsorship for my final year plus a job when I finished by degree.

A year of stuff outside work
Work wasn't the only thing I did over the year, I only worked 9-5 (there was flexi-time, so I could arrive/leave earlier/later so long as I did my hours, but I liked starting at 9 as it wasn't too early, and finishing later then 5 seemed almost too late, so I tried to stick to a 9AM start), I also got to spend a year living in Luton...

I didn't spend all my time in Luton, I still managed to attend PSiFA [3] meetings twice a week (usually). Monday meetings would involve getting a Uno bus to Hatfield, or train from Luton to St. Albans, then a bus to Hatfield, then leaving a bit early and (hopefully) getting a bus to St Albans to get the train to Luton. At first, I got a taxi from the train station to my house (I didn't particularity want to be walking through Luton late at night), but eventually started walking home (fairly swiftly). For Thursday evenings, I would get down as usual, but stay the night at Liz's flat (the day after was casual Fridays, and I had left clothes at Liz's to wear so didn't have to bring along shoes and a shirt), then got the first bus to Luton, getting me to work at about half 9. I occasionally went to the Alt Nights at the Font, but not too often as I would have to be getting a bus early morning.

This year was also the year I started going to the Hemel Games club for drafting, then started bringing Liz along. It was fun to go to, plus as there was no buses to get back after it finished, I usually tried to get a lift from one of my parents, so it was nice to see them once in a while.

I had various visits from Liz during the year, mainly at weekends (she specifically looked for a jobs that didn't have her working weekends just so she could visit, aww). Throughout the year we got through all of the Star Trek: The Next Generation series, as well as a fair bit of Voyager. I remember one visit when I decided to attempt to cook carbonara, but managed to mistake a cup of orange juice with a cup of egg yolk (funny at the time, and gave the meal a slightly tangy taste, which wasn't too bad).

As I was working, I was also earning money (yay), which made a change from living off a student loan - it meant I could by nice food, instead of seeing if I could beat my £5 for a weeks worth of food budget I tried to figure out in my first year. Not straight away though, I had a summer of travelling (visiting Liz mainly), then had to pay a deposit and rent on a flat before getting back the last deposit from my second year house (*shakes fist at Simon H*), but I eventually got out of my overdraft and started saving up for my final year.

Over the summer I got to stay a week at Henley on Thames, a nice little island that my family used to go to (we got to go back, which was awesome and nostalgic all at the same time). It was a fun filled week with camping, fishing, boating, water fights, miniature golf (on an island?!), games, BBQs, late night fires and various other activities. Plus there was lots of family members to catch up with (some whom hadn't seen me since I say 'yay high' I'm sure). Well worth using up a whole week or work holiday.

I'm sure there are many events that I have forgotten to mention here, maybe I will update, amend (or add a comment) here some day if I do. All in all, it was a fun year, and straight after finishing work I moved into a new house back in Hatfield to start my final year. Had some hassle with the letting agency (Wrights of Hatfield were a bit slow to tell us things, which is quite bad considering they had almost half a year to (like I said, student lettings allocate places ages in advance)). But we eventually got everything sorted, which was handy as I had arrived in Hatfield with a car full of stuff from Luton, having worked my last day in Luton to also be my first day in Hatfield. Thus ended my year or work placement, and of living in Luton. Then I started a ('final') year of study and fun...

[3] The Uni of Herts Sci-Fi/Fantasy/gaming society; or

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