200 days later and I am over halfway through my software engineering internship at Microsoft. The time has flown by. Every day is a new challenge and makes me grow as a developer, and a professional. I am inspired by the work that the team does and it encourages me to use every opportunity I get to learn and improve myself.
I love this team. It is an incredibly diverse team with people from all over the world and a variety of passions. Just at my table group of 12 people, there are backgrounds from England, America, Turkey, Portugal, Italy, and India. We learn from each other and share stories of what it is like around the world.
I aim to speak to everyone about their lives and learn through their experiences. Two of my favorite people are both contractors. They are incredibly bright and have worked on some amazing projects for Microsoft, BMW, Sky TV, etc. They could be full time employees, but choose not to because their interests take a bigger role in their lives. One loves to travel. He has a backpack with patches of flags from each country he visits. He chooses to be a contractor, so when a project is finished or is at a good stopping point he can stop working for a couple months and travel the world. The stories he tells are incredible and often has people visiting from around the world who he has met on his trips. His type of job enables him to pursue his hobbies and see the world.
The other person is slightly different. He has his doctorate in nuclear physics and now works as a software engineer. On that fact alone, he proves that changing jobs is feasible and can be very successful. There are actually several people who have changed careers entirely to become software engineers at my office. This special person also embraces his contractor life. His wife is Thai and while they mostly live in the UK, they will take months or even years off to live in Thailand. He recently spent 3 years living in Thailand. To supplement his income, he made in the UK, he has taught himself to be a scuba diving instructor. This allows him to live a comfortable life in Thailand. When I speak to him about scuba diving and moving countries he says it is easy because if you practice something enough, you are bound to get good at it. My favorite is when he is speaking to me in a lovely English accent and when his wife calls switches to speaking in Thai in this English accent. He was recently showing me that he was learning to write in Thai!
Beyond learning what career options are possible, I am learning a lot technically. Everyone is incredibly helpful and understand how to teach to the level that I am. The project managers consider my growth and give me assignments that increase in difficulty as I complete them. My manager understands what is difficult for me and what is easy. He guides me to find solutions to problems and teaches me one-to-one about new, advanced technical concepts. I know going back into my final year at university, I will be much more prepared for the challenges having learnt to solve previously unsolved problems and learn new skills in a fluid manner.
My next steps include designing new features start to finish on my own. I am getting less immediate help, so that I may investigate and solve problems independently. I appreciate the challenge as I want to be able to do all my own work, especially in preparation for my final year project. Once I have an idea and a mock up program, my manager will review the design with me and give me advice then. He doesn’t want to railroad my ideas, so is giving me the chance to prepare on my own. I am working in a rather stress free environment for this feature. I have been given the time to investigate and execute it in my own time allowing me to fully understand and learn throughout the process.
The University of Surrey is unique in its placements. When I first moved to England, I thought all universities supported and encouraged placements like Surrey does. I was wrong. Many of my friends from other universities are not given the guidance to do a placement. The placement year, a one year internship in industry, was a main reason I moved to England. It certainly paid off as I got my dream job in my dream city. Even though I didn’t do a summer internship after my freshman year or may not do one after my junior year, I will have more work experience than any student could get in America at my age.
To read more about placements: https://blogs.surrey.ac.uk/usablog/2016/04/29/into-placement/
And where to get them: https://blogs.surrey.ac.uk/usablog/2015/06/03/placement-year-prep/
Placement year allows for a lot of self-improvement. Given that my out of office hours are free, I have time to work on things that I wouldn’t have time to do otherwise. I am taking Italian language classes for instance. I have passed through the first set of beginner classes and have started on my second. I look at flashcards on my phone as I commute to work to practice and am starting to be able to identify things around me and make basic sentences. This next level of classes mostly speaks in Italian which is certainly a challenge, but gives me the opportunity to speak and listen in Italian. My class is only about 8 people which gives it a friendly environment. It is also reminding me about my Spanish! I am pleased I remember more than I thought. Learning a language is helpful for so many reasons. My boyfriend is Italian and his family often speaks it together. I would like to be able to communicate with them all the time. It also enables me to be independent and more confident when traveling. A friend of mine inspired me to learn another language. She speaks English, Italian, French, German, and is learning Mandarin. When we travel together she can speak to locals and be more in tune with the culture. I would love to do that. Finally, in a world that is becoming more integrated, knowing another language is very useful professionally. This will let me work with lots of people and maybe even work abroad long term. I am excited to start using Italian more and hopefully can practice next time I visit Italy!
Other self-improvement I am working on is joining a group of women in tech. Through this I was matched with a mentor within the industry that has guided me through the last few months. In this set program, my mentor and I went to tech conferences and networking events, reviewed my resume, and spoke about workplace and women in tech challenges. At the end of our last meeting, she even offered to give me work experience at The Guardian newspaper where she works as a developer on their website. I highly recommend searching for a mentorship program or just going to conferences about your subject. It has helped me to feel more a part of the industry and has allowed me to gain greater insight into the challenges we face.
Finally, if you have been following my blogs you will have seen that I have been able to travel a lot. I love to explore and now I have the money to do so. I’m off to Copenhagen next weekend, so you will be sure to hear all about it soon!