Tag Archives: work based learning


Rise Like a Phoenix

Okay, so I’m not as gorgeous or fabulous as Conchita Wurst, but the past few months have been pretty uplifting so sorry not sorry.  A lot has happened since I last blogged back, dear reader – so much so that I regret not finding the time to blog about everything. However, there’s plenty more to come!

Hello world…

After my last post swithering whether to stick my Honours year out or not, the decision was made when my tentative investigation of the job market resulted in me landing a very nice role as a trainee cloud engineer for an Edinburgh based bank.  Sometimes I still can’t believe how lucky I’ve been – I have a great job with plenty of opportunities to progress and develop my skillset through training and certification, my boss and the team I work with are fantastic people and there’s a Costa Coffee on site.  Not many people can say they are looking forward to getting to work when the alarm goes off in the morning, so I consider myself very lucky.

I honestly thought I’d never end up in fintech, thinking it would be a bit stale and boring, but from the start I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the huge amount of thought and creativity that goes into building solid, responsive and secure banking systems with the customer very much in mind using AWS and associated automation tools.  There’s never a dull moment, that’s for sure.

Ah yes, AWS.  After a year of Azure and the Microsoft stack, flipping over to Amazon’s offering has been two months of retraining the old noggin and revising my Linux knowhow.  Most of what we do is Linux based, but strangely enough I’ve already gotten a reputation as being the Microsoft person and am currently working on a Windows project.  It was inevitable, I suppose!

…cheerio academia

Someone asked me recently if I regret leaving university at all.

My answer?  No.

I’m still confident I made the right choice and am very happy with my BEng with distinction.  I was genuinely looking forward to my Honours project, however, which was going to be a wireless mesh network built with Raspberry Pi Zeros, but enthusiasm for my other fourth year modules was pretty much non-existent.  Most of my fellow students who also went out on placement told me they were struggling with their enthusiasm too and many of them have also found jobs and left uni.

I suspect that having to do four and a half years for an Honours degree instead of the usual four is too much for many – I also admit that I struggled with the thought of having to wait until December to finish.  We all knew that going on placement would extend our degrees, but I guess the reality and implications didn’t really hit us until we’d returned to uni.  Still, when I announced that I was withdrawing my lecturers were very supportive.

The future is bright

So, there you have it.  I’ve emerged blinking into the world of work after three and a bit years of study, clutching a degree in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other.  Mission accomplished, I reckon.  Whatever the future holds, I’m ready – my job is great, I enjoy what I do and like that phoenix I’m ready to keep rising.

I’m not dead!

So yeah, it’s been a while.  Did you miss me?

This is the end, beautiful friend…

I did intend to blog about my placement at Microsoft, however I lead too busy a life and with the extra work I had to put in for university in addition to working full time five days a week and trying to find time for my family, I made the decision to take a break.  I really need to learn how to say no!

After an intense but very fun year working for Microsoft, I handed in my security pass at the end of July and tried not to get too emotional at my leaving do.  I ended being more emotional when given my leaving presents but shhh, don’t tell anyone…

…they know me so well!

I already miss everyone as I can genuinely say that Microsoft is the best company I’ve worked for (so far).  The work culture is fantastic, the opportunities are plentiful and the office is a five minute walk from the bus stop and train station – handy for lazy gits like me!  However, I knew it would end at some point as my return to university loomed so I made the most of my time there.  I even managed to get some certification under my belt and am the proud owner of a bit of paper saying I’ve passed the Security Fundamentals exam, hurray!

Going on placement was worth it on so many levels.  In addition to the tremendous amount of experience and kudos I gathered while working there, it was actually a good feeling just to be back into the world of work.  I probably should expand on my experiences a little more, but having just written a massive end of year report for university my brain still hurts too much.  I’m sure you can imagine though, dear reader, how ecstatic I was when I got the call last May asking if I’d like to go work for one of the biggest and oldest tech companies on the planet and how fortunate I feel after 13 months of industry insight and the opportunity to make some wonderful friends and professional contacts.  I intend to put everything I’ve learned to good use when I’m back in the world of academia and ultimately post graduation, which fortunately is an awful lot.

Although my placement was an absolute blast, I was more than ready for my holiday to France.  Sitting in a gite in the middle of rural Brittany drinking the local cidre really helped me to put my thoughts in order, plus I had ample opportunity to put my shiny new Band through its paces as we holidayed.  Being so busy and then suddenly not having anything to worry about always gives me a strange anti-climactic feeling as I don’t always enjoy having nothing to do, but the holiday was a welcome tonic and I returned to dear old Ecosse refreshed and ready for the next set of challenges with a full set of batteries.

Back to the world of academia

Since returning from France I’ve been working on trying to get back into the swing of being a good-for-nothing student again.  Admittedly I am looking forward to going back to uni, despite the last minute pressures of getting the big report done and feeling I have no brain cells left.  The end of my degree is starting to creep up over the horizon and I’m ready for the final stretch.

I’m pleased to be returning to the role of Interconnect Student Champion for the 2015/16 academic year at Napier and thoroughly enjoyed meeting my fellow champions from across Scotland today at the Equate Scotland office.  I was also recently successful in my application to be a Microsoft Student Partner.  Not sure exactly what the role will entail in the coming year but I’m looking forward to it all the same.  I’m definitely going to have to put my time management skills to very good use this year – I told you have I have trouble saying no, didn’t I?

To be continued…

Life at Microsoft, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Bing

You know my last post, giving advice on how to deal with placement applications?  Well, I’ve done something right there because it got me a one year internship with Microsoft.  Hurray! *does a happy dance*

To throw some light on what I’m actually going on about, I shall attempt to clarify.  Instead of spending my third year of studies on campus, I’m out on the job through Work Based Learning.  This means that I’m out on placement from uni, getting some real world experience while keeping a log of my progress with my workplace tutor.  Unfortunately I still have to do some work for uni to prove that I am actually making the most of my placement, but *SHAMELESS PLUG* tools like OneNote come in really handy for taking rough notes for proper write ups later on.  It’s only going to get worse from here on in, I promise you…

My placement started in July and my main duties concern the Microsoft Technology Centre (MTC), where I work as the lab engineer.  The MTC is an environment where we demonstrate business solutions to clients, covering everything from Office 365 to Windows Azure Pack.  Instead of the traditional death by Powerpoint, the MTC gives clients and partners the opportunity to see solutions in action and act upon anything that comes up in the sessions.  This of course means that the room contains a wonderful assortment of devices for folk to play while they learn about how awesome Microsoft products are.  I’m also in charge of the on premises datacentre, on which we host the virtual machines that run our demo environments.  Coming from two years of learning how to do things the Cisco way at uni, it was a massive culture shock to discover how powerful software defined networking is – very rarely do I need to physically configure anything in the datacentre as I can pretty much do it all virtually.  It’s a really exciting time to be at Microsoft as they’re working really hard to show off the wonders of the likes of Windows Server, Hyper-V, System Centre, Azure….the list goes on!

There’s so much to say about life at Microsoft – as you can imagine though, I work in a very fast moving environment and no two days are the same.  In addition to expanding on my initial training, I have the day job to take care of so things can get quite hairy at times; however, my colleagues are absolutely lovely and always happy to answer my inane questions.  Microsoft are also very focused on personal development and flexible working, which gives me the opportunity to pick up new skills or expand on my current knowledge, whether it be through certification or getting involved in work projects.  As long as the day job gets done, I’m free to get involved in whatever takes my fancy – within reason, of course!  The intern programme is a big part of my Microsoft life, with lots of events, projects and activities to get involved with.  I’m really enjoying my time there so far, becoming more and more immersed in Microsoft products as I go.  No doubt I’ll have more enthralling tales for you in the near future.

We do of course talk a lot about our competitors and Google isn’t exactly a dirty word round the office, but I do have to be careful when talking about search engines…anyway, who needs Siri when there’s Cortana?

How to get that placement

One of the great things about studying at Edinburgh Napier is the encouragement given and resources available for those who wish to spend their third year on a work placement.  Instead of spending another year living on toast and tea and spending far too much time in the campus library, the Work Based Learning module allows students to get some real world work experience while earning a decent salary.  Although I have worked previously, I decided to join those looking for a placement as it’s a great opportunity to work in an environment relevant to my studies and update my skillset.

I’ve been asked by several students for advice on how to secure a placement, which is really quite flattering, so I thought I’d share my thoughts and tips on placement hunting here and hope you also find them useful!

Planning your CV

This may seem like an obvious point, but it’s quite surprising how many people neglect or don’t even have a CV.  It’s therefore really important that you 1) have one and 2) keep it accurate and up to date.

Your CV should begin with a strong personal statement – don’t be shy in selling yourself! Despite the fantastic grades and relevant experience for the job, if you don’t make yourself stand out on paper you run the risk of being overlooked.  It’s commonplace for people to have tailored CVs depending on the job being applied for (I have two or three) and completely acceptable to list the qualifications and work experience, paid or voluntary, you think is relevant to the role you’re applying for.  Although the more information you can include the better, keep it concise – a good CV will never be more than two pages long.

You may occasionally be called upon to submit your CV with a cover letter.  I have a template which I amend accordingly, making the submission process a quicker and stress free.  There are lots of great examples out there, so if you’re stuck for inspiration you’ll find a suitable example fairly quickly.

Finding a placement to apply for

This step can be pretty daunting, but if you plan well it is a fairly easy process!  I started by getting into the habit of checking the placement noticeboard outside the school office regularly, noting any positions of interest and submitting an application.  Some companies will simply ask you to submit your CV, while larger companies such as IBM and Microsoft have their own application processes.  Sites such as Target Jobs and E-Placement Scotland are great places to start, although if you’re interested in working for a particular company it’s always worthwhile checking their recruitment site for placement opportunities.  Some application processes are pretty lengthy, so be prepared for things like numeracy tests and being asked for information that can’t be copied and pasted from your CV.

The big day

So you’ve submitted your CV or worked your way through a company’s (usually lengthy) application process and they want to interview you – hurray!  If you’ve gotten to the interview or assessment centre stage, this means that they really like you and you deserve a big pat on the back. for getting this far.  However, this is where the hard work really starts, so don’t relax just yet.  As mentioned before, every organisation has their own way of doing things but preparation in the main areas is key to your success.

Research, research research

Knowledge is power and the key to your success.  Don’t just have a quick shufty at the company’s website and hope the interviewer doesn’t ask you any awkward questions – read up on its history, familiarise yourself with its structure and read up on current projects and successes.  The more you can demonstrate your knowledge of the company, the more impressed they will be that you have taken the time to do so.  Sometimes you will be given a rough idea of what’s expected of you, on the day so use that information to your advantage when you prepare.

Be prepared for the unknown

The biggest problem for anyone in an interview is nerves – I’ve had interviews where I’ve fluffed even the most basic questions because I’ve been so jittery.  Instead of letting your nerves get the better of you, harness that raw adrenaline running through your body and make it work for you.  Be confident and proud of your successes, but don’t forget to be modest while playing to your strengths.  Most interviews these days are competency based, so familiarise yourself with the STAR technique – Situation, Task, Action, Result.  Again there are lots of examples online, so find a resource you like and practice.  If you have some answers already lined up, you’ll find that you will be able to answer the interviewer’s questions much easier.

You may be required to attend a technical interview or prepare a short presentation on a subject given to you, so once again research is key.  What the interviewer is looking for is how competent you are in communicating your answers – it’s okay if you can’t answer a question, just be honest and admit that you don’t know the answer!  If you are asked to do a presentation, remember that the interviewer is looking for your ability to communicate the finer points of your presentation matter, not your actual presentation skills.  Again though, practice makes perfect and will soothe those frazzled nerves.  I find it useful to try and preempt any questions that might be asked at the presentation and ensure that I have at least a basic understanding of anything I’m not immediately familiar with.

Questions are good

If in doubt, ask!  It’s better to ask questions, no matter how daft you might think they are, rather than staying silent and kicking yourself on the way home for your lack of courage.  There’s no harm in writing down a list of questions you may have – interviews are hard work and it’s really easy to forget that vital question you wanted to ask!  One great tip I was given a while back was at the end of an interview, ask the interviewer if there’s anything about your application they may have a question on – it’s equally common for an interviewer to forget what they wanted to ask and it helps to clear up any small niggles.

The aftermath

As part of my own self development, I always ask when to expect a decision and follow that up with a request for feedback.  Some interviewers are happy to give you their thoughts on the day, but more often than not you’ll receive your feedback a week or so afterwards.  Whatever the outcome, it’s always good to know where you performed well and where you could use some improvement as every company has its own procedure, so there’s always something new to be learned.

Good luck!