In this blog, we hear from Michael Rimmer, who took a break from his Computer Science course to work with Illuminate Technologies from Summer 2019 to Summer 2020.
Why did you decide to take a year out?
Just a few months into starting my Computer Science course, I was contemplating dropping out altogether. My university experience was not what I was sold at school: I clearly underestimated how much studying was required and at the same time it seemed like everyone else on my course was ready to be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Between my second and third year, I took a year out to work a ‘Year in Industry’ at a software company, Illuminate Technologies. I can confidently say it is the best decision I have made since starting university.
My decision was largely based on wanting a break from the pressure of studying and exams (by my second year I had adjusted to university life but I wasn’t keen to go a consecutive year living in the library). At the same time, I continued to feel my practical skills were lacking compared to others on the course. I remember being concerned I might struggle to return to studying after working for a year; however, after chatting with the then-current interns that I met on my interview day, I was convinced this was a unique opportunity that I should definitely take. Fortunately, the University of Edinburgh was very accommodating of this and assisted in making it happen.
What were the benefits of the time away from your course?
There are countless benefits to a Year in Industry. For a start, you get to work on interesting projects with key and emerging technologies. As you work on these projects, you develop a range of both soft and technical skills. At the same time, you learn new things and gain career insights by working alongside experienced colleagues, who you can always turn to if you have questions or concerns. On top of all this, you’re getting paid!
Furthermore, I found that a Year in Industry is a useful transition from university to your first career and a chance to develop professionalism. Simple things like writing emails, attending meetings, and interacting with your manager are all opportunities to learn from. It’s a great time to learn from mistakes which, in turn, will give you the best start to work after graduation.
Whilst working in industry, you can gain from some unexpected opportunities. For example, I gave a talk about ‘A Day in the Life…’ to Primary school classes and also represented Illuminate Technologies at a University of Edinburgh Careers fair which subsequently presented the opportunity to write this blog post! All these new experiences contribute to wider career development that is on offer when working in industry.
Let’s rewind – It’s currently May 2020 – how are you feeling?
Around March everyone in our office had to start working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m currently cooped up in the corner of the living room. Fortunately, our management are considerate of the fact that many of us don’t have ideal work environments. In truth, the novelty of working from home wore off after a few weeks. On the positive side, at least I now know that I prefer working in the office, although I have enjoyed our online Friday quizzes.
I want to mention I’ve benefitted from all of these things while enjoying Illuminate’s great work environment. We have flexible working hours, a world-class five-a-side football team and company socials that you’d actually be disappointed if you missed. Without a doubt, one of my biggest lessons is the value of enjoying where you work!
From my time at Illuminate, I am in a much better position to carry on with university. I will be returning with more focus, a greater skillset and ultimately feeling refreshed to tackle the rest of my degree. For anyone considering a Year in Industry, I highly recommend you go for it!
And now – a year later – how did you find returning to your course after your time out?
Third year was definitely the most intense year for me. I have to admit, the biggest downside was initially not knowing anybody in my year since I was now a year behind and all teaching was done remotely. I realised it’s harder to keep track of deadlines and anything you might have missed when there’s no one to check in with. It was still manageable, but my advice would be to take whatever opportunities you can to get to know people on your course. At least for me, if teaching were in-person, I would have made an extra effort to get to know people at lectures and engage with others in tutorials.
Despite this, the experience and practical skills I gained from working in industry massively helped me to cope with the busy workload. Having worked for a year in a team of experienced professionals, I was much more self-assured when working on practical assignments – particularly when organising group work. For me, this is the most stand out difference compared to previous years. As a result, I feel I was better able to balance keeping up to date with lecture content, while also keeping on top of coursework. Ultimately, having had this insight into the world of work, I am more enthusiastic and confident about entering the workplace upon graduation.