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Student Series: Interviewing award-winning Instil placement student Harry McGreevy

  • Interview with Harry McGreevy – placement student at Instil and winner of AllState NI Techmaster of the Year Awards 2018

    How does your day typically start?
    Generally, by dragging myself out of bed, a task in itself for any student. Instil allows for a bit of flexibility in your working hours, which is really nice. I’m generally in for around 9.45. Once I’m in, I grab a coffee and something to eat while I get my laptop and software fired up and get caught up on emails or messages from the night before (I’m currently working with an American company so there’s a fair bit of activity while I’m offline).

    (Apart from youthful exuberance and buckets of coffee...) What is it that motivates you in the morning and gets you energized about your role?
    I love knowing I’m going into having tasks that need done. I’m not going to be trying to find ways to pass the time. It’s great knowing the stuff that I’m working on is actually being used as well, it gives a bit of purpose to the role rather than knowing as soon as you leave your projects will be archived. Also working with a great team: There’s a really good social aspect, you can have a bit of a laugh while you’re working, so you’re never dreading work.

    What do you study (and where), and how did you find out about Instil?
    I study BEng Computer Science at Queen’s. I found out about Instil through the CS placement portal: A bunch of companies advertise there and I was just going through ads trying to find somewhere I might like and it caught my eye. After a bit of research I decided to apply.

    Why did you choose Instil for your internship?
    After researching Instil, it seemed to be a great fit for what I was looking for from a placement. It isn’t focused on one particular product so there was a range of stuff I could be working on. It isn’t too big, so I wouldn’t end up stuck in a group of interns working on nothing. I’d also heard from friends, who knew some of the previous interns, that it was a really great place to do your placement year. After going through the interview and getting to meet some of the guys, everyone seemed really lovely and I got a really good vibe from the company.

    How does your internship fit into company strategy?
    One of Instil’s goals is to develop brilliant developers, and these aims have remained as the company has grown. They want to build on talent and give you opportunities to build and adapt your skill set. As a student, this fits perfectly: Personally, I want to come away from an internship having learned as much as possible so that I can apply it to next year’s studies and beyond. Instil puts great importance on good engineering principles, and there’s no better time to gain these skills than when you are just starting out as a developer, before the bad habits appear.

    What tools or skills do you use in your typical work day?
    I’m working on a MacBook Pro day-to-day and I also get an extra monitor, which is nice. Software-wise, we are using Android Studio along with other JetBrains IDEs occasionally. We use Jenkins day-to-day for Continuous Integration: It builds your branch and runs all the tests before it can be merged in and break things. In terms of skills, we are constantly working as part of a team, so you always have to interact with the people around you. Problem-solving skills are brought into play every single day: Even for tasks that look simple, there’s always a layer of complexity that you didn’t expect, which I think it keeps things interesting.

    What does the typical day look like?
    A typical day for me is getting in and set up at around 9.45, getting up to speed and then just getting stuck into whatever tasks I’m working on for the day. I tend to pull / merge requests before I leave the previous day so I will address any comments on those or merge if possible and update the board for my task status. Once that’s done I’ll find something new to start working on or review any pull / merge requests that are currently up. I normally take my lunch around 1pm, which gives an hour to give your head a rest. After that we have meetings with our current client: This is normally a quick stand-up with everyone giving their current progress and plans, or sometimes it’s a longer planning meeting. The rest of the day is spent working on my tasks again before heading off at around 6:30pm.

    What has been your biggest success at Instil?
    I was part of the 1.0.0 release for a client’s product. I’d been working on the project for a few months and contributed a good chunk of work into the product. It was pretty fun being part of the final push to get features wired up and polished off in time for the deadline. It almost reminded me of university but it was less stressful since the project wasn’t being started just before the deadline. It’s just really cool knowing that code I’ve written and tested is out being used in the wild… and also kind of scary, because what if something goes wrong!?

    How do you cope when the pressure is on?
    I just get the headphones on and put my head down. You find yourself getting into “the zone” really quickly and completely losing track of what’s happening around you: You can get loads done and just stay in the flow. If I’m feeling stressed, I take a detoured ride home through the hills after work, which works wonders, although it’s pretty rare I’ve felt pressured or stressed while on placement if I’m honest. There’s plenty of support around if things start getting too tricky.

    What tech or apps do you use to plan your day and stay on top of workflow?
    I use Slack a lot. There are commands that allow you to set reminders that come up like messages that have saved me from forgetting about something important more than once. We also have an in-house time tracking app that allows you to request holidays and keeps track of when your time off is and how much you have left while also automatically adding it to your Google calendar. As a team, we use Jira to track tasks: This works as a board with multiple columns, and as you pick up / finish tasks you change their status to in-progress, acceptance or done, and you also assign them to yourself so people can see who is working on what.

    What tips would you give to other students who wish to be where you are in the future?
    My biggest tip is to just keep your head down and keep working away. It can be hard to stay motivated at times, especially when things start getting rough and the work starts piling up, and when you stop it becomes that bit harder to start again. Even if you just do one small thing towards a deadline, you’re cutting down the to-do pile. Likewise, make sure to give yourself downtime: If you are stressed out you tend not to work very well, and then you end up spending more time being stressed and trying to figure out where to start than actually working. Just grab a task and get stuck in.

    What do you do for downtime? What sites / podcasts / blogs will you consume?
    In my downtime I’m a gamer and like working on cars and motorbikes and getting away from a screen for a bit… it’s nice to get a break. I watch a lot of YouTube: I like science-based channels and learning random things that are unlikely to ever come in handy. I also like to keep an eye on tech news though my phone, especially things around computer security.  You can see some really cool ways of thinking in some of those stories. 

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