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Student Series: Interviewing Instil placement student Benn Henderson

  • Interview with Benn Henderson – placement student at Instil

    How does your day typically start?

    I’d usually make some cereal and water and start off slowly, focusing on getting a bit of energy back after the cycle in while moving towards a goal-setting mindset. Normally I would then have an hour or so to dig through the mountain of work – or lack thereof – from the day before to relay to my team which tasks had been completed once the stand-up rolled around. During stand-up I would get a bit of direction for the day’s checklist and  discover what tasks need prioritised, alongside some joking and socialising, which typically left me in a good mood for sitting down to work.

    (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 would consider myself very goal-oriented. Ticking off an item on my to-do list was therefore rather satisfying and a large motivator. I believe this is down to being a case of not wanting to let down my peers, wanting something to have something to talk about at stand-up, and the need to see how much I could learn. I would set my targets in the morning based on these motivating factors, and from there onwards the day was spent lunging towards those goals. Learning was obviously a large motivation: Knowing that I had several new technologies to learn and master for a project would push me to go further than I would otherwise.

    What do you study (and where), and how did you find out about Instil?

    I study Computer Science at Queen's University Belfast. Computer science provided me with a large amount of theory and mathematics to dig my teeth into on top of all the programming that I would get to do in my role. The degree was well balanced, using programming as a medium to practice our theory in algorithms and logic. I found out about Instil through the university web portal: I was on the lookout early as I didn't want placement to be on my mind too long while still studying.

    Why did you choose Instil for your internship?

    Searching for an internship was initially a stressful ordeal. I knew I wanted to be programming, but as to what I wanted to programme, I wasn't so sure. Instil was an opportunity to work on several different technologies to work out what I wanted to focus my career on in the future. To this extent, I couldn't have found a better internship. I got to work on both Android and iOS apps, a cross-platform Xamarin app, and an angular web app. On top of this, Instil seemed prepared to give me the responsibility I wanted. To them, I wasn't just an intern; I was an employee with the potential to learn and improve.

    How does your internship fit into company strategy?

    From my limited experience of researching companies I might enjoy working for, training and teaching software development isn't normally a major focus. Instil flipped this assumption on its head, however, providing training to both its own employees and clients from other companies. Fortunately, this meant that I had the best possible chance to learn how to become a good software engineer, with the idea being that, if I took to the company and performed well, there was the possibility of a career down the line. Even without this, however, everyone at the company seemed to believe in bettering the industry as a whole.

    What tools or skills do you use in your typical work day?

    I hate answering questions with 'it depends', but in this case it is really the case. The common tools I would use in general terms would be some form of IDE or text editor for writing the code itself as well as supportive tools such as Git, Gradle, and iTerm2, all on the Mac. The reason I couldn't give an accurate answer is because, depending on what time of year it was, I would have been writing in a completely different language on a different project, which suited me perfectly. The tool chain around each project was very similar though, keeping track of them all through the same task-tracking software.

    What does the typical day look like?

    Typical days are as you would expect; sitting at a desk writing code and chatting to work mates when you go for a tea break. There is more to Instil than this, however. Sitting at your desk couldn't be better: With plenty of people about there is always a bit of chat and laughter, which keeps the mood light and cheery. Some days there will be less people in the office and a little bit of music can be played for everyone to enjoy, with friendly debates over the choice of music of course! Non-typical days were much more interesting though, with barbecues, bowling, and the Friday quizzes to break up the typical working week and keep things enjoyable.

    What has been your biggest success at Instil?

    Initially I would have said either finishing a particular project I had a larger hand in or presenting a feature I had created for another project to the client. I was proud of the work I put in on both projects and got that sense of accomplishment from getting work on them from commencement to completion. Now however, think that the interpersonal success has affected me even more. Coming away from placement, I have more friendships with genuinely interesting people that are always willing to give me a helping hand.

    How do you cope when the pressure is on?

    Coping with pressure is something I never dwelt on too deeply, especially since there wasn't too much pressure that I wasn't explicitly expecting. Pressure mainly came at the beginning of the placement when I was unsure of what I was doing. Habits I had developed over the years of studying came in handy then, such as keeping notes of each small task that needed completing and always having a plan in place. Whether this plan was to learn about something that was scaring me off or simply getting something done, it always helped me to focus and to keep moving forward with my work.

    What tech or apps do you use to plan your day and stay on top of workflow?

    Instil already had tools in place for this sort of thing, so there wasn't much extra work I had to do to stay on top of it all. I will say, however, that keeping note of my own tasks with good ol' pen and paper was extremely useful when it came to working out what I had done previously. Its importance increases if you consider having to do a weekly write up as part of a placement report. In that case, having it digitised would have helped because I then had to go write it all up by hand which was a pain. Outside of this Git is always useful for tracking your work as a software engineer and again it was a standard procedure to use it.

    What tips would you give to other students who wish to be where you are in the future?

    If you want to end up somewhere you enjoy working you have to be honest with yourself about what you really want. I would say looking at money alone is pretty short-sighted, but if that's what makes you tick then I can't judge. Other than knowing what you want, you have to be prepared to work for it. If I had showed up at work every day and only did the minimum required of me then, sure, I would have made it through placement, but I wouldn't have made as many friends and learned as much as I did, which will now hopefully help me get through my final year of university. In a nutshell, work out what you want and make a plan of how to get there that fits you. 

    What do you do for downtime? What sites / podcasts / blogs will you consume?

    As an avid reader I often found myself looking at the books lining the walls of the Instil office, though I rarely picked them up; they were more a source of topics to think about. Unfortunately I don't have many particular sites I would go to. I preferred to simply search up a topic that had caught my eye in one way or another before scouring the internet for any and all sources of information on said topic. I often found myself reading through Stack Overflow questions whether I needed the answer or not: More often than not I would learn something I could later use. That, or I would come across a topic I could further research.

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