Having not had much work experience before I got to university, I thought I'd need something on my CV to make myself stand out from the crowd for graduate jobs. A year in industry is also a great way to find out what you do and don't like, and whether that line of work is something you want to do after graduation. It would be a shame to find yourself working full-time in a job you didn't like!
My placement is with the Mercedes GP Formula One Team. The goal of the company is to design and build a championship winning F1 car, along with all the necessary technologies needed to support it for the races.
I'm working within the software team, who write programs to help with the car's development and to show data for the race team to use during the races. As most of the programs we use are in-house, I have to test the software for each new release to make sure it works as it should, and to report any bugs I find. If a program displaying race information was to crash midway through a race, that could severely affect strategy, so it's pretty important.
At the same time, I've been given progams of my own to write. These have ranged from something as small as building a new feature on to a pre-existing program, to larger projects like creating the entire interface for the company's main database. As I'm the only developer on this project, it means I oversee the progression of the program from its conception, right through to release.
I'm really enjoying my time at Mercedes, and there is a good variety of tasks to keep things interesting. As well as my usual day-to-day work, I've had the opportunity to visit the wind tunnel, help the race team practice their pit stops, and even meet some of the drivers! Given that there is pressure for the team to do well in the Championship, the environment is actually fairly relaxed and friendly, which makes you want to work, rather than feeling like you have to work. Usually I'm left to get on with my work unsupervised, but help is never too far away if I get stuck (after all a placement is a learning experience in itself).
As I was thrown in to the deep end a little, my programming skills have got better very quickly. I had hardly used C# or SQL before, but now they are like second languages. I expect this year will build upon my work skills and make me more employable in the future.
The final year of my degree mainly concentrates on the research project, which requires a large amount of self-motivation and organisation. These are attributes that I'm required to have on a day-to-day basis at the moment, so I'll be far better at committing myself towards my project than I would have been before my placement.
I was surprised how much content from my course modules has popped up in the job so far! It's very easy to think that you don't need to know theory (and to be fair, I too was a little sceptical), but I'm glad I have that background knowledge and understanding.
The Department and the University Career Service originally helped me to prepare my CV, giving me constructive feedback on where it needed improving. Plus, if it wasn't for Paul's (the Industrial Placement Coordinator) support, emails and contacts, I would never have known about this opportunity at all!
Getting a placement is just as competitive as getting any other job, so be prepared for rejections and setbacks. However, don't let that put you off, as they are a fantastic opportunity and could set you up for something bigger in the future.