Almost 3 years ago, I accepted a job at a large technology company as part of their Graduate Scheme. I had graduated from university with a First Class MEng degree, and spent months applying to many different graduate jobs. I wasn’t having much luck, and had been out of university without earning money for about 6 months. The job I was offered wasn’t my first, second, or even third choice, but a last resort choice because I was getting desperate. Rent and bills do not pay themselves, and I don’t hide the fact that I needed money.
I knew that the job was in a very specific industry, and although it advertised itself as a technical job, I had my doubts as to how true this would actually be. All the advice I received at the time was to take the job, that it would be good experience and would help me move on to a better job in the future. I doubted this even then when I signed the contract, months before I started the job. I was very worried I would be getting in to a job where what I would learn would apply only to that one narrow industry, and not help me in the wider technical job market in the future. But I believed the advice and as I knew it would at least earn me something, much less than most other graduate jobs but still something, I accepted it. I still continued looking for other jobs right up until my first day of work, but to no avail.
When I started there it wasn’t long until I saw why the job only required someone with a minimum of a 2:2, and not even a 2:1 degree. The job had been sold to me as one with opportunities for electronics, embedded development, programming/software development, and even computational fluid dynamics. But in the 2.5 years I have been working there, it feels like I’ve barely gone beyond ‘Hello World’. There have been a few small projects which have been interesting and technically challenging, where I feel I have learnt something worthwhile. But the majority of work has barely required anything beyond what I was doing during my first and second years at university. Most of what I have learnt has been specific to that one industry, and so as I expected, not beneficial when looking for other work now.
As with any knowledge or skills, if you don’t apply them regularly, or keep developing them, you get rusty. Most of what I had learnt during the 4 years of my degree has been stagnating. I can go back and look at work I did at university, and some of it might as well be in a foreign language. I was under the possibly false impression that a graduate level job was meant to take someone after they have finished university, and provide them opportunities to develop knowledge and skills that build upon their degree. I hope that at other companies, this happens. But with the job I have been doing, I feel that I could have gone there without a university degree and be doing just as well, as all the industry specific training would have given me what I needed for those areas anyway.
So I really wish I had followed my instincts and gut feeling 3 years ago, and not taken this job. It would have meant times were harder financially for a bit longer, but it would have given me longer to find a more suitable job. I have now completed the 2 year Graduate Scheme, and see that as a good point to look for other opportunities. But as I come to look for other work, once potential employers find out what the past 2.5 years of employment has actually involved for me, they realise I wouldn’t be right for them. Yes I can make things look good on paper, and people tell me that my C.V. isn’t too bad. But most of that builds upon my time at university, which I finished 3 years ago. All of that is going rusty while I’m doing a job every day that uses only the basics from a technical point of view. It feels like my career has been set back considerably. What I am learning isn’t relevant outside that industry. The technology world is huge, and I’m finding it hard to work out what I should be learning in my spare time that will help me get a job I enjoy.
It feels in some way I’m still at zero or worse, and almost need to go back to university, get another degree, and start again. Everyone assured me what employers want is experience, that it doesn’t matter where. Even advice given to graduates today by careers advice services is that they shouldn’t be picky. They should take any job they get offered, whatever it is, because it will get them experience.
After making that mistake myself, and regretting it, I hope no one else does the same. Be picky. Don’t take the first job you’re offered if you’re unsure about it. Employers may want people with experience. But if the experience is in a totally different area to the job, then it’s not going to help. Don’t start working in an industry you know you don’t want to be in, because this could damage your chances of working somewhere else in the future. Be sure that the job will have you doing things you want to do, and let you develop the knowledge and skills you want to develop. If the job will only need knowledge you already have, won’t challenge you and give you the chances to develop, be wary. You could find that despite having experience, you still won’t have the skills potential employers are looking for should you go to leave that job for something you’d rather be doing.
The job market is tough, especially for graduates. But sometimes it is better to trust your instincts, your own gut feeling, than follow other people’s advice.
August was an amazing month. And not just because we finally had some weather appropriate for the word ‘summer’, although as you’ll see, that helped. No. It was because thanks to volunteering at 2 separate and (mostly) very different events, I felt I was doing something worthwhile, and had lots of fun while doing it! Both were week long events, which meant taking time off work. Given how little satisfaction or enjoyment my current job gives me, this was not something I had a problem with.
The first of these was Young Rewired State, which I signed up for as a Mentor back in 2011. In short, this is a week long hack event open to anyone under the age of 18, with interest or experience in software development, and the desire to make cool stuff. The only restriction is that whatever they create must make use of at least 1 piece of open data. This could be data from the government, a particular company, or even Twitter. They have free reign over what they make, what platforms/languages they use, etc. Centres were set up at businesses around the country, with adults acting as Mentors to help them and keep them on track. Microsoft were kind enough to host a centre in Reading, so that is where I spent my week.
Initially I was worried about this, as while I may have a degree in Computer Science & Cybernetics, I’ve not exactly had to use much of it in the last 3 years since I started work. I would say that my actual development skills are limited. I was honestly expecting most of them to know more than me, as my recent development experience has been somewhat basic. Also it would mean working with a group of young people I’ve never met before, helping them come up with ideas, work out how to create them and answering whatever questions they may have. While I have now been involved in Scouting for 3 years, my primary focus has been on running Beaver Scouts. That section is for children age 6-8 years old, and involves running games and basic activities once a week. It doesn’t involve spending all day with them, nor needing to prove and technical knowledge or skills. To top it off, it was also my first hack event of any kind, so I really didn’t know what to expect.
But it turned out to be a truly awesome week. The 10 participants at the YRS centre in Reading were all excellent. It was a pleasant surprise at how mature, eager and professional they were. Between them they came up with 2 ideas to build over the week. The first, FeelrBot, is a Twitter sentiment analyser that takes current tweets from Twitter with a specified hashtag, and tells you what the general mood is on that topic. Not only did they build the software, they also made FeelrBot itself, a .NET Gadgeteer powered robot with a face that smiled or frowned depending on the mood.
The second was Digital Tick.It, a mobile train ticket application built on Windows Phone 7. This linked your train ticket booking reference to timetable and platform information, eliminating the need for a paper ticket. Through QR codes the app presented a ticket that in theory could be scanned by conductors on the train directly from the phone screen, just as easily as they check paper tickets.
The week of rapid development culminated in a weekend ‘Show and Tell’ final, held at The Custard Factory in Birmingham. This brought together close to 500 participants from all the YRS centres across the UK to showcase their creations in front of a panel of judges. Despite a minor technical issue – the failure of an external hard drive prompting the last minute re-write of some FeelrBot code – both ours team presentations went really well. Digital Tick.It was lucky enough to make it into the final of the ‘Wish I’d Thought of That’ category, but alas, didn’t win. But the effort and quality of the work that they all put in over the week was outstanding. Considering many of them haven’t even got to their GCSEs yet, it just shows how far they can go if they decide they want to stay working with technology. Whether they choose to go to college, university or straight into work, it’s fair to say they’ve all got bright futures ahead!
I had no idea what to expect going in to the week, but came out truly inspired after seeing 10 young people, age 14-17, develop some really cool software in such a short time. I don’t know how much I helped. Other than driving to Maplin to buy parts for Feelrbot, I don’t think I helped at all. But that’s not what matters. I had such a great time working with them that week, and met so many amazing people. The week left me with a sense of fulfilment I didn’t think I’d ever have a chance of getting, and an awareness I may have more varied skills than I thought. Perhaps enough to be able to do something like that full time, if such an opportunity exists. No matter what, I definitely plan to take part in Young Rewired State again next year, and hope to see some of the same people taking part again, hopefully having encouraged some of their friends to sign up too!
After the final of Young Rewired State I did then have to go back to work. Although I rarely feel good going into the office, never had I felt more deflated than I did on that Monday morning. Any good feeling that I was still carrying from YRS was instantly sapped, and I was back in the mundane world I have never really enjoyed. But there was light ahead. The following weekend I was then off work for another week, to volunteer again. This time with our Scout group camping at the Essex International Jamboree.
Other than also involving young people, 19 of our Scouts, this was completely different to YRS. There were no computers (other than a netbook to occasionally check emails and charge phones). There was no software development. There was no office. Instead, there was the great outdoors, tents, gas stoves, dodgy showers and 9000 other people to share the experience with. I knew a few of the Scouts from having helped at their meetings a few times, but I went in to the week hardly knowing any names. But by the end of the week we all knew each other really well.
This was my first time camping with the Scouts, and also my first Jamboree (I had never been to any when I was in Scouts). Because all of the activities for the Scouts (and there were loads!) were run by the Jamboree staff, we were there mainly to look after our Scouts, put up the tents, cook all their food, and make sure they had the best time possible. I definitely didn’t expect to find the experience as awesome as I did.
The atmosphere there was like nothing I’d experienced before. It was comparable to a music festival, but much friendlier, without the problems you get when thousands of drunk people gather in one place. Everyone there, of any age, was there because they are part of Scouting or Guiding, and so there is this shared connection. It means you can easily talk to anyone and know you have something in common.
We were extremely lucky that other than a few short showers, the sun was shining for the entire week. As I’m writing this my ears are still slightly painful from the sunburn, although fortunately they were the only part of me to get sunburnt. During the week I was able to go to some of the activities with the Scouts, and spent most of that time taking pictures. I’ve got some great shots of some of them body-zorbing in the Challenge zone, wearing fake wounds from the Casualty Simulation in the Survival zone and engraving glass in the Creative zone. If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen some of these show up on Twitpic, which you may still see on the sidebar of this blog. I even managed to go kayaking during the water activities, which given the high temperatures that day was definitely worth it.
It was the longest time I had spent camping in a tent that I can remember, and it was great just to disconnect for a week and be away from technology. I’m not complaining that they provided shower facilities though, so it wasn’t completely roughing it, and while they weren’t perfect (low water pressure and ever-changing opening hours), I was one of the rare few to shower every morning. I wouldn’t normally be bothered on shorter camps, but as it was a week long, and sunscreen was essential, it was really good to start each day clean. Sunscreen is definitely important, and certainly stopped me from burning, but I really dislike how it makes you feel greasy all day. Being able to shower that off made it much more bearable.
Both of these events left me with such a great feeling inside, knowing that in some small way I helped them have a great week, and enjoyed myself while doing it. After the Jamboree the back to work thud was even worse, as I had now had 2 weeks I had truly enjoyed (in one month too!), and knew that wasn’t likely to happen again.
Recently some friends have suggested I become a primary school teacher. They know I enjoy running Beaver Scouts, and think it would be something I’d be good at. But I don’t want to go in to education like that. One of the key differences between both Young Rewired State & the Jamboree, and school, is that the young people who took part in those events wanted to be there. They made a choice to go. They were committed to taking part, learning, helping out if it was asked. Yes there was some messing around – afterall, they’re not adults. But there were no fights. There was no deliberate disruption. School is different. School is a requirement. School is somewhere they have to go, whether they want to or not. In school it’s all to easy for the ones who want to be there to be overshadowed by the ones who don’t.
It’s one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy school much. Once I got to college (6th form), it was fine. By then, the ones who didn’t want to be in education, weren’t. They’d leave as soon as they’d got through their GCSEs. But I don’t think I’d want to teach at that level either. Being a teacher, on any level, is something that has never appealed to me.
But both of those weeks have shown me how much I enjoy working with young people, above and beyond running a Beaver Scout Colony once a week. Whether that’s doing something that involves technology, which has always been one of my passions, or something else, such as in Scouting. But what they haven’t shown me is how I can do that full time.
I know from experience that it’s all to easy to let the buzz from something like this to fade. Ideas that seem perfect when formed at these events at how to be able to do similar things more often or even for a job quickly die out and get forgotten, as people return to work and the enthusiasm fades. Certainly there have been some great ideas out of YRS that could lead somewhere, provided all those involved work together to keep the buzz and enthusiasm going. I just really hope that this time it’s different. That this time there are enough of us to keep the idea alive, and let it grow into something cool. With this newfound insight into what I like doing & might actually be good at, next year I could be doing something totally different!
So I’m not sure if 6 months between posts is a record for me, but it has certainly been a long time. I’ve thought a few times during that period that I should write something, but then I’ve realised I don’t really have anything to write about.
My best laid plans to build a robot, develop a Windows Phone 7 app, and anything else, have all fallen by the wayside. There’s not really much point developing further for Windows Phone 7 anyway, after it became clear it’s been a well disguised beta test for Windows Phone 8. Any adopter, early or late, is now left carrying a device that can’t be updated to Windows Phone 8, and is less likely to have more apps, as I doubt the major app develops would see now as the time to start widely supporting it!
It’s been 18 months, almost 2 years of me trying to be positive about it, to encourage people it is a worthy smartphone platform, but I can’t in good conscience continue now. In reality it’s been more like 18 months of suffering, particularly with a horrendous on screen keyboard, and being left in the cold when it comes to lack of apps. Lets hope Windows Phone 8 gets more than a sprinkling of apps, and gets the ones people want when they want them, not years after the rest of the world has moved on.
Fortunately last week, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a Google Asus Nexus 7 tablet, when they were sold out almost everywhere. Thanks go to Currys Reserve and Collect service and my local store getting stock in just at the right time. While I’ve had just a week using Android properly for the first time, I am definitely a fan. I know it’s on a tablet, not a phone, but it really does put Windows Phone 7 to shame.
Just the home screen alone, allowing you to mix app icons and interactive widgets beats Metro’s basic combination of Live Tiles (no interaction) and an app list. Come on Microsoft, pull your finger out! At this rate, I’ll have changed phones, probably to a HTC One X, before you can say Windows Phone 8. Android has always had better hardware available, and now I definitely see that they have the better software too.
My baking has continued in the last 6 months. I have made my classic Bacon Brownies a number of times, mainly on request – at Christmas, for friends and for a summer barbecue (after their success last year). But I’ve made other things too. I found the Carrot Cake recipe from The Hairy Bikers tastes great, and really easy to make.
But the next recipe definitely blows that, and anything else, out of the water. After two recent events with the Scouts – a Cub Camp and our Scout Groups 80th Anniversary Celebration, I have found my new favourite baked item thanks to one of the parents – Monkey Bread! The recipe itself is from Lakeland, but if it weren’t for trying some on Cub Camp, I may never have found this delicious combination of cinnamon and sweet dough. I made this for the summer barbecue earlier this month, and although it didn’t turn out perfectly, it was definitely a success. One to make again in the future.
More recently I have done what I set out to do in my current job, and that is complete the graduate scheme. It was this that has kept me there after early on I realised I didn’t like the job. After 6 months, I didn’t want to leave having completed some of the modules, so made the decision to stay at least until the end. Now I’m finally here, and while it makes no difference to my day to day work, it does mean I am in a better position to look for other opportunities. Plus having now worked for 2 years in a large technology company, having some experience should be a benefit should I apply for other jobs.
The next few months are going to be extremely busy, so it may be later on in the year that I start thinking about changing jobs. By the end of October, I will have volunteered as a mentor at Young Rewired State, been on the week long Essex International Jamboree with the Scouts, hopefully moved house, and got married. All of that is likely to take priority over any potential job hunting, especially since there is still wedding planning to do.
Perhaps by next year I’ll be doing a job I enjoy, whether it’s through the ongoing changes where I’m working now (less likely) or elsewhere. I may also have finished building the robot and some of the other stuff I said I would do. Who knows. Next year is a long way off.