The Big Picture
Danny works as a Software Engineer for Capital One, based in Nottingham. He was offered a graduate placement there following a three month internship he did in 2019 and started his current role in September 2020.
Danny’s graduate placement lasts two years and has three rotations into different job families, with his current one being quality engineering where he writes tests to check code.
“I know at least four other people doing quality engineering that are also physics students and so we do a lot of automation and things like that and I think that there must be something that appeals to physicists about this job role where like everything is automated, we make everything as easy as possible.”
Day to Day
A typical work day for Danny begins with a stand-up meeting where his team get together to discuss what they’ve been doing, any challenges they encountered, and whether or not they need help from their colleagues. Most of Danny’s time is spent programming, but a small section is reserved for filling out paperwork.
“Because I work on a customer-facing application, we have to make things called change requests and we have to get approval and things before we can actually push it to customers.”
The Application Process
“You do have to pass a little coding exam when you join, at the interview stage, but it’s nothing extreme or anything like that, there was a quite common coding question too, something you could research and that was almost expected.”
When looking for jobs, Danny had already decided that software engineering was the field he wanted to go into, so they were the jobs he applied for. He, like everyone else, received some rejections, and has this to say about it:
“You have to remember that there’s thousands of people that apply and you can’t take it personally. It’s easy to do that, it’s easy to take it personally, you know like am I just not good enough? But the chances are that there’s probably so many people that applied that you were good enough, it’s just that there were not enough spaces for you. You know if you start thinking negative things then it kinda gets to you the next time you apply and it can kind of be like a negative spiral, so you kinda just have to keep going.”
Capital One gave Danny lots of support with learning their proprietary software so that he could carry out his job to the best of his ability. Danny enjoyed coding whilst at the University of Nottingham but remarked that coding at his job in an enterprise environment was different to coding at university, so there was a steep learning curve that he was supported throughout by the company.
“We get given a mentor when we join who is a senior member in the team. They are someone who is really experienced and who has been in our shoes before, who can help us out and show us the ropes and introduce us to the project and stuff.”
If Danny wanted to be thrown in the deep end to figure out the programming for himself, he felt as though Capital One would’ve accommodated that desire.
Asking For Help
“So it can be a little bit embarrassing sometimes to ask questions, especially if you feels like it could be a simple question but the chances are you’re probably wrong and it’s not a simple question, like there’s always loads of moving parts, especially with big projects that we work on, and there are no silly questions.”
The Physics Connection
“I would say that one of the biggest things that a physics degree teaches you rather than just physics is problem solving and how to approach a problem and tackle it in a methodical and systematic way.”
More so than his degree, Danny uses the valuable problem solving skills that are innately built into a physics course and are hard to teach. Being able to break things down into manageable chunks and understand how to put those chunks together at the end is a vital skill in any workplace, but particularly coding where isolating chunks of code is a form of debugging.
Danny’s colleagues come from mainly computer science backgrounds, although there are some chemists, some more specialist degrees such as game design, and some people who don’t have a degree but just plenty of experience built up over time. People from these different disciplines approach problems in different ways and Danny finds this very useful to the team, and to himself to learn different techniques of problem solving.
Danny didn’t have a huge desire to do physics as a career from the get go. He found that he enjoyed maths, which led him to physics, which led him to coding simulations for physics phenomena, and from there he discovered that he very much enjoys coding.
“There are many many days where I’ll be doing something and it will feel like something I would do in my free time. It’s like am I actually supposed to be doing this? Am I working right now?”
The Next Step
“I mean I really enjoy programming and I really enjoy the web so I really want to stay in this area.”
Danny doesn’t have plans to move into a different sector, though his next rotation revolves around web design, which does not require any coding but will utilise his physics degree.
“So for instance, we do user research and things like that to decide which buttons are in the best place for people to click on more often and having statistics stuff on my physics degree will help with that and things like that.”
Danny’s advice for undergraduates or early graduates would be to start looking as soon as possible for what you want to do, something you enjoy doing, and double down on it.
“Try and find a thing that you excel in and become T-shaped, so have your breadth of knowledge but also have your little T where you spike down and have really specific knowledge in one area. It could be anything, preferably something you enjoy, that sort of thing, and I think that’ll get you a long way if you have the breadth and the specifics in one area as well.”