The Big Picture
James began a placement with the technology company IBM in June 2016. He was assigned to a team that works on maintaining computer systems throughout the company network.
“We were in charge of the maintenance and upkeep of a few thousand virtual machines that the build and test teams were using… if something went wrong, we’d go fix it…”
The Learning Curve
James quickly familiarised himself with the programming language Perl, which he used to maintain computer networks. After a period of several power cuts, James realised that much of his work could be automated. He decided to learn how to use the software package Ansible, which helps set up automatic responses to common computer problems.
“It all started off with proofs of concepts within our team… we would all group together and see what we could do to automate tasks… because we spent this time developing the proofs of concepts, it was very easy to demonstrate our approach later on…”
After demonstrating that many tasks could be automated, James and his colleagues decided to expand their vision.
“We set about completely redesigning our infrastructure and how we talked to it, so we could automate the process… we took essentially our entire team’s worth of work into complete automation…”
In James’ Words
The Physics Connection
James recognised that the problem solving skills he learnt throughout his physics degree were very closely linked to skills required for programming. Furthermore he felt that the persistence and strong work ethic his studies had developed, helped him to apply himself at IBM.
“If you can problem-solve, you can program… it’s a logic problem… so you can give me a problem in physics, or you can give me a problem in programming, and I think about how to solve it in a very similar way… that doesn’t really change much across the two…”
The Professional Skills Stuff
During his time at IBM and in order to receive approval for his proposed improvements, James presented his plans to senior IBM employees, he also developed confidence presenting in front of larger audiences. He established further communication skills by working within a group situation and with other team members.
“As interns we actually led the project… we were the ones who were selling it to management… we were talking to some of the really high-ups… we got as high as director level…”
IBM is a multinational technology company with over 350,000 employees in more than 170 countries. James was based at their site in Hursley, Hampshire. He found the atmosphere to be very inclusive and supportive, with plenty of opportunities to participate in both professional and social events.
“There are about 200 interns every year, so there is a bit of an intern community… we sat and had lunch every day as a big group… it was a really sociable time…”
The Final Word…
“Don’t be afraid to apply for something you don’t think you’re qualified for… it instantly has a bit of a click with the employer… they ask themselves, ‘Why is this person applying for that? They must be really interested, because they’ve applied for something that they’re obviously not doing already’…”
…And the Next Step
James completed his MPhys degree in 2018 and returned to IBM to work in a graduate role. His role involves mixed responsibilities between the common infrastructure for the CICS development and tests teams, and one of the developers and advocates for the OS Galasa project, which provides an integration test framework for enterprise hybrid cloud applications.
“I’ve actually become a full-time Java developer now… it’s a bold new role, and a lot of fun…”