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Jimi Harrold

Jimi Harrold

University of Nottingham

MSci Physics with a Year in Industry
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The Beginning

My name is Jimi Harrold and I have worked at CGI (Consultants for Government and Industry). I worked primarily in the space sector, but I also did several months of defence development as a Junior Developer. CGI was one of many places I applied to, however the reason I accepted their offer over others was their national presence, which allowed me to live somewhere cheap and somewhat close to family. The idea of working in an office was always a big negative for me and so the job prospect itself sounded quite grim initially.

The Big Picture

CGI is, at its core, a programming firm. They take government contracts for certain software and hardware and develop it for them. They are actually incredibly involved behind the scenes. Most of their projects cannot be talked about, however one of their more public endeavors are “smart meters”. Each project is different in CGI and so they use many different programming languages, however primarily C, C++ and Java were the ones I saw and used the most.

My Role

I attended quite a few visits to other organizations and companies. The main role of these was to talk to clients about the progress of the project. Because I was an expert on a certain bit of software they were using, I often got called to other departments to consult on the development of their own implementation of the software.

That’s not to say you need to be an expert in anything or a god at programming to thrive at CGI, their induction was very comprehensive. This honestly was the most boring thing I have ever done in my life and I can say that with 100% certainty, and nowadays when I hear a computerised voice I shudder because of it. However I did come out the other side very well versed in professional programming practises which did help a lot when it came to work.

CGI has amazing services for the people working there and generous lunch breaks, with plenty of snacks and free drinks, and in general the atmosphere is amazing. Projects specifically have a good and interesting feel to them and how they are managed, and it shows in how nice and happy the people working there are. I think CGI is a great place to go if you want to settle down for a few years.

My Experience at CGI

Though I cannot talk much about what I did, I can say that I was developing prototype software for a defence project. My days mainly consisted of programming test programs using C# as a base, with reports every week of how I was getting on. I made significant progress in this problem which ended up kickstarting the project. 

The only real challenge I faced was my own laziness, when working from home it’s very easy to sleep in for example. The only real way to beat this is willpower, you just got to not give in to temptation, which I succeeded in doing maybe half the time.

The second project was again a prototyping role which I gained because of my success in the last project. I was required to learn Java but I did have some prior use of the language and it is similar to C# so this was only a minor inconvenience. They employed an AGILE workflow which meant my input was strongly valued on tasks, I learnt a lot during this project about both the workplace and how to function in it.

The big challenge for me was the commute to Leatherhead every day, the Great British train system is a great big mess. The commute was so bad I learnt to drive and bought a car. If I was to give any advice to any prospective students, make sure you don’t live over an hour away from the place you work.

Overall I enjoyed the second project a lot more, I felt very valued in the work I was doing and the problems I was tasked to solve were very engaging. I won an internal award for the standard of work I was producing which netted me £150. 

The Physics Connection

A physics degree doesn’t initially seem like a great fit for a firm that mainly programs, but they actually employ a lot of physicists. Primarily for the powerful problem-solving techniques physicists have, which are vital in such work. A secondary need for them specifically in the project I was on was for handling anything to do with reference frames or orbital mechanics, as programmers don’t often know much about these topics and their intricacies it makes progress very slow without some dedicated physical minds on the project.

Benefit of the Placement

From doing my Industrial Placement I am returning to university with more vigour than before, university feels fresh and I appreciate the relaxing nature of having your own place with friends and going at your own pace. While being fun, work is tiring and makes it harder to find time for yourself, university does not share this, and I am looking forward to being able to pursue hobbies and personal projects more.

The Learning Curve

On the technical side of things, I learnt a great deal about programming in a professional environment, which will be invaluable after my degree while looking for jobs. I am now professional in many industry standard systems as well as Java and C#.

I also learnt about just how vast the consultancy industry is, it employs 100,000s of people collectively all with many different strengths. I had no idea it was like this before my Industrial Placement, and it has certainly opened up avenues for me for the future.

I am far better at project management and team work, as well as presentational skills. However, my communication skills probably took a dip because the business environment is full of acronyms and hollow sentences and I had to absorb such words. Organisational skills and time management skills didn’t really improve one way or another due to the fact that they aren’t terribly encouraged as long as you get the work done they don’t care too much how. I would say overall those are the skills that need to be developed more, as I cannot rely on university or even work to hammer them in for me.

I certainly gained a lot of confidence during my placement. Coming into a work environment full of people who have been programming for years professionally is scary, however I quickly learned that even senior developers google most programming problems and that my imposter syndrome was indeed just a syndrome and not well-placed fears.

How my Placement has Impacted my Future

This project has given me great insight into the type of work I do not want to do. I did enjoy my time a great deal working on the project. However, office job work is not for me. I do not appreciate the office politics or the corporate talk or the 2-hour meetings which could have been a 200 word email. This is a great thing to know though, I have very clear goals about the types of jobs I do want to do and now have time to put myself in a place to get there. I am far more likely to pursue a PhD because of this placement, primarily because research work offers more fulfilment for me personally.

I found this year invaluable to my progression to becoming a fully-fledged adult. My goals and ambitions have never been clearer. The people I met in this past year were all wonderful and positive influences on me, and it is nice to know how many good people there are in jobs that are stereotypically portrayed to be for the drab. I always felt supported and most importantly well utilized. 

Overall, I would highly recommend an Industrial placement to any and all students. It is an excellent opportunity to dip your toes into the real world while also gaining a very fresh appreciation for university, perfectly timed for your most important years. While my placement wasn’t perfect and there were issues, the experience itself was invaluable and given the opportunity I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Skills Learned;

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