Industrial placements and entering the world of work can be a daunting prospect, especially when you’ve never experienced what it’s like to work in industry before. This is something that Liam, now one our Senior Business Systems Engineers within the IT department, understands well.
Liam joined the British Engines Group on a year-long IT placement back in September 2012. Working as a SharePoint Developer, his placement took place between his second and third year at university, Liam carried on his role part-time whilst he completed his final year at university, and then continued onto a full-time position with British Engines after he graduated…
As a former British Engines IT placement student, why do you think work placements are so important?
Placements are a great way to open doors and new opportunities. Personally, I had heard stories about people gaining employment following their work placement, and I was hopeful that I could do the same thing. For me, even if I didn’t get a job at the end of it, I knew that I needed to gain the experience. It’s something that the majority of employers ask for, especially now. It’s a massive advantage to have work experience when you finish university, even if it’s just so that you know what to expect from working in a business environment.
What was your first experience with British Engines like?
I was incredibly nervous to start with. I didn’t know too much about SharePoint development, but I was reassured that it was fine not to know and that all the training needed would be provided on the job.
I studied Computer Forensics at university and the developer opportunity at British Engines gave me the chance to experience a career that I had never considered before. I had studied a couple of development modules on my course, but my placement opened my eyes to a new job that I fell in love with, as clichéd as it sounds.
What were your initial impressions of British Engines and your placement?
I didn’t really have any expectations of the business or my placement, because I’d never worked in an industry or business environment before. I’d worked part-time in retail throughout university so that was all I knew of work, but I was keen to see how a business environment operated.
Throughout my placement, I worked within several of the British Engines companies which gave me a good understanding of how different types of businesses function and how to address their individual needs.
I was given a mentor who was responsible for my training; helping me to understand my role and what was expected of me. He was approachable and easy to talk to which made it much easier to settle into my responsibilities. As my team was really close, I felt supported throughout my placement. I learned quickly not to be afraid to ask questions, because asking questions was going to help me to learn and do my job better.
What did your role involve as an IT placement student?
I had a significant amount of responsibility. Even though I came in as part of a team, often I was the only person working on a project, with support from my mentor. This meant that I was responsible for everything from organising meetings with the person who requested a new system, to estimating deadlines; the projects could sometimes last three to four weeks, or three to four months. It was a great sense of accomplishment to see something from start to finish, knowing that I’d achieved the final product. I initially learnt how to code in VB.NET, a simple but widely used language. I used this for about six months and then switched over to using C# which was very similar to Java that I had been taught at university and helped to keep British Engines in line with industry standards.
What happened once your placement came to an end?
Throughout your placement you have regular meetings with a visiting tutor and your manager in order to assess your progress. I wanted to keep my foot in the door and to keep doing what I was doing, so my manager and I discussed the possibility of me continuing to work while I went back to university for my final year. I felt confident that I had proven myself enough to be able to ask for the opportunity, and was employed part-time.
It was tough to manage both work and university at the same time, but I was in a good position when it came to writing my dissertation as I based it loosely on the work that I had already done and the things that I had learned whilst working for the business over the previous two years.
You were employed full-time after you graduated, what did your graduate role involve?
Once the formalities had been dealt with, the position was a continuation of what I’d already been doing. British Engines gives real-life working experience and gives placement students real responsibilities from the very start, so it didn’t feel too different going into full-time employment. My role within the business seemed to organically develop to fit with the stage that I was at in my education and career.
After I’d graduated, we took on another placement student who I became responsible for and mentored in the same way that I had been. I loved it because it was a great opportunity for my professional development, especially having been in that same position. It’s rewarding to be able to help guide somebody else’s career journey.
What kind of projects did you work on and what has been your biggest challenge?
In 2014 we began working on a new project at CMP in Cramlington. In a team of three, we worked there for about three years, learning a completely new system, a new style and new code. It was a big challenge but British Engines provided us with multiple training courses to help us gain a better understanding of the system.
In 2017 two new starters joined the team as Junior Business Systems Engineers and shortly after, the original team was promoted. We are now Senior Business Systems Engineers and we are each responsible for a different site. I am responsible for our site at Simonside and so have been working to develop and look after the systems belonging to Rotary Power and Michell Bearings.
The biggest challenge was working on this new system implementation. It was an unknown for everyone, but in some ways that made it easier because a least everybody was at the same level of understanding and could learn and develop together. The SharePoint systems that I had been working on during my placement and as a graduate varied in size and usage, but they didn’t come close to the new system which is on a much bigger scale, with more than 800 users.
What would your advice be to those students who are looking for an IT placement or considering a British Engines graduate role?
Don’t worry if you don’t know the answer to something in the beginning, you’re not expected to know everything when you’re just starting out, so don’t be scared to ask for help if you need it. If you ask, help’s always given and often if you ask questions, it means that you get more done and learn more from the answer.
Are you inspired by Liam’s story? Find out more about our placement and graduate opportunities by visiting our Career Zone, or take a look at our current Senior Business Systems Engineer vacancy here.