Return ticket

After being away from Uni for 15 months, my thoughts started shift towards my return. One of the complicating factors was that I missed an exam for a module just before my interruption was excepted so technically I had failed that module and one of the other modules was Web Development module that was split over both semesters and involved working in pairs. The original module involved using the Plone Content Management System but while I was away it was switched from using Plone to using Drupal so none of the work I already did could still count towards the assessment after the interruption.

I was asked to come back 18 months into my interruption to repeat the module I missed and redo the work for Web Development. It was strange returning after what seemed such a long time back. Naturally, most of my cohort had graduated by then so I lost some friends and had to get to know a new bunch of students.

I actually think coming back earlier helped me. In the second semester of the second year there were a few modules that required group work and the danger was that I’d find it difficult to integrate into group work as the rest of the cohort would be familiar with each other and I would have been an unknown entity but returning early meant I got to work out who the bright students were and they got to see I was one of them too.

I bedded in quite well and got good grades for that second semester including a record 90% mark for the double module that was Web Developments. I must confess, when I got that grade I was a bit surprised because I had to learn HTML and CSS in a hurry and I did a terrible job of styling the websites. I am a little better at this now but I still feel much more at home working with programming logic rather than making things look pretty. Where I excelled most at Uni was my ability to analyse the decisions I’d made, why I’d made them and what I’d do differently in the future. I’d do this in great detail. Even today, this is still one of my key strengths.

After having lost 18 months through an interruption of study, you may well have thought that I’d want to get my degree finished as soon as possible but you have to remember that one of my main motivators behind my return to education was because I wanted a job where I was more than just cannon fodder, whereby my voice had some sway. My intuition told me that it was crucial to get that professional working experience as soon as possible.

In the second semester I probably spent as much time attending work placement fairs, writing CVs and covering letters and attending interviews as I did on my actual university work and it eventually paid off.

I applied for a wide range of placements. It was less important to me what I was doing than the fact I was doing something. I wanted to work somewhere where I could get a foot in the door and build a career for myself.

I taylored my CV and covering letters to the company offering the placement and I did my research about the companies before I applied. I was shortlisted as one of the final three candidates for every placement I applied for.

The first company was a small family run business called Gabriel Scientific Consultancy, this company was quite small and operated from what seemed like a large domestic dwelling in Didsbury, not too far from my house. It was a company that produced software for PDAs and mobile devices as well as printer repairs. I got to the final two but the other candidate was selected and I was quite disappointed at the time.

The next company was an web based education business called ten ticks in Bolton. It would have been a difficult commute but it sounded like an ideal role. I would have loved to work there but I was up against one of my University friends and he knew a bit more about HTML than I did but they gave me very positive feedback and said they had no doubt I’d find a placement, and that boosted my confidence.

I had two interviews with a company called Milikens in Wigan. It was a company that made things like cat mats and they wanted to train a student up using SAP. Again, I was up against a friend for this role and I was in the final two but I actually avoided answering the phone for a couple of days after the second interview because I didn’t really feel any enthusiasm for the job. I was dreading being offered the position whilst I was waiting for a decision from another placement that interested me far more.

Another role I applied for was with the Odeon cinema chain. The role was more of a DBA role than a developer one. I would have got free Odeon cinema tickets as a perk but that was the only thing attractive about it. There was no chance of a permanent role coming from it and the knowledge I would have gained sounded like it was quite specific to Odeon.

There was also a job at a data centre in Staffordshire. I forget the name of the company. Their building was massive but again it was a SQL intensive role and I got my placement before my scheduled second interview so I turned it down.

Then there was Creative Lynx. From the offset of applying, Creative Lynx felt a little bit different. Most of the placement that were advertised gave you very little information to go off in terms of what you would be doing but the Creative Lynx brief was more detailed and therefore more attractive.

As usual, I tailored my application to the company. Creative Lynx had a website with a number of key words they used to describe the company on the splash home screen. They were Seasoned, Liberated, Polished, Passionate, Blooming and Faithful. It was too big a gift to resist so I used the exact same keywords to describe myself in the cover letter and it worked a treat!

I turned up for my first interview over an hour early. I wanted to make a good impression but I also misjudged how far close it was from the city centre.

The building was on Houldsworth Street at the back end of Piccadilly near Ancoats. It felt like two houses knocked through from the inside. There was an old fashioned Duke box in the reception and I sat patiently, reading the magazines on the coffee table. I needn’t have bothered turning up early as the guy that interviewed me, Brett Cooper, was running late. He gave me a quick tour of the office and more information about the company and the interview continued as quite an informal chat from then on.

What excited me about this company was the work they did sounded interesting and the company was growing rapidly and they had a history of people starting as students with them and working their way up. It was everything I wanted in a placement. I was really pleased when they called me back for a second interview.

The second interview was with Brett again and Dave Hunt. Dave was also very enthusiastic about the company and very direct with his questioning. I remember him asking me if he thought I was clever. It was one of those interesting questions designed to stump you, do you say yes and appear arrogant or do you play it down and appear unconfident? I think I just listed my strengths and asked them to decide.

The placement was initially advertised as two roles but as I spoke to them they told me they hadn’t yet decided whether they were going to take on one or two employees. They were really looking for one programmer and one  front end developer. They’d already picked their programmer and HTML and CSS was not my forte. I told them that I could pick up new skills quickly and that I was flexible and willing to do whatever they needed.

After the second interview I hadn’t heard anything back by the following day so I followed it up. Finally, after a couple of days of waiting I got the call and I was delighted they offered me the placement.