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Starting out as a web developer: an interview with Bryony Hall
This week we’ve welcomed a brand new junior developer to the fold, and, as is customary with all new members of staff, we’ve pinned her down and asked her to share her wisdom with fellow aspiring developers.
Tell us a little about yourself
I grew up in the South West but came up North to Lancaster University to study for my undergraduate Master’s degree in Computer Science with Industrial Experience. I chose to study computer science as I had taken ICT at A-Level and really enjoyed the coding experience I had gained from it.
I was at Lancaster for four years studying a variety of courses from discrete mathematics to distributed systems and databases. It also involved learning many different programming languages such as Java, C, Assembly Code, HTML and CSS as well as PHP for my projects.
The four year undergraduate Masters also included 18 weeks of work experience which I completed with NuBlue, a local Lancaster based agency. On top of this I also completed a voluntary 8 week work experience placement with the InfoLab21 at Lancaster University. These, combined with my third and fourth year placements, confirmed my decision to pursue a career in the web development sector. Towards the end of my final year at university I received an offer to join Fluid Creativity after my graduation.
What attracted you to Fluid Creativity?
I was attracted to Fluid Creativity because it was a modern digital agency at the cutting edge of web development and digital scheme management in Manchester.
Their focus on the digital alone highlighted their drive within this sector, which was important to me. Their multiple awards gave the impression of an agency striving to achieve the best, as well as having a key interest in their people – shown through its Investors in People Bronze Award.
However, the primary attraction to Fluid for me was that it was a company that did things its own way and didn’t try to conform to everyone else’s way of thinking. As Fluid Creativity’s clients are able to communicate with all members of the team, it was clear clients would receive the best service possible. This client-focused approach really appealed to me.
What challenges do you think young developers face in today’s market?
Although there is a lot of demand for developers in the current market, this does not mean there is a lack of competition for the employment opportunities available. But the biggest challenge is staying up to date with the technology and languages as they evolve.
Where most courses use textbooks, by the time a book comes out in this field it will often already be out of date. Therefore by the time you leave college or university the courses you may have learnt whilst there may already be dated.
Staying up to date is key, the education you receive is teaching you how to learn and how to be a developer. Staying up to date and not being left behind will be up to you. They may teach you one language but that is meant to give you the tools to be able to learn other languages of your own accord. No matter how much you learn there will always be more to take on board as technology evolves.
Universities and colleges have come under criticism in the past for failing to adequately prepare students for employment. What were your own experiences of this while you were studying?
I would actually say my experience has been the absolute opposite of this. Firstly, my degree at Lancaster provided courses to help with interview techniques and CV writing as well as access to people willing to proof CVs.
On top of this, there were a range of talks given both by graduates of the university and companies such as IBM who would detail the interview process they used and schemes they had available.
Lastly, Lancaster not only involved work experience as part of their degrees over multiple subjects (including Computer Science) but also had a large role in organising the placements. The opportunity to be involved in them was during the summer, outside of university time.
Lancaster then source companies requiring work, arrange interviews for the students with clients and then notify students if they are successful and convey all information regarding the placements. This process was arranged as part of the course, however students were also given the opportunity to organise their own placements if desired.
As part of this, your own choice of company was a primary deciding factor and no one is forced into undesirable placements. Employment offers can result from these, or alternatively give students a head start on other candidates when competing in the job market.
Overall I would say Lancaster do a lot more than most universities when preparing students for employment after graduation. They also assist students looking to find part time jobs through an online job bulletin board, as well as work placements in between studying.
What advice would you give for anyone looking to break into web development?
Simply answered: work experience. For me, what made the difference when applying to jobs was the fact I had completed a number of weeks’ experience within the digital sector whilst at university.
This not only enhances your value to companies by having real world experience, but also gives you an invaluable insight into the sector in which you wish to pursue your career. Companies will tend to take on anyone from aged 16 plus for work experience for any number of weeks on a paid or unpaid basis. If they don’t advertise it on their website try contacting them and ask if they are taking anyone for work experience in the near future.
There is a wealth of information out there about the web development industry and IT more generally, and exposing yourself to this will give you a more thorough understanding of it and what’s happening at the time within it. Conferences like ‘IT’s not just for boys’, which I attended, displays your interest in the sector to employers and attending them can give you advice from those who have broken into the industry already. They also offer the opportunity to network with others and gain knowledge of relevant companies in the industry.
By learning these you will stand yourselves in good stead and will stand out in interviews.
Knowledge of different CMS platforms would probably be my last piece of advice. From a basic viewpoint of knowing which are the popular platforms being used, to knowing what the benefits and strengths of each of them are. Having used various platforms you can then voice your opinions on them from personal experience. Having a knowledge of these things – or practical experience of using them – can also help you stand out with employers as you have some experience of the tools they will be using.
Any top tips for placement year interviews?
Lots of things can make a difference in placement interviews, from having the right attitude and being the right fit for the company, to what you do with your free time. People who keep themselves active in their spare time always appear more motivated, and from completing projects to part time jobs and volunteering, it all helps you bring real-world skills to an interview.
These things show an eagerness to keep busy and not to coast along doing the absolute minimum. An employee will always be more valuable if they enjoy what they do and strive to do their best.
You don’t have to know everything to be valuable, just show a willingness to learn and be honest about what you can do. Finally, knowledge of who the company are should always be your first consideration. If you turn up with no idea of who the company are they will think you aren’t interested as you’ve not bothered to find out about them. Show your interest and portray this with examples of what you do at the moment.
Can you give us a quick overview of the projects you are currently working on?
If there’s anything you’d like to ask about breaking into web development, feel free to tweet us @fluidcreativity or ask away in the comments. On behalf of Lee and the entire team, we’d like to warmly welcome Bryony to Fluid Creativity.