Confidence, Coding and Challenges: My NMI Placement

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Rob Barclay, Computer Science student from UWE Bristol, talks about his placement year at NMI

Throughout university, we are constantly told by tutors and professors that a work placement offers the most valuable experience of working in the ‘real world’, along with all the invaluable industry knowledge it brings. I’m happy to say that they couldn’t have been more right!  

I was aware of the close links NMI had with our university via previous students having had both fun and successful placements there, so it was highly recommended as a great place for me to get this valuable ‘real world’ experience. I saw that the company was creating real impact within the payment industry, processing millions of transactions yearly. 

How I went about finding a placement

First and foremost I had to show the company I wanted to work there. I sent in my CV and completed an online ‘code challenge’. The final stages of the process was a phone interview followed by a face to face interview.  

I would say that the best tip for an interview is to be as prepared as possible, this shows that you have a genuine interest in the company and learning new skills. I did loads of research and made sure I could really express why I was so keen to seize the opportunity!  

When I was offered the placement I immediately accepted the offer. Like all new jobs it seemed daunting at first. However, the company couldn’t have been more welcoming.  The team made me feel really relaxed along with a buzz that made me feel I wanted to work there.  From being able to dress casually to free fruit, and breakfast on a Wednesday.

What I did at NMI …

I joined the platform team, a group of 6 people; a team lead, four developers and one tester. All focusing on developing the central processing layer which is the fundamental server powering all our products and services. 

After some initial training, I was assigned my first task. This involved setting up the CI (continuous integration) for one of the company’s new flagship products. This is widely used within the software development industry as a whole is not touched at university. This experience has shown that it is necessary to have for my future career.  

I always felt in control of my workload and whilst the work was challenging, I always knew I was only ever expected to work to the best of my ability and I was able to ask for assistance.

Working life at NMI… 

Being surrounded by industry professionals helped increase my coding skills exponentially and complemented what I learned at university. I felt extremely supported by the team. It was also satisfying to be able to work on other projects where I could take the skills that I had picked up in my lectures and practicals, adapt them to the scope of the problem in front of me and create a solution that will potentially be used by thousands of people. It was an unexpected but great experience to know that I was making such a difference from the get-go. 

I have also had the chance to partake in company-wide presentations, cross-team meetings and representing the company to future candidates at UWE careers fair. All helping me increase my confidence and communication; both vital skills required in any industry.  

By adapting to a full-time job, focussed specifically on the field that I study, has given me a massive confidence boost for my final year, and future jobs to come. As previously mentioned, doing a placement is an invaluable experience and I’ve really enjoyed my time at NMI so far.  

I thoroughly recommend anyone considering doing a placement year to just go for it! 


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51 Months Later – back in the life with Zircon…

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By Juan Acosta Fisco, Graduate and Software Engineer at Zircon Software

My name is Juan and I am a software engineer at Zircon Software. The title of this post is related to my previous blog post for Zircon (Ten Months in the Life …, available on the company website). As one might expect, a lot has changed in that time, not least my academic progression from undergraduate to graduate and making my way back to Zircon. The focus of this post will be to compare my perspective from back then with the one I hold now. 

As a placement student at Zircon, you spend a lot of time learning. Concretely in my case I learned the languages Python, JavaScript, HTML, CSS and SQL; got to grips with object oriented programming and threading; and acquired skills in web development and database management.

As a graduate, the training-working balance is shifted somewhat towards the latter, but I am pleased to report that I am still learning, having now also added Java & C# to my repertoire as well as developing experience with messaging patterns and Xamarin Forms. Furthermore, Zircon takes a proactive approach in ensuring you are continually improving your skillset, building in time for training and suggesting development routes. 

The cohesive and supportive work environment at Zircon continues. Some faces have changed, due to the period of time I was away to finish up my degree. However many are still here and the office culture that has proved so conducive to Zircon’s success prevails, curated and maintained by all those privileged to form a part of it. 

In my previous post I touched on Zircon’s tangible ambition and hunger for success, well it seems like once you have a taste for it nothing else will do. Zircon has roughly doubled in terms of staff numbers and turnover since then, and continues to aim higher. Regular in-house communication and coordination ensures that we are all striving for, and ultimately achieving, this common goal. 

Coming back in a graduate capacity has offered up fresh new challenges which I didn’t experience as a placement student. I work much more closely with clients, auditors and project managers to deliver high quality software. I have had excellent guidance in navigating these new challenges and have not just acquired new professional skills, useful in any context, but have also become a more complete software engineer. 

As a placement student I discussed the excitement and motivation that comes with the opportunity to work on a product to be deployed and used regularly in the real world, by real users, for a real application. Upon graduating I wanted to return as Zircon is always keen on acquiring new customers and breaking into new markets. I have also had a chance to do something I didn’t predict; revisit a past project. 

The product I worked on as a placement student is live and stable, with continuing enhancements as new requirements come in. The opportunity to revisit this work was very gratifying, like catching up with an old friend. As I come to the end of this post, I feel like this is perhaps the best and closest metaphor to how I feel about my experience here as a graduate versus a placement student, a feature enhancement.