Back in August 2022 we welcomed 3 Year in Industry students from Computer Science. The last 12 months have flown by and they are now returning to their studies. We introduced them not long after they started and they spoke about why they had chosen a placement in Research IT and what they hoped to learn during their time with us. It’s now time to look back, say "thank you" and find out what they have learnt over the last year.
First of all, it has to be said what an excellent group of people they are – all deserving of the title “Research Software Engineer”. All the students were given real life actual requested projects which they worked on from start to finish (see below). None of the projects were created especially for them but were real requests to the RSE department - their work will make a difference!
They had to learn a lot very quickly as many of the technologies we use were not part of their Computing Science courses. As well as learning technical skills they also had to work with the researchers who had requested the projects to understand what they were trying to achieve, design something which fitted the bill, implement the design, test it, document it and deploy the releases.
All the students were supervised by experienced RSEs (Research Software Engineers) from our team who were at hand to guide, support, and advise. All three students integrated well within the RSE team and the wider Research IT team, taking part in every aspect of the normal RSE life including our social events! They all exceeded our expectations.
But read what our students have to say about their time with us:
I got to work on multiple web and mobile application projects as part of the RSE team. My very first project was a web application called Nursing and Digital Technologies, where I worked on improving the existing search functionalities for nursing technologies and relevant case studies. Afterwards, I was put on the currently ongoing Decent Work and Cities project tasked with building a data visualisation tool for economic data across six cities and economic metrics. I also worked on building a collaborative workshop planning tool for the ThinkingWare Workshop Toolkit project, designing interactive city maps to visualise translational roadmaps for the Translation Pathways project, and got to work part-time in the Mobile Development Service department on a new mobile app, #so.me, to help researchers gather data on young people’s social media usage and its effects on mental health. I even helped as a volunteer in delivering training courses for researchers, such as the Data Analysis using R course.
Getting to work on many diverse projects during my placement allowed me to develop skills in developing software in an agile development process. Now I am much more confident in gathering requirements, organising work with team members, communicating technical information to train and support people with using software for research, and adapting to changing requirements and feedback at various stages of a project. During my time I acquired experience in using a broad range of technologies on the job, many of which I had not used before.
Being a Research Software Engineer has been challenging but very satisfying for me. The people I worked with were great at supporting me and making me feel part of the team, and I managed to get invaluable experience out of my industry year as a result.
I wish good luck to the next Year in Industry students! I recommend getting involved with as much as you can to get the most out of your year.
- The first web application I developed and deployed (with the help of colleagues), Sharing Student Projects, was the website developed for the project “Developing and disseminating student projects with lay audiences” (Display). The website provides a streamlined way for staff to upload and manage student summaries for both experienced and emerging researchers to use when developing research ideas, as well as providing a resource for the wider non-academic communities.
- ThinkingWare Workshop Toolkit is the second WADS project I have worked on. It is a web application that guides the user through the workshop planning process and generates a formatted Word document as output.
- The mobile application for the SoMe study, which is still in development, will collect data on the daily experiences of social media use shared by young people, with the study aiming to develop a measure for the effect of social media on young people’s mental health.
- After converting to work 50% time in MDS, I’ve also worked on a visual map component of a web application in WADS (still in development), which occurred concurrently with the SoMe mobile app development.
The year in industry has given me the chance to learn and use new technologies I have not used before, with the mobile development and web application deployment process being particularly new as I had no relevant experience in these fields at all. Through working with researchers, turning their requirements into code and dealing with changes in the requirements, it has enhanced many of my soft skills and I was able to experience what it is like working as a Research Software Engineer.
I have gained invaluable work experience here at Research IT thanks to everyone in the RSE team. I would like to thank my line manager, Theresa, for the smooth transition into the role and everyone I’ve worked with for the support and guidance.
During my time here I worked on a variety of projects spanning different technologies and areas. My first project was a web application called Open Research Tracker (formerly My Open Research) which research services use to share data with researchers about open-access publications. I then worked on a mobile app (my very first) called Disaster Plan for the Collections Care team in the library and used the skills I learnt there to transition part-time to the Mobile Development Service team here in the RSE department.
Due to the nature of working on different projects across different platforms, I know far more technologies than I did when I started here a year ago. Most notably I went from zero mobile development knowledge to building a mobile app, starting only with its requirements. However, I would argue the most important skills I’ve gained are the ones that are better taught with experience. Requirements gathering, team discussion, clear communication of design decisions, explaining technical topics in simpler terms, dealing with ‘blockers’ and changing specifications, working with old out-of-date code, etc... I am much better at all these things than I was when I first joined the team.
Overall, the experience was very rewarding. I was given lots of responsibility from day one which made me feel very much a part of the team and help was always available when I needed it.
Thank you to everyone in the Research Software Engineering and Digital Library Development teams for a great year in industry!
As you can see our Year in Industry students have learned a lot and enjoyed their experiences. But we as the Research Software Engineering Department have gained as much from having them with us as well:
Louise Lever, Web Application Development Service (WADS) lead
Both Annie and Benito have made excellent and valuable contributions to multiple projects within the service. They've both shown a refreshing commitment to learning and embracing several systems, development libraries, and services all within a complex and ad-hoc environment. The cross-faculty nature of Research IT has exposed them to several research domains, the challenges that brings to being effective research software engineers and dealing with a diverse group of people. It has been a pleasure to work with them, they will be sorely missed by myself and their WADS peers, and I wish them well in their future endeavours. They would be most welcome to return some day.
Anja Le Blanc, Senior Research Software Engineer
I had the pleasure to line manage and work with Leo over the last year. He has made my job so easy. Most of his time was working with the development team of the library, working on diverse projects involving lots of different technologies. He integrated well both with our RSE group and with the Library’s team. An RSE needs to be both good at picking up new technologies in a short time and communicating with users and other technical people. Leo has mastered all challenges we set. We had excellent feedback from everyone working with him. In the end my involvement with his projects was just minimal/advisory and I had full confidence in the quality of Leo’s work, and I was always well informed about progress.
Theresa Teng, Senior Research Software Engineer
It has been my pleasure to have line managed Annie and Benito in the past year. They’ve been working on various projects with various researchers, as they described above in detail. The diversified works required them to learn new technologies and adapt to new environment, and they, just as any other RSEs in the team, often had to work under the pressure of tight timeframe, unfamiliar research domain, vague requirements, and more. They’ve been committed themselves 100% to the work and made real contributions to the department. It’s such a nice experience to work with them and witness their development over the year. I’ll miss them and hope they’d consider RSE as their future career.
Annie, Benito, and Leo were Research Software Engineers and part of our team, not just students in their year in industry.