Jillian Keenan

My Placement Journey as an Intern Software Engineer

Jillian Keenan

I’m currently studying for a BSc Hons Computing Science degree at Ulster University. As part of this degree we undertake a year of work experience, this basically means that after 2 years of academic teaching we finally get to test out our knowledge in the tech industry. In this article, I’ll be sharing my reflections and experience on placement as an Intern Software Engineer at Liberty Information Technology.

Somewhere I could Learn

When I was applying for a placement I knew that I wanted to work for a company that would invest time in practical training. I wanted to learn and that was a big part of why I wanted to complete my placement at Liberty IT.

For the first 6 weeks of my placement, I was given expert software development training with Instil as well as UX training from Fathom. Throughout my placement, I was able to sign up for several external courses that I thought would benefit me as a developer. Something I didn’t have access to in University was security training, which I was able to put myself forward for. This exposed me to the preventative strategies that enterprise companies employ to prevent security exploits from becoming a problem.

What I really loved was the passion that everyone shared for their discipline and the drive to spread the knowledge. We had “Tech Talk Thursdays”, where anyone could pick a technology, framework, or programming language that they wanted to talk about and give a workshop or presentation. This was a great way for me to learn and ask questions in a supportive environment.

Halfway through my placement, the company held an AWS Summit; AWS Gurus and in-house developers collaborated and talked about the tech behind AWS and the power of the cloud.

All of these examples demonstrate how Liberty IT is willing to invest in their employees. You are treated as an equal and given many resources and opportunities to improve your skills.

Somewhere I could challenge myself

I wanted a placement where opportunities to challenge myself were made available. I volunteered at numerous internal and external events, this was a great avenue for me to gain confidence and better my communication skills.

Within my first couple of weeks of being at Liberty IT, I was afforded the opportunity to attend Liberty Mutual’s company-wide hackathon, ‘Ignite’ held in Boston, Massachusetts. After presenting in front of 600 fellow competitors we were awarded the Technical Excellence Award. After the hackathon, I was able to explore Boston and New York… and it was unforgettable. Looking back, building up the confidence to ask my manager if I could attend Ignite was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Below is an image of me taking it all in atop the empire state building.

New York

Going into placement I wasn’t massively confident in my abilities, but through the opportunities provided to challenge myself and gain real-world experience, I have made leaps and bounds in this area. The supportive environment at Liberty has definitely played a part in this, with numerous colleagues helping and encouraging me in my endeavours.

Somewhere I could have fun

Aside from the normal day-to-day projects I was also able to immerse myself in a social community of developers at Liberty IT.

Regular Social Committee events were held throughout the year to allow employees to interact in an environment outside work. This was another one of the great traits of the Liberty IT ethos, they really encouraged a proper work-life balance.

It allowed developers from different teams and areas to build relationships throughout the company outside of the working environment. This was a great way to have fun and made for some great laughs! The image below is me and some of my colleagues and Belfast PRIDE 2018. An amazing day celebrating and showing my support to the LGBTQ+ community.

Belfast Pride 2018

The end of one journey is the beginning of another

My placement has been one of the best years for me, and I would highly recommend any student to take this year and make the most of it. A year in the industry is the most valuable experience I’ve gained, it teaches you skills that you can’t learn through traditional academia but only experience through professional practice; skills that will be highly useful in the rest of your career.

I can already see the benefits of what I learned during my placement year transferring into my final year of university.

The University and the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment, in particular, recognise that some of their students during their period out in industry can have a significant impact upon the organisation they are placed with through innovations such as the development of new processes or the application and integration of new technologies. Due to my efforts throughout the year, Liberty nominated me for this award for my Innovation on Placement Award (2018) — which I won!

Jillian Keenan
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