Looking back, it has been nearly a year since my last internship post – a long time if anyone actually reads this blog or a heartbeat for the fast paced world of the internet.
My absence has been for the sake of Completing my Applied Computer Science BSc at Reading University. Something which was less than appealing after a year of paid work at Microsoft UK which you can read all about in the past. Returning to the student life not only brings a pay cut, but a change of lifestyle. I have never been one for regularly getting sloshed and flailing around in town, but none the less – trading in my Jaguar XJ and taking up residence in a 1960s, tissue box sized room with only freezer foods for sustenance was a culture shock at the very least.
But even that was a whole academic year ago, 3 terms, 10 modules, countless coursework, and one near heart attack.
The heart attack, if you are wondering, is thankfully metaphoric – and came in the form of “Preliminary Classification Release Day”. As the delightfully descriptive name suggests, the day when our classifications (1st, 2:1, 2:2 etc) are released, and each students 3/4 year stay along with their value as a human being is rounded down to a number. This, as you can imagine is a stressful enough experience without any amplification. Our school however decided that to help ease everyone’s nerves by slathering everything in banners and congratulations, forcing the assumption that everyone would be thrilled with their result.
My experience of this was divided. I had to complete 6 final exams on separate subjects. 5 of those, came and went with little more than the expected frantic revision and standard stress. It was the penultimate one however, that was to ruin my week. “Concurrent Systems”, a deceptively named module – suggesting parallel programming, network syn, distributed joy – which three weeks in, turned out to be an exercise in process algebra, one of my weakest subjects. To make matters worse, the day of the exam rolled around and the paper seemed to be partly on the subject, and partly a random assortment of vague questions regarding parallel systems which were not even hinted in the syllabus. The capping blow ? Even the genius kid, and yes we had one, came out looking pale and terrified. From that moment on, my graduate job (>=2:1 requirement) felt like the prize in a 50/50 lottery. If I had failed the module, my degree would be a maximum classification of “Pass” – whereas passing the module mean’t at least a 2:1, and a job to go to.
Ameture dramatics aside, results day came and after three weeks of sweating we were finally allowed to see the oh so very public results listing. I will be graduating with a 1st Class, much to my surprise, and relief, but I will never forget the feeling of dread that followed me around for that time. Naturally those around me seem to think I was being overly modest or being a ass by supposing I had failed all along, but believe me, I lived every second of it. According to the school, this pre graduate limbo state makes me a “Graduand”.
Which brings me to post results, awaiting my graduation day early next month. Many people have said many things to me since my results, “Well Done”, “Congrats” and similar uplifting comments, but its one particular comment that has dominated every conversation – “Welcome to the Real World”, “Time to get a real world job”. – or words to that effect. My response to this, is at least, unfortunate for those who make the mistake of such “congratulations”, as it often comes tinted blue, with a mild dose of scathing.
To illustrate why, some brief history on my education and work habits is required.
At 13 I had a paper round, my friend dicked me over for far too much of the money but it was honest paid work, and it bought me tyres for my bike. When I went to college, I did four days a week of education and coursework (the BND is all coursework!) and 3 days working in the freezers and warehouse at the local Makro wholesale. 9-6 and more often later 7 days a week, just so I could afford the train fair to get to college. Between years, I got a break – I worked an 8 week contract for Verizon business, formatting and preparing laptops which landed me just enough to learn to drive and buy a car. The next year I worked delivering catalogs, running errands and any other job which allowed me to spend time with my car (<3), for most of the three days a week I wasn’t studying. When I finally got to Uni, I worked 0800-1900 Sat & Sun at PC World, marching stock up and down the stairs and making the shop look pretty (merchandising). This was pretty cruddy, target driven, pressure based – awful customers and tight deadlines, alongside starting my degree. For most people the first year is all drinking and fun, for me it was all working and I still nearly failed, partly due to myself, partly because I was always tired. I transitioned from this, thankfully, to a customer service/support position with IT Services at the University which for the last 3/4 years has been much better to me, despite management changes, re-orgs and changes at the University. Finally, I worked for a year with Microsoft, in an extremely high pressure code/development support role for some of the highest profile companies that exist, trying to solve code bugs and upgrade bashes as fast as possible for time critical problems – mind you the pay was good and the lifestyle excellent.
My parents aren’t rich, and my student loan doesn’t even cover hall fees. I have worked every day of my further/higher education life to pay my way to where I am, in a multitude of customer service/menial/rubbish jobs, and the odd awesome one (Microsoft/ITS), while completing a BND with100% and getting a 1st class degree. But until now, I have not even mentioned it, because I don’t care. Its been an experience, I have made excellent friends, overcome my shyness, learnt how to deal with people and bosses, and I would not change it for the world, I like to challenge myself and expand and learn and the last 6 years has been the perfect way to cram it all in.
I have many friends who have walked the very same path,
So please, think before you belittle us – University isn’t the booze fueled lazy trip you see on TV for every student, some of us come out totally looking forward to the “real world”.
For longer than I can remember I have been a GMail user. Initially I was scared of it – putting all my mail on the web seemed like a crazy plan, but eventually I signed up and dropped by ISP’s email account for a GMail address. Ever since, I have happily enjoyed my email anywhere, labeling and archive, a host of free space and even piece of mind offered by two factor authentication. I have seen no reason whatsoever to doubt my decisions, until news broke last night that Google were planning to drop EAS support for Individual GMail accounts (http://www.wpcentral.com/google-drops-exchange-activesync-what-s-it-mean-windows-phone).
Like many users, I choose my loyalty to products based on the best one available at the time. Typically this means that I use services or products from several companies at the same time, basing each decision on its merits not brand allegiance. Unfortunately I seem to have picked my poison in this war by buying into the Windows Phone mobile environment. My reasons are simple, I prefer the interface, speed and simplicity of the WP devices – I have no need for a powerhouse uberhacker device in my pocket, I just like my phone to do what I need, when I need in the easiest way possible. I had an android phone, a symbian Nokia device , iPads and iPhones and this is where I have ended up, its just what I prefer – comparisons, features, reviews, and out and out hardware battles aside.
Inconveniently for me it seems that my personal tastes have landed me right in the “EAS Switchoff” firing line. In a battle between ancient and bitter rivals, the true looser will not be a brand name, a sales figure or a jarring comment at a tech expo – its me, the customer. Standing to lose functionality on my Windows Phone device, because to Google , EAS is a “dead” technology.
I am sure Microsoft will update the Mail app to support whichever method becomes the next favorite, but for now I can’t help but look at other options for my email account, before the floor falls away under my feet – after all, I am not about to can an expensive phone, just to chase a feature rich email experience.
While at the local supermarket, I happened upon a reduced, but brand new in box, Microsoft Comfort Curve keyboard. For a few quid, I was not one to argue and gleefully stuffed it into my trolley, After all the Tesco value keyboard I had been using was well past its hygienic and useful life.
When I got home, I happily ripped the PS/2 keyboard off my desk, re-routed my USB hub and plugged in the new item. For a few minutes everything was good, until of course I tried to use the S and A keys. It was at this point my heart sank, the keyboard was faulty. My mind was awash with predictions of trial by fire when trying to return and end of line, reduced item which only cost a few quid. Having worked in retail, I knew the £3 keyboard was not worth the petrol to get back to the store.
At this point I figured I may as well rip it apart, maybe I can solder something to get it working again, my oscilloscope is always sat on my desk ready. You can imagine the shock that came, when after removing around 25 screws, I found no PCB in sight. I suppose I should have known from the outset that a modern cheap keyboard would have some fancy internal workings, I was greeted with three plastic films, covered in a conductive web.
Upon closer inspection, the problem is obvious, someone has nicked the film when assembling the keyboard and cut the sensor current to the feed pads. A quick lick of the finger and a broad press across the area confirms the problem . How a keyboard got past QC with two keys failed I don’t know ! I stopped for a moment and thought, then grabbed an old woodwork pencil on my desk, a little colouring later and a quick test and the keys are alive again !
A few million screws later, and I have finally saved myself a few quid ! From writing this post, I can also confirm the keyboard is pretty nice to use, and the Windows key mappings printed are quite cool! Not to mention it has a calculator button, a total requirement, at least for all my future keyboards.
So, now without a proper manager I find myself strangely motivated, I have been solving cases and working on sorting out my Final Year Project. I am at present gleefully awaiting the arrival of my Kinect For Windows, as hopefully my project will be akin to HAL9000 , or so I hope. Shame the purchase order hasn’t updated !
In other news I have been finding out about all the deadline set by the Uni that they had no intention of reminding us of, after all, I am sure normal people can remember a handful of dates for 52 weeks without prompting.
I have also been considering what needs to be done to fill my shoes when I leave, as it turns out at least a few people in the team think highly of the work I do, refreshing to know you are liked.
Oh, and for the first time since I started, I have been to lunch with my team – certainly have been missing out on some banter all this time !
Monday saw me in a meeting with my manager, discussing what I will be doing going forward, into the last months of my internship, a scary prospect certainly – but made even more confusing by inconvenient fact that this is my managers last week as my manager !
Monday night saw Me, Alex (@AlexOlivier) and Neil (@SequentialLogic) take some time out to go to Reading University and see a free, and rather amusing stand up act by “The Stand Up Economist” (@standupecon), certainly recommended !
So, to today, my manager has had his leaving presentation and will be gone come Monday, sending my team into manager oblivion – being taken on by another manager who will be leaving in a few weeks. This presents a worrying issue for me, as it seems that my final Uni related tasks need me to have a manager who knows my internship. Shame that, although it does compound the sense that no one has fully appreciated how to handle an intern since my original manager, oh well, into the unknown , that will be 5 managers in a year by the time I go !
This week around these parts has been the Ahoi! Technology week, apart from Wednesday this has meant an enthralling look at different relevant technologies and how to use them for several hours each day, Netmon – Poweshell – Networking etc.
It has certainly been educational, oh and randomly taking Wednesday Off was good too, now for what seems to be a Friday ritual , the conference call !
So, during the weeks of hell one of the things I forgot even happened was my introduction to my replacement. Now, strictly speaking, he is not a replacement at all, there will be no intern in my position in the coming year. He gets to work instead in the XBOX Games Testing area, yeah some say lucky, some say hell. Either way, its my responsibility to help him get to grips with Microsoft.
Wednesday was certainly a day looking forward, Myself, Alex and Neil had lunch with some awesome guys who are hoping in the future to come and work within Microsoft, although they are only at school and college a the moment ! It was also today also that I made a call to my Intern Buddy, he seems excited if a little nervous about the whole thing.
Which brings me to today, Friday – the new interns all arrived looking sparkling for their induction day. It was our duty to meet them and their managers at lunch time, I gave my buddy a lift into work this morning to make his day a little less stressful, naturally his manager didn’t arrive at lunch, but that seems to be par for the course! No idea how his day will go, but I hope its exciting !
I am now off to conference call the hell out of some cases !
Last Friday was a bank holiday – this served to for two things – the owners of the cases I had got angry because of the 4 day weekend, the new cases were mishandled , and the volume did not drop off.
Queue my return on Tuesday, as the only engineer juggling 16 new cases, all of whom had angry customers, and most of which were outside of my ability. Thankfully, that day David also returned however the incoming volume did not drop off. Talk about busy this week, I managed to miss 101 team award presentations and all sorts. Suffice to say I am happy the week is over, and worried that the workload is still on. On the upside Andrei is back as of Monday !
So, I am surprised I am actually still sat here typing this.
The week started fairly normally, except David from my team is off for this week – which Is not odd in the slightest. Cases continued to come in at the normal rate, and the rest of the team managed to cope. It was Wednesday afternoon that things started to go wrong, Andrei from our team had also had a week and a half of Holiday confirmed, not so bad I thought, we are normally quite a slow intake team. Oh no, as soon as Andrei left the office, and I was alone, it became 4 new cases a day. Wednesday, Thursday, Today is a Bank Holiday.
I felt the need to update the blog just in case an angry customer kills me on Tuesday, after all, Monday is also a bank holiday….
This week has ended with our usual Comms team meeting, and some epic glass trophies being given out for 20 years at Microsoft ! That’s not much less than my entire life, so Kudos to those people for really being here for the long haul !
We also had an introduction to programming Metro apps presentation, which has been an eye opener – although I am not sure if I can quite bring myself to attack XAML straight away !
Got an interesting week coming up next week, lots of bank holiday and some pretty poor planning from above, I am going to be the only engineer for messaging dev for what seems to be nearly two weeks. I understand people need holiday, but can’t it be a little spread out ?
Lets see how it goes….