Sat on the bus, feeling the nerves building, I thought – this is my first day going to an office. I was about the start a week of work experience at NHS Digital, something not many 15-year-olds get a chance to do.
I was under the impression it would be a stereotypical office – highly formal, strict, with an especially horrible boss. I thought everyone would be in a suit, or at least a smart shirt, and looking at myself, although I was wearing a shirt, I was a tad worried by my casual attire.
Despite these many stressing thoughts, I tried to calm myself down with the thought that the experience I was about the get would be extremely helpful in the long run.
When I arrived at the office I met the manager, Sean Craig, who showed me around. I didn’t even realise he was the manager until he said he has 40 people under him. He was totally unlike how I thought a manager would be (in a good way of course). Those stresses I felt on the journey in faded away – this office felt rather informal with a welcoming atmosphere and I settled pretty much straight away.
Sean took me under his wing for the rest of the day, allowing me to attend online meetings where people enquired about problems they came across developing or testing. I’d never experienced anything like this before.
Next up I was very grateful to be able to listen into an interview with an external applicant – this was especially helpful for me as it helped me see that the ability to communicate is necessary, not only in software engineering, but also in other fields.
With a successful first day under my belt, day two saw me meeting web developer Krystan Honour, who I helped tackle a problem with a feedback page. In terms of programming knowledge and how the Internet works, I certainly gained a lot.
We worked on pair programming, which is where two programmers work together on one project, with one doing the programming while the other could be thinking about errors that have been made in terms of syntax, or generally helping to fix the problem.
The solution was very clear, but what made it a hugely difficult fix was that we had to locate the file where the code was. The key thing I took away from this is how something that looks very simple to solve can in fact hide many difficulties and be largely problematic.
I met Andrew Bell in the testing department on day three. My preconception of the software engineering industry was that it is purely about coding and developing software, but Andrew showed me there’s a huge amount more to it than that.
Our first task was to test a log-in page for NHS employees, such as GPs, which had been developed by Krystan.
You’d think that testing is basically checking whether an application works as it should or not (which it is), but there are things like specific integration environments that need to be used and obstructions to overcome, such as having the wrong proxy settings. Unfortunately, we encountered these problems, and this took a while to figure out.
As well as learning how to test an application, I also learnt that problems can crop up in any kind of job, however easy they may sound initially. You cannot judge a book by its cover.
I can officially say software engineering is by no means all about coding and programming – my fourth day reinforced that when I worked with database administrators Khurram and Raj. I found out what a database actually is and how it is organised for ease of access. The analogy Khurram gave was that it is like a library, in the sense that there are various sections in which related books are kept together so they can be more easily identified and found.
This was an eye-opener because I would never have expected it to be so well thought out just to store data. Databases are so important and they’re involved in almost everything we do online.
My final day of work experience saw me attending a conference at the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds, and the relative rarity of this conference – it happens on an annual basis – made the end of my work experience somewhat special.
The conference was about making the NHS more of an online platform, so patients, for example, can book GP appointments using a mobile phone app instead of ringing or going to their GP surgery to book.
I accompanied Sean to my first talk. In this I realised how many ideas can crop up when there are numerous minds at work together.
Given that, being the age that I am, for my second session I naturally went to the talk about how social media should be used by the NHS in the best way, as I felt this was something I could contribute to.
Various ideas, such as starting a YouTube channel for the NHS were brought up. I raised a point about how video is a lot more engaging than images and text. Pleased to have given my two cents, this reinforced the importance of contributing to discussions, as what you say may spark other ideas and you may in turn grow your own knowledge.
When the conference came to an end I said goodbye to the many people I had come across during my work experience at NHS Digital.
Sat on the bus home, I reflected on the experience. Not only did I get a taste of what working in a software engineering company is like, but I also learnt some life lessons along the way.
As nervous as I felt at first, had I not had this experience I would have been much worse off for sure – I’d very much recommend it to anybody.