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James Hodgson

Software Engineer at IBM

Can you describe your job role?
My main responsibilities were working on messaging and connectivity infrastructure which included being responsible for roughly 600 servers, all working on various different things and our job would be to fix defects and provide new functionality, so coding scripts and fixing problems. I mainly worked on software but every now and then I would get play about with the hardware.

What was the best thing about the placement? 
Overall I think the best thing about the placement was the amount of new skills and knowledge I learnt throughout my time. I learnt a few more computer coding languages and a general overview of how a big business like IBM runs and how software development gets implemented for millions of customers.

IBM run a scheme called ‘Give Back’ which allows employees to spend 10% of their time on personal projects. For my Give Back time I worked at Wimbledon as a ‘Tech Trojan’. Essentially we were tech support for the press and data entry and the data entry people were sat at the side of the court inputting all the scores as the match progressed and the IBM displayed all the information on the website and Wimbledon app so t all the match points listed throughout each game.  I also got to work on a project called smart curser where I got to use some of my maths, I did some statistics and vector calculus. The project looks at different ways to use a mouse for people with conditions such as cerebral palsy who can’t grab a mouse. You attached the smart curser to your wrist and use different gestures to control the mouse on the screen, for example punching the air translated to clicking on the computer. This is a long going project that IBM are working on and it was great that I got the chance to contribute to it.

Did you find anything particularly challenging during your year in industry? 
I personally found it quite difficult to integrate into the team for a while because a lot of the people I was working with like the graduate employees all did computer science degrees so I felt a bit behind but the team were very helpful and brought me up to speed on things quite quickly.

What skills do you feel you have developed on your placement?
Teamwork was essential in our team because we were always busy. If there was anything you didn’t know you had to go straight to a team member who had the answer, there wasn’t time to spend hours figuring things out yourself.

Problem solving was very important in my role because everything we did was a problem which needed fixing.

Has the placement given you a better idea about what sort of career you want to pursue?
I have always wanted to go into software developments and the placement has helped confirm that for me but it has also shown me that I don’t really want to work for such a big company as IBM. The reason for this is that I really wanted to be able to see what I had done and with a big company you don’t really have that chance to witness your work in action. Now I am looking for jobs, I am looking into things like animation and more creative things. 

Do you have any tips or advice to give students thinking about doing it?
I think, if you are somebody who already has a clear idea of what you want to do then stick to that. I always knew I wanted to do software engineering and people said to me, it might be worth looking into doing something in finance or another area to see what it is like but I thought there was no point because I knew it wasn’t for me. I would say, definitely do a year in industry because you gain so much experience and any sort of work experience helps when you are looking for a job. 

You say you always wanted to do software engineering, why did you end up doing a maths degree?
I knew I wanted to do software engineering but college kind of put me off because in college we didn’t learn the languages I wanted to do and we didn’t learn things in the way I thought we would, we just go taught how to pass an exam and there was still so much that I didn’t know by then end of college and I just felt it was a little pointless. I did maths because I enjoyed maths at college and I thought I might open some more doors but at the same time keeping the software engineering door open and that’s just how it has turned out.