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Creating the ideal learning environment for young software engineers

By Alex Kok, Engineering Director at SiteMinder

  Posted in Opinions



In recent weeks I was invited to participate in a virtual event with the University of New South Wales, to provide practical advice to students looking for industrial training and software engineering internship opportunities. We discussed the initial steps involved in the recruitment process, the benefits of industrial training, and also what employers look for when hiring students. However, it was also the chance to reflect on what the students themselves should be looking for when assessing the company they’d like to spend their time training or interning with.

In many ways, current students and graduates, rather than businesses are taking control in this dynamic, more so than ever before. Technology is now so deeply ingrained in our daily lives, from hardware, to software, to things like AI, that there are almost unlimited opportunities for young and energetic engineers to begin building and adding value to society. In this way, the onus is increasingly on businesses to show they are well set up to be a great initial career option for the students they’re looking to attract, grow and develop.

What I reflected upon prior to the session, and what I told those present, is that it’s vital to look for workplaces that deeply value continuous learning, that will support you to incrementally grow your skill set over time. It’s these businesses, willing to invest the energy into your growth, that will allow you to discover what’s truly of interest to you as you start out.

Below was my advice, based on my involvement in graduate and internship programs across the last 10 years. My hope is that sharing this will both help those seeking industrial training, as well as the businesses setting up or refining their graduate and internship programs.

Seek an environment that amplifies education, exposure and experience

A learning environment that combines education, exposure and experience is one that will best set you up for long-term career success.

Alex-Kok-Diagram

Education

Part of the process of continuous learning is education, and growing your technical skills through formal and informal training. Finding a business that supports your ongoing education, beyond university, is vital. From a formal training perspective, are they willing to etch out time for you to take part in online and virtual classes? Will they help to guide you with information on the best courses to be attending?

siteminder-hackathon-websiteImportantly, how are they investing in your education from a more informal standpoint? At the start of your career, and as you commence work with a new business, finding the right buddy, or mentor, is crucial to learning not only the technical skills needed to excel, but also the soft skills which often aren’t actively taught at university. At SiteMinder, good buddies don’t just convey knowledge; they help to provide the underlying context, meaning what can take a long time to learn in isolation, can be quickly picked up on and understood. Things like:

  • The reasons behind the team’s workflows and processes
  • The ways that the company’s culture differs from another
  • The main hacks to learning on the fly
  • The best ways to effectively communicate within the team and with other teams in the business.

Exposure

Look for a business that will expose you to a number of different parts of their operations, and will allow you to work with a range of teams and leaders. The best businesses will develop your product knowledge, build your technical mastery, grow your presentation skills and introduce you to agile ways of working.

Product knowledge: They will provide you with all of the key information about each of the products or services the company offers, helping you to understand the mechanics behind each, and the life-cycle of managing digital products.

Technical mastery: They will coach you on a wide variety of tools that will help you in learning technology frameworks, infrastructure, security, quality, and system performance.

Presentation: They will provide a safe culture that encourages knowledge sharing. A space that allows you to present learnings, as well as pitch ideas or proposals for current team challenges.

Agile ways of working: They will teach you how to bring people, processes, connectivity and technology, as well as time and place, together, to find the most appropriate and effective way of working, to carry out a particular task.

siteminder-hackathon-website-imageExperience

Finally and connected to the above, on-the-job training that includes stretch assignments, job rotations and special projects, outside the current scope of the job you’re undertaking, is vital to discovering what it is you’re truly passionate about.

As you assess where you are going to begin your career, ask the question: “Will this business provide me with a rich, holistic experience?”

If the answer is no, then keep searching!

Experience should be delivered in a range of different ways for young interns or graduates.

Job shadowing: Job shadowing can expose you to new roles, and enable you to build a deep understanding of what various job functions require.

Job rotations: Job rotations through a range of organisational functions can give you a new perspective on the soft skills needed to succeed.

Stretch assignments: Stretch assignments are a helpful way to learn what’s involved in taking an idea from beginning to end, providing ideal experience for future positions with heightened responsibility.

Volunteering opportunities: Volunteering opportunities that allow you to take a couple of days a year to do skill-based volunteering, whether it’s contributing back to the community or the industry, are recommended. It’s always good to feel that you’re meaningfully contributing to broader society through your workplace.

For students seeking out industrial training and engineering internship opportunities, the above is a guide to help assess whether a company is well set up for your growth and development. The ideal environment is one that champions continuous learning, allows you access to a host of different parts of the business and crucially, which aligns you with mentors and coaches that will help you to discover what it is you’re truly passionate about, in a time of discovery. This ideal learning environment is what SiteMinder creates, and aspires to continuously improve year after year.

Best of luck with your upcoming industrial training and engineering internships!

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