Brian Viviers – software engineer at the Science and Technology Facilities Council

Brian Viviers, BSc (Hons) Computer Science, at Science and Technology Facilities Council

"For me, personally the help I received from the academic staff was more from the knowledge and support they provided throughout the year which instilled a confidence in me in my ability to perform well in my field of study."

Who was your placement with and what was your job title? 

Science and Technology Facilities Council. Software Engineer for ISIS Business Systems. The ISIS pulsed neutron and muon source at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire is a world-leading centre for research in the physical and life sciences. It is owned and operated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

What attracted you to this placement opportunity? 

The Science and Technology Facilities Council is one of Europe’s largest multidisciplinary research organisations supporting scientists and engineers world-wide with research in areas such as physics and material science, astronomy, nuclear physics and accelerator science, energy, environment, medicine and computational science to name a few. The decision to apply for this role was born out of the desire to contribute to advancing science and technology and to further my understanding of these topics. 

How did you go about securing your placement and what was the process for this? 

The placement opportunity was found online on one of the many placement search websites. I then applied through STFC’s website where I sent in my CV and cover letter as well as a document I had to complete describing my knowledge and experiences by answering the questions given. Within a week I was invited to attend an assessment centre where I had an interview with my potential manager and another member of the team. There was also a programming test and finally a more exciting tour of one of the huge particle accelerator laboratories. Three days later I was offered the position. 

Can you describe the various roles and responsibilities of your placement? 

The placement involved the specification, design, programming, testing, deployment and documentation of software solutions to meet the business information management needs of the facility, scientists and users. Following the release of software, the products would go into maintenance phase and the role also included some work to support customers (internal and external) in using existing and new systems. A wide variety of responsibilities were given ranging from supporting users via email, phone and in person to being responsible for designing and implementing a completely new system for collating and transferring experiment proposals, from scientists around the world, into another existing system. 

How did the Careers and Employability Department (Placements Team) support you before your placement? 

The help provided by the team involved guidance and advice on tailoring applications to prospective employers through a one to one critique of my CV and cover letter. They also helped in preparing for interviews. There was a number of lectures given by members of the placements team which provided a lot of further information about job seeking. 

How did the academic staff support you during your placement? 

For me, personally the help I received from the academic staff was more from the knowledge and support they provided throughout the year which instilled a confidence in me in my ability to perform well in my field of study. 

How did your previous studies enable you to be successful during your placement? 

Before the start of my degree, I had never done any software development so the studies up to the point that I started my placement were vital to having a successful placement year. The wide range of topics provided during the first two years fully prepared me for almost all of the tasks and responsibilities given to me. Within the first month of the placement, I was writing software and making changes and additions that went into use by customers shortly after. These changes were to an experiment scheduling system used almost all day during working hours and the changes made affected where the data was fetched from in order to improve loading performance. With such a big change being made, there was a high chance of introducing errors into the system but the first two years of the degree fully prepared me to do this successfully. 

How will your placement help you with the final year of your degree? 

Learning at university is obviously very important to be able to do a job well but actually spending a year doing the work really helps to embed the knowledge and makes you feel comfortable in doing the work which initially feels daunting and anything that needs to be done first needs to be researched. Doing the placement really helped me become more of a professional software engineer and this will undoubtedly be reflected in any work I do in the final year, hopefully giving me a first class degree. 

In terms of your career development so far, what have been the benefits of undertaking this placement? 

The placement has helped strengthen my skills in software engineering, gain an insight into how software development is done in industry using technologies and procedures such as continuous integration and it further developed my ‘soft skills’ such as working in teams, communicating with others in the workplace and my presentation skills. All these skills are becoming increasingly important to employers when recruiting so having a years’ worth of experience will definitely put me above most other applicants when applying for a role and will help secure a position as a software engineer upon graduation. 

What would you say to a prospective student thinking about undertaking a placement year? 

As I am currently in the process of applying for a graduate job I have seen it is much more difficult than when applying for the placement year. This is due to the fact that employers often expect you to have a years’ experience at this point so the applicants who have this will be in a much better position. Besides this, it also provides a gentle introduction into working as you are not expected to perform as well as a graduate at this point. Not doing a placement year will mean the first introduction to working will be a little bit more difficult as more is expected of you. I highly recommend doing a placement. 

Was the fact that Plymouth offered a placement year a motivational factor in your decision to choose Plymouth? If so, why? 

I already lived in Plymouth so my choice to apply here was, firstly, because of this reason but I would not have chosen to apply here if the degree on offer was not so highly rated. Having the placement as part of the degree made the choice of choosing Plymouth much easier.

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