Undertaking a placement as a Computer Science student – should I do it? Why should I forgo elective subjects in favour of a placement? Will there be any advantages?

In my opinion, a placement is well worth missing out on some elective subjects for.  Why? Because of the massive benefit you get from taking a snapshot of the industry and adding the knowledge gained to your skillset. I undertook a placement as part of my Computer Science degree at the University of Adelaide, and these are some of the ways I was able to maximise my personal development.

Talking to people

You are put into an environment with professionals in the industry you are trying to enter. Talk to people you interact with, ask them what they do and how they got there. It will give you an idea of the pathways you might want to pursue and the fields of study to specialise in. This can be intimidating, but people generally enjoy sharing their story, and this can be a great way of breaking the ice to form new friendships. And keep in mind, your skills might be impressive on their own, but this is hard to showcase without knowing anyone!

Getting to know the business

Having a job is not only about building your own skills, but also adding value where you can. If you understand how the business generates revenue, and how everything works, it becomes far easier to determine where you can add value. This will also help you showcase your strengths and decide where to apply your skills to the highest impact. Another ripple effect of learning how the business works is keeping updated with best practices and technologies within the industry. In the vast, rapidly expanding sea of technologies available, it can be difficult to know which to focus on and learn to apply in the workplace. Placement will give you intimate access to a large chunk of the technologies around – even technologies you might not have interacted with throughout your studies.

Learning from failure

Not everything you create or work on is going to work the first time. You will learn far more from the experience if you focus on your failures. What didn’t work? Why didn’t it work? What did you learn? These questions need to be asked and answered constantly, at every stage of any work cycle. This is a general concept, which is obviously useful in more areas than just a Computer Science placement but keeping this in mind is guaranteed to give you more from your placement.

Accepting advice…and criticism

During the course of your placement, you’ll likely work out a way to solve each task that is thrown at you, but make sure to keep an open mind to criticism and advice. This task might have already been attempted by someone at the workplace, and they might be offering you valuable advice, saving you the trouble of their failures.

Asking for help

If you are struggling, remember point number 1. You are surrounded by professionals in your field, there’s no shame in reaching out to see if someone has some free time to help you out. This is one of the best ways to absorb knowledge from your peers. Chances are, if you’re encountering a major problem, someone else has been there before, and you can draw upon their knowledge and experience to grow and overcome the issue.

NOT asking for help

Counter to the previous point, it is also important to know when to pursue an issue yourself, even for a while before immediately going to someone else for help. This will create situations where you fail frequently, but this can be a positive thing. Learning from these failures can show the people around you that you’re able to solve these problems on your own, and that you can add value without drawing value from other areas.

Written by Joe Mussared, Chamonix Intern 2019

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