As a very recent addition to the graduate scheme here at YNAP, I thought it would be useful to share my experiences in joining the scheme. Whilst discussing the various challenges us graduates face (it is a lot harder than it looks!), I will also be sharing a few tips and tricks I feel are important for a smooth transition into the scheme.
A Bit About Me…
I studied Computer Science at City University London. I spent a few years working in the industry during an extended three-year placement as a junior developer at an educational gaming company before joining YNAP. I decided to apply because I felt that I wanted to go into a role where there was strong focus on learning and self-development that would also allow me to gain exposure to new technologies in a relaxed environment.
The Scheme Itself
So if you didn’t already know, the YNAP group annually recruits up to 15 technology graduates for a rotational graduate scheme. The idea is for graduates to develop their skills by rotating across different technical teams throughout the business; by doing so grads gain a better understanding of how the company works, gain exposure to a wider tech stack, and build a better picture of the direction they would like their career to take.
As part of the most recent graduate intake, we spent our first two weeks on a fun, informative induction; this covered standard HR processes, personal development exercises, some technical training and presentations from each of the different departments within the business. It gave us a real chance to bond as a unit, get to know our potential co-workers and gain a full understanding of the culture that YNAP are so proud of. The organisers of the scheme kindly organised a free meal and a trip to climb the O2 in Greenwich as a fitting way to end the scheme on a high (literally)!
To continue the momentum, we were then placed into our first rotation. Before joining a team, we were assigned a rotation manager who is our point of contact within our current rotation, a mentor who acts as our line-manager throughout the entire duration of the scheme, and a graduate buddy who is your “go-to” for those questions you may not feel comfortable asking your mentor/rotation manager.
Use Your Resources!
This brings me to my first tip for prospective graduates – use your resources well! I recommend setting up regular fortnightly meetings with your mentor and rotation manager; it provides a great way to get feedback (both ways!) and generally keep on track.
Ask for Feedback
I think we, as graduates are naturally conscious of our progress. My initial approach to receiving feedback was to informally ask during catch-ups. I soon found that without a more formal structure, you’re unlikely to get the feedback you want.
Some feedback formats we use at YNAP:
• START, STOP and CONTINUE
• EXAMPLE, EFFECT AND CHANGE
Getting a few colleagues to define what you should start, stop and continue doing, or thinking about examples of the things you do, the effect it has on the team and what you can do to change or improve. For maximum effect, ask your mentor or rotation manager to ask your team to send them anonymous feedback about you. Using a structured format conveniently opens you up to both positive and (the dreaded) negative feedback. Doing this halfway through your rotation gives your team a fair amount of time to get to know the graduate, therefore enabling them to think of suitable feedback.
Set up a list of well-defined objectives and share this with your managers! Your mentor will encourage you to do this anyway, but ultimately it is up to you to think of them then work towards them. My mentor suggested that I split my objectives up into 3 separate categories: business, personal and technical objectives.
Business objectives: objectives that benefit both you and the business. One of my business objectives was to present a technical project I have worked on in a technical showcase. Technical showcases are great way to develop my presenting skills whilst informing the wider business of the technical work we’re doing to “create the future of fashion”. (They also make you look good.)
Personal objectives: This could be anything from developing a personal project outside of work, to eating breakfast every morning! Keeping on top of your personal objectives will have a positive impact on your work life.
Technical objectives: There might be a specific set of technologies or frameworks you are interested in. Noting them down and working towards them will help you remain focused on your original technical goals. It is very easy to lose track of these, as you will be working across many different teams and discover new things that interest you, so this is a great way to stay on track.
Once you have defined them, think of how you could measure their success, what evidence you can provide and a realistic amount of time it would take to achieve this objective. My meetings with my managers are very objective focused and we discuss things I could do to reach my objectives quicker. We also tweak objectives if we feel they’re too difficult or too easy to achieve.
You will be soaking up a lot of information during the graduate induction and even more when you’re on your first team. Making notes during the induction will help to keep you engaged and will give you something useful to refer to later in case you forget something.
As a graduate, you may find it difficult to complete tasks on your own, especially if you’re new to a programming language or technology. Developer pairing is a great knowledge sharing experience where two or more developers work together to complete a technical task. If you are stuck on a task, ask a more experienced developer to sit with you so you can complete the task together. To make the most of the experience, I think it’s best for the less experienced developer to “take the driving seat”. Do this by typing at all times and generally steering the development as much as possible.
This brings me to my next tip. Ask questions! As cliched as this tip may be, I still think it is worth discussing. As a grad, you won’t be expected to know everything. Asking questions can show your team your enthusiasm and prove that you are making an effort to understand things better.
Ask your rotation manager to send you a reading list. When I joined my first rotation, I had to work with a few programming languages and frameworks I was unfamiliar with. Instead of jumping straight into tasks, I took some time out to read up on a few things I felt unconfident in. Our working environment is very relaxed so your team is always willing to let you have some time to yourself to read up or brush up on your knowledge.
My favourite tip: Learning is fun, but it can get very tiring; taking a 5-10 minute break will keep you more focused and keep you feeling more human.
One of the best things about YNAP is how social we all are. We have a broad range of sport and social societies you could get involved in. If you can’t find a society that appeals to you, then why not start one? Shortly after I joined, some of my work friends started a new gaming society within the company. It’s ideal for meeting new people with similar interests, or in my case, destroying as many people as possible at Street Fighter.
Knowledge sharing is an important part of our culture, and is highly encouraged here at YNAP. We’re lucky enough to work with extremely talented and skilled developers who are willing to share their expertise and teach a series of workshops.
If there’s something you’re strong at, why not host your own too? One of the grads from my intake hosted an impressive “Introduction to Web Development” workshop.
As the name may suggest, Hack-A-Porter is our very own internal hack event. This is an opportunity to come up with an idea, develop it, and then pitch it to a panel of judges. It’s a light-hearted, fun competition and is perfect for experimenting with a new technology… oh an you win a prize too, not just personal glory!
I took part in Hack-A-Porter shortly after I joined YNAP with an army of grads. We worked together to build a “My Wardrobe” feature for our brands. It allowed customers to create an outfit based on clothes they had previously purchased. The outfits were suggestions from our Web Merchandising tech team, who have built an API dedicated to identifying outfit recommendations. I can’t stress enough how much I learnt from taking part in Hack-A-Porter and winning a prize for “Best Customer Value-Add” was a nice bonus!
It’s a Two-Way Deal
I think it’s important to remember that the grad scheme is a two-way deal, for both the grad and the team. Grads get the chance to build a strong technical foundation and teams get a new addition, with fresh ideas and a different way of thinking. Training and mentoring a grad also builds on the team’s knowledge as sometimes we will ask team members questions they may not know the answer to – it’s all an opportunity to learn!
Overall, my experience here at YNAP has been both productive and enjoyable. I have learnt an overwhelming amount within my first rotation and I look forward to seeing myself continue to grow with the company!