On Universitites and Placement Years

I’ve been meaning to type these words for quite some time. I created a draft of this post in November 07, which was some significant time after doing an interview (for one of my sisters’ psychology assignments) about placement years and how mine affected my life.

I’ve finally gotten around to writing these thoughts down since I’m currently involved with interviewing candidates for an industrial placement at work.

Plenty of people choose not to take industrial placements while studying at university; I’m not aware of precise figures but I think easily less than 50% of computing students at my university took a placement year – most of whom forsook the placement out of choice.

I think that is a mistake.

An industrial placement might not be the greatest experience, it may mean you are older than some of your peers when interviewing for jobs (trust me, that means less than you might think) and it may mean ‘delaying’ graduation and ridding yourself of the shackles of academia, etc.

But what it does give you could be extremely valuable!

The industrial placement I ended up with wasn’t ideal for me. It was in an environment I could never see myself working in, using technologies I couldn’t see myself working with once graduated, and yet still the experiences I gained there where some of the most valuable during my entire undergraduate career.

There are the obvious benefits of an industrial placement:

  • Money, money, money, money. While taking an industrial placement you’ll earn something like a real world salary. You’ll be able to buy yourselve things, save for your final year, etc.
  • Real-world experience. This counts for a lot! Less so in graduate/junior positions in the computing industry but even still.
    For starters being able to relate to events outside of your academic career is extremely useful in interviews, there’s also the experiences of developing for real world users – and the shocking realisation that many programming jobs are not all code.

And yet the most important benefit of my placement year was not one which had ever been mentioned to me before, which is the reason why I’m writing this now. That benefit – breathing room!

Room to breath!

While I was working in industry for a year my mind wasn’t constantly busy; with no assignments to think about I was left with more time for personal projects (learning new programming languages and technologies) and more time with an unladen mind to contemplate my future.

The future is now, the future is tomorrow

My industrial placement confirmed my initial suspicions; I didn’t want to work in that environment and nor did I want to work with those specific technologies. I also learnt more about what directions I did want to take with my career, what sort of role I wanted upon graduation and directions I could see my career taking.

I wouldn’t have been able to figure out these things had I not taken the industrial placement; a combination of first hand experiences and free brain time resulted in me changing degree specification and graduating much happier landing a decent job straight out of University.


I just want to finish this post by stating that while the technologies I used on my placement where possibly not ones I would have picked up otherwise, I still value the experiences and knowledge I gained from using them for a year.

It’s a topic for another post, but learning new languages, tool kits and paradigms might not be explicitly necessary for your day to day work; but certainly gives you an edge! A breadth of experience and knowledge that enables you to develop better code faster by adopting paradigms and techniques learnt while exploring these other technologies. That and it’s all kinds of fun!

One comment

  1. I echo your sentiment mate, i missed doing my placement because my course changed. one of the interesting tit bits though that i have come across is that a significant number (I think that the survey by the NUS stated that 30% of grads who go on placements never go back) i happened to 2 poeple i knew at other Uni’s who now bitterly regret this decision, although they profited in the short term, in the long run they lost out. Just an idea and a topic for a much wider piece of work, any interested post gards out there??

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