Sun, Servers and Seagulls

Lectures can’t help you learn everything for the future. This is what I’ve learned from my summer interning out of the city.

I spent this summer interning at Netcraft, an “Internet services company” that specialise in Internet security (anti-fraud and anti-phishing) as well as collecting data on the many websites on the Internet. And I’ve definitely learned a whole lot of things from working there that I wouldn’t learn in a seminar room or in a lecture theatre.

Actually working in a company means that you need to change your mindset from “this code is good enough for my own reference” to “this code is good enough for my team”. You’re introduced to the idea of writing code to match the project’s style and adding comments to help others working on the code, since it will make a massive difference when someone is working on your code two or three years down the line. Imagine if someone found an “out of bounds” error in some cryptic module you wrote, but because you’re not around anymore to explain the code, they have to spend a day scratching their head at the mess you typed into that file. You also learn to explain what you’re planning to do and what you’re doing, either when a manager is checking on your progress or when you’ve asked a colleague for help with a certain function. Often just explaining your code can uncover what went wrong — developers will sometimes have a rubber duck they talk to for this purpose.

Writing the code is half of the story in real life though — you need to be testing and integrating it with the rest of the codebase too. A lot of companies will use unit tests to make sure functions work as well as integration tests to make sure everything is capisce before deploying. Learning to use the tests to find out where thinks went wrong as well as writing new ones is something I wish was covered in lectures, if only briefly. Deployment as well was reasonably new; of course, in the real world you don’t just write a script for the TA to assess and hand back to you, but the code needs to be packaged up so that it works on all of the machines that you intend it to. Definitely worth reading up on if you aren’t experienced with this!

DevOps gone wrong (personal laptop!)

Perl, the diamond in the rough

So the main language I was working with this summer was Perl, a scripting language that seems to have fallen out of popularity in lieu of Python, JavaScript and Ruby. I don’t really see why though — Perl’s syntax is actually rather beautiful, even if it does have some odd quirks. You can often write code as if it’s just standard English. Parameters are passed into functions as arrays, meaning that you can define a function as two scalars and an array, and the remaining arguments are passed as a single array. I won’t go into details, but there’s a good summary of the advantages and disadvantages on StackOverflow.

Somerset countryside, sans cider or trac’rs.

Bath is nice, but I can’t wait to get back to London

Bath is an absolutely lovely city. It’s very tiny, gets decent weather, is close to Bristol, and the limestone buildings means that it always seems to have a golden sheen to it like you’ve just walked into an Instagram filter. But these benefits also have their drawbacks.

I found that, often, there wasn’t always a lot to do in the city for me, and felt that a lot of the things happening were either in Bristol or beyond. Bath is a very touristy town, so you’ll find that a fair amount of the shops and centre are specialised towards those visiting the city, either outright or on a day trip from London.

Moreover, the fact that it’s almost a tourist town means that prices are elevated above what you’d consider normal for the area. Return rail ticket to London? That’ll be £50 please (off peak, with a concessionary railcard). Rent? Look no lower than £130 per week. Or how about a nice ice cream on a hot summers’ day? You’ll need to fork over three quid. It’s almost the same prices as you’d find in London; yeah, I went there. The people are a lot friendlier though. I guess at the end of the day it depends what you want from the place you live in, whether that’s a relaxed atmosphere, things to do, or nice scenery.

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