Engineering Graduate Scheme Review — 7 months in

I recently read Alice Bartlett’s review of her first 6 months at GDS, definitely worth a read, and it got me thinking about what I have learned since I started my engineering graduate scheme at M&S in September, seven months ago.

1. Imposter syndrome — #theStruggleIsReal

In the first few months of the scheme I’d be sat in meetings understanding literally nothing and feeling like a lemon because I had nothing to contribute. As part of the graduate scheme you always hear that your opinions matter and how you’re a part of the team like everyone else. This is great, but I had no opinions… literally none. What do you think of this setup? What are you’re thoughts on structuring code this way opposed to that way? I had no freaking clue — which was so frustrating to me. I felt I didn’t have enough knowledge of situations to offer an (un-stupid) opinion.

That didn’t last (Thank God) and now, every so often, I can go through whole meetings without saying the phrase “I’m not sure”. WIN. When you’re completely integrated into a delivery team you learn lots.. fast. You quickly figure out what does and doesn’t work for you and your team, whether it’s to do with coding style, choice of frameworks and general ways of working. The one phrase I hear the most relating to imposter syndrome..

“Fake it till you make it” = my current way of life.

2. Agile errr-day

Learning about agile at uni and living agile are 2 very different concepts. The agile process we use at M&S is Scrum, 2 week sprints which are actually 8 days when 20% time is factored in, including all the the ceremonies. Backlog grooming, sprint planning, sprint reviews, sprint retrospectives, *pauses for breath*, 3 amigo sessions and stand ups. I’m still genuinely confused as to how anyone gets any work done with all this going on. These days I spend a lot of time working on my graduate project (don’t even get me started), which means I don’t get to do as much coding as I would like, but the main point of the graduate scheme is the focus on personal development.

Agile also seems to be the most used buzz word across the business. I’ve really not known one word to have so many different meanings, it’s ridiculous. At university we were taught about the agile manifesto, and the general ceremonies that scrum encompasses. I didn’t really get it then but now I live it day in day out it’s become a lot clearer, I can see why it confuses a lot of people. M&S run agile green belt and black belt workshops for both technical and non-technical members of employees across the business which is great for providing clarity around the agile mindset.

3. Git is bae

Having never used Git with a team of people, I’ve never appreciated how good it actually is (except conflicts, conflicts drive me insane). When it comes to version control, I’ve had one bad experience with SVN, I was working on a project with one other dev and I really didn’t have a clue how it was supposed to work. Git is something I’ve used on personal projects before and has been useful for reverting code in sticky situations, but using it in a team of about 20 FE dev’s has been interesting... Rebase and cherry-pick have become my new best friends. When dozens of changes are being made throughout the day that affects what I’m working on, rebasing becomes v.useful. Cherry-picking is great because I’m such a hardcore multitasker and I always find myself working on the wrong branch (kmt -_-).

N.B. Git is also bae because when I use it from the terminal I feel like Felicity Smoak

4. The accessibility of M&S.com needs serious work

Turns out there is a lot to be learned about making the web accessible for everyone. It had never crossed my mind before. Luckily my team has the accessibility conscious Dan who has already taught me loads about all the different types of changes we can do on the front-end to improve the usability of M&S.com for more people. I’ve started to understand the different ways people can use their device or computer, like without a mouse and just the keyboard or with a screenreader. Then how we can best optimise for those scenarios and more.

It’s crazy how some of the improvements I can make are so simple and easy to do, like making sure my HTML is valid or adding alternative text for images. While others require a little more thought, like avoiding keyboard traps with lightboxes by transferring focus into the lightbox when it opens and back to the place it was opened from when the lightbox closes. Not quite figured out how best to do this yet.

Accessibility is super important and while there are some great tools available like Tenon and Pa11y, I still have a lot to learn.

5. UX designers’s have all the power..

and so they should. They have all the knowledge about our number 1 stakeholder: our users. M&S have millions of customers, designing for such a wide range of users is obviously a massive challenge. Then there is the difficult task of trying to persuade all of our other stakeholders that this is what we should be doing.

I’ve always been interested in interaction design, so as soon as I started the scheme I organised time with Irina the UX designer in my team. She has been awesome showing me the design process at M&S and giving me feedback on smaller design tasks I was able to work on. I wanna have that UX power one day, watch this space..

6. Don’t be your own barrier

As part of the general business graduate scheme we had a workshop called ‘Setting yourself up for success’. The person that led workshop said the best advice she had ever been given was-

“The only person responsible for your personal development is YOU”

This was really good advice, that I’d like to think I’ve always followed. It has been more useful than ever here at M&S, when it can seem impossible to make a change. Now there are changes I want to make to the structure of the graduate scheme, I am making a deliberate effort to stretch myself and take on tasks and responsibilities I haven’t done before. I‘m improving my own skills and the scheme for those who will start the grad scheme next year.

It’s easy to blame poor development on lack of opportunity or a line manager that didn’t really care, but if you aren’t willing to do it for yourself, can you expect someone else to do it for you?

Some days you just have to create your own sunshine :)

There’s nothing like being in the thick of things to learn stuff quickly, it’s been an amazing experience so far and a great start to my career in tech! To those that I’ve worked with so far, I’ve learned so much from each and every one of you. Thanks a billion!

p.s.: This post was actually written last year in March 2016, I’ve since completed the graduate scheme and started a new role within M&S. I didn’t want to publish it at the time... yolo