My week at White October – by Sanjit Raman

So, as part of the school curriculum, students are to complete a week of work experience. This can be at a workplace of choice and the work that is completed is given by the workplace.

My school offers this week in Year 10, and this is a short article of what it is REALLY like.

Myself being the geeky kid that I am, requested a week at this firm, White October, and they kindly placed me on a taster project for the week.

Let’s begin.

On Monday, I entered the office. Hurrah! I made it. I was introduced to Ed Lucas, Senior Developer who would be mentoring me throughout the week, and went through the standard introduction protocol of “here is the kitchen…and the health and safety code is to just try not to cut yourself” (for official purposes, that was only my artistic representation of the real health and safety induction).

I was then introduced to my desk for the week, and soon after the Raspberry Pi, something I had always wanted to try out. Contrary to my expectations, this board – that was only the size of a playing card – booted and ran a full Linux based GUI!

Anyway, I digress. The outcome was basically me receiving a Raspberry Pi with the Blinkt extension. Ed then loaded up his completed version of the week’s project, and I took some time to digest the code (when it comes to Python, I have a negligible metabolic rate). My understanding of it was that the script reads a word from a file, and displays the status using some predefined routine on the lights. I was then allowed to explore these routines and even create new ones.

Oh, part way through this, I heard the loud, dominating sound of the White October hand-bell, followed by everyone in the office leaving their desks for the downstairs open area. Ed told me to reciprocate, and so I followed. I was then met by a large ring of people speaking jargon to each other in a cyclical manner. It was at this point when I started questioning whether I had the correct building noted instead of the cult next door well known for their “love-boats”. Ed explained the philosophy of White October: making the workplace as quirky as can be to make it painful for employees to want to leave, although I’m not sure that really cleared up any of the cult business!

At lunchtime, most of the developers went out for a developers meeting, and as a newly claimed front-AND-back-end developer, I tagged along. The team were really friendly, and actually had similar interests to me, though some of the conversation was quite subject specific i.e. the “well-known” debate on date-times (my mentor strongly suggests ISO
format – and ONLY ISO format).

In the afternoon, I carried on creating more custom routines – I shan’t bore you with the details.

So that was my first day at White October…

On the Tuesday of my experience week, I began coding my own version of the Blinkt status notification system. Ideally, the user would connect to a webpage, and be able to update their status from there. I created the back-end, basic functionality of this on Tuesday, which I was told runs on Flask, a module for running Python servers. This is what White October would generally use for their smaller projects, and it was interesting to find out how companies make these things work.

To summarize, the gist of my week was that I began expanding the capabilities of this notification system so that I can have many users connect to the webpage, and see other peoples’ statuses, and so on and so forth.

Of course this was different to how I would program normally at home: I knew my capabilities of what I could build and stuck strictly to those limitations. Whereas, during this project, I was allowed free reign as to what I wanted to do, as when I was stuck I could ask someone (*cough* Ed *cough*). I really enjoyed being able to creatively plan a project and then see it produced the way I really wanted without any make-do’s. Technically, this week has taught me skills like terminal commands, Python/HTML/CSS programming confidence, all of which may be useful now. But for the future, I have also learnt how to plan out a project, start to execute, and if there are points where I am stuck, I can draw system diagrams to clear my understanding of the problem – skills that can be applied generally in lots of different subject areas.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed the work that takes place at White October, and the company exceeded my expectations – the week has given me a really positive insight as to what it is like to work in a technological environment (sic).

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