Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Meet A Mentor (20th September 2012) at UCL

The “Meet a Mentor” event organised by the Graduate Development Community held at the University College London (UCL) on the 20th of September 2012, was interesting as well as enlightening.  In attendance were three groups of people: mentors, “graduates” and representatives of RecWorks.  The group of mentors was comprised of technical evangelists, analysts, programmers and testers. Such variety of skills and experience ensured that questions from the graduates were addressed from different perspectives.

After the introduction by Barry Cranford, one of the organizers of the event, the graduates were divided into groups of 6-7 people. Each group was assigned two mentors for a certain amount of time, at the end of which, the mentors switched groups; a procedure that was repeated until all mentors had engaged each table.  I think this was pertinent as it maximised the level of engagement between the graduates and mentors, not to mention ensuring the type of informality necessary for the success of such gatherings.  I shall now proceed to enumerate the issues that were raised and tackled.

Firstly, the nature of the jobs in the development industry was discussed at length by several of the mentors. From what I have gathered it seems that there is a tendency for a graduate developer to start out as a tester, which helps him/her to improve coding skills, by fixing bugs and assuring the quality of systems. Based on his/her perception of how coding is done, the person may then get involved in programming, where business logic, encapsulated in design, is mapped to code. During the course of being a programmer, the developer would continuously work with system models; such that a prowess for design is built over a period of time. Therefore, the developer may progress into the more abstract field of system analysis and design, which involves the capturing of system requirements and modelling.

Furthermore, the opportunities and challenges involved in freelancing and entrepreneurship were discussed. The discussion in this case revolved around web development and mobile applications. From this I learnt that the success of such systems is significantly affected by the level of advertising and marketing invested in them. One of the mentors even suggested teaming up with graduates of marketing disciplines, such that the developer can concentrate solely on the task of building the system, while the partner(s) is/are concerned with the marketing aspect.

Nonetheless, the mentors gave tips for successful interviews. I realised that employers usually require the prospective employee to have soft skills in addition to technical skills. The emphasis on soft skills is to ensure that the person is able to adapt quickly to the working environment; as well as being capable of quickly learning new methods and techniques; which may arise during the course of working for a company. In order to ensure that both skills are measured, the interview for jobs involves two phases. In the first phase the applicant’s soft skills are measured, if he/she is deemed to be competent, then the technical skills are tested.

Moreover, there was a discussion on development methodologies, with particular emphasis on Agile and TDD (Test Driven Development). The purpose of such methodologies is to optimize the system development process, by following effective guidelines and procedures. A mentor asserted that having knowledge of such methodologies can be a significant factor in being selected by employers, as it shows that the applicant has some understanding of the development process.

To round up the great event, refreshments were provided at a nearby pub; where the participants socialised and further discussed development issues. It was at this pub that I had the opportunity of talking to representatives of RecWorks, who advised me on the issue of employment and even offered to review my CV. In conclusion, I would say that the event was successful and will definitely be attending more.

For more information about upcoming events like this please visit: