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From Placement to Head of Digital (part 2): Monkey See, Monkey Do

Last week I talked all about my search for a placement, how unprepared I was and how ridiculously lucky I was to find one. This week I’m going to tell you about my year in placement, what I got up to, what I learned and the transition back to uni once I’d finished.

Starting My Placement

I walked in to the Fantastic offices for my first day of work over 6 years ago. Straight away I was stood up in front of everyone being introduced. I wish I could say I had a witty opening line but unfortunately the nerves got to me and all I got out was a mumbled and monotone “Hello, I’m Miles”.

Out of the Frying Pan, in to the Fire

I was surprised how quickly I got into the action. I thought there would be a few weeks training and watching other people, but as it turned out by the start of day two I was working on my own projects. Initially at Fantastic my projects were predominantly email newsletter builds under the watchful eye of @chriskemm. Chris was the placement student the year before me and stayed on a couple of days a week once he went back to uni, so I had some big boots to fill. I spent my first day shadowing Chris, he talked me through the process of building newsletters and why things had to be done in certain ways like using tables and not using stylesheets. Luckily at this point my experience with html was building sites using tables… tut tut!

So my year went on perfecting the art of email building, soaking in any advice or information Chris had to offer… which was buckets full. As my understanding of the build process improved I was able to start making improvements to streamline the build and improved the overall structure of emails.

Eager Beaver

At the start of my year I planned to open myself up to as many areas of the business as possible so I quickly became the YES man. If someone had a task that needed doing I would do it. Whether it was “can you save this graphic out?” or “can someone tidy up this data?” These weren’t the sexiest of tasks by any means, but they were all things that needed doing and it’s important not to get stuck thinking “Oh, I only do email builds” or “I only do websites”. Your placement is about learning as much as you can and opening yourself up to new challenges and for me, Fantastic Media was the best place to put this in to practice.

Once I was comfortable with building emails I wanted to branch out even more and find some new challenges. I started to look at the work the developers and web designers were doing. When you look at a page full of PHP or ASP for the first time you can easily think its gibberish, or what the devil would look like in a text format. I didn’t, I looked at it and saw a challenge, something new for me to learn. I started to ask questions as I saw developers working. From that I started to go home and setup simple PHP based websites. The more I did the more I fell in love with web development.

Burning the Midnight Oil

Don’t see your placement as a 9 to 5. If you want to drive yourself forward and improve, you need to be willing to work and spend your own time experimenting, it doesn’t just happen. Finding something that you love doing will really help you here, if you’re not willing to put in some extra effort for what you do then you should be doing something else.

Towards the end of my placement year I started to get a bit nervous. Based on previous placement students being able to come back in a couple of days a week when they went back to uni I wondered, will they invite me back? I decided to ask! I went in to Andy’s office and told him how much I’ve enjoyed working here and asked whether I would be staying on for the next year. His reply was “Oops! Have I not told you yet? Of course you’re coming back next year.”

TIP: If you want to know something, don’t wait around to be told… ASK!

The Balancing Act

As excited as I was to still be working at Fantastic, once I went back to uni I did wonder whether I would be able to manage the workload between the two. This is when I learned communication is key. If I was getting behind on uni work all I had to do was let someone know and I could take a day off work to catch up. Work is massively important, the experience you gain and the addition to your CV is priceless. However, you’ve already spent two years of your life working towards your degree (plus the admissions fees!) so you must make sure that university comes first. Fantastic, like any good employer, will understand this and do what they can to help. Don’t feel pressure to put university to the side — remember it’s about YOUR future.

After I started working on web development in my first year of placement I knew that my final year project would be based around it. One of the best things about being involved in an agency, especially when you’re at uni is you have lots of people to bounce ideas off. At Fantastic it was more than that. I had experts to bounce ideas off. It wasn’t just ideas, I was able to get advice on processes to follow, development techniques and general support. My final year project was 10 times better than it would have been without the input I had from my co-workers.

It wasn’t just the end product that was better, my whole process was easier and more efficient. On placement I learned how to manage my time and work to tight deadlines, going back to uni was a piece of cake, all of a sudden I had 3 months to complete a project instead of an hour or a day.

Conclusion

As I mentioned in last week’s post my placement was the single most important thing in my career. Without it I know I would not be doing a job that I love, working for an amazing agency with Fantastic people. The amount I learned and the experience I gained on my placement was incredible. In last week’s post I mentioned how unprepared I was and how lucky I was to have even got a placement. This week I’m going to big myself up a little — I handled my placement year brilliantly!

I jumped in head first and that helped me get the most out of it. If you’re on, or will be on your placement make sure you become engaged with whatever you work on. It’s not always going to be the most fun work in the world, but use everything you do as a learning experience. Be proactive in learning. If you feel you are stuck doing something over and over then go and learn something in your own time that you can bring to your placement and show the ability to do more, don’t just wait for people to open you up to new techniques or ways of thinking.

Placements are a two sided exchange, make sure you get the most out of that exchange. Ask the experts you work with as many questions as possible and take that back to university. Use it to improve your final year projects and dissertations. Placements will give out as much as you put in so be a work horse, give 200% at all times and become the go-to person.

Here at Fantastic we are always looking for talented individuals to join us for work experience, whether it be a couple of weeks, months or a full year placement. We look for people we can mentor, with the end game being joining the Fantastic team full time. If you would like to work with us, send your CV and portfolio site to digital@fantasticmedia.co.uk.

Takeaways

  • Become a YES person — even boring tasks allow you to learn something
  • Don’t see your placement as a 9 to 5 — if you want to improve yourself you need to work hard
  • Make sure you love what you’re doing
  • If you want to know something, ASK!
  • University should be priority Number 1
  • Get advice, information and help from your co-workers

Have you been on or currently on your placement? Share your experiences in the comments section below. Don’t forget to sign up to our newsletter and stay up to date with all the latest posts on our blog. Would you like to follow me on twitter @thorp88

Next Week

Next week I will be talking about getting my first “real” job as a Junior Front End Developer, how I went about getting it and what the job entailed.



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Director at Fantastic Media working on everything from UX and CRO to e-commerce and digital strategy. My design and development centres around the users experience and making sure everything we do has a goal and a measurement of success.

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