Kainos, one of the longest standing technology companies in the UK, recently won our Placement Employer of the Year Award for the great placement opportunities that they give to Ulster students. In fact, the person that nominated them was last year’s placement student and now Kainos employee, Laura McKeague. We had a chat with Laura to find out what made her placement so good, how she secured her placement and what her future holds as an Ulster graduate.
Hi Laura, you have just graduated from BSc Hons Computing – can you tell us a bit about yourself and your student journey?
Hi there, well I’m from a small village in County Antrim called Dunloy. I’m a recent graduate from Ulster University’s Coleraine campus where I studied my computing degree. I’ve always been based in Coleraine, going to both university and secondary school in the area. Whilst at Loreto College I always had a passion for IT and my teacher at the time had a great impact on me choosing this as a career – alongside the guidance of my mum who really knew that it was the only career that I would enjoy and really take an interest in.
From a young age I was always interested in technology and really loved to know how things worked and why they worked so I took bits of the computer apart and put them back together again. A degree in computing was the perfect choice for me as it was interesting, up-to-date and most importantly for me, challenging. The student experience at Coleraine was more than I ever dreamed of, it was welcoming, fun and the lectures where just second to none!
You have already secured a graduate job with Kainos, a leading IT services company. How did this come about?
I was very fortunate to secure a place firstly in AppCamp, then a year-long placement and now a full-time graduate job here at Kainos. The experience I had with the company really benefitted my degree. Firstly, with AppCamp at the end of my first year of studies I was chosen to develop an iOS app over the summer with the company and launch it on the apple app store. This opportunity led to a placement within the company the following year. The year-long placement was the best experience in my career so far!
Before I even stepped foot into the company I was invited to join a four-week training programme that gave me the opportunity to experience new coding languages and learn about business etiquette such as giving presentations, on-site mannerisms and dealing with customers.
This training gave me the stepping stone I needed to join a functional Kainos project.
The project I was assigned to throughout my placement was based in Swansea, Wales. This meant travelling every week over to Swansea to work on the client site. The experience of travelling is something I would encourage all students to have a go at, it really benefitted me in many ways but mostly with my software development skills by working alongside ten other brilliant developers every day.
That’s great that you got to travel. How did you find working away from home?
Working away from home for me was one of the hardest transitions, I have always been used to living at home and travelling everywhere. It most definitely was very hard at the start to get used to flying out every Monday morning and coming home Thursday evening but it just became the norm.
The company put me up in a lovely apartment overlooking the beach, which was really more than any placement student could have asked for!
It really soon became my home away from home. Again, the team were the best part of my experience over in Swansea, they really took the time to help me out whenever I needed them and helped me with the transition. Everyone was in the same boat, travelling away from their loved ones every week.
What are the main things you learned during your placement and how did it prepare you for final year and your new career?
There are just so many things I learned whilst on placement with Kainos. My technical skills were not the strongest but they improved enormously and led to me graduating from university with a first class honours degree. Placement also gave me the opportunity to improve my presentation and timing skills, which was a real help for final year where I soon realised they were essential.
Congratulations on getting your first class honours! Now that you work full-time, how did you find the transition from student to work colleague?
The transition from student to work colleague was very easy for me as I actually worked part-time with Kainos throughout my final year. However, the early mornings as always were very hard to get used to and there definitely was a reality check going back to work full-time!
Describe your role – what does a ‘typical’ day look like?
No day is really the same at Kainos as cliché as it sounds. We are constantly involved in new projects and challenges and really have the opportunity to engage in every aspect of the business. My current role is as a software developer, however I am hoping in the near future to possibly move into consultancy or sales and really make use of my other skills within the IT sector.
What have been your ‘best bits’ so far?
There really have been so many best bits from my time at Kainos so far but the one that stands out most prominently is that of accompanying Kainos’ Chief Technical Officer Tom Gray to the SXSW conference in Texas. This was an amazing opportunity for me to see how other companies in different parts of the world were educating young people and I came home with so many ideas for the upcoming CodeCamp to help get the young people interested in a career in IT.
The first day I started at Kainos I was asked to be a mentor for CodeCamp and low and behold the next year I was managing it!
CodeCamp is a free two-week camp where kids between the ages of year 11-14 join us in Belfast and we teach them to build an android app. It really is the most rewarding feeling seeing these young people produce fully functional apps at the end of the second week, some of their ideas are just outstanding.
What does the future hold for you? What’s next?
Who knows, at the minute I’m taking it day by day and really enjoying settling into the company and the technology industry. I see myself going down the sales route in the future but at the minute I’m just enjoying being young and taking each day as it comes.
Do you have any advice for other students who might be considering studying at Ulster and taking up a placement?
The best advice I could give a placement student is to grab onto any opportunity that arises and really go for it. Enjoy your placement and make the most out of it, you never know, it could potentially be the opportunity for a graduate job!