My placement at Siemens Mobility Ltd as a Future Digital Innovation Intern in Poole, UK

The general gist of it

Siemens PLC is a multinational corporation based in Germany, with a repertoire spanning many different fields of engineering, including healthcare, energy and power, consumer electronics, and transport. The company is operating in countless cities and locations around the world. During my placement year, I was part of the Intelligent Traffic Solutions (ITS) department in Poole, UK, as a Future Digital Innovation Intern. Yes, that does sound quite vague, however, that’s exactly what made it so enjoyable. In general, my job was to come up with and implement new ideas in experimental areas the company would like to explore, potentially using infrastructure and/or products we already produce. In addition to this, I also helped ongoing research and development projects with smaller tasks.

My main projects

A tech demo for a prototype traffic infrastructure solution

An early sneak peak at some technology currently under development. Drive around and test new features planned to enhance road safety and ease-of-use.

Front end web development for an experimental Traffic forecast algorithm

Front end webpage development aimed at developing a test environment for a new Machine Learning based traffic forecast algorightm.

Co-Creating and Leading a STEM workshop

A hands on workshop aimed at young engineers, introducing them to the basics of programming, using the BBC microbit and Scratch.

Exploring the possibilities of Internet Of Things devices

Multiple small projects involving prototyping with cutting edge IoT devices, either as standalone solutions to a new problem, or as a complement to existing hardware solutions.

What have I learned from all this? What would I do differently?

It was incredibly interesting to see indeed how different a corporate environment is to university, or even real life for that matter. The concept that a project can stall, and nobody bats an eye because a tool or license is missing was an odd one to wrap my head around. It’d have helped a lot in my first few months before I managed to familiarise myself with this to know that you’re not always expected to work 100% of the time you spend in the office; sometimes it’s inevitable that you’ll have some downtime. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can slack on your duties. It is a perfect time, for example, for reading up on this new programming language or tool that you’re going to use in your next project.

I also found that even in larger projects, you’re going to have to make compromises on what goes in and what gets cut out. For a long time in my game development project, I was trying to make everything perfect, and every mechanic and sub-system versatile and all encompassing. After all, I had way more time than I’d ever had to implement a game, so I might as well make the most of it. And while this did lead to me exploring some interesting areas of game development in search of my next advanced feature I wanted to implement, it also meant that the specification for the first version of my game was way out of proportion. Some of what I’d originally planned to include in the first edition of the game I still haven’t managed to implement in the entire lifecycle of the project after 5 months. If I could go back and change the plans, I’d definitely tone down my feature set and, now that I have a better idea about what it takes to implement a tool or game-mechanic fully, I’d be able to manage my time much better to avoid running out of time on deadlines and underdelivering.

As you can probably tell from the above, I have been involved in an enormous number of different projects, both in scope and time span, from tiny proof of concepts to full 5-month behemoths. In all that, I think the main things I took away were time management and project planning skills, the ability to better prioritise project deliverables, and a better understanding of both my skills and the fact that nobody knows or expects to know everything.

©2020 by William David Altbacker