Project Management

Working in a 'Tech City' company

Our intern, Tom Schwitzkowski, talks about his experiences working in the Webstars team.

New city, different language, totally different everyday life: these are the most obvious changes to have taken place in my life in the past five weeks - since I started my work experience placement at Webstars in Shoreditch.

Me? Well my name is Tom Schwitzkowski. I’m a nineteen year-old from Offenburg, a small town in the southwest of Germany. I wanted to take a gap year from my studies to experience ‘real life’, and when the opportunity to work in London for two months arose, I grabbed it. Why make a small lifestyle change when you can make a huge one, right?

I swapped my home town, with its 60,000 inhabitants, for one of the busiest, liveliest cities in the world. Not only that, but I get to spend my days right in the heart of things: Shoreditch, also known as ‘Tech City’. It seems as if every other business around here is some kind of cutting edge technology company, and that includes the bars, pubs and clubs, of which I’m happy to report there are very many*.

The first thing you worry about, when your first day at a new employer begins, is how is the working environment and what are the team like? I needn’t have been concerned. As I entered the main office at Webstars on my first day I was welcomed by a group of friendly people who would become my new colleagues. Happily they didn’t fulfil the stereotype of the “IT-nerd” in any way. They weren’t absent-minded and badly organised, nor were they shy, but rather open, friendly and always up for a good laugh. In other words, I found myself in a happy, productive working environment.

Since this is a web company, the bulk of everyone’s daily work is spent at a desk with a computer, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t constant communication. Apart from the ‘out loud’ jokes and comments, everyone has certain communications applications open on their computers at all times. At first this seemed kind of weird to me, as I was sometimes typing messages to someone sitting right next to me, but I came to find how useful it can be. These systems, like Slack and Basecamp, provide a much more collaborative way of working than using email, as you can make channels as private or inclusive as you like, and most people allow their colleagues to view the general conversations. It’s a productive way of working, and an extremely useful way to share links, URLs, files or other digital data.

Another advantage of such collaborative systems is that they allow people in the London office very easy communication with the development teams, who are based remotely - in Romania. As far as I can see this way of working serves the process of building websites very well.

Besides the hours sitting in front of the computer, there are lots of meetings: both internal and with clients. I’ve found attending both types of meeting a useful and interesting way of seeing how the company works as a whole. These meetings don’t usually take place in a formal grey room with a table and chairs, which was something like my conception of corporate meetings before this experience, but rather in various different locations: for instance in a coffee shop with a feel-good atmosphere, or in a separate room in the main London office where there is a comfy couch and the lure of coffee and donuts.

I am still in the process of learning my new skills. So far, I’ve started to learn HTML, I’ve built a website from scratch, a basic one using Wordpress, but still a professional looking, fully functioning site of which I’m very proud. Most interestingly to me, I’ve started asking questions I wouldn’t have thought to ask before this placement. Things like, how websites work and connect to each other, how they link to search engine searches, why it’s important for websites to be responsive... I’ve learnt about the massive events that take place in between pressing enter on a Google search and receiving your results (the communication between server and provider, etc), and have been blown away by the fact it can take less than a second - something I took completely fore granted before.

As I mentioned before, I have only been in my placement for a month, and I have another month still to go. I am proud and pleased with what I’ve learnt so far, watch this space for an update of what I might learn in the coming three weeks.

*One of the other good points about working in this area, and for this kind of company, is that there is a social side to the hard grind, and I’ve been out locally with my colleagues sampling Lebanese food, ‘new’ Mexican food and the delights of Far Rockaway, a New York themed bar in London town. 
Oh and one last thing... As yet I’m not up to my colleagues standard when it comes to drinking... but you can watch this space on that too ;-)

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