My summer internship @ Firefly

Henry Thompson shares his thoughts and experience on what it's like to undertake a summer internship at Firefly.

For the 5 weeks between July and August I worked as an intern with Firefly. Although initially the idea of giving up a large chunk of my holidays having only just come out of A-Levels seemed daunting, it proved to be both an invaluable experience and something I thoroughly enjoyed!

Being an intern at Firefly was extremely enjoyable and I learnt a great deal. Working closely with professional software developers on a relatively large-scale commercial product enabled me to gain a far greater insight and understanding into how such projects are built, whilst simultaneously increasing my knowledge of good software engineering techniques. The more practical, hands-on learning will certainly come in helpful when I start studying Computer Science at university.

As a company Firefly has a good balance between a friendly office atmosphere and hard work. I looked forward each day to getting in and pushing on with the projects. The office is full of people who not only really know their stuff, they are also passionate in their particular areas. I certainly felt like I got to know the development team very well!

Hammersmith was also a very pleasant area to work in. The weekly market was great to pick up a quick lunch, and Lyric Square always had a buzz about it. Although Hammersmith itself didn’t have much to do outside of work, with only a few minutes by tube to other areas in London, it actually also turned out to be great for entertainment – there were a number of nights where I would meet friends, go to a gig, visit Westfield shopping centre or get a quick bite to eat after work.

The team were all extremely easy to work with, and extremely helpful. Whenever I had any problems, they would quickly come to help, and it did feel at times that we interns were using far more of their time than was fair! However, the friendly dynamics but also hard-working culture meant that a lot was produced and the daily “stand-up” meetings were useful in ensuring the team remained coordinated in their work. The developers had a keen focus on quality code, and it was amazing to see what could be produced by professionals! I also got on extremely well with the other intern, Feroz, who was there at the same time as me, and felt like I made a very good friend there. And whilst it was also great to have discussions or debates about the best way to write software or computing in general, the continual friendly chat and banter between colleagues was always entertaining!

From a non-technical point of view, it has been eye-opening to see how a commercial software product is developed – with different teams working in parallel but separately on features, coordinated with regular meetings. The developers would produce the back end, but simultaneously the designers could write the presentation of it to the end user; meanwhile marketing and support would ensure that customers were kept in the loop. It was impressive how Firefly ensures it gives users what they want, and presents it in the best way. The role of product manager was also new to me, and it became evident that their role was essential in ensuring that all the teams are co-ordinated in producing what the customer wants. Also, it was useful to see some of the background stuff users don’t normally think about, such as the hours and hours dedicated to supporting schools who are having technical difficulties.

Having never programmed as part of a team, it has also been interesting to see how the development team works. The weekly coding chats provided an opportunity for developers to share what they had learnt recently and ask others for advice and opinions on various problems, which provided not only a stimulating discussion but were clearly a valuable opportunity for developers to learn from each other. Not all of it was that high-tech though – despite all the technology, the outlines of the designs for new features, or “wireframes,” were still done using good old pen and graph paper!

There were several reasons why I enjoyed the work but most of all, it was the challenge of producing not just solutions which worked, but to make these solutions as elegant as reasonably possible.