https://pds.blog.parliament.uk/2016/07/11/my-first-week-on-work-experience/

My first week on work experience

Well, this is the first time I’ve written a blog post so I hope you like it! I’m Matthew Bwye Lera, a Spanish guy who has come to do some work experience here.

I’m Spanish, and I want to study physics, but I also like IT, which is why I ended up here. I have experience using computers, and I’ve used some design programs, but I’ve never coded or made anything, so most of the stuff here is new to me. This week was a really good start to my work experience: I’ve learnt a lot and I’ve really enjoyed it so far. I’ve been working mainly with the Data teams, but I’ve managed to see things from a lot of different departments which is making my experience here even better.  I met a lot of people, and they’ve taught me a lot of things regarding their jobs which I greatly appreciate.

Monday

On my first day, I came in with my uncle (Colin Bumstead) who introduced me to his colleagues and explained his team’s role and that they are in charge of networking for Parliament. Apart from that, there were also three groups of people that aside of working on the network, were in charge of solving technical problems that other worker’s computers could have.

Later on, I met Julie Byrne, who has looked after me through this week. Julie has organized everything I am going to be doing. She showed me around the second floor of the building, where I was going to spend most of my time. It was here where the development department worked, and where the Data teams are. Once I finished there, I met Samu Lang from the Data & Search Team, who took me to a meeting with the Website Alpha team. Before meeting Samu, Julie explained that the site is being replaced, which is what the Website Alpha team was in charge of. The website was in Alpha phase, and in the meeting people discussed if it should move onto Beta phase.

I wasn’t very familiar with the Alpha and Beta stages before Julie explained them to me; basically, the website replacement is a project, and projects have several stages before being released: Discovery phase, Alpha phase, Beta phase and live phase. The Alpha phase is the phase where prototypes are made and experimented with. The team needed to experiment, try it out and then find out if it was worth keeping or not. Once the project is good enough, it’ll move onto Beta phase, where it’ll be trialled by users who will give you feedback to help you get to Live phase, where the project just needs to be released before it’s considered finished.

So, back to the meeting at which Caroline Kippler pulled out a list of objectives that were meant to be completed before moving to Beta. The meeting wasn’t too hard for me to follow as people didn’t use many technical terms, and most of the explanations were illustrated.

After lunch I joined Samu again, this time alongside his colleague Wojciech looking at data.Parliament. I could see them using script codes. As I mentioned above, I cannot code, but I do know how to interpret what it means, so I was able to follow what they were doing. Samu patiently explained that they were basically organizing data about those members of parliament who sent requests for help. Samu and Wojciech were using Json coding and Azure, a Microsoft tool, to organize this data and link it to each other. This was more complicated to follow than the meeting had been, but from what I could see, the difficulties included things like: the full name of these members and other data that could change overtime.

Tuesday

On my second day, Julie introduced me to Matt Noe, who is part of the Corporate Data team. Matt showed me what he and his team did and how they manage data and make sure that the information about members of parliament was updated. Also, they had to make sure that the right information reached users but there was always someone who didn’t receive the correct information. Matt showed me how they dealt with this issue. They had to find the source of the problem that stopped information from getting where it was supposed to get to and solve it before resending the information (these problems are usually the result of some missing or wrong information).

Sometimes there would be an unusual problem which David (also part of the team) would generally try to solve; he seemed to be good at dealing with these issues. Matt then showed me Biztalk, a program also used to manage data and information. To get a better idea of what Biztalk was, Matt showed me an image that explained how it worked. It was similar to this one. He explained how a message (information) is coded and then orchestrated using Biztalk, and then sent again after decoding it. He showed me how the orchestration worked. It wasn’t hard to understand, the previous day Samu and Wojciech used similar tools with Azure, so I had already seen this sort of program. In fact, later on in the week Matt and Samu talked about linking Biztalk and Azure, that way they would be able to work together linking the programs. Overall, my time in the Corporate Data team showed me how great teamwork can get a lot done in a friendly environment.

Right before having lunch Rob Greig, the leader of the Digital Service, gathered all the staff and started what is known as an all staff briefing. He talked to all of us, updating us on useful information for everyone. It was good to see how a senior manager can communicate effectively with his team in a work place like this one. This was an important lesson for me too.

After lunch, Julie took me to join the Website Alpha team at the V&A museum, where we were told about their new website. They told us many things about it, which will probably help the Website Alpha team in the future, avoiding mistakes and doing things that will hopefully make the developing of the new website quicker and better. Importantly, they gave us some good tips about how to make progress and what to take into account as time passes. From my point of view, the most useful thing they communicated to us was that it’s a lot better to focus on one single thing at a time rather than trying to work on the whole site at the same time.

Wednesday

The first two days involved meeting a lot of new people. There was so much new information that, by Wednesday, I realised that I had to take notes of what I heard. This has been an important lesson for me too.

At the start of my third day I went alongside Julie to a meeting with Emma Allen and James Fowles. James told me a bit about how Procurement works here at Parliament.  Julie, James and Emma had to discuss an issue regarding a current procurement using the Digital Marketplace.

From there, we went to another building Norman Shaw North. There the Data & Search team had their planning meeting. Before starting, Dan (Daniel Barrett), the leader of the team, told me a bit about what they did: they had to create a new data service, which was composed of 3 parts:

-Domain modelling (Michael was in charge of this one), which is based on mapping and understanding of the data.

-Infrastructure or data platform (Samu was in charge of this other one), which makes use of the domain modelling.

- Ensure data can be found (Robert is in charge here).

Apart from that, this team provides new tools to the data and management teams, is in charge of the parliamentary search, etc.

After this explanation, Dan asked us what we should talk about during the meeting. When he asked me, I just said I would listen and take notes, I wouldn’t participate, but Samu, who was there too, suggested I tell them about my experience. I did so, I explained it to them, and to be honest, I think it was an amazing idea: it really helped me to clarify my thoughts. I really wanted to thank him for having suggested this, but I didn’t get the chance to do so unfortunately. During the meeting they all talked about many things regarding the team and the other teams that collaborated with them. Robert and Samu talked about the search function in the parliament.uk site and Julie gave an update on recruitment.

We had a break, and once it was over Dan ran a retrospective and then Samu talked about the development work he has planned with the Business Application’s team and linking Azure and BizTalk. One of Samu´s conclusions was that the corporate data team should take part in the development.

Thursday

During the first half of the fourth day I went to a different building in Tothill Street. There I stayed with the data index team and they showed me their job. Basically, they receive answers, questions, statements or anything else that was said in the debates in the House of Lords and Commons. They received this information from the corporate data team, and they would index it so that when it was searched for in the website, the user could find the information that he/she needs. By the looks of it, a lot more was said in the House of Commons, which meant there was a lot more people indexing what was said there than what was said in the House of Lords. There I met Anya, who was at the meeting the previous day, Ned, Emma, Martin, Phil and others. Phil was the only one of them whose job wasn’t indexing information; he had to read the feedback the users left, tested if the searches worked correctly and train people who are new to the job.

After I had my lunch, I went with Julie to Portcullis House for a digital portfolio meeting event. First, there was an introduction where we were given updates regarding the Portfolio Directorate.  Then there was a retrospective workshop. Julie asked the people on our table to write down things they’d seen that helped the Portfolio Directorate progress and other things that slowed its progress in the last few months. At first I didn’t want to write anything since I hadn’t been there for long enough, but in the end I thought of a couple of things to write down - it’s great to take part in these events during work experience, rather than just sit and watch, getting involved in the job is all part of the experience.  Out of all the things our group mentioned, we had to vote for those that we thought were most important.  The rest of the groups did exactly the same. In the end, all the positive and negative things that the groups chose were grouped and we had to vote once again to find out which are the three most important things we should work to improve. Some of the things people said were positive were good vibes, good teamwork and the new “agile” way of working, and some of the bad things were lack of experience, resources and recruitment of new staff being too slow.

The process for voting on positives and negatives and then eventually deciding on what needed to change was a really interesting experience for me.

Friday

Finally, the last day of the week, I worked with Aidan. He patiently explained to me in greater detail how the several phases of a project (Discovery, Alpha, Beta and Live) worked. He also talked a bit about the parliamentary business programme and then we talked quite a lot about “agile”. Up to this point, the only thing I knew was that “agile” was a new working method to speed up work flows but that not everyone had the skills or capability yet to use it.

Aidan explained the differences between “agile” and the previous way they used to work. For example, prior to “agile” they would work on a project, and once it was considered to be finished it was released, while now they work on smaller prototypes of what they want to obtain, try it out, and if it’s useful keep it and improve it, but if it isn’t start again. This means they avoid developing a whole project which, in the end, isn´t very useful, and gives them greater visibility about whether they’re heading in the right direction. Prototypes are tested, and the teams receive feedback, which makes them learn from their mistakes. In order to do so, certain “ceremonies” are held, which consist in showing other teams how the project has improved and where it’s heading; there are several of these “ceremonies”, such as “show and tells”, “stand ups”, etc.

This was one of the things I wanted to learn from the beginning of the week, so I’m grateful that Aidan took the time to explain this to me. After this, I had my lunch, and started writing this blog that you’re reading...

Summary

I really enjoyed this week, although it was tiring, I learnt so much! I remember, the first few days I was asked several times what I wanted to get out of this. I wasn’t sure what to say, I just wanted to learn a bit here and there, but if I was asked now I would have a clearer answer: I want to know more about the working environment in places like this, get a clearer idea of what working life is like, and even something that will help me in University in these upcoming years. In short, knowing what lessons to extract from lots of information and synthesize it to remember the most important things.

Here’s where my blogs ends, but before doing so I would like to thank all of those who have helped me and taught me so much - especially Julie, my Uncle Colin and Samu too - I learnt so much from him and he encouraged me to do things that have helped me in my work experience.  Matt, Noel and David, who made Tuesday such a fun day.  Dan Barrett, for having helped and explained so many things that I didn’t know and Aidan thank you for explaining how agile works.

Thank you all for having been with me this week!

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