In 2018, after his first year of Computer Science at Keele University, Toby Drane joined Cambridge Intelligence for a summer internship. We were delighted when he got back in touch this year, to see whether there was an opportunity for him to come back for more.
It just so happened that we were about to launch our new product, ReGraph, so we knew we could provide plenty of new challenges for him.
As his second internship was coming to an end, I sat down with Toby to find out if we’d delivered on our promise.
Scott: When we spoke at the end of last summer, you were thinking of trying a different industry this year. What brought you back to Cambridge Intelligence?
Toby: I had a few interesting opportunities, mostly in London, but spending 3 months in London didn’t really have the same appeal as returning to Cambridge for the summer.
I already knew that Cambridge Intelligence builds high quality and interesting software, so the chance to work on a new product was a great opportunity.
As a returning intern, I could use the knowledge and skills that I’d built up the previous year and hit the ground running. Cambridge Intelligence only offers paid internships, but thanks to my added experience I was even offered an increase.
Scott: And how did you find the ReGraph API? Did your experience with KeyLines help?
Toby: It took a little bit of time to get back into the technology. KeyLines and ReGraph are quite different in the way they treat data, but ReGraph is so well designed that it was quick to get up to speed. It’s fantastically easy to use.
“It has been a great experience to work on such a well-built piece of software, at a time where it’s developing so quickly.”
I’ve also grown more as a developer, partly from last year’s internship and partly from my own studies.
Scott: How has this year’s internship been different from last?
Toby: Joe Parry (Cambridge Intelligence’s CEO) has influenced my work a lot more this year.
I got to work more closely with him in the ReGraph team and I also got more insight into how he can go from running a company and making high-level decisions to talking in fine detail about options for a new feature.
I really like the fact that he still codes. He doesn’t tuck himself away in an office, he’s out there working with other developers and the product is better for it.
Scott: Has the work been harder this year?
Toby: There’s been more pressure, but it’s positive pressure. It’s kept me focused and enjoying the work. There’s not much satisfaction in solving a succession of easy tasks.
Also, working on a new product, in a small team, has allowed us to work at a fast pace. That’s sometimes meant needing to solve more than one issue a day – so, you pick something up in the morning, solve by lunchtime, merge in the afternoon.
The team is incredibly agile. Being able to work quickly and contribute a lot, without loads of meetings, is great. This type of approach does require a lot of trust in your developers.
Scott: So, did you feel that you’re trusted here?
Toby: Yes, and I relish the trust.
“That is the real benefit of an internship here, rather than most other software companies. Here we work on real projects and products, for real customers.”
Compared to last year, I’ve had more latitude on how I spend my time and contribute to the product. That kind of freedom in development is how you get creativity and innovation. I felt like I had a voice and my ideas were valued.
Scott: What about more generally? What’s changed since last year?
Toby: It feels like the company’s matured more. There’s a sense of expanding and growing, and there’s really good energy around that. We’re innovating, using new technologies and resources. Ideas are really easily cross-pollinated here, between all the teams. It broadens the company outlook and helps everyone learn and be better.
Scott: Is there anything we should improve?
Toby: We really need a better grill for sandwiches. Otherwise, I can’t complain.
Scott: One thing that has remained the same is Friday projects. What have you got up to this year?
Toby: I’ve focused a lot on visual projects, specifically building intuitive interfaces and designing better user experience. One example was adding a password-less login to ReGraph along with a redesign of the entire login page. I think user interfaces and UI design is a really interesting area. I look forward to seeing where it goes next.
Scott: What are you interested in studying next?
Scott: Has working here helped with that?
Toby: Definitely. Last year I worked on AWS with KeyLines and this year Kubernetes for ReGraph. Getting to work on the entire codebase has been really cool, but also given a bigger picture view of what’s needed for an MVP (minimum viable product).
For instance, doing things like looking at access logs, involving both the front and backend design, was a great project, because it connects to the commercial team’s activities. It’s not part of the core product, but if you want to have your own company, and product, you need to think about those broader things.
Scott: Before we sign off, is there anything else you’d like to say?
Toby: Thanks for having me back. It’s been a great summer!
Thanks to Toby for taking the time to share his experience. We look forward to inviting him back in 2020.
If you’d like to join him, we’re now recruiting for next year’s internship program. Take a look at our webpage for more details and information on how to apply.