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Leaving University for pastures new

Only 4 months ago I finished my masters at the University of Sheffield and moved down to Southampton to work at Net4 as a Technical Projects Manager. I’ve been really enjoying my time and responsibilities (and it’s nice not being on a student budget anymore!), so I wanted to take a little time and talk about my experiences moving straight from education to working at a quickly expanding start-up.

Work experience

I’ve had a lot of work experience before, mostly summer jobs doing programming for the university, part-time work in programming as well as an intern year at IBM, but I think there is a huge difference between those and the real thing.

The role of technical projects manager as opposed to life at university

Firstly, as a Technical Projects Manager, I have additional responsibilities in terms of project development, iteration design and sprint management, so having to set my own deadlines, as well as prioritise and plan tasks needed for project releases was one of the key differences I noticed initially.

In university, there usually is a very clear set of criteria; Use this programming language, add X processes, complete Y questions and get Z number of marks. A start-up environment is more akin to designing your own mark schemes, adhering to your own specifications, then having to mark yourself and your team critically afterwards.

Net4 team meeting
Net4 team meeting

Variety of work

One of the things that I didn’t expect, is the variety of work.

Since joining, I’ve written scripts in multiple different languages, worked with docker, machine-learning, AWS, but also planned out future iterations, worked on write-ups, documentation, hardware devices, network communication, design diagrams, pitches and demos. Especially in a start-up environment, there’s a large need to be adaptable, and have skills that aren’t just limited to pure programming.

I learned some of these skills in different modules in Sheffield, but a lot of these aren’t skills that you can get through a university course (and it would be difficult to create one for it).

Every day, I end up applying lessons learned through not only academia but through extracurriculars. That’s why I think it’s critical to not only focus on your course, but to try and get practical experience through hackathons, tech-festivals. Just last week I had the opportunity to apply video-editing experience gained from my job at the University of Sheffield in creating videos of our demos.

Keeping up to date with technology

I also realised how important staying up to date with the latest programming trends, technology is critical. In a work environment, the education doesn’t end (if anything it increases!). Knowing how to learn is a skill, and I think that’s one of the most critical benefits that I’ve received from the university. Once you’re in an actual work environment, the education only accelerates, especially in a rapidly evolving field, where staying up to date on the current events is critical.

Only 4 months in, I’ve already managed to learn a huge amount at Net4, and I hope to learn a lot more over the new year!

Net4 christmas escape room
Christmas escape room with Net4

What is the IoT?

A while ago, I would have only known what the letters stand for and not what it actually is, and I don’t think I’m alone on this. However, the IoT is all around us and will continue to grow. I have been on a steep learning curve and thinking about this made me wonder about what we think we know and what are the common misconceptions about IoT? I have created my top five list of what I believe are the main misconceptions about IoT and here I will try and debunk them (in a non-techie way!) for you.

IoT is only about wearable and the consumer market

Wearables such as wristbands, smart fridges or thermostats are of course examples of IoT applications which are well known, ask most of the public for examples and this would be it. However, there are so many more examples of IoT in the business environment away from the more obvious ones. For example, within urban environments IoT can monitor air quality, provide adaptive traffic control and environmental monitoring. On construction sites, IoT can monitor PPE usage and provide predictive maintenance. IoT can be found in all industries, for more information drop me a line and I will provide you with further examples.

IoT is only for large businesses, it is too complicated for SMEs 

The reason many solutions are only implemented by bigger business is because they pay large consultancies to demonstrate the economics; find the right supplier and this should come as part of the package, therefore making it much more viable for a SME to evaluate and implement.

There are many solutions that are simple to install and have business impact that any businesses can deploy to start their IoT journey, for example:

The IoT is not secure

Security has to be one of the key points and I would strongly advise anyone interested in IoT to talk with their security advisor about. It is most definitely not a straightforward one line answer, the reality is that almost any system has vulnerabilities, so it is about designing the solution so that these potential vulnerabilities become impotent.

For instance, it may be possible to intercept the data from a parking sensor, however by ensuring there is no pathway from this device back into the cloud, network security is maintained, and any potential data interception is entirely meaningless.  

Security should be like an onion with many layers, each layer providing a different type and level of protection because hacking a system should not be as easy as knowing a password or IP address.

IoT is expensive

It is certainly possible to blow the budget on high end systems, however unless the system is being deployed for ecological benefit (which is priceless) the general purpose of using IoT in a busines environment is to generate savings, gains or increase output. All of which result in a return on investment and therefore are not an additional cost burden to a business. With Capex and Opex options commonly available, cashflow doesn’t need to be negatively impacted either.

The technology adoption curve dictates that as IoT becomes mainstream prices will decrease and therefore utilisation increases. A real-world example of technology adoption in industry is the car industry, where Formula 1 drives innovation that filters down into the cars that you and I drive at an affordable price.

IoT will steal our jobs!

People have always feared technical change, the most obvious example are the luddites, a secret oath-based organisation of textile workers in the 19th century, they were well known for destroying textile machinery in protest, which stemmed from the fear of losing their jobs to machinery. Jobs were lost but others grew and what was gained was a better quality of life, better health, and the creation of less harmful and dangerous jobs. There will be some job losses, Gartner predicts that 1.8M jobs will be eliminated but more positively 2.3M jobs will be created with AI. There will be new economies and new businesses developing. Our lives will be changed but we can’t replace humanity, for example would you be happy with a robot cutting your hair?

This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding misconceptions and questions around the IoT. It’s interesting to look beneath the fears and drill down on the possibilities of IoT.

We enjoy questions and would be more than happy to answer any concerns or dispel any myths that you may have heard around the IoT in a user-friendly non-techie way. Please contact us if you have queries, which are not in my top 5 and we will be happy to help you.