TLPD Industry Insight placement: Oscar O'Brien

Oscar is a programme leader at Exeter College. As part of the preparations for delivering the Digital Production, Design and Development T Level from September 2020, Oscar completed an Industry Insight placement at the Met Office. The placements are part of the T Level Professional Development support offer providing opportunities for professional updating for teachers that is industry relevant and that facilitates knowledge transfer and professional exchange.

What were your key objectives for going on a Staff Placement in Industry?
My goal was to stay up to date with current and local professional practices and software development methodologies. This was because the T Level specification has a lot of flexibility in the specific technologies and approaches that could be taught. Through an industry placement I aimed to gain a picture of the specific technologies needed locally e.g. do they use fuzzing tools or code their own technologies from the fundamentals? This would make future teaching of the T Level more industry relevant and enhance progression. As someone who is heavily involved in curriculum design and resourcing lessons, I wanted to gain experience and make findings in this project that could be embedded into shared resources. In addition to this I wanted to gain general understanding of how software development has evolved so I could feed this back in staff development sessions.

Tell us about your experience and the highlights from the placement

I found it useful to talk to active software engineers. This is because the actual practice of software engineering is different in a professional vs an academic context. Academically there is a lot of knowledge and understanding to develop about how computers work. Professionally there is less of an emphasis on this and more of an emphasis on project management, quality control, collaboration etc. These elements are a real craft with an ever-changing body of knowledge and shifting popularity of different approaches. In this placement we discussed different approaches which are popular in the industry right now and identified some good sources of further reading.

What did you value most about engaging with the Met Office? 

The most valuable aspects of this placement were learning about the documentation and testing processes. This is because previous curriculums already had a lot of content on how to programme and how computers work so this kind of thing is widely known in academic circles. Documentation and testing are much less commonly encountered because academic projects rarely reach the scale where the choice of which documentation and testing strategy you use has an impact on efficiency and quality. In recent years there has been much more emphasis on ‘doing less’ of this through embedding it into the coding process e.g. through self-documenting code, test-driven development or automated testing. Having met with an employer I can now ensure these are reflected in practice.

What has been the impact on you, your colleagues and organisation?

I have laid plans for several resources we should develop in the upcoming curriculum as a result of this activity. The opportunities presented by cloud and virtual machines have increased dramatically in recent years and now impact all areas of IT. Our IT support department are looking at how we can get resources in to support this. Most programmers also use a software technology known as a version control system when developing a system collaboratively. Using these technologies in the classroom will not only give them a more professional experience but also improve teamwork and thereby peer learning.

In the placement we also discussed options around which languages to study. Their opinions will be very valuable as we make these decisions and recruit and upskill staff.

Finally, video conferencing is another area of opportunity for us. As most employers in our sector make heavy use of this, we might be able get more guest speakers through this technology.

How will this positively impact on future T Level learners?

Through this placement, student study will be substantially enriched. As we know, what is taught in class goes far beyond the test and qualification requirements. This placement has enabled our college to put together a very professional and up-to-date programme that accurately reflects both the practices of the software development industry and underlying rationale which drives the development of these such that they can become lifelong learners. Having spoken to several industry professionals on the placement, it will also help bring learning to life through real world examples that add gravitas, particularly around things like portfolios and the interview process.