Summer 2014 – Part 2

Well, these four weeks have gone far too fast. I just finished my four week internship at Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria and I must say, I learned a great deal there, not just about the automobile prototyping process, but also about the job world and life in general. Keep in mind that I decided not to go to Standard EPGY this year so that I could do this internship. In all honestly, I made the correct decision, not to forget the fact that I earned £1000 post tax in these four weeks, which isn’t too shabby! So without further ado, let’s begin.

I stayed with my very fun aunt over the four weeks in Graz. I’ve been to Graz before to visit her several times, but this time I really got to experience working life in a small city and see what kind of atmosphere Graz actually has. In comparison to London, it’s not bad; just different. The constant arranging of meeting places and times isn’t really necessary, as there is only one centre of town and everything is within 30mins on the public transport network away from the centre. When I think that it took me 45 mins on bus, tram, bus to get to work on the other geographical end of town, it’s really not too bad. The people were nice and the cultural opportunities, immense: there were several free open-air shows on at the time. Unfortunately, I didn’t really have time to go to one, but I passed a few on my commute. I’m sure there are such things in London, but the small city atmosphere is missing somewhat there. Going out onto the town at night is a regular and normal occurrence, even for the slightly older individuals, so the city centre certainly isn’t dead on weekend evenings.

At work, I was required to clock in and out. I found this, as a non-shift worker, to be quite odd. I worked for 8.2 hours a day (38.5h week plus 0.5h for lunch), and if I worked overtime, I got to leave earlier the next day. The idea behind this is that your employer cannot exploit an individual, especially someone like an intern, but what surprised me was that even the bosses had to clock in and out! Of course, this system has issues: if I got all my work done for the day, I would have to sit out the clock to make sure I made the hours. Additionally, if I wanted to work at home in the evenings (as I would come to do), that work isn’t counted on the clock, so there is a distinct work/play distinction, which I don’t quite like that much: as the majority of life is work, do work that you like doing! If you like doing your work, then you will not have any problem working in your free time.

That’s part of the reason why I don’t think I could work at a big company. Everything is so institutionalised and anything the lowest worker has to say isn’t really registered at the top, and it’s very hard to become passionate about a monotonous and repetitive job. I think that working at a small startup (or founding my own) is the way for me, as I would be able to get excited about what they were doing and I would be able to help in a wide variety of fields, seeing as a startup can’t really hire all that many people. Equally, I think I would enjoy going into research and development.

I was placed into the documentation section of the prototyping department, something you may think is a bit boring, but it certainly was not! Learning how the documentation of these prototypes is administrated and sorted is an interesting exercise, but a bit repetitive. One thing that I picked up on was how PDFs were handled. They had some software to help them merge and do funky stuff with them, but it was slow and really non user friendly. So I decided to write some Python scripts to do the simple merging and splitting of PDFs quickly and with an easy command line interface. In the end, they adopted my programs very quickly! I had learned Python so that I could write these programs in my spare time at home.

Noticing that I picked up Python quickly, the boss then tasked me for the following three weeks to create a macro enabled excel document with which he could manage his projects and worker capacity. For this task, I had to learn VBA – which I did in the second week – write all the user form code and create the actual document. All in all, it was great fun and I learned a huge deal from this task. My boss actually told me that there might be a freelance opportunity for me!

So what did I pick up from this? I learned that the most important thing to do in any job is to add value to the life or job of your employer and those around you. My programs and excel macro document will be used for months to come, so my work over these four weeks has a legacy of some sorts. If you add value, people will try to give you value, like the possibility for freelance jobs in my case. Who would have thought: me, a freelance programmer! I like the sound of that, somehow.

Aside from the job, I also came to many other conclusions. If you recall, I was fretting over choosing between electrical and electronic engineering (EEE) or mechanical engineering (MechEng). Having seen people design car parts and having worked in the mechanical prototyping area, I think that MechEng is not the course for me. I much preferred looking at all the battery systems, the hydrogen fuel cell control systems, the car electronics and of course writing my programs. So EEE is the way for me, because I feel that my interests lie in that area, and the idea of being able to enter research and development in robotics and automated cars just appeals to me more so than the mechanical aspects of the above. This is interesting, as I always thought myself to be more of the mechanical person, but I guess one develops and discovers as one goes along!

I’m still no closer to deciding between the US, UK or ETH for university. I think the thing I have to focus on now are the university applications. My AS results are in and as far as I can tell, I’m not going to have any problems when it comes to exam results, so it’s the essays that are going to count! We will just have to see how I do!

So, these four weeks were a complete success. Thank you to Magna Steyr for the opportunity, and of course to my aunt for putting up with my antics for an entire month! The summer is almost finished and my final school year is about to start, but this experience is hopefully one I will look back on with fondness in the future as both a great summer and a defining four weeks.

With that, until next time.


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