Web Development Placement Year With Evoluted: Alex's Perspective

5 October, 2018

Having come to the end of his placement year with Evoluted, Junior Developer Alex Law shares his reflections on his time with the us:

For myself and most of my friends, undergoing a placement year seemed very daunting. The initial phase of reaching out to employers was a difficult time, as you don’t know for certain where you’re going to end up. The process could potentially leave you in the perfect role – but that isn’t a given.

When you’re applying, wading through hundreds of job listings can be tough; as you weigh up the fact that you don’t know what you necessarily want to do yet.

Ultimately, due to lack of success during applications, you may be faced with the prospect of heading straight to your next year of university – which would be far from ideal. My advice during this time? Stick with it.

I did and it led to me spending a year with Sheffield-based digital agency Evoluted. Having now completed my placement year with the company, I have gained knowledge and skills related to countless technical and non-technical areas, some that I didn’t even anticipate. 

Getting Started

My first day coming in consisted of lots of listening and reading.  This is fairly normal for almost all placement positions as they only require students to hold a strong foundation from which to build upon. I was told:

  • What kind of technologies we use
  • Our processes
  • Where I should begin looking to get myself familiar with the frameworks that we use

I realised early on that gaining new technical knowledge is amongst one of the most basic and expected skills whilst in employment. Whereas at university, 90% of your time is free to purely research new skills, in work that time is already required for implementation.    

After coming home from my first day (and feeling massively motivated), I spent the evening Googling all these fancy new toys I had been given to play with. This was a welcome kind of exposure, since lecturers would often point you towards software but never give it to you for free.

In my experience, this always left me in an awkward spot where I couldn't tell if continuing into the rabbit hole would be fruitful or a waste of time and money.

Further into my first week, I had been assigned various issues to resolve; such as simple things to help grow accustomed to CakePHP (which is our main backend framework of choice, with Bootstrap on the front end).

The first of these tasks was to fix an issue to do with an embedded YouTube video, which did not display correctly on smaller screens. The fix was simple - I could use Bootstrap's `embed-responsive` utility class, which was something I had only ever glanced over in Bootstrap's documentation, but could never see a need for at the time.

This, amongst other things, has made me come to realise that no moment is ever entirely wasted. In this case going off to learn Bootstrap and read the documentation had helped me out in a situation that would have been impossible for me to foresee.

What I Applied For

The primary reason I applied to Evoluted was to gain further technical skills – and it’s safe to say that this has been a real success. Just a few of the many technologies I’ve developed knowledge of (although the list could go on forever) include:

  • Laravel
  • Composer
  • Deployer
  • Webpack

The key takeaway here is that there is never a shortage of things to learn whilst on the job – and that as a student you can finally ditch all those random key skills that were rarely relevant. What I Learned About the World of Employment

Whilst the development of my technical skills was the driving reason behind my placement application, it wasn’t the only area within which I developed knowledge. There were so many concepts which I was completely new to.

Blame and Mistakes 

The first one of these that comes to mind can be nicely named ‘Blame and Mistakes’. Here, I saw a big contrast between student and professional life.

Whereas in university group assignments it is very easy to assign blame for a low mark – such as when someone puts in no input at all – at Evoluted, things were approached very differently.

Where mistakes are made, there is instead much more of a process to find a solution. The Project Managers tend to pose the following questions as a means to future prevention:

  • Which variables can I control?
  • Which variables can I exploit to achieve the result I aimed for?
  • Which things could I not control?
  • What could I have done to minimise the impact of the things I couldn’t control? 

Not only this, but here it doesn’t matter so much who introduced a bug – just that the bug now exists and requires attention. This is the best solution they can find with the resources under their control. 


Another completely new concept to me has been that of hiring staff. Sure, an obvious reason to hire someone is so that more work can be done – but what about hiring people for their knowledge? This is something I have now experienced that simply wouldn’t be considered in a regular, part-time summer job.

New colleagues can help improve our workflow by introducing something new that they previously worked with, or ideas they came across that they are very fond of. 

Similarly, retaining the workforce is also important. Project-specific knowledge can be easily lost if someone decides they do not want to continue to work there.   

Reasoning for Education 

Lastly, another lesson I have learned over the year is that lecturers teach the things they want to teach for a reason. Whilst something may seem pointless, a little boring and mean nothing to you, they cover it because it means something to them.  

For example, never would I have imagined that learning about scrum would ever be relevant to me. Yet here I am, doing ‘Stand Up’ meetings every morning and listening to people and their progress on their sprints. 

For the record, we only borrow aspects of scrum, but even then seeing it in action allows me to appreciate its value at a whole new level. On a similar note, Git has really shown massive value, which almost any placement student who uses some form of Git at their workplace can vouch for.

An Afterthought: The Importance of First Impressions? 

Throughout university, lecturers often reference the impact that first impressions can have. Since this was my first job that I held outside of mandatory work experience with school, it was interesting to put this into practice.

Initially, I was sceptical about how important first impressions were. As I watched other colleagues join our workforce, however, I definitely saw them have an impact. I would say that they’re certainly worth bearing in mind; but that in a relatively casual environment such as Evoluted, you don’t need to stress about them too much.

Summarising (Since This Post Has Become Quite Long)

A couple of final thoughts:

  • ‘Past’ me deserves a pat on the back for applying to Evoluted and making it through the interview process
  • There have been too many lessons for me to list in one blog post
  • The value that a year in the industry brings is far greater than skipping the placement year and finishing your degree a year earlier
  • Experience is not the only thing you gain during placement – there is so much to discover

For anyone who’s managed to read this far down: I wish you lots of luck for finding and securing a placement and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have!

Written by Alex

In his role as Junior Software Developer, Alex assists with the development of in-house tools and client websites. He’s particularly adept at providing a fresh view on historical projects.

Up next…
Evoluted Marketing Team Doubles in Less Than 12 Months
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