All posts by laurahowarth-kirke


It really is the end. I’ve graduated and am officially not a student!

Graduation RobeGraduation day was crazy busy. First thing was to pick up the robe and mortar board from Manchester Academy. There were lots of photo booths, open all day, in case you wanted to purchase professional photographs. It was a scorching day – quite unusual for Manchester! – and unfortunately we had to wear the robe all day. However, apparently last year it was pouring with rain, so this was much preferred. With friends and family, we went to the party at Computer Science to have a chat alongside a buffet. It was nice for lectures to meet our parents and vice versa. After about an hour we were ushered outside to have the awards ceremony. I won 2 awards! The first was the Williams/Kilburn Medal for an Outstanding  Final Year Student. I got a certificate, a silver gilt medal and my name engraved on a board inside the department. It means a lot to get this prize because I really have worked hard throughout uni and my name will be up there forever. I also won a prize for the Best Third Year Undergraduate Project receiving a certificate and a cheque for £100. Some others and I were then filmed answering questions about uni.

Williams Kilburn Board Williams Kilburn Medla

From there, everyone moved over to Whitworth Hall for the actual graduation ceremony. We were called up individually on stage to get our degree certificate. As I was walking off stage, it was announced that I would receive the Outstanding Academic Achievement Award, a University wide award for being in the top 0.5% of undergraduates graduating this year. I got a certificate in a lovely purple tube and a cheque for £1000!! It was quite an extraordinary day! Then everyone gathered outside in the Whitworth Hall courtyard to throw our hats in the air and say our goodbyes.

Graduation Ceremony

I also got nominated for the Eurpoe-wide SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) Awards for final year projects. I recently had to write a 2000 word report similar to my final year project report. I recorded some videos to go along with the application. I created a program that overlays the user’s skeleton, a program that learns and recognises poses and a program that learns and recognises gestures in a TV scenario and manipulating a sphere scenario. I won’t know the result until September, but fingers crossed.

There’s not much more to say about my time at The University of Manchester. I’ve made some great friends, got a fantastic degree and will be soon be starting my careers at the BBC in the job I wanted. Who knows, I might become a manager one day or I might be back at uni in a few years to do a PhD and go on to be a lecturer, teaching students like me. But Manchester has prepared me so well for anything I want to do. I really couldn’t have wished for a better degree course. I have enjoyed every tired, stressful, rewarding, social and fun minute of it. Like I said in my last post, I won’t be posting here anymore but you can always contact me through my personal blog.

Bye 🙂

(Nearly) The End

That’s right…I’ve finished university! Just results and graduation to go. So I’ll tell you a little about my final year.

Third year is dominated by your third year project. It’s worth 25% of your entire degree so getting it right it important. The rest of third year is worth 50% and second year is worth the remaining 25%. At the end of second year (or your industrial placement year) there will be a list of projects available for you to choose from. You submit your top preferred choices and the school will do it’s best to accommodate you. If possible, choose a project supervised by a lecturer you know, get along with or are on the same ‘wavelength’. The relationship you have with your supervisor is likely to influence your project; it will affect how easily you make progress in meetings, how comfortable you are discussing any problems and how enthusiastic your supervisor is to help (i.e. if you show no interest, they are unlikely to go out of their way if needed). Obviously, you should choose a project you are interested in. Make sure it is something that will hold your attention for as long as possible. If you find it fun to work on you’re likely to achieve better results.

To aid the above, you can suggest your own project. The school will address its suitability and, if successful, assign you a supervisor. Further still, you can approach a lecturer yourself and ask them to be your supervisor. To do this, it’s helpful to have some sort of idea for a project and it really should be in the lecturers area of research.

So this is what I choose to do. I knew I wanted to do something in the area of machine learning, so I approached the lecturer who taught me Machine Learning in the second year, Dr. Gavin Brown. I only had a very flimsy suggestion involving a neuroheadset and trying to predict the thoughts (i.e. between a square and a circle) of the wearer. It’s worth remembering that a successful project doesn’t mean that what you create has to work. For example, if it turned out that I couldn’t ‘read someone’s mind’, I would have just had to make sure I could explaine my research and findings. I didn’t really have any idea about biology and decided the project would be too difficult in the timescale. Despite this, Gavin agreed to supervise me as he was confident we could come up with a project idea. A few weeks later I suggested what came to be my actual project, ‘Gesture Recognition using Microsoft’s Kinect’.

My project was lots of fun, but challenging. It involved quite a bit of mathematical research, learning a new language (C#) and getting to grips with the Kinect SDK. I created a wizard which, at it’s heart, allows the user to input new gestures and, upon repeating a certain gesture, predict what was performed. It monitors all the joints in the body, but the swirls on the right are from the right and left hands.

Gesture Recognition Wizard

Another thing you will get told over and over is to start your project early. Listen to them! Do as much as you can in first semester, specifically in the first few weeks when other workload is low, because coming up to Christmas and second semester your time will be interrupted by job applications, exams and your final project demo (which sneaks up quickly!). I regret not working more early on. Ideally, start your project during the summer holidays. I know someone who did this, who started their project report (10000 – 14000 words) months before everyone else. He had a much less stressful final year as you can imagine. Also, expect your project plan to go wrong. You’ll get stuck with some problem and you need to have spare time allocated to deal with it. I know of very few people who stuck to their original plan. Those who did, generally had a project with clear, defined endpoints (unlike my project where I wasn’t sure what I would end up creating or what it involved).

Don’t forget, you have other course units as well as your project. I really enjoyed AI and Games, which span both semesters including a project in each. Each group in the first group project had to create a bot that played the game mankalah to compete against each other in a large tournament. You are able to choose your own team and working with your friends is great fun. The competition between groups of friends also makes you more inclined to work on the project. The second semester project involves a common economic problem about learning and predicting the price of goods between suppliers. It is on a smaller scale than the first project, which is welcomed during the manic second semester. I also really enjoyed Compilers, Understand Programming Language (warning: maths and memory!) and found Cryptography and Network Security really useful.

I kept my role on the SSCC (Student-Staff Consultative Committee) and hopefully gave the school some useful insight into the degree course from my fellow students. The CSSC (Computer Science Social Committee) continued to organise events (I went to laser quest for the first time) and designed and produced school hoodies. Overall, I unfortunately found third year less social. Less contact hours are required with the school (i.e. less lectures and lab sessions) because time is allocated for the third year project and I needed to be on my own computer at home to work on it. I preferred second year because everyone was around all the time, working in labs between lectures. But that’s not to everyone’s taste as they can get easily distracted.

I think that’s it. I’ll probably write another post about graduation in a few weeks and then I am officially not a student anymore. Bring on my graduate job at the BBC!

In case this turns out to be my final post, I am happy to answer any questions etc. You can contact me through my personal blog – now that uni is over I should have more time to keep it up-to-date!

Tips for Bagging Yourself a Graduate Job

It was quite a shock to the system coming back to university after my year in industry. After having all my own time after work ended at 5 and at the weekends, coming back to a 24/7 student life took some time getting used to again. Despite the free time I had at work, I much prefer uni – completing my projects feels more satisfying and there’s nothing like a student social life. I must say though that I am an exception. Most people I speak to can’t wait to get back to work. Some of my friends worked in investment banks, often working 9-10 hours days and they still can’t wait to get back. So I guess it’s down to personal preference.

Upon returning to university, it was straight into looking for a graduate job. My top tip for researching jobs would be to look early. For both industrial placements and graduate jobs, start looking at recruiters websites during the summer. The applications won’t be open, but you get a good idea of the companies you’d like to apply for and can do research about the company over a longer period of time. That way, it doesn’t look like you’ve only been interested in the company since the applications opened and you saw the salary!

Also, if you do a year in industry, some companies let you apply early for a graduate job, which in itself, puts you at an advantage.

One of the most important things recruiters look for is extra curricular activities, especially for graduate jobs. Nearly all companies will ask for a 2:1 degree or higher (a 1st) which kind of equates to a B or A. This means companies expect a high level of degree, that you will have all the technical knowledge of computers you’ll need for the job and that you have soft and interpersonal skills. So, what makes you stand out from the crowd? Extra curricular activities. This worried me greatly because I don’t do that many activities outside of uni. I just don’t have the time. I spend all my time working and the little free time I get, I spend socialising or relaxing. As a consequence of this, I get the best grades I possibly can. At first, I thought this was very unfair – that people who put effectively ‘less’ effort into university would have more extra curricular activities and be favored for employment. But like I said, you need to stand out from the crowd. At the end of the day, a 1st class degree of 99% (not that that would ever happen!) compared to 71% is still a first class degree and that’s all you need to put on your CV. So, if there’s any advice I can give you, it’s to take up some new hobbies, at some expense of your grades.

Here are some suggestions for extra curricular activities: Obviously, extra curricular activities that are related to your subject area are going to be far more useful to talk about in an interview than something completely unrelated, so have more related activities than unrelated. Start a blog. I did: Write your own software and host it on github. Write an Android/iPhone app and publish it to the store. Go to events held an university. We have a club called Man-Up, Manchester Ultimate Programming which hold meetings, organise events and hold all weekend programming “hackathons”. Go to company events. For example, I went to the BBC’s Women in Engineering Event at MediaCity in Salford. I’m sat in one of the chairs in the picture. How cool are those chairs?! They have them all around the edges of the walkways for people to have private meetings but in an open plan environment to encourage collaboration. I got talking to a very important, high up person who offered to get someone in her team to show me around. I ended up revisiting the BBC at a later date, having my own personal tour around the building, talking to developers as well as business people and finding out all about the work they do there. If you make an effort, and show a real interest, there’s every chance you can make contacts who can help you in the future. There’s also a place called Madlab that host events, for people of all levels for all kind of things technology related. Some of the popular ones are for the Raspberry Pi and Arduino. Sometimes the events are free, ask for donations, or cost a small fee such as £4.

Other activities you can do is to get involved with clubs at the school – the Social Committee (CSSC) or the Staff Student Consultative Committee (SSCC). I continued my role on the SSCC, passing on my years opinions to the lectures twice a term. Being able to tell interviewers that I instigated changing the bathroom taps to mixer taps due to temperature complaints can demonstrate many soft skills such as determination and communication skills, depending how well I express myself.

Lastly, I really believe that Manchester’s Computer Science course has prepared me really well for any job I apply for. It’s given me all the technical and soft skills I need, the support to find a graduate job (holding careers fairs and activities within the school) and the opportunities to fill in any blanks on my CV with school, university and outside clubs and events.

I imagine my next post will be about my third year and third year project, which I’m currently writing my report for. As always, I am happy to answer to any questions.

To finish. I was walking past University Place the other day. They were doing free abseiling for well-being week!

IBM Placement Year (6 Months Through)

So, I’m half way through my industrial placement year at IBM. Where do I start?!

My welcome/introduction consisted of two days of talks about IBM, group activities, setup etc. They introduced us to our managers (who I had met earlier in the year on a visit to Winchester) and to any previous year IT’s (“industrial trainees”) who help you to settle in.

After that it was only a few days before we were assigned to projects. I work in the PTC (Platform Technology Centre) which deals with companies that IBM has acquired. Tasks involve porting software/data into the equivalent IBM products and making sure all the code is valid and legal (e.g. correct licenses are in place etc).

Although the PTC isn’t primarily a software development department, there is opportunity for it. At first I was involved with an internal project making graphs using an external Java library. More recently I have been one of three developers on a project porting source code from an acquired company into IBM’s source code management system. Again, this was in Java (IBM’s main language from what I’ve seen) but I really extended my knowledge – threads, timers, logging, shutdown handlers… It has given me the opportunity to take what I learnt in university and put it into practice. It’s one thing following John Latham’s exercises and another to structure all the code by yourself! I also use an IDE here (Eclipse) instead of a text editor because it has so many useful features such as keeping track of your methods, auto complete method names etc. As you know, in university we use text editors like gedit and I’m so thankful that I learnt that way. I think writing your classes from scratch teaches you such good programming practices. I feel like the CS course prepared me extremely well for my industrial placement year and this year has prepared me well for my future career.

Here’s a list of the technical things I’ve learnt since arriving:

  • extended my Java knowledge
  • JavaScript – JSON, AJAX
  • Portlets and Widgets
  • OpenLayers and OpenStreetMap (like GoogleMaps API)
  • More practice with Linux
  • A bit about servers
  • SQL on command line with DB2 database
  • IBM specific products (quite a few!)

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s just off the top of my head. You also gain transferable skills like presentation, communication, networking etc.

My industrial year has shown me what it’s like to develop software in the real world. Sometimes at university you can’t understand where something fits in and when anyone would use it! I remember thinking, “does anyone actually bother with this agile software development schedule thing?” – they do! In fact, they have programs to help keep track of it all.

As well as the working side of things, there’s plenty of social activities. There are about 50 IT’s in Hursley who have made their own social club. Activities such as Nando’s, the cinema,  ice skating, other generally social things and even a ski trip! There’s also the pub quiz in Winchester (we will win one day!). IBM Hursley is lovely location – the grounds are amazing – and sometimes people gather at the club house after work.

IBM Hursley

IBM also have a big initiative called “giveback” where you do volunteering during your working hours. I have painted at a school playground, tidied up a cycle track at an activity centre and am involved with an ongoing event going into a primary school. Obviously these kind of things should not take up much of your time and must be agreed to by your boss.

Giveback - Painting a Shed

And that’s all for now. Hopefully it won’t be so long before my next post…but having been away from university for so long, I kind of forgot I was a blogger!!

It’s official: 2nd year is over!

I can’t believe my second year is over! Got my results yesterday and I passed with a 1st class 😀

So, as promised, I’ll tell you about the CS May Ball. I didn’t attend it in my first year as none of my friends wanted to go. But I’m very glad I went this year – was lots of fun. There was a chocolate fountain (obviously the best bit!), a 3 course meal (though unfortuneatly you don’t get a choice of food), free photography, free wine on the tables and a champagne (well it was orange mixed with some type of alcohol) reception. A jazz band played while we were eating and there was a “disco” afterwards, which actually played really good music and to my surprise, people actually danced…including the lecturers!

Onto other news. I have now moved to Winchester in preparation for my year in industry. I start at IBM in Hursley in a few days which I’m really excited about. The first two days are an induction, but then it’s down to the proper work. I’ve been really lucky because my boss has been in contact and even showed me around the grounds when I visited Winchester in April looking for accommodation. So I already know him and the previous industrial placement student and therefore have an idea of what my job will entail. Obviously it’s quite dependant on current projects, but I know one main job will be looking through the code of newly aquired companies and making sure everything is legal.

Anyway, enough for now. I will update you when I’ve actually done some work!

A post about my next post!

Hi guys!

So basically…exams are now upon me! I haven’t had time to update my blog, however, I promsie I will post after my exams are over or nearly over and let you know how they went. I will be telling you all about the events that have happened recently – the Computer Science May Ball specifically – and will be expressing my sadness over leaving 2nd year!

Speak to you all soon 🙂

A Bit of Everything

So, for my first proper post, I’d thought I’d give a quick overview of, well, everything.

Me: I’m in my second year of BSc (Hons) Computer Science with Industrial Experience and will be working at IBM Hursley as a Software Engineer next year. I’m really looking forward to it because all of our lecturers say that people who do the year out come back with so much real life experience which really helps in the third (final) year project. I have no idea what I will be doing for my project yet (but I have until about this time next year to decide). I enjoy more of the software side of things than the hardware, although I’m happy my first year gave me a grounding knowledge in both areas. This year I have been able to choose some of my own modules, Machine Learning being the most interesting and Computer Graphics being the most fun! This was my recent graphics fail…I was trying to draw the planets orbit around the sun!

Graphics Coursework

The University: The university has so many societies you can get involved in. If there isn’t a society for you, then you are welcome to create one. I joined the Gaming Society and the Dance Society but I can’t say that I’ve been to either. They have events on all the time, but with the course being a 20 hour week (+ 20 self study hours) and the CSSC (Computer Science Social Committee) events, I haven’t found the time. I have friends who go to the Hiking Club, Caving club, Romanian Society and many more than I can’t think of right now. The Student Union sometimes puts on free exercise classes too. The union has a hairdressers, a radio station you can get involved with, a bar, place to eat, a shop and of course it is connected to Manchester Academy – (I think) one of the best music venues around. Cheap tickets, medium sized rooms so you’re really close to the bands and a fantastic atmosphere.

The School of Computer Science: The school becomes a bit like a family. After a few months you get to know a lot of people and recognise all the faces on your course. All the lecturers are really friendly, are always happy to help and will happily chat away with keen and enthusiastic students. If you’ve been to an open day, you’ve probably met Mr John Latham – and yes, he really is that enthusiastic about Java in every, single lecture – even at 9 in the morning! The building has a cafe, male and female showers and is 2 minutes away from the Precinct Library, Panini stand and Spar as well as 5-10 minutes from Dominos! The social committee organises lots and lots of events – bowling, laser quest, pub crawls, curry nights, generally meeting up to chill and the infamous May Ball.

Being a Female Computer Scientist: So my stereotypical view of a female computer scientist would be a tomboy who drinks beer, which of course there is nothing wrong with! But for those of you out there who wear dresses and like anything pink then you are not alone! I’m a girlie girl but I also like to play computer games, pool and Guitar Hero.Obviously, the ratio of boys to girls isn’t proportional (about 120 males to  1/2 dozen females) and it will be for a while yet, but don’t let this put you off doing computer science.

The City Centre: Full of high street shops and places to eat like any other city centre. However, I really like Manchester especially the Arndale. It has well known shops as well as cheaper, little shops. There’s a big wheel and an amazing Christmas market with German and French food, clothes, ornaments and random other stalls.

Christmas Market Stalls Christmas Market Santa Chrsitmas Market Wooden Hut

Going Out: I don’t know a lot about going out to clubs ect as I’ve only been to a few. Most people go to Fallowfield where there’s many student clubs / bars such a Baa Bar. Then there’s Sankeys and 5th Avenue for more indie music in the city centre. There’s plenty of bars and pubs around – a lot do food too, especially on Oxford Road where the main university campus is.

The Halls: I live in Dalton Ellis Hall in Victoria Park which is catered. Victoria Park is the “green” set of halls with lots of trees and squirrels. Fallowfield is for the party animals and the City Campus is nearer the city centre. Living in catered accommodation is really social and saves a huge amount of time cooking. The food’s not bad with four choices including vegetarian every day. We get breakfast (7:45-9) and dinner (5:15 – 7). We get lunch at the weekends but have cooking facilities on each floor of each block in the halls to make dinner. I share a separate bathrooms and toilets with around 8 people. It sounds horrible! – but it really isn’t that bad. You rarely ever end up waiting. I decided to live in halls again this year as well as first year because of how easy it is to have dinner (as I’m not the best cook!) but most people chose to live in houses with friends that are as close / closer to the university and are as cheap as £60-£90 a week whereas mine is £113 (although I don’t pay for separate Internet, food, or electricity). My hall also has a bar with a pool and snooker table.

Halls at Christmas Snooker Table

Laura’s First Post

I am currently in my second year of a BSc Computer Science with Industrial Experience and am finding the Computer Graphics module lots of fun.
For my industrial placement next year I will be working at IBM as a Software Engineer at their Hursley office – it’s actually not an office, it’s a huge manor house!

I am also a member of the Staff-Student Consultative Committee SSCC for the school, where I get to speak on behalf of my peers about any problems or concerns in the department.
In my spare time I like to play poker, snooker or pool with friends and also enjoy playing computer games, especially the Half Life series and Call of Duty Black Ops online.