Ben Newcombe

Ben is on the two year Software Engineering Graduate Scheme at the BBC.

BSc (Hons) Computing 2017

What does your current role involve?

I work on the Software Engineering Graduate Scheme at the BBC, currently as a front-end web developer in BBC News. On the scheme, you have the opportunity to change teams every six months, allowing me to develop and apply the skills I gained at university in teams with completely different technologies and focuses. All the while, you’re able to work on real products, at the unique scale the BBC has. There are very few organisations to have that scale, and it’s great being able to visibly or structurally influence products that everyone you know uses.

Working for a front-end team within the BBC also presents a lot of considerations for accessibility and internationalisation, which are at the heart of developing any new features, so it’s great for learning about those aspects, too.

Since leaving Abertay, describe your journey to your current job?

I was pretty proactive in applying for jobs during fourth year, and in contributing to software projects outside of university to build up more experience. I’d really recommend personal or non-work projects like this — in the best case, you can work on a really successful app, with friendly maintainers who are extremely keen to help you learn. In my case, we started with just three people, working on a free project that we loved, but ended up with tens of thousands of users.

I ended up interviewing for the BBC in February, and was able to complete the rest of my final year project with the comfort of knowing I’d already secured a role — a nice thing to remind yourself of when you’re in the midst of fourth year deadlines!

How did your Abertay degree help you get where you are?

My degree definitely helped give me the confidence to apply for the role at the BBC, and specific modules have greatly helped me in both personal projects and as I rotate around different teams at work. Specifically, the mobile app development module helped me gain hands-on experience building apps in a way that really rewarded experimenting and trying out new ideas. Similarly, languages and compilers, a module which introduces many different concepts utilised by different programming languages, and delves into how compilers might reason about those concepts, has established a really good framework with which to view all the different languages and technologies I’ve since encountered. It also really helps highlight different computing principles and approaches than what you might have experienced in school, college or university up to that point.

Abertay feels really unique in how accessible all the students and lecturers from all courses are.
Ben Newcombe | BBC | Graduate Software Engineer

What had the most impact on your Abertay experience?

I found there was a really close-knit community at Abertay. There’s a good range of societies and events. The faculty go to a lot of effort to embrace events like Global Game Jam, and it’s doubly fun seeing students from all courses form teams to have a go, no matter their experience. All of this allows you to really quickly establish friends from a range of different courses.

What are your lasting memories of Abertay/Dundee?

In everything I’ve heard from alumni of Abertay and other universities, Abertay feels really unique in how accessible all the students and lecturers from all courses are. Whitespace really does act like a hub, allowing you to bump into, make connections and learn from people in other disciplines. 

Dundee as a city always felt very welcoming and inclusive to me. Everything feels extremely nearby, and there are great opportunities for catching art, film and games projects at DCA, Makerspace and similar. Dundee has a real indie maker community, and I can only imagine all of this feels even more true at the moment with the opening of the V&A, which I’m very jealous to have missed!

What advice would you give to students?

Take advantage of your time at university to really explore the different areas within your chosen subject. I’ve been really lucky that the BBC’s software engineering graduate scheme also allows for this, but many post-university jobs might not give you this chance.  It’s a great time to build up experience in a breadth of topics, instead of focusing in on one, and doing so brings skills that really will serve you well. Especially in any form of computing, that ability to see extremely similar problems being solved in otherwise different areas, and draw from varied experience to tackle them, is really valuable. 

Also, I'd really recommend sharing the projects you build -- whether they're for university or in your personal time. In my experience, Abertay only encouraged this. Not only can it help you build up something of a reputation and network, but also it's really good for gaining feedback and proving your instincts when presented with challenges you'll probably end up facing at work anyway. It's been very rewarding receiving feedback from both collaborators and people who use what we made, and even more rewarding meeting colleagues and people I respect who already know of or use the project.


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