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What a Summer… A Summary

What a Summer…

This last summer of 2014 has been an incredible summer – on a similar level to that of last year. It differed from last year in that instead of one really big awesome thing, I did loads and loads of smaller things – all of which gave me shed loads more experience, and some of which were life changing. So, without further ado, let’s get started:

Above: Summer of Opportunity – Movie of the best moments of my summer.

The combination of hacking and sailing really works well...
The combination of hacking and sailing works well…

Summer started at the start of June when I headed back to Cornwall to relax and unwind from a hard term of exams and coursework. The first weekend, I took the RYA Powerboat Level 2 Qualification, enabling me to drive our speedboat – which has been fantastic – every weekend I returned since I’ve been speeding around the South Coast of Cornwall in blissful weather.

I then shot off to London for the start of my Internship at Morgan Stanley, an investment bank, working in Technology. The experience was so enlightening, and I could not be more glad that I did it. I worked in a small team which managed a significant enterprise product, and got the opportunity to work with some really great, intelligent people. Living in London was an experience I never thought I’d have, and although I went into it with a negative attitude (expecting to not like it, been a ‘open space and countryside lover’), it outdid every single one of my expectations. I even had chance to participate in a fund-raising event for the Princes Trust (cycling across London).  Having all of England’s history, museums and beautiful gardens within 20 minutes was incredible, and I loved the opportunity to try experiences that only exist in a capital city (for example Dans le Noir, the restaurant where you eat in the pitch-darkness, Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships, and drinks in The Shard).

Drinks in GŎNG on the 52nd Floor, The Shard
Drinks in GŎNG on the 52nd Floor, The Shard

During my Internship I was pointed towards applying for Yacht Hack, a week long hackathon on a Yacht, pootling around Croatia. Never missing an opportunity, I applied. And, with the Yacht leaving Croatia on Saturday 30th August, I received an email on the preceding Monday 25th saying something along the lines of “Congratulations, see you in Croatia in 5 days”. What a rush! But of course, come Saturday morning I found myself in Split, Croatia, about to meet 10 of the most amazing people. The Yacht was absolutely beautiful, a fairly new Lagoon catamaran, and only slightly cosy. Within hours, the ideas were flowing, and so were the concepts and products. Our team came up with Shy – a service aggregating and curating answers to all the questions you are too shy to ask.  I’ll be writing a full post on Yacht Hack, including how it significantly changed the next few years of my life, at the end of next week.

Most of us on the Yacht Hack yacht roof
Most of us on the Yacht Hack yacht roof

Once I got back from Yacht Hack and had spent another few days in Cornwall (yep – speedboating was included!), I kicked off back to London to present shy to a group of investors.

Because I hadn’t travelled enough in the preceding few weeks, the next day I took off to Zürich to see old friends from last year and enjoy the city, culture and mountains for two weeks. Meeting up with friends and then cycling through the city and eating chocolate and cheese was just fantastic. I tried a very fun Swiss activity as well – taking a chairlift up a mountain and then riding a scooter all the way back down. Not to mention the incredible 2 day hike to Mount Tamaro (with overnight stay in the hut) around Lugano and Locarno, which ended with a swim in the spectacular Lake Maggiore.

Lugano Hike - the final push to Tamaro Hut
Lugano Hike – the final push to Tamaro Hut

So, summer’s over now and I’m now back at University for my final year.  I’m looking forward to challenges ahead and my final-year dissertation (a post on which will be following soon).  Bring on the next 12 months!

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Summer 2014 – Morgan Stanley and Google Glass

Some may be wondering what I am up to this summer.  Am I just beaching it back home in Cornwall, enjoying the sun, or travelling?  None of the above unfortunately – instead I’m doing an Internship at Morgan Stanley, again working on a large-scale backend engineering project (but this time in Java).

This does mean I’m in London all summer (10 weeks) – something I never thought I’d do!  But like last summer, I’m taking every opportunity that comes my way (whether it’s trying bouldering, kayaking through London, exploring ridiculously busy markets and trying cultures that I didn’t even know existed), and it’s certainly been an enlightening experience so far.  For one thing, I now appreciate Zürich so much more than before – the city and citizens are so much more happy and cheerful, happy to help and smiley, and they have more respect for their city – London is full of not necessarily selfish people, but people who never seem to think of people other than those they know – people who, for example, see it as their right to have a door held open for them.

Ok – England bashing over (Switzerland – please give me citizenship!).  What have I been up to, and what’s been significant so far?  Obviously Google Glass has been a big piece of my life for the last 9 months, and since I arrived in London before it became publicly available here, I was keen to find out what people’s reaction to it was.  With that in mind, I went to the Tate modern (a famous modern art gallery in London) to enjoy the art and get peoples perspective on it (without actually asking them).  Loads of people recognised it, and I ended up doing a lot of demos, as I had expected.

Glass really came into it’s own at Wimbledon (where a Glass demo helped me get a great ticket for court Number 1 on the penultimate day) – I got some great footage and was kept aware of an ongoing server outage without having to use my phone – so much more natural!  I will add that the Wimbledon staff were not happy with me wearing it in Centre Court, where the dress code is more smart – but that’s fine – it is bright blue after-all.

Another awesome use I’ve had for Glass in the couple of weeks is with advertising/fundraising.  Last week I took part in an event at Morgan Stanley where we fundraised for The Princes Trust, who give disadvantaged or vulnerable young people the practical and financial support to stabilise their lives, undertake training and develop self-esteem, so that they have the skills for work.  We cycled around London for the day, doing the ‘Tour de Londres’, whilst seeking donations from the public.  Whilst out and about, it was important that we kept a steady stream of contributions coming in, and Glass certainly helped out with publishing media and updates of our progress.  For example, when we were cycling along by the Thames, I was able to post videos and photos of our journey so far to encourage donations (I had earlier posted with how-to-donate information and had said I would be posting media throughout the day).

When Glass was announced as being available in the UK for developers, I was interested in what the reaction would be – would there be a sudden influx of Glass into the hands of the public, like there now is in the US, or would it be more subdued?  I was expecting it to be the former, but I have to say I was wrong – apart from at this Hackathon, I have yet to see another Londoner with Glass, after 5 weeks here!  I think I know why though – since the public launch, the vast amount of media coverage in the UK about Glass has diminished to, well, nothing.  I haven’t read anything in the media about Glass since then, and people who see me with it and ask for demos (who have obviously read about it) don’t know they can buy it now.  Perhaps after two years the media got bored of writing about this product that would one day make it to general availability?  Whatever it is, I think Glass needs some advertising in the UK right now.

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My Last Few Weeks at Google

Note: This was actually written in October, but it took a while for me to get around to editing and publishing it.

So, my internship is over (though you’d never believe it from the small number of posts I have written).  Various parts of this were written at different points over the last few weeks.

Project Really Getting Underway

As you know, Noogler training took up a large proportion of the first two weeks.  Once that was out of the way, I was able to start looking at my project.  It quickly became apparent that I didn’t know enough to start work on the project immediately – I needed to learn more C++ and how to use some specific Google technologies.  Of course, this wasn’t a problem, since a large part of the STEP (Summer Trainee Engineering Program) is about learning, so I spent 3 weeks increasing my C++ knowledge from Objective-C and learning the technologies.

By the second week in August, I was working directly on my project.  It felt like I was making slow progress, and the code was some of the most complicated I have worked with, but I got to a good point by the end of my internship.

Preparing for Interview

A major part of the last 3 weeks of my time at Google was preparing for my interview.  STEP Interns have go through (and pass) a somewhat reduced re-recruitment process to be selected for another Internship (this time a full internship).  I got the interview notification two weeks before the interview, which brought an end to the weekends spent hiking (below).  What did surprise me was how the interview revision guide provided by my recruiter was an almost 1:1 matching of the ‘Theory and Practise of Programming’ (TPOP) module from my course the year before.  It was certainly a surprising jump to go back to the fundamentals after working on stuff that was so far away from them for the whole summer, but it didn’t take long to get back to memorising pseudocode for some algorithms like Merge sort.  I mostly used, but also made sure I could write basic algorithms for what was on the preparation guide.


One of the great things about working at Google was the T-shirts.  Sure, it wasn’t like it apparently used to be with the ‘help yourself closet’, but there were still lots free ones, and discounts to buy your own.  I think by the end I had about 25 pieces of Google clothing, which I’ll enjoy wearing around my CS department.



As previously mentioned, the mentality at Google is really fun.  Whilst I was there, there were two team off-sites – the first was for the YouTube Analytics team to go Zip Wiring in Bern, which was fantastic fun.  It was fairly close to the start of our internships, so gave us Interns a chance to get to know each other a bit better ahead of working quite closely together for the coming weeks (since the three of us went around together on the zip lines and bridges).  It was certainly a lot of fun, and a new experience for me.

The second off-site was a little more ‘Google-Scale’.  All of YouTube in Europe got on a coach to go to the village of Alpbach in Austria for a two day trip, including a murder mystery and mini-hike around the mountains.  The murder mystery was incredibly well organised – a large amount of the village was taking part and the plot twisted and turned, going deeply into the community (visits to the local estate agent, a guy in a tractor, the local vicar and the hairdresser were necessary).  The hike in the morning was incredible – it was really interesting to notice the little differences between the Swiss mountain villages and the Austrian ones.  By coincidence I was also walking with some very experienced managers from the Zurich office and got the opportunity to chat and learn from them.

Google Glass

I also had the opportunity to try Google Glass upon our return from Alpbach, which was really awesome.  This has spawned a few ideas for Glassware that I’d like to build over my next year at University to help people with disabilities – there may be a post to follow about this.  Update: first post on this here.  A post with more details about the Glassware I decided to develop will be following soon.

Me with Glass
Me with Glass

Zermatt and Liechtenstein

Whilst in Switzerland working with my friend on, I had the fantastic opportunity to hike in the mountains every weekend – a really nice change from University, where there is stuff to do in the weekends (although I’m not saying I didn’t make the odd office visit at a weekend).  There were three trips that really stood out – a trip to Vals to visit the famous Therme (after hiking there from the Dam), a trip to Liechtenstein to hike Rappenstein and a trip to Zermatt to hike around the Matterhorn for two days.  A small selection of photos included below.

Click on a photo to view larger

Final Days

The final few days were quite a rush.  A piece of code I had been working on for several weeks was still not quite finished and it needed documenting.  As well as sorting out my de-registration from the city of Zurich, I also wanted to spend some time in the last days of my internship reading and learning as much as possible from Google’s internal and very high quality teaching resources.

So, three questions remain.

Is it like the film?  Not really – we had a showing of the film – a cinema full of Googlers made it quite funny.  Some parts of the film are surprisingly accurate, whilst others couldn’t be further away (Interns, for example, do not compete with each other for jobs).

What do I feel I got out of everything?  Where do I start?  Both Engineering and Meta-skill wise, I learned a lot.  From how to use various Google technologies (both external and internal ones) to how they work, and from how a project is started to how it comes to fruition.  I also learnt a lot about how projects are developed in teams and about large scale development, as well as just how much fun work can be, and how true ‘work hard, play hard’ is.

I also learned a lot about myself – after arriving and realising the wealth of activities and opportunities, I made a deal with myself that I would say ‘Yes’ to every opportunity that presented itself to me.  I couldn’t be more glad that I did that – it meant I forced myself into things I would never have done before like, from a ‘Via ferrata’, to some all-day single-peak hikes, to hiking around the Matterhorn.

Doing the Via Ferrata in Zermatt
Doing the Via Ferrata in Zermatt

Would I do it again?  Definitely.  Without question.  For the sense of satisfaction and achievement I got from writing code at Google and for the amazing working environment.

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What Happened to Regular Blogging…? Well, Life Got Too Good!

Note: This was actually written in August, but it took a while for me to get around to editing and publishing it.  My next post will be published in the next few days.

In my first blog post from Zurich I said I was planning on blogging throughout the training and regularly whilst here.  Well, that kind of broke down – life just got incredibly, fantastically full.  So, here goes – two weeks in one blog post – two weeks of transitioning from Student, to, well this:

Shows me in a Noogler Hat at the bottom of the Zurich Office Slide.
Me – The Noogler – and yes, that’s a Noogler hat I am wearing!

As you will remember, during my first few days I was taking part in the EMEA Scholarship Retreat in Zurich as well as starting my internship.  So, on the Sunday night I headed down to the hotel for the reception and to meet all the other scholars – a bunch of incredible people who had travelled a long way to be at the event.  Whilst I was not in Noogler training I had a great time chatting to all the other scholars and finalists.

EMEA Scholars form a "G" shape.
EMEA Scholars form a “G” shape.

As anyone who has watched ‘The Internship’ will know, when you start at Google you are a Noogler (short for New Googler – I’m sure it could get more complex in Zurich since we are also Zooglers).  So, having been at Google for 2 weeks I am just starting to loose my Noogler status (i.e. there are newer Nooglers in the office), which is a shame since it’s kind of a get-out-of-jail free card for doing silly things in the office.

Now, here, I’d love to be able to give you a full account of the last two weeks.  But (you knew there’d be a but right?), as you might guess almost all the information is confidential.  So, here follows an account of the non-confidential bits (which basically means the full Noogler experience minus anything technical).

Week 1 – Monday.  I arrived at the office a few minutes early, registered and then we got taken up to the training rooms to drop bags, before having breakfast together.  The experience of meeting everyone was pretty odd – because we had all been talking on Google Plus for months before hand, it was like meeting someone for the first time whilst already knowing something about them or whilst having exchanged a few emails previously.

The day was basically full of training sessions – Life at Google, how Google worked, administration, and not forgetting collecting laptops.  I got the opportunity to have lunch with my hosts as well which was awesome – the first time I started to get an idea of what I would be working on.  The food was incredible as well.

After the first week, the active training gradually got less and less, with more time spent at my desk learning the stuff I would need for my project.

Normally at Google there is a ‘TGIF’ (Thank God It’s Friday) meeting at the end of the week (see below).  However, at the end of the first week the Zurich office was throwing their annual Summer Salsa Party!  It was pretty awesome – sunny weather, beautiful venue and fantastic food.  They gave us wristbands for the event that said Google, so I now have both Apple and Google wristbands on my wrist.  Who is the third company going to be?

Google + WWDC Wristbands
Google + WWDC Wristbands – who will be third?

After the summer party and throughout that weekend it was Züri Fäscht – an event that only happens every three years.  Straight after the Summer Party we got down to the lake to join around 1 million people watching a colossal 20+ minute firework display.  That was repeated on Saturday, and the weekend was filled with the festival taking up pretty much all of the streets around the lake.

In the second week there were only a few active sessions.  Having just about become competent in the internal Google system, I spent most of the week learning about the project I would be working on and learning the tools that I would use.  I spent most of this time at my desk working on examples my host gave me.  In some ways I think I preferred this to the earlier training as we were starting to get more freedom with our time.  At Google, nobody minds if you turn up at 10am and leave later in the evening or if you take half an hour out to play ping-pong (or a nap in the water lounge (below) or even a massage).  Although it makes for a really relaxed style workplace, a lot of work gets done because Googlers are selected partly on their desire to drive projects forwards and see results.

Water Lounge, Google Zurich. That's a bathtub in the foreground full of foam cubes.
Water Lounge, Google Zurich. That’s a bathtub in the foreground full of foam cubes.

Of course, one thing Google is famous for is the both free, and delicious, food.  We get three meals a day: Breakfast, where there’s the usual cooked food, pastries, fresh orange juice (you juice it yourself), smoothie (again, select the fruits you want to drink, put them in a machine and Voila!) and fresh fruits; Lunch, where there is a very wide selection, ranging from the main restaurant, serving a wide variety of traditional foods; fork() – which serves Sushi; and Big Bang, serving fresh Pasta, Pizza or other Italian food.  Dinner is pretty similar to Lunch, minus fork() and Big Bang.  Sometimes there’s BBQ’s on offer as well.

Sushi From fork()
Sushi From fork()

Another great thing about Google is the community – the people are great – you can just sit down next to a new person and ask what they are working on – the conversation flows so easily that eventually you learn only to do this if you have a lot of spare time though because most people can really talk.  Throughout this week, a group of us Nooglers have spent a lot of time by the lakeside in the evenings having a BBQ (with a small group of us venturing into the water for a swim).  Conversation is such a great thing at Google, since everybody’s interests/ideals are in some ways linked / have some similarity, and yet everybody’s cultures are so different – you end up learning all about the culture in Israel, Russia, Romania, ….. the list just goes on.

Finally, TGIF.  If anything sums up the social part of working at Google well, it’s TGIF.  What is it?  TGIF stands for ‘Thank God It’s Friday’, and in Mountain View is where ideas are shared and “Googlers ask questions directly to Larry, Sergey and other execs about any number of company issues” (Google Culture).  In Zurich, they use it to introduce the Nooglers to the Googlers – at 5 p.m. the Heidi Song is played to call everybody down to Milliways for beer and chatting.  After 20 minutes, we were called up and told we would be introduced as we rocketed down the slide and maybe quizzed on the Noogler fact slide we had prepared earlier.  I was one of the first down, and just escaped been quizzed on my Fun Fact.  As more people came down, the guys running the show did a great job of keeping the event fun – if someone said they could dance or sing, there just had to be a demo.