21 October 2016, by Anna Tindall
As a second year Computer Science student at Cambridge without much free time, I had learnt a lot of theory but had done surprisingly little useful programming. I therefore applied for a summer internship at Softwire to change this. I wanted to gain experience working a proper project from beginning to end and Softwire did not disappoint. I did a four-week training internship starting at the end of July.
After completing some introductory exercises to get us up to speed with the languages and technologies we were going to use, we started work on an internal project. In our case, this was PoolCam, a system for recording shots on the pool table on video. Beyond the basic recording functionality, we were encouraged to take our own direction with the project, although our wonderful line manager Suzanne always had suggestions when we needed them. We attached an RFID reader to a Raspberry Pi which allowed users to scan their tags to save the last ten seconds of video and associate it with their identity. The system then sent the player a gif of their shot on Toast, Softwire’s internal praise-giving program, and uploaded the video to our website, which was complete with voting, emoji reactions, comments and authentication against Softwire’s Active Directory. The website also had a feature which overlays a video over the live stream, allowing users to replay a shot or restart a game. We also experimented with OpenCV to run some image processing on the pool balls.
There were six training interns working on the project in total and I really enjoyed solving the problems as a team. We did encounter obstacles such as confusing APIs, a mysteriously non-python- 3-compatible library and battling with moving all our code from Windows to Linux, but overcoming these made the project more interesting and enjoyable in the end. The internship was a particularly good experience because it allowed me to use so many theoretical concepts I’d studied in practice. I will return to Cambridge with a much firmer grasp of the practical aspects of Computer Science.
Softwire really cares about their employees – the morale budget is very generous and social highlights included the annual company picnic in Hampstead Heathrow and a bowling trip.
We had the freedom to organise a lot of our own working hours and the focus was on getting things done rather than working long hours. The office was truly open plan; everyone was so friendly and even we lowly interns were trusted with database access and growth forecasts.
Finally, as Jo told us during one of our inductions, no quantity of free biscuits will make a bad job interesting, and it was clear that Softwire’s snack drawer is not trying to compensate for anything! The employees really enjoy what they do, which is a large part of what gives the office its great atmosphere. Softwire is a fantastic place to work and I thoroughly recommend the internship.