Technology

“I was expecting to be ‘just’ a coder” – Riku and Samuli’s summer in the Forum Virium Helsinki project

September 24, 2020

Read time 7 min

Riku Honkanen and Samuli Kärki spent their Reaktor summer in a project for Forum Virium Helsinki, building an integration layer between the MaaS provider and Helsinki archipelago ferry operators. As opposed to their expectations, they got to jump straight to the deep end and take the lead in the project as other team members left for the summer holidays.

Samuli: Before starting at Reaktor, I worked as an in-house developer for an e-commerce company for a few years. As tends to happen after a while, things began to feel a bit stale, so I applied to a position at Reaktor. I didn’t have much to show for in terms of my own projects, and was directed to do the Reaktor code challenge meant for Summer Employees. I passed the challenge and interviews and got in with a contract until the end of the year. Although I wasn’t a summer employee, I started in the same batch as they did.

Riku: I started looking for a summer job during my second year of studies. Even though I didn’t have much experience in software development, only around two years through school to be exact, I still managed to rock Reaktor’s summer job challenge and gained my first interview. Reaktor’s tips for juniors were very helpful, and I also had a friend who helped me prepare for the interview. Knowing the basics well and having the ability to explain my decisions in the code challenge was enough for me to land the job.

Samuli: I came to Reaktor looking for meaningful projects using a more modern development stack than what I was using at the time (PHP). I also wanted to see what consulting work would be like, as I had no previous experience. 

While I had heard that people at Reaktor are expected to be quite autonomous, I had thought that in the first project I would focus more on programming and implementing tasks instead of directly interacting and leading meetings with the customer.

Riku: That surprised me too. Originally, I expected that I would spend the summer mainly implementing new features that someone else had designed. In reality, I got to do more stuff than I could have even imagined beforehand, such as arrange meetings with clients and make decisions about which direction our project is going to take. 

“I became more confident and realized that the people I’m working with are just humans like me.”

Riku: I got my first project after being in the house for one week. The project introduction was slightly fuzzy and I wasn’t 100% sure what the project was when I accepted it. Samuli and I had a smaller meeting with our teammates Heikki and Marianne. Heikki, the senior developer in the project, and Marianne, the facilitator/make-it-happenizer, explained what everything is about: an integration layer between MaaS providers and ferry operators so that you could buy Helsinki archipelago tickets through your mobile phone.  

The project started with a kick-off where we all introduced ourselves and told what kinds of expectations we had. At that moment, I still wasn’t sure what we would do, and everything felt confusing since I didn’t have any prior work experience. Despite this, I had a good feeling after the kick-off. All the teammates were kind, and I felt like it would be nice to work with them.

At the beginning of our project, when we discussed what programming language we should use, it was nice to notice that the senior developer listened to our suggestions and didn’t just steamroll over us with his expertise. In the end, we decided to use TypeScript, which was what Samuli and I rooted for. Starting our project was very different compared to my little projects. We spent a lot of time gathering information about things such as how we should implement our integration layer, has anyone done anything similar before, how does MaaS provider API work, and where do we get the ferry data. 

The project was not too difficult for me in terms of JavaScript skills, but I learned a lot about teamwork, Git, SQL, Docker, and how to communicate with clients and other parties involved. Especially when our fellow senior team members left for summer holidays, I had to take some role in discussions and decision making. I became more confident and realized that the people I’m working with are just humans like me, and there is no need to be afraid of them. Our summer worker lead period culminated in a demo session where we had to demonstrate what our integration layer does and how it works to a wide audience, including the City of Helsinki, MaaS Global and CRD Systems.

“I had to step outside of my comfort zone, but I ended up coming out much more confident on the other side.”

Samuli: Like Riku, I got into the project after one week at Reaktor, and was equally clueless about the goals of the project. I think something that came as a surprise was the amount of coding we did in the end. I was expecting to be writing code almost immediately. Still, there were a lot of practical and technical details that needed to be cleared up with the affiliates of the project before actually doing anything. This was to ensure that the code we would write would be useful. It ended up driving the development flow of the project towards a workflow where we would first exhaustively discuss technological choices and implementation details before actually writing any code.

This kind of a workflow was a very refreshing change, and I was super happy to be in a project where the discussion/code ratio was balanced this way. In my previous experiences, I haven’t had the chance to work in a team where people could communicate this freely without having to fear that they aren’t right. Every opinion was taken into account and discussed, which felt super good.

The ways of working also surprised me pleasantly in other areas. I was so used to having weeklies and rather rigid forms of working at my old workplace, that I hadn’t even realized how much easier work would be with dailies and no extraneous structure getting in the way of doing stuff.

The amount of direct interaction with the customer that we ended up having with Riku was refreshing. Like I said before, I was expecting to be “just” a coder in my first project, but as the senior staff started their summer vacations, the responsibility of keeping things in control and communicating with the customer fell on our laps. I was worried about this beforehand, as I had little prior experience handling customers. To my pleasant surprise, it went well and felt so natural that I think I even surprised myself. Looking back, this independent experience was easily one of the biggest reasons I liked this project. I had to step outside of my comfort zone, but I ended up coming out much more confident on the other side.

“I was pretty sceptical about Reaktor as a workplace, but I was happy to see that the rumours were true. ”

In addition to the project, the entire Reaktor managed to surprise me. At first I was pretty sceptical about Reaktor as a workplace, as its reputation in the IT sector is almost unicorn-like. I was happy to see that the rumours were true. The company felt really welcoming, and it was easy to find like-minded people among Slack’s hobby channels. What really impressed me is how people-centric Reaktor is, even as a big company. People are given excellent tools to learn and improve themselves.

Applications for our spring positions open at the end of this year. Read more on reaktor.com/junior.

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