“The feedback discussions were definitely a high point for me” – The Reaktor trainee journey revealed
Over the years we’ve welcomed dozens of eager junior talents to our development teams to gain experience in consulting and building digital services. In this post, recent trainees Riku Mäntysalo and Kerkko Pelttari share their thoughts and experiences about their time at Reaktor and guide you through the Reaktor trainee journey.
Riku Mäntysalo is a developer who joined Reaktor in February 2020 as part of the first ever spring intake of junior employees. He continued with us over the summer and took full advantage of Reaktor’s boats, making several trips to the Helsinki archipelago.
Kerkko Pelttari is a self-proclaimed RSS reader as well as a developer. He started at Reaktor in May 2020 as a summer employee, and his summer highlights were the fascinating and insightful discussions he had with fellow Reaktorians on a variety of topics, including the Rust borrow checker, implementing curryable signatures in TypeScript, and, of course, text editors.
The journey begins
Your first steps as a trainee begin by starting the recruitment process with an application for a junior position. The process for junior employees is two-fold: it starts with a homework assignment to be submitted with your application and continues to interview rounds.
Kerkko: As the homework assignment in 2020, junior developer applicants were asked to write a dpkg info file parser. I wrote it in Kotlin, experimenting with some libraries I hadn’t used before.
Riku: I spent a few evenings working on the assignment. It consisted of parsing a file and then displaying the contents in a web-based UI. In hindsight, I think that it tested the skills you use almost daily in a project quite well.
Our recruitment team goes through all the submitted assignments and, after reviewing your code and application, they decide whether to invite you to an interview. Whatever decision is made, every applicant gets feedback on their assignment.
Kerkko: The interview phase consists of two rounds. In the first interview, we went through my assignment and discussed and bounced ideas around about its strengths and weaknesses. We had a great talk, for example, about the usage ergonomics of the libraries and Kotlin in general.
Kerkko: What I liked about the interviews was the fact that the interviewers were developers like me. Speaking the same language made it possible to have an active dialog about technology. I think that this makes the recruitment process worth your time, even if you are not hired. You will still receive relevant feedback on what is lacking and what skills you should improve to make it in the future.
“Speaking the same language made it possible to have an active dialog about technology. I think that this makes the recruitment process worth your time, even if you are not hired.”
Gearing up for project work
As a new Reaktorian, you will have your own story about how you ended up working with us. Some newcomers might have worked in an IT consultancy before, while others gained their experience in their studies. Either way, we want to make sure you know everything you need before joining a project team.
Kerkko: After two rounds of interviews and an accepted job offer, you are welcomed to join the Reaktor family. The first few weeks at Reaktor are filled with a bunch of internal training and onboarding discussions that prepare you for project work.
Riku: Internal training usually includes a couple of hour-long sessions about topics useful to every Reaktorian. Topics include the basics of all Reaktor expertise areas, such as software development, UX and business design, and more general skills like teamwork, consulting, and Reaktor culture.
Kerkko: This year, summer trainees were also able to attend remote-work training, which proved to be extremely useful later on. We discussed, for example, how to build trust in a remote setup, keeping the team and customers on the same page, and asynchronous versus synchronous communication in general.
Riku: I had no previous experience of consulting before joining Reaktor, so overall I feel like the onboarding made me more prepared for project work. Even though the training sessions were great, I think that meeting other newcomers and hearing about their previous experiences was even better.
Finding the A team might take some time
During your first weeks at Reaktor, while you are busy with onboarding, our business team kicks off the staffing process and tries to find the best project fit for you.
Kerkko: Something every new employee is kept aware of is that finding a project and a team that is a good fit might take time. Reaktor doesn’t hire consultants for a specific project demand, so pre-staffing is not always possible.
Riku: Sometimes, however, there might be a project waiting for you when you start. I was introduced to a project right when I started, and I joined the team after a brief onboarding in my second week at Reaktor. I heard that this was an exception rather than the rule, though.
Kerkko: Yep. In the beginning it is more common to spend some time on the bench while waiting for a project. Although sometimes the project search might take a little longer than you would wish, there is a silver lining in the situation: even as a trainee, your wishes regarding the project are taken into account, and you’re not forced into just any project available.
Riku: The aim is to always get junior employees into customer projects to gain real-life consulting experience, but sometimes a better fit might be found in one of the internal projects. After spending my first months in a client project, I helped an internal development team to develop our staffing tool.
Kerkko: You might also get to help briefly in some of the internal projects when waiting for your next client. When you are on the bench, you participate in weekly meetings where available projects are introduced, and you may jump in on projects where you could be of use. Additionally, you might spend some time honing your skills in relevant training, learning about the craft by reading books, and sharing knowledge with other Reaktorians in workshops and Community of Practice meetings.
“Even as a trainee, your wishes regarding the project are taken into account, and you’re not forced into just any project available.”
From trainings to dailies
After onboarding and possible bench time you’ll join one of our development teams and start working either at a client or on an internal project. Our internal projects are also organized to resemble client work, so whichever you’re doing you might see varying team sizes, project scopes, ways of working, and technologies.
Riku: As a trainee, most of the time you’re working with at least one colleague from Reaktor. In some projects, your team might also include people from another consulting company and the client.
Kerkko: The team setup is not set in stone, though. For example, I had quite an unusual team of only two Reaktorians: me, and one colleague. Also, the pandemic spiced up the setup a bit, and our team didn’t meet the client face to face until the project was over.
Riku: Most of the time, it is not only the software that the client wants; they may also want an outsider view of the culture and ways of working. My project had exactly this aspect included, and our team was allowed to conduct our work without too many limitations. We followed the agile ways of working, using kanban, arranging dailies, and such, which is very typical for a Reaktor project.
Riku: As for the technology side of things, I would say that a large portion of the projects at Reaktor revolve around web technologies. React, and NodeJS together with TypeScript is a common tech stack but certainly not the only one, as Reaktor has a quite diverse project portfolio.
Kerkko: I also worked with web technologies. For most of the summer, I was writing a Robot Framework wrapper library around Playwright, a new web browser testing tool, which meant that our project had a backend of Node and a user-facing Robot Framework interface written in Python.
Feedback discussions complete the journey
Receiving and giving feedback is a significant part of Reaktor’s way of working. So, after a couple of months in your project – usually at the end of your trainee period – we want to give you the chance to hear in detail how things have gone. We’ll collect feedback from your team using a peer review form, and a more senior Reaktorian will go through the feedback with you in a scheduled session.
Riku: As a spring trainee who stayed at Reaktor for the summer too, I had two informal one-on-one discussions with a more senior Reaktorian. They were definitely a high point of my trainee period, as getting feedback gives you some perspective into how your colleagues see you, and what you should try to improve on.
Kerkko: I had a single one-on-one feedback session in August. A more senior colleague and I went through the feedback collected from my team, but we also chatted about my plans for the future.
Riku: We discussed that too, and I felt that the feedback sessions acted as career growth discussions as well. I found the conversations helpful, as they gave me many new ideas on how to better communicate with the client and how to improve my technical skills.
“I felt that the feedback sessions acted as career growth discussions as well.”
Every trainee experience is unique
The Reaktor trainee journey takes you from puzzling coding assignment to inspiring feedback discussion, giving you a chance to hone your skills in consulting and your craft along the way – and hopefully have fun doing it. Whilst all of our trainees follow the same journey, the overall experiences can vary greatly.
Kerkko: In some ways, I expected a lot before joining Reaktor, and most of my expectations were met. Coming from small workplaces, I especially enjoyed discussing, arguing, and learning about everything and anything on Slack. People have been helpful in answering questions and pointing to resources.
Riku: I didn’t know what to expect from the trainee period, but I’ve been positively surprised about these past months. I was told that many have to adjust a bit to the way Reaktor operates due to the organization model — or rather the lack of it. It might not always be clear who you should talk to if you have a question, but I felt quite comfortable with it from the beginning.
Kerkko: I’m a bit bummed that I missed out on some of the cultural aspects due to the pandemic. I hope that I’ll get a chance to experience the “working at the client’s office” and “hanging out with my team members” culture sometime in the future. Still, I am glad that I spent my summer at Reaktor. People’s competence was excellent, and the internal discussion culture is very nice.
Riku: If I were to highlight one thing, it would be the sense of community that I felt. As Kerkko said, it’s easy to talk to anyone, and you get a feeling that on some level you know the other person, even if it’s the first time you talk with them. For me, that’s one of the best things about Reaktor.
Applications for our spring positions open soon. Read more on reaktor.com/junior.