One of the projects we worked on – a 2×16 LCD display
Over the December holiday, I had the privilege of completion vac work at a mining technology company in Johannesburg called iMining. It was a wonderful experience, filled with ups and downs, and I learned tons about the startup technology environment in South Africa. Below is the highlights of the three week vac work and what I learned in the process.
iMining is a startup company, having only been in there current form for less than two years. The company has already expanded significantly, picking up large contracts for several big South African mining players. However, the iMining didn’t have an in-exhaustive staff or resources. This is where my colleagues and I came in, to help with the many tasks our boss needed to get done, but didn’t have the time to before important deadlines had to be met. I was all for doing this, I wanted any experience I could get!
As it turns out, university does actually prepare you for the working world. One of the first tasks we had to complete was making a battery monitor circuit. This is classic first year Electric Circuits Op Amps and Schmitt Triggers. I had to use all my knowledge gained to design a practical circuit that would potentially work in a real electronic product. This was quite an exciting realisation for me, having slogged through hours of these circuits in a theoretical context. Now I had an opportunity to design something real!
Similarly, we had to use the classic ATmega328p chip on an Arduino Uno for testing, the basis of our Microprocessors course at Wits in first year.
The problems we had to solve in the vac work were very practical ones. Problems involving shipping parts, deadlines, other parts of the project our solution had to work with and clients asking for conflicting things. There were often frustrating moments during the vac work where we had tried multiple solutions to a problem and it still didn’t work. We found that if we parked that piece of work for a few hours or days, we could gain perspective and think laterally to come up with solutions we couldn’t see before. I have found this is often the case with multi-dimensional and practical problems one doesn’t often encounter in University courses.
We often had been working on a certain task for a few days, and just as we were about to conclude it, another task was thrown into our laps. We had to just roll with the punches and keep a positive attitude. At the end of the day, implementing what I boss wanted was of much higher value than perfecting certain aspects of projects for perfection’s sake.
This is often said, but it still rings true. Learn everyone’s names in the building, this is a powerful, but non-annoying way to gain recognition in the company and have some real insight into the people working there and how to could possibly assist them in their work. Additionally, follow all the time-old rules: arrive on time, dress smart, ask plenty of questions. These rules will never get old.