A Day in an Improbable Life: Tom Bower, Software Engineering Intern

30 October 2018

This summer, Tom Bower was a Software Engineering intern at Improbable – he wrote this four months into a six-month placement.

Since I started my internship, I’ve been thrown into the deep end from day one and given a lot of ownership over my work. Because of this, I’ve learnt so much and developed my skills enormously in a relatively short amount of time, all while having an absolutely amazing time and enjoying every moment of the experience. In all honesty, there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ or ‘average’ day at Improbable – there are new surprises and opportunities arising every single day – but here’s a glimpse into one of my Fridays:

9:30 am: My workday begins at 9:30 am when the train arrives at Farringdon station. After the short walk from the station to the office, I make a beeline to the kitchen to get a coffee and whatever breakfast we’re given that day; some days we get croissants, others we get bagels, but my personal favourite is definitely pancake day! Today it’s bagels, which I take back to my desk to eat while catching up on anything I missed overnight. This usually involves checking my calendar, catching up on Slack messages from the day before, and reading the weekly update emails we receive from various teams which provide an insight into different areas of the company you’re not as involved with.

10:15 am: By 10 am, the rest of my seven-person team has usually arrived and we can start to tackle some real work! Improbable is a fast-paced and dynamic working environment with new tasks and problems  cropping up all the time. As a result, we have a daily standup to learn what others achieved the previous day, and what they’re hoping to achieve today. This is a really valuable aspect of the day and I enjoy hearing what everyone is working on so that I can offer input and help them with their work if I happen to know how to solve it. Of course, it’s also a good way for me to get advice on my own work from the more experienced people in my team.

10:25 am: After standup and topping up my coffee, I can do some programming. One of the things that I like the most about the work here is that there is a huge variety of tasks that I can pick up. If I’m not working on my intern project, I’m probably working on random tickets that have been raised or performing code reviews of my colleagues’ work. Even after only being here for a few months, I’m given a lot of control and autonomy over my own work, and my comments on code reviews are taken very seriously – something which both surprised and pleased me.

11:15 am: Everyone here is passionate about sharing knowledge and helping others: the sheer amount of workshops, talks, and whiteboarding sessions illustrate this! I try to go to as many of these sessions as possible to expand my knowledge of the codebase and tools that I am not so familiar with. Today, we’re learning about how to make the most out of React and Redux from a colleague with many years of experience using them.

12:15 pm: Lunchtime! Every day, we have a delicious spread of food in a buffet-style for our lunch which is usually a unique cuisine: it’s been four months and I still haven’t eaten the same food twice! Some of my personal favourite days have to be sushi day and Korean food day. If the weather is nice (which is a rarity in London!), I’ll take my food to the office roof terrace and chat with my friends while overlooking the many skyscrapers of the City.

Tom Bower pointing at computer

1:00 pm: After lunch, I go out for a coffee with someone in the company I’ve never met before. Improbable has almost 300 employees across several offices worldwide, so it’s small enough that there are people you see every day but large enough that there are people who you might not ordinarily get the chance to meet. I’m part of the coffee buddies initiative which pairs me up with a different colleague each week with whom I go out for a coffee. I really like this part of our culture and it’s fun to learn about what the finance, marketing, and talent teams’ days look like.

1:30 pm: Once I’m back in the office and feeling a bit more energetic after lunch, I’m able to get on with some more work. In the afternoon, I’m a big fan of pairing with my teammates – this is where we sit together and work on the same problem, bouncing ideas off one another trying to find a good solution. I’ve found that not only is it a great way to learn new techniques and skills, but it’s also a very efficient way of finding a good solution. 

Another aspect of this that I really enjoy is that instead of sending an email or a message to someone who might be able to help, we’re encouraged to go and speak to them face-to-face which often resolves the problem much more quickly. Everybody in the company is eager to help and will usually stop whatever they’re doing to give you a hand, which is fantastic! Today, I’m pairing with my technical guide on my intern project all afternoon to try to close off some tickets before the weekend.

2:30 pm: In the middle of the afternoon, I like to take a short break so that I can stay focused on my work. There are a variety of ways we can relax, from taking a walk around the bustling local area to relaxing on our massage chair. More often than not, I find that a quick game of ping pong or table football is an effective way to blow off some steam. On this occasion, I grab a fellow intern for a game of ping pong – I win!

4:30pm: On Fridays, our team hosts a demo session to show off the work we’ve done in the sprint. I really like attending this and seeing what everyone managed to achieve; it’s always amazing how much progress we manage to make! Sometimes, I will drop in on show-and-tells from other teams too, to get a better idea of what the rest of the company is getting up to, as well.

5:00 pm: To finish off the week, we have an event called ‘town hall’. The town hall is similar to a fireside chat in format and is where the entire company squeezes into our social space to listen to our CEO round off the week. Usually, we’ll welcome new joiners (of which there are many!), and hear about any milestones or achievements we’ve made as a company. I really value the openness in the company and the trust we are afforded. It’s safe to say there are no secrets and our achievements are rightfully celebrated together in the town hall, which is followed with food, drink, and music to end the week on a high note.

All in all, I love every day I spend at Improbable thanks to the uniqueness of each day, the open and helpful culture, and the fact that I have the chance to work on some truly groundbreaking technology. In just four months, I’ve had more impact than I ever would have expected, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else I can achieve in the rest of my time here.