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Online Portfolios

This blog was written by Eilidh Macdonald, Industry Employability Champion, Department of Computing, Goldsmiths and is intended to encourage students, no matter what stage of their studies, to work on creating an online portfolio.

COVID-19 is already having a huge impact on the graduate recruitment market. One way students can help strengthen their career prospects is to build a really compelling online portfolio of their work. To help students we spoke to alumni, staff and employers to gather some top tips on creating a portfolio to help our Computing students stand out.

An online portfolio is essential for students

“These days an online portfolio is expected by many employers, if you haven’t got one then it could ring alarm bells, perhaps you’re not cutting edge” (Glassdoor)

“An online portfolio is essential for coders and artists. Showreel for animators and VFX artists” (Andy Driver, Aardvark Swift)

“We won’t even read an application if there is no portfolio included”, James Walker, Goodboy Digital

“The ability to view examples of work puts a candidate to the top of the pile”, Jessica Luck, Gradcracker

Some key points to remember:

  • Many employers now won’t even look at your application if you don’t have an online portfolio
  • Don’t make your portfolio hard to navigate – people will give up!
  • Show your passion
  • Your portfolio needs to reflect the kind of work you are looking for – in terms of skills demonstrated and passions
  • Provide some context about how you produced this work – how you developed and iterated the work

There is a range of advice below. All of these people work in slightly different fields, so there are some differences according to industry, but also lots of common ground to consider.

James Walker, Managing Director, Goodboy Digital

Goodboy Digital are a team of creatives who blend code, design and interaction to make meaningful experiences. Clients include the BBC, Lego and Sega.

“For us we specialise in visual development so a portfolio for developers is definitely just as key as it is for designers, not only does it show their skills and capabilities, it also communicates passion, proactiveness and autonomy in the areas we most care about too.

We won’t even read an application if there is no portfolio included, so for a smaller independent company such as ourselves it really is essential.

Other things that excite us are:

  • Prototypes and Experiments in emerging technologies – This can indicate additional value to us if they have explored areas we may not yet have got to ourselves
  • Collaborative projects mixing disciplines – this shows they are capable at working in teams of other people with differing skill sets and have the drive to get things off the ground as a collective. We are visually focused so look for creative coders who can share an open dialogue with designers too
  • Contributions to OSS – this is a big yes for us as it shows coding is their passion, not just a job. We look for people that live and breathe the same things we do and fortunately it’s very easy to read this from a person’s portfolio
  • Finished things – The hardest part of development. Any developer can do the first 50% as it’s the fun bit! Very few have the grit to drive something through to 100% commercially shippable standards as it’s really, really hard – evidence of this is impressive. On the flipside portfolios full of half-finished ventures is a warning!
  • Games – developing a game is hard and requires a broad range of knowledge and skills to accomplish. For us these show off creative code capabilities more than anything else
  • Working with tech most relevant to the companies you apply for – for us we are all about javascript and web technology, so portfolios showing work in this area have a huge advantage to us compared to say a pure Unity portfolio. The tech will differ per company of course, but you’d have a big advantage if you can match up at portfolio stage”

Sumit Paul-Choudhury, writer, technologist, entrepreneur & Visiting Research Fellow at Goldsmiths

Between 2011 & 2017 Sumit edited the New Scientist, the world’s most popular science weekly. At Goldsmiths he is exploring the commercial, scientific and recreational applications of creative computing. He is approaching online portfolios from the point of view of someone commissioning art for commercial purposes.

“Two points that might be worth making – the first being that New Scientist might not sound like an obvious market, but we actually commissioned a great deal of art and photography – and because the subject matter often defies literal depiction (you can’t draw dark matter, or consciousness) but also needs to be precise, it made for challenging briefs.

The other thing is that is that I would not want anyone to think I’m unaware that people have lots of different reasons for creating online portfolios, and lots of different impacts they might want to make. If you’re trying to get hired to make whizzy websites, then of course you might want a clever navigational system or something.

Re. portfolios, there are a few initial thoughts from the point of view of someone commissioning art for very straightforwardly commercial purposes

  • People in my (former) industry are often working at speed. Don’t make your portfolio hard to navigate: I am more likely to move on than to spend more than 10 seconds figuring out how to browse your portfolio. If it breaks in my browser, it’s a non-starter
  • Present yourself, not just the work. That doesn’t (necessarily) mean your biography, but the kinds of things you like to work on, a suggestion of your approach. etc. (Be honest. Some people want lots of collaboration and discussion, some want to fire off a request and forget about it until it’s due. Don’t assume one or the other.) That’s often useful because –
  • Presenting yourself as able to do everything has its virtues – for example, where you’re applying for the only creative role at a small firm. But if you’re going to be pitching for individual gigs, it can help to point out what you’re really good at or engaged with, in terms of subject matter or execution. Consider theming your portfolio in a way that makes sense to a commissioner, not according to your own conception of your work (“here is editorial photography I have done”, not “this is my series JUXTAPOSE i-iv”)
  • Try to provide a bit of information about the circumstances of projects you’ve done, not just the beautiful final work. Consider showing how you developed and iterated a work – your first commissions are an act of faith on the part of the commissioner, so try to give them confidence that you will deliver something appropriate on time and can work with feedback”

Nathaniel Okenwa, graduate of BSc Business Computing last year, now Tech Evangelist at Twilio.

“Having content online is a great way to stand out when you are looking for a job in these times. It’s always good news for an employer if they google your name and see that you have great content and a following online. So, get out there.”

Jessica Luck, Gradcracker

Gradcracker is a careers website for STEM students

“The ability to view examples of work puts a candidate to the top of the pile. Having work of any ability publicly viewable on ‘GitHub’ or ‘BitBucket’ shows the interviewer they know how to use Git and they are applying what they have learnt. Uploading any coursework or hobby projects also gives the interviewer something to talk about with the candidate and backs up what they have said in their CV.

Our employers will mention the coding languages they look out for in an application so if they show off any knowledge of that, it always goes a long way.”

What impact will Covid-19 have on my future career?

This blog was written by Eilidh Macdonald, Industry Employability Champion, Department of Computing, Goldsmiths and is intended to give advice to students, no matter what stage of their studies, to think through their future career during this crisis.

In this post I have pulled together some insights around the impact of COVID-19 on the graduate recruitment market. In a rapidly changing situation, this is an attempt to help current students get a feel for some of the views of employers, recruitment companies, the press and one of our ex-students.

I have not included freelancing here – that will pose its own challenges. Many lecturers have had or still have freelancing careers or know people who have so for help please do reach out.

The key message is to not give up hope, to try and work on your profile during this difficult time and continue to apply for opportunities. We are here to help you in the department and we are working closely with the Careers Service, who are available for online one-to-one sessions and other support.

What can you do to help future career plans?

  • Be flexible and open-minded
  • Keep looking for opportunities (e.g. Gradcracker, Ratemyplacement, Indeed.com, LinkedIn)
  • Keep in touch with employers if you have had previous conversations about work or even a job or placement offer
  • Work on your online portfolio and LinkedIn profile
  • Have a look at postgraduate courses if there is an area of development you would like to focus on
  • Think about getting some volunteering experience, especially where you can use your technical skills
  • Make use of our Career Services e.g. book a 1:1 appointment; get a CV check; do a practice interview. Book through CareerSpace
  • Access resources on the VLE Employability Portal, including videos on how to prepare for general and technical interviews. More to come soon
  • Take part in our weekly Online employability/careers drop ins

Impact of COVID-19

Recruitment is severely affected but it hasn’t stopped. Many placement opportunities are on hold or even cancelled and businesses are scaling back their graduate recruitment. However we are seeing placement opportunities moving from on-site to virtual and in the technology sector this is easier to do. The recruitment process is also moving online, so expect interviews being held over Skype or zoom or even telephone interviews.

Last month a survey with employers was conducted by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE). Numbers have probably shifted in the meantime but the figure below gives an indication of mainly larger employers opinions about hiring.

Figure taken from ‘COVID-19 Challenges for student recruitment and development’ report, ise, March 2020

Tristram Hooley, Chief Research Officer at ISE summarises the potential effects in a recent blog post:

  • In the short-term employers will be managing the chaos of the lockdown and its aftermath and many will delay or cancel normal recruitment
  • In the medium-term, graduates will be operating within a more competitive labour market
  • In the long-term, this year’s students will be graduating at the start of a recession that could last for some time.

Other ISE insights (from recent webinar):

  • Many employers have paused recruitment e.g. where current staff have been furloughed.
  • Many are hoping to restart recruitment in June/July for September starts
  • ISE summary view: For now, at least, student recruiters seem to be reacting cautiously and avoiding panic

What do employers say?

“Even in this crisis, some employers are booming. Technology companies, the food sector and logistics firms are busier than ever. You might not end up with the job you hoped for but you can get a job.”

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute

The ISE think that there will be growth in the public sector, so this could be another area to look at in your job searches and research into potential areas of work.

Charlie Ball, labour market analyst and speaker, sees the following trends:

  • Postgraduate course demand will rise
  • Demand for healthcare, some forms of logistics, some forms of supermarket retail and hardware/networking roles is holding up well
  • Demand for roles in finance and IT looks to be down a bit but activity is currently going on
  • Hospitality, entertainment, public transport, some sales and some business services has been hit significantly

Alison Partridge, OneTech Managing Director at Capital Enterprise:

“The unemployment rate in the UK has doubled in less than a month due to COVID 19 and over 1 million young people will be leaving full time education this summer and face limited employment prospects. As in other recessions or economic shocks, interest and demand to start a business will rocket upwards from the new army of unemployed and as is the case now, starting a business in the tech sector or starting a business that is digitally enabled for marketing, sales and distribution will offer the best opportunities for success for these first time entrepreneurs.

At Capital Enterprise we have been fortunate to secure additional funding from JP Morgan to launch a new StartUp Resilience Programme for tech founders who can’t access the help they need elsewhere.”

Some other insights from recruiters:

  • Indeed say that internship opportunities are drying up
  • LinkedIN say that finance and IT are weathering the storm and many roles have gone virtual

What do our Alumni say?

Nathaniel Okenwa, who graduated from our Business Computing course last year is now a Tech Evangelist at Twilio. This is what he advised students:

“I am very fortunate that my company has not been significantly affected financially by Covid-19, however I know quite a few friends working in software who have been laid off or furloughed.

One thing that this has highlighted to me is how important it is to curate an identity outside of your day job. Put out blog content, start a podcast or stream your coding sessions on Twitch. I have been amazed by the creativity I am seeing from developers as they move from working in person to creating online content.

Having content online is a great way to stand out when you are looking for a job in these times. It’s always good news for an employer if they google your name and see that you have great content and a following online.

So get out there. Highlight the things that you enjoy building. People will notice”

I hope this summary has helped give you a very general view of the impact of COVID-19 on current student recruitment. Please share your experiences with me so that we can help other students through this time.

The realities of university life with mental health problems

13-19th May 2013 is Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation’s annual campaign. The Students’ Union and the Disability Team at Goldsmiths have organised a series of events around this, including an information stand in the Loafers café and a movie night, showing Lars and the Real Girl. Prior to the film screening there will be a Q&A panel on mental health issues. I’ll be one of the panellists, talking openly about my role as a departmental Senior Tutor, my own experiences as a mental health service user (I have bipolar disorder), and the problems and practicalities of being a student with mental illness (my husband is an undergraduate student at a different university and also has bipolar disorder). Everyone is welcome to attend.

Academic life and mental illness is not a smooth ride but it can be done. For me, academic life with bipolar disorder is both a blessing (when my mood is elevated I am incredibly productive and creative) and a curse (if I’m too high or low I can’t focus or concentrate). I know I can do my job and I can do it well – I just sometimes need a little more time or a different way of working. From a student perspective the same applies. My husband is now in his second year of his degree after two previous attempts at undergraduate studies prior to his diagnosis left him burnt out and on antipsychotics. This time round he has support in place. Goldsmiths offers the same support for any student with a disability: there are reasonable adjustments for assessments, we can help with your application for Disabled Student Allowance to fund further support, we strive to raise awareness and understanding amongst staff and fellow students, there is a counselling service on campus, and where we can’t help we’ll refer you to someone who can.

I’m the Senior Tutor in the Department of Computing, which means that any student with a non-academic issue such as illness, personal problems, welfare, etc., can come and see me so that we can plan a solution. That solution may be as straightforward as arranging extra time for courseworks, through to more complex strategies like taking a break from studies for a while, or helping people get access to the right services. For my students, I hope that I can offer not just advice and adjustments but empathy and understanding. I know what it’s like to hang on to normality by the fingertips. It’s not always easy and sometimes it can be downright awful but I also know that it’s possible, and that a life often turned upside down by mental health problems needn’t be a barrier to a successful journey through university. Help is there. We want to see people succeed. From my own experience, the best advice I can offer anyone facing mental health problems is “talk to someone”.

Kate Devlin, Senior Tutor
For more info about the film screening and Q+A on Thursday please see the SU website here.

Meet Eduardo, our Department Student Co-ordinator.

Eduardo is a student on the BSc Creative Computing (integrated degree). This year he has been doing a wonderful job of one of our Department Student Co-ordinators, representing the student body to both the department itself and to Goldsmiths. Here he tells us a little about himself and his experiences of Goldsmiths:

I am a mature student with a young heart. At the moment I am in the foundation year to shape up and get the tools I need to become a computer scientist. I knew about Goldsmiths because some of my friends who were studying at the university already told me the wonders of studying here.

I was thinking about coming back to education for some time, and after attending to an open day and having a chat with the Computing Department peeps I was convinced I wanted to study here. Studying at Goldsmiths for me has been a great experience and a rollercoaster of emotions, I have met good friends, and given the opportunity to get involved in the academic life, by working closely with students, teachers and other academic figures to support students as Student Coordinator and this way become a bridge for better understanding between the two sides.

My tutors have given me many gifts to be thankful for, like logical thinking and understanding computing behaviour, the hunger for researching, and creating my own personal and creative ways to develop my ideas so I can walk my own path.

Finally studying at Goldsmith has given me the ultimate gift, which is a dream of an amazing future and a second opportunity in life to become the person I want to be.

Women in Computing workshop at Goldsmiths

On the 27th March, the Computing Department at Goldsmiths ran an Introduction to Arduino workshop specifically aimed at women applicants.

The workshop was a great success. Arduino is a computer that can sense what is going on in the world and make something happen because of it. It is a prototyping board, for all your interactive design/artistic needs. The workshop introduced applicants to some of the amazing things that can be done with an Arduino, how to get started and how to find out more. In the workshop we learned how to write a small computer program to control a light to turn on when it gets dark, or when someone comes near. All participants seemed to enjoy the workshop, as did the workshop leaders, Sophie and Shauna from MzTek.

Our department is committed to actively encouraging more women to take up university places in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) subjects. We are also committed to supporting women students once they arrive at Goldsmiths because we recognise that Computing subjects have traditionally been dominated by men.

Keep an eye out for more Women in Computing events taking place at Goldsmiths over the coming months.

 

 

 

Meet the staff: Prof Robert Zimmer

In the run up to the new academic year in September, we’re conducting a series of quick-fire interviews with some of the lecturers so you can meet them before you arrive. It would be only right to kick off with the Head of Department, so here you go…

Professor Robert Zimmer in 60 seconds!

What five words would you choose to describe the department? Welcoming, innovative, relaxed, creative, unique.

What do most enjoy about being Head of the Computing department? Being a head of department at Goldsmiths has enabled me to work with world class researchers in arts, humanities and social sciences to build a unique and exciting intellectual environment in the Computing Department

If you weren’t an academic, what would your dream job be? Presenter of a daytime TV.

What do you most like doing when you’re not at work? I would say…drinking wine and cooking!

What piece of advice would you give to applicants hoping to take up a university place in September? Be yourself. Be somebody better.

‘Our Correspondent’, Dr Kate Devlin – BBC Expert Women

Our lecturer, Dr Kate Devlin, was one of 60 experts selected out of over 2000 applicants to take part in a scheme to tackle gender imbalance in the media. Here she talks about her experience.

Tuesday, 4pm, at the BBC Academy: I was so busy chatting with three other women about computers, 3D printing, robotics and counterterrorism engineering that I forgot I was in a radio studio in the middle of a broadcast. I was taking part in the BBC Academy Expert Women day as a participant in the second cohort to be put through their paces at White City. Considering I had started the morning panicking that maybe I didn’t know enough, and that maybe they would think I was a fraud, the training had worked.

In four all-too-short sessions we were shown the ropes, getting a taste of how to confidently share our knowledge and research with a wide audience on TV and radio. But it wasn’t just the new skills that were so fascinating: the twenty-nine other women experts and the industry women training us were among the most interesting I have ever had the pleasure to meet. From astrobiologists to actuaries, and from to vulcanologists to feminist historians, everyone had something compelling to share and the opportunity was there to share it.

Women are vastly under-represented in the media and the Expert Women campaign seeks to redress the gender imbalance. This imbalance is also echoed in our own discipline – computing – where women are often discouraged by the “white male geek” stereotype. It’s estimated that the number of UK technology jobs held by women is just 17%. Seventeen percent! And yet we are all using and interacting with technology daily. Research shows we often assume that because we see stereotypes, we feel we ought to conform to those stereotypes in order to be successful. In other words, if we see a geeky male computer scientist, we think we can only be a computer scientist if we are both geeky and male. Not true! It was women who drove many of the early developments in computing and, hopefully, it will be women who contribute more and more in the future. Through initiatives such as these where women talk about what they do and share it publicly, we hope to encourage other women and girls, and show that a career in computing is both possible and desirable.

Dr Kate Devlin