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My Eureka Moment in Software Engineering

Originally posted on the Graduate Developer Community Blog.

My name is Vithun Kumar Gajendra. I am originally from India, and completed a Master’s course in UK under a student visa. Before coming to UK, I worked as a Software Engineer for about 15 months, and I was very much in the thick of action. This work experience would also go on to help me to understand the stuff I studied in the Master’s course even better. My experience here was like a typical recent graduate who enjoyed doing quick programming tasks at college level. I used to solve problems very quickly (I used to be the quickest in my batch at office!), and would go on accomplishing a lot of things within these 15 months. I worked on problems and mini-projects in fields ranging across Shell scripts, CSS, JSP, Servlets, Oracle PL-SQL, SOAP Web Services, a bit of Spring etc. I had a good time working as part of a team making use of tools like CVS, Bugzilla etc. I also got introduced to how tools like Eclipse, Maven, Ant, Hudson etc. were being used in a development environment (I had no idea about the existence of some of these tools before!). In short, this was a period where I was a really good jack of all trades, but unfortunately the master of none. I now look back at that time, and feel that my speed was actually a curse. I did not have the patience to stop and look in detail at some of the things I had done and understand them in depth. I just thought I could do anything and did not worry about how I did it.

I then came over to the UK to do my Master’s course. I did an MSc in Advanced Web Engineering in the University of Essex. It was here that I had my first “eureka” moment. I had this module called “Software Design and Architecture”. In this module, I was formally introduced to the concept of “coupling” in software engineering. And I suddenly realised that I had never thought about writing code in a clean way before. All that I focussed on before was to write code that would get the job done. Now I suddenly realised that there was a good (“artistic” if you might) way to write code. I suddenly realised what a fool I had been! And all of a sudden, I began realising the role of concepts like refactoring and design patterns. (I had been part of a “refactoring” team in my previous work experience without having this knowledge). And now, I turned wise. I realised there is always much more to learn (and apply).

Once I completed my Master’s, I had to wait a few months. I could not find a job as I was still under student visa. And I wouldn’t get my work visa until I got my degree results. So it was in this period that I decided to have a look at Spring. You might ask: Why Spring? I had been introduced to Spring at Mformation. I was required to rewrite existing DAOs using Spring templates and thereby eliminate boilerplate code. I just followed the instructions of my team lead: “Rewrite the code using Spring methods. Declare something in some XMLs and it would work.” It did work, and I did not care at that time how it worked. For some reason, after my Master’s, I thought I’ll have a look at how this worked. And then another eureka moment struck me. Spring was not something that just helped in simplifying DAOs. It was LOTS more than that. I began studying it in detail from the basics(Dependency Injection, Aspect Oriented Programming). The more I read about it, the more I started getting excited.

By this time, I got an internship offer. They required someone with HTML and MySQL skills, and although I wanted to work with Java, I tried to keep myself occupied until I got my work visa. But my interview here went rather well, which in turn made them think about my position as being somewhat permanent and not just an intern. However I joined on a temporary contract (as I still had just a student visa). I was given an in-house problem (of reasonable complexity) to solve. I came up with a concept, which I thought would work. I wrote a proposal, and my manager suggested me to implement it using PHP. I requested him if I could do it in Java, and after a bit of reluctance (because PHP was used mainly for development within the company) he agreed. I now got the platform to use my Spring knowledge (gained mainly by reading and doing small examples). I developed a proof-of-concept within 7 days. Through this course, I made use of Spring, Hibernate, Maven and Eclipse. I created a well-structured and organized code-base. My manager was impressed with the solution and the speed at which I implemented it. He considered it an “elegant” solution to the problem. And this time I was satisfied that my speed had not come at the cost of learning. I understood more about Spring and my interest in Spring has increased even more. I informed the management that I did not intend to take up a permanent position (because they were looking for someone who would do more with PHP, and I did not want to give up Java and Spring, and I also wanted to relocate to London). So towards the end of my tenure, I had to explain the application I had created to a colleague who had a good understanding of Java, but no knowledge of Spring/Hibernate. Within the next couple of days, I managed to impress her with what all Spring had to offer. She was also able to easily pick up the code I had written (and the best practices I had followed). She also decided to use my proof-of-concept as the base and extend it to completely satisfy the requirements. I left the place with a very good feeling and a sense of accomplishment, and with good relationships forged.

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