My Week of Work Experience at Rolls Royce

As I opened the door and got out of my Dad’s car on Monday morning, opposite the Rolls Royce Derby site, I had absolutely no idea as to what awaited me at my week long work experience there. My envisioned week was one which entailed me sitting next to a software developer and watching him/her hammer line after line of code, whilst I sat there wondering why I had chosen to study a degree like Computer Software Development. In all honestly, I was pleasantly surprised.

When you think of the name Rolls Royce, you immediately think of a prestigious multinational company, extortionately expensive cars, market leaders in the aerospace industry, fancy military fighter jets and, if you are an avid fan of Football Manager, then possibly East Kilbride Rolls-Royce*, the amateur Scottish football club. All in all though, one imagines them to be an extremely efficient company. Then you can imagine my confusion as I was left to liaise with the security guards in the waiting dock for over 2 hours as they tried to find someone to escort me, so that I could be given a proper briefing and begin my work experience.

Despite their disorganisation, my supervisor not being in the same city as me, and my timetable being on more of a “put him with whoever is free” basis, I did gain a valuable insight into the manner in which employees working in a software development environment operate, as well as many other things.

In regards to the software development environment, it was extremely beneficial for me to gain an insight and an overview of how all the different components of my degree were put together. The only experience and understanding I had of how things worked in a software development environment were through Peter Robinson’s lecture slides. It was fascinating to see how certain parts of the lifecycle, such as analysis and design interacted with each other. Each segment of the development lifecycle was split into even smaller segments, and nothing was allowed to pass to the next section without it being close to perfect, and if there was a mistake, then a PR (problem report) had to be raised. I was told that on average, each PR that was flagged up would cost Rolls Royce close to £20,000. In simpler terms, no-one could afford to make a mistake.

Which gladly brings me onto my next point, and the next thing that I learned whilst spending my time at Aero Engine Controls, Rolls Royce. The emphasis on testing on testing was ridiculous, and even that itself is an understatement. At Rolls Royce, there are around a group of 80 people who work in a department know as the “Systems Verification/Testing”. Their primary objective and concern was making sure that everything and every line of code worked perfectly. Once they were satisfied that everything worked perfectly, they would pass the code along to the testing rigs, who would then simulate the code on testing rigs to make sure that it worked perfectly. Once they made sure that the code worked perfectly, they would then pass the code onto the testing beds who would then run the code on an actual engine, to make sure that it worked perfectly. To say that they are perfections would be putting it lightly. However, you soon come to the realisation that they, Rolls Royce, are a multinational organisation who are developing code that is to be run real time, on an aircraft that will potentially be carrying hundreds of people, you can understand why they have to go through so many measures and why there are so many regulatory bodies governing aviation software development industries. From this, although the chance that I will be working for Rolls Royce are extremely slim, primarily due to the fact that they write their programs and modules in ADA, it was fascinating to see the difference between writing code for a safety critical system and writing a simple program that operates on basic user inputs is. The risks are far greater, therefore extreme measures and precautions are undertaken in the software development model, in order to prevent any serious damage or fatalities from occurring.

With the rather amusing reminder of how software development models almost caused serious damage to one too many orange books that a particular lecture gave to us, whom I shall not mention, my next point and topic in hand is the actual software development methodology. So far during my studies in relation to Computer Software Development, I had been made aware of two main software development ideologies, the linear/waterfall method and the iterative/agile method. However, at Rolls Royce, they undertake the software development process using a different methodology, the “V-Model”. Without gong into too much detail as to what the V-Model entails, it is a somewhat complicated form of software development which derives the clients requirements and creates a project definition, which is one half of the “V”, and the other half of the “V” is focused on testing the code alongside these requirements. If there are any problems, then whoever is working on the testing side of the V-Model, will raise a problem report, and you will go back to the start of the V-Model whereby you defined the requirements, and redefine them, until you get to a stage whereby the requirements have successfully been met and tested, in which case the particular piece of code that was being developed can be implemented. What was interesting about this was the fact that firstly, it was something entirely new, and as well as that, it allowed for an extremely rigid yet organised workforce, which is vital for maintaining efficiency. And well all know how much software engineers/developers love after studying Advanced Programming.

One of the final highlights of the week was seeing the inside of the testing rig,as well as an aeroplane engine which was to be palced on the XWB, the plane which had it’s maiden flight recently. I know I was not allowed or authorised to see one, but one of the employees, whom I shall not name, was able to sneak me onto the testing beds. Actually being able to see one up close was just awesome, and it helped to put into place what all the modules of code did and interacted with earlier on in the week. Plus, I got to see a magnificent piece of machinery, which was pretty cool in itself.

Overall, my work experience at Rolls Royce was extremely beneficial to me. It gave me an insight and an overview as to the way everything operated in a software development environment. I was able to see how everything was structured, I got to speak to employees, as well as those on the graduate scheme, and found the experience to be a pleasure in helping to drive me towards becoming a Computer Software Developer, and for that, I am grateful.

Until the next blog post, which will more than likely be in relation to a summary of my second year at university, adieu.

* I have recently been made aware that East Kilbride Rolls-Royce do not feature in any of the Football Manager or Championship Manager game series, and after contacting Sports Interactive, I can confirm that they will not be featuring in the latest installment of the game, Football Manager 2014. I would like to apologise to all my readers for my poor attempt at humour.

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