Project: Kiosk Toolkit - Evaluation

Parts of the evaluation report we send to our teacher.

1. Expectations

1.1. Expectations before the internship

The main impression of the internship before it had started was that Kiosk applications would be designed and programmed using the Java programming language from start to end. The use of databases and the design of Graphic User Interfaces would be a key part of this development process. After being trained in both Java and the existing tools for a short period, the actual developing process would be started. During this process we would receive intensive guidance from our company's supervisor. Because the company had close relationships with Sun Microsystems we would be exposed to the newest technologies in the Java oriented business. Several seminars would be arranged to give us good insight into the company and its way of working. These experiences would result in a firm knowledge of the Java programming language, which was one of the main goals of this internship.

1.2. Expectations during the internship

The first couple of weeks of the internship we were given JavaScript assignments. Although the JavaScript assignments where quite interesting and gave us a good insight into the company, the level of the assignments was not living up to our expectations. Worries began to rise if we would ever start working with Java. A meeting with the department managers caused an immediate transfer from JavaScript to Java assignments. Of course, the running projects had to be finished before the new project was started. During the rest of the internship, our primary tasks were improving and adding new functionality to the existing Java Kiosk Toolkit using Java Beans. The developed beans were tested in a real life kiosk application, which is now operational at the customer's site.

1.3. Conclusion

Looking back on the 5 months spend at The Allied Group, most of our goals where achieved. Therefore the internship had lived up to our expectations. The JavaScript assignments even added more to the whole experience. Although in the beginning we were afraid JavaScript would dominate the whole period, this problem was quickly solved after a conversation with the managers. The supervising guidance was not as intensive as expected, so this aspect was not quite satisfying. During the period we where mostly guided by fellow employees other than our supervisor. This turned out to be a positive aspect because we learned to make decisions by our selves.

2. Integration into the company

It takes some time to adjust for someone new to a company. Every company has a certain atmosphere on the work floor and relationship between employees. As foreigners, this was even more so for us. Our co-workers have helped us to adjust smoothly and feel part of the company (or at least of the ITG department of the company). Since the ITG office was located at a different location then other offices, it felt as if the ITG department was the whole company and not TAG as a whole (note that the two offices in Glastonbury moved into a single office after we had left).

2.1. Cubes

Unlike many offices in the Netherlands, people generally work in so-called cubes. Each cube is normally occupied by a single person and is equipped with a desk and all other things needed to do his or her job (in our case: a computer of course). Most cubes are open on one side and allow people to communicate easily. The whole concept allows someone to work quite privately without being disturbed by others, but also provides an open atmosphere. During the day, people will leave their cube from time to time to join meetings, talk about assignments, or simply chat to a co-worker.

2.2. Working alone or together

Because there are many different assignments that don't require multiple persons to do the job, most people work on a project by themselves. This was also the case for us in some way during the first months, since we did not have to communicate with co-workers that much about our assignments. During the last two months of our internship, this drastically changed, because colleagues started testing the Kiosk Toolkit and provided us with a lot of feedback.

2.3. Language

Communicating with our American colleagues was not very hard, because we had our English classes in the Netherlands of course and the computer science subject area is very English oriented anyway. Talking about non-technical subjects in English was much harder than talking about technical issues. This is mostly due to our lack of knowledge about the American culture and history. Also many jokes related to sports, history, and famous people we have not heard of in the Netherlands where sometimes hard to understand. The non-technical conversations were the ones that helpt the most with integrating with the rest of the company.

2.4. Conclusion

Altogether, we felt pretty well integrated into the company at the end of our stay. However, we were well aware of the fact that our stay was temporary and kept an "outsiders look" at the company.

3. Skill level of assignments

It is difficult for a company to determine the skills of students and to find appropriate assignments for them. This is especially the case for foreign students. When the native language is also different, this is even harder. It took quite a while before our manager and co-workers got some idea of our knowledge level. And it is still very difficult to explain this based on the American educational system. We felt some frustration during the first few weeks due to this and had to ask for specific assignments that were more applicable in our opinion.

3.1. JavaScript assignments

During the first weeks we worked on some server-side JavaScript assignments. Server-side JavaScript is comparable to CGI-programming (CGI = Common Gateway Interface) in other languages with a set of functions specific to writing web applications. The assignments were comparable to assignments we had during the second year of study at the HIO and were quite simple in technical sense. However, it gave us some chance to get used to company life.

3.2. Java assignments

After the JavaScript assignments, we requested a real Java assignment and set another goal for our internship: do the Sun's Certified Java Programmer exam. Our first assignment was getting to know the Kiosk Toolkit of The Allied Group and try if we could make a kiosk application using it. During this proces, the Southern Auto Auction started and we figured out how to do the assignment using the toolkit.

The Kiosk Toolkit structure was quite complex since no real documentation was available and many pieces were added, removed and modified during its lifecycle. We also found that some ideas for the Southern Auto Auction project were very difficult to accomplish using the existing toolkit. Altogether, this was a good chance to see a real-life product with a lot of challenges to learn the toolkit and Java at the same time. It should be noted that we hardly had any training in Java at school. However, due to our training in other object oriented languages (Eiffel and C++), learning the language itself was not that complicated and learning Java more or less boils down to learning the JDK (Java Development Kit).

During our internship new goals were set:

Each of these tasks was challenging and some tasks took weeks to accomplish or were developed during the whole period of toolkit development of our internship. Since kiosks cover a large subject area, problems were diverse and really helped learning the Java language and its libraries.

3.3. Work pressure

Generally, we had a lot of freedom while working at The Allied Group and did not feel a lot of pressure from the managers or other co-workers. In fact, most pressure was caused by ourselves by requesting a challenging assignment and with a lot diversity. Due to a small miscalculation from us with the calendar, we found ourselves under quite some time pressure during the end of the internship (though this would still be the case if we had our calendar correct).

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