Student Placement Experience – Edenspiekermann – Stuart Whitehead

Name of Company: Edenspiekermann
Location: Berlin, Germany
Duration of Experience: 4 months
Role: Web Developer

During the summer of 2015 I lived and worked in Berlin as a web developer and simply put, it was awesome. From start to finish the experience was overwhelmingly positive and I’d love to share the highlights of my time there. If tales of work in a world-renowned brand agency, rubbing shoulders with industry superstars and life in the vibrant city that is Berlin sounds interesting, then this is the post for you.

First off, a little bit about the workplace. I was a developer intern at the brand agency Edenspiekermann (although no aspect of it felt actually like an internship). Edenspiekermann was founded by the preeminent typographer and designer Erik Spiekermann and has offices in Berlin, Amsterdam, Los Angeles and Singapore. They are experienced in every facet of the design world: user research, product design, service design… you name it. ESPI, as they are affectionately known, is also comprised of a highly skilled digital team and this is where I called home.

Living in Berlin was pretty cool in its own right. It is such a vibrant, open-minded and easy-going place that it made returning to Aberdeen pretty tough. My flat was located in Charlottenburg, a leafy district in the west side of the city. The office was a 15 minute cycle in one direction and 15 minutes in the opposite direction were the vast lakes and forests of Berlin and Brandenburg.

On the lake with colleagues

On the lake with colleagues

Before I dive into the School’s questionnaire, I’d like to mention the application process and Germany’s infamous bureaucracy. The position I applied for was advertised on Edenspiekermann’s website and the interview process for it was pretty straightforward. It comprised of two stages: the submission of a CV and portfolio and then a Skype interview with the Director of Development. The fun really began once I was offered the job. There are a few German hoops to jump through including address registration (anmeldung); tax ID registration (steuernummer) and social security registration (sozialversicherungsnummer). My simple advice here is to be organised—there’s nothing difficult, there’s just a lot of administration to get done.

What was your key role and responsibilities?
Edenspiekermann work in multidisciplinary ‘agile’ teams so it’s common to be pulled into various aspects of a project. These teams were typically comprised of a ScrumMaster, designers, copywriters and developers who all worked around the same office space. I was a front-end developer and worked alongside a number of other front- and back-end devs.

During my internship I worked on a number of varied projects. My main responsibilities across these were to work with my team members to develop effective and maintainable client-side code. This usually involved writing application logic in JavaScript (using ES2015 syntax and the React framework), as well as stylesheets using the Sass or Stylus preprocessors. Common tasks might involve working with a back-end developer to set up API endpoints and then calling these for use within the web app.

What did an average days work consist of?
There was no such thing as an average day in the ESPI office!

Well, kinda. I arrived around 9am and made myself a coffee (the kitchen is equipped with a full-on barista-style coffee machine). I’d then take time to turn on my iMac and maybe relax on the sofas while reading the news or a book. Depending on the project, daily stand-ups were at 9.30 or 10am. These chats are time-boxed to 15 minutes and it’s when the teams decide on the tasks for the day.

After the stand-up I’d set about work. Quite often I’d be up and about discussing points with developers and designers throughout the office. After eating lunch (either at one of the various restaurants surrounding the office or in Gleisdreieck Park just behind) I’d continue working throughout the afternoon until about 6pm.

Working away at my desk

Working away at my desk

That’s about as regular as a working day was. There were also various events which broke up the working week. On a Tuesday afternoon all of the developers would gather at the sofas for ‘Devcouch’. Anyone could present a topic of their choice and share their thoughts with the digital team. One week I led a discussion on Regular Expressions and wrote an internal guide on it afterwards.

Another ESPI favourite was Brainfood. This event was first thing on a Thursday morning and saw guest speakers from a range of industries and backgrounds talking about _something_. For instance we listened to talks on the Jaegermeister brand, a wearables collaboration between Levis and Google and baumscheiben (tree pits). This concludes with a continental breakfast and the chance to chat with everyone and anyone from the office.

Brainfood in the Berlin kitchen. Can you spot me?

Brainfood in the Berlin kitchen. Can you spot me?

What was the key highlights of your placement?

First and foremost I learnt a lot while working alongside my capable and skilled colleagues. They were a talented bunch and always took time out to help me. For instance developers were more than happy to pair programme with me on specific problems and this really helped me out with new concepts, such as higher-order components in React. My new technical skills are definitely, _definitely_ a highlight.

In a similar vein I learnt a lot about working and coding in teams. In an industry as vibrant and fast-paced as design it’s really important to talk with your team and the Scrum methodology added a structure to that. I now understand the processes involved with Agile in much greater detail. My internship also taught me to give more thought to code structure and maintainability because it’s not just yourself you are developing for.

Beyond these more _normal_ aspects to the work, Berlin threw some amazing opportunities at me. I had the privilege to meet industry figures who I have admired for many years. Of course, Erik Spiekermann was one of these and was in and out of the office pretty regularly. His Berlin letterpress workshop was just across from the office too, so I took time out to visit him there and to absorb the vast array of wood and metal block type in his collection.

Chatting to Erik in his workshop

Chatting to Erik in his workshop

I also had the pleasure of meeting Vitaly Friedman, the editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine. He is friends with one of my old colleagues and dropped in past the office for a chat one day. Not long after that I met Harry Roberts (also known as CSS Wizardry). I had grown up learning a lot about CSS from his work so it was cool to hang out with him—we even spent a day sightseeing together.

Visiting Teufelsberg with Harry

Visiting Teufelsberg with Harry.

I think that the highest highlight of them all was meeting Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. I attended a W3C Q&A session where he and many other figures discussed current and future standards of the web. This was a pretty small event with around 100 people in the room. Once the panel session concluded, we were left to mingle with some drinks and food and that’s when me and my colleague had to chance to speak to him.

Mingling with Sir Tim

Mingling with Sir Tim

What are your personal thoughts on the placement?

My internship experience was brilliant. In fact, my summer in Berlin was so much of a whirlwind that even now I’m trying to piece it all together. As a developer and a person, I’ve learnt and grown so much.

What would be your advice to other students thinking of doing a placement?
I totally believe that life is about making good decisions. Everyone has their own aspirations and goals, and we all have different challenges to overcome along the way. The only person who can decide whether undertaking a placement is a good choice is yourself.

My one piece of advice would be this: take stock of your own situation and choose. If you decide that a placement is the right thing for you, I can guarantee you won’t regret it.

_A wee note_
I’d like to thank my current agency, EQ Design, for their encouragement and flexibility throughout my internship.