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Finishing my industrial placement

Ioana Pintilie standing aboe a view of a European citySome readers will probably remember me as “Ee-wah-nah” thanks to my previous blog post about my first few days with HMRC digital almost a year ago! Here I am today, at the end of my penultimate week in the Digital Delivery Centre in Telford (DDCT), sipping green tea and preparing for the last few days, I feel another reflection is due.

(Assistant) User Researcher

Having had no previous work experience whatsoever – let alone any experience of user research or working in a highly professional environment like HMRC digital – after a couple of months of desk research and the odd telephone interview, I accepted this is probably what my placement will always be like. However, I was continuously encouraged by my very supportive co-workers to break out of my shell, and I was gradually immersed into the world of user research.

One of the most valuable things I must credit the DDCT community with is the fact that throughout my placement they have  treated me as an equal rather than a subordinate. They’ve got me actively involved in research processes and trusted me with typical tasks such as leading interviews. Even small gestures like encouraging me to introduce myself as a “user researcher” rather than their mentee or assistant. This often makes all the difference to a student and virtually anyone learning the ropes within a workplace.

I can indeed say I have gained a complete and realistic insight into what user research is and how it’s done at HMRC digital. I have worked with true professionals who were always ready to share their knowledge and offer valuable guidance, which I will treasure and make use of wherever I go, whenever I’ll be given a chance to.

Discovering user research

It has been a year filled with learning, trying things out, meetings, slideshows, travelling, taking notes, coffee breaks, data analysis, prototypes, sending out emails, planning, figuring out tax terms, editing clips and so many interviews!

Most importantly, it’s been a year dedicated to exploring user research. Over the course of 12 months, I was involved in a number of projects within the DDCT and I have gained a valuable, hands-on insight into user research in the context of the digitisation of the HMRC.

Having minimal prior knowledge of this career path when I first arrived, I was quite amazed at how well this area fits with my degree in psychology, which is what I'll be finishing off this year. I was able to use and polish up my knowledge of conducting qualitative research. Moreover, studying psychology is a constant training of one’s empathetic abilities, which I do believe has allowed me to tune into the feelings of the users I have talked to.

Of course, the obstacles of my natural shyness and being overly-aware of speaking with a foreign accent have at times made it difficult for me. Although, one of the values of this placement was the opportunity to practice not suppressing them, but accepting them and being comfortable doing my job regardless and becoming more confident as a result.

After having arrived in HMRC digital just about a year ago, feeling confused about what my dream job would be and willing to experiment something new, I have now found a new career path that I am excited to further pursue; user research.  And a new aspiration to one day specialise my research into building neuro-diversity perspectives into the development of widely used products.

A final wrap-up, and gratitude

I’ve explored user research from multiple perspectives. I’ve been part of the huge Making Tax Digital for Business, as well as the short-term Optimisation Self Assessment project. I have interviewed and I have been interviewed. I have led the research in the User Research Tool mini-project. I have put together discussion guides and findings reports. I have sent over 500 emails but also suppressed my telephone anxiety. Last but not least, I’ve experienced the culture shock of turning into a working professional from a student with little worries only to return to student life in a matter of days now.

On one hand, I frequently find myself wondering if I will be able to adapt to life in a student campus, surrounded by lively students, in one of the liveliest places in the UK - Manchester. Will I be able to rediscover the charm and motivation of living a student life after having experienced a working professional life? On the other hand, I believe that working with HMRC digital for a year has induced a work routine in my life, which has probably disciplined me enough to effectively balance working on my dissertation, doing coursework, studying for exams, managing my spending and volunteering in the coming academic year. I believe it is safe to say that a very eventful year awaits.

Nevertheless, university is still a few weeks away, and now appreciating my final few days in the DDCT is due. All of my appreciation and gratitude goes to all the people within and outside of the DDCT who have so kindly supported my growth by sharing their knowledge and expertise with me while also making me feel like a valued part of it. The people within a workplace make all the difference in a working experience, and my experience has exceeded all my expectations.

It has been a good year. Thank you all and here’s to working together again.

Ioana Pintilie, Industrial Placement 2017/2018 cohort

Ioana sitting at a desk in the office

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