Backend development while studying part-time: Johan’s success story at VI Company

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VI Company
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Previously, marketing intern Tim gave some insights on what his graduation internship was like. But what is such an internship like when you’re a part-time student? IT-student Johan shares his experience, after choosing to go back to school and working as a part-time backend developer at VI Company and Alloq.

You decided to go back to school. What motivated you to do so?
I had started a study, but never finished it and started working as a backend developer. After doing that for four and a half years at a different company, I felt like I needed a diploma and more security. I went looking for a part-time education and found the right match at the Hague University of Applied Sciences four years ago. Half a year later I started at VI Company as a backend developer.

What made you choose VI Company?
I always like a bit of a challenge in my work and I felt that VI Company could offer that. The complex financial problems we solve at VI Company provided plenty of challenges I could sink my teeth into. In addition, the atmosphere at the time was very approachable. I just came in to have an informal chat over a cup of coffee about a job posting I saw. This left a good impression on me, so I applied for the job. Also the way people interact in a friendly way... I felt at home.

What did your graduation entail?
At the end of November I joined Alloq on a project to collaborate on the development of one of its modules, the balance management module. In January, I started my graduation project at the Alloq team. That happened very naturally because I was already asking around for interesting ideas for a graduation project. I got into conversation with Tycho and he suggested that I could work on developing a part of a new module for Alloq.

What did that entail?
Simply put, calculating the cash flows that financial instruments, such as bonds, will generate in the future. Pension funds must have a certain amount of equity available to prepare for financial risks they may face in the future. Only when they are appropriately prepared are they allowed to increase pensions. The balance management module of Alloq can calculate this amount of required equity for a pension fund.

Part of the data needed for this calculation is the cash flows of so-called fixed-income instruments. These instruments pay out a fixed amount of money on a regular interval (for instance once every 6 months), so we can calculate their value in euros today by applying a "reverse interest rate" to these future payments. This in turn lets you calculate several other interesting properties like how sensitive these instruments are to future changes in interest rate.

That sounds like a challenging task.
Certainly, although the real challenge turned out to be in balancing various interests that did not always align. I had to deliver documents and reports that met the college's requirements. But I was also building a product that would be used immediately by a client. In addition, I also had to keep an eye on time. I was also working within Alloq during my graduation. You run the risk of one spilling over into the other and I had to make enough time for both.

Did you have guidance on that?
Tycho, the project lead of Alloq, provided me with support. He did quite a lot and critically looked at the products I had to submit. He also helped me to ensure that my schedule was right, so that I could keep an overview and prioritize my work properly. The amount and direction of his guidance was just right. Tycho was able to leave me to what I was good at and when I needed extra help, he was able to give me that. In addition, I received guidance from Niels and Alexander, two colleagues from the Alloq team, who helped me iron out the technical design and architecture.

What did you learn the most from?
The way I tried to define the requirements of the project, that was difficult. There were, as I said, many interests. I felt that the way I arrived at the requirements was not as structured as I would have liked. In the future I would like to find better and more structured methods for determining the requirements for a product.

Do you have any tips for future interns/part-time students?
Especially to write down ideas in the meantime. I had started on time, but I was quite tempted to write it all down well from the get-go. Yet it is more valuable to write down the ideas in the meantime. Because then you already have something on paper and after some iterations it becomes much more clear.
What also helped me, was that I kept a daily record of my to do's in a notebook. This provided an overview and helped to check that everything was going according to plan.

A particular tip to part-time students is: start looking for ways in which you can get motivation from continuing to improve yourself. Start looking for topics that you find interesting to delve into and how you can apply that to your work. If you are consciously working on that, you will quickly make a lot of progress. That space is certainly present at VI Company and Alloq. For instance, I immersed myself in functional programming. That started out as an interest because I thought it would be useful. And the more I delved into it, the more I was able to incorporate it into the project.

Looking back now, what are you most proud of?
I am very proud that I have managed to combine everything. Working, studying and living on my own successfully. I am very happy with that.
If all goes well, I'll be able to graduate cum laude. I got an A for my thesis. You never expect that, but it was the cherry on top.

What does the future look like?
I am now working full time again at Alloq just like I started before my graduation. I enjoy continuing to work in this team. My hope is that we can take Alloq to the next level as a product. It is already very good, but now that we have more backend development power, we will have more time available to strike a good balance between improving what we already have and building new features. I am really looking forward to being able to contribute to that.

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