Internship at Metalworks – Week 1 [25 May to 29 May 2015]

On the back of a cancelled breakfast appointment, I’m at the EspressoLab on the 2nd floor of China Square, right below where I work. I started my internship with Metalworks by Maxus 4 days ago, and it has been nothing short of exciting and fulfilling. It’s a good timing, Mark said, for being thrown into a big project on my first week. Usually, interns chill through the first week but not this time. I’m grateful for it too, for I’ve learnt so much just by being in close partnership with some great people.

Okay, here’s how my week looked like:

Monday:       Introductions,  Arduinos
Tuesday:       Sonic Eye for the Blind Project, VR Project Brief, 3D Printers
Wednesday: Building the atomizer, Understanding circuitry
Thursday:     Refinements, Debugging
Friday:           Putting the parts together

Introductions: What is Metalworks? What is Maxus?

Maxus is a media agency, and they help clients with marketing and branding.
Metalworks is an R&D sector of Maxus, where we do rapid prototyping and create software that solves problems for our clients

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Introductions: What is life at work like?

I start work at 10am, and usually end at 6.30pm even though on Wednesday and Thursday, I stayed till about 7pm or 8pm trying to figure out circuitry, even though there are people who do stay till later. We have 1 hour lunch breaks, and occasionally tea breaks if you want to take them.

Our team is just 10-men strong, even after including interns. There is a designer, developers, public relations intern, creative technologist and a strategist. Usually with a big project, everyone is roped in, and we pull long hours.

An important part of the company is communications, and we do it pretty well I think. We use three main tools – Slack, Trello and Dropbox. We use Slack to coordinate day to day tasks and anything work related. A great channel is the wip channel or work in progress, and we state the work we need to do for the day. An example would be something like this: Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 9.36.25 AM
Trello is used to keep track of progress on our projects. You can keep track of status, comments, and also upload files relevant to the project. I think it’s really great even though I haven’t used it as much as I would’ve liked.

As a new intern, I didn’t have much to do on the first day, but I was warned by Rollen to quickly learn something, as when work comes in, it comes in thick and fast. I got down to learning Arduinos, and spent the morning setting up, and got down to basics.20150525_135245
I
 tried to build a sensor that could help blind people navigate using an ultrasound sensor and a microphone that would beep when the person got too near. Code for Arduino is written in C and C++ so I took a bit of time to warm up to the syntax of the code, and also to figure out the electronics behind it. I didn’t finish it in the end, because I was moved onto another project, but it’s something worth going through I think.

What was my biggest challenge this week?

I think it was trying to pick up something new in a very short period of time. There were a lot of things I knew in theory, but in practice, things didn’t work out the way I thought. Without enough experience doing soldering, electronics and 3D printing, being asked to do all them professionally in the span of 3 days is on hindsight, really challenging. For example, I was doing a 3D-printout of a small component called an atomizer casing. It looked really simple, like this:

Atomizer Casingbut in reality, there were plenty of small details I’d overlooked when I was doing the design (done using SketchUp Make):SketchupLike there were extra lines that weren’t supposed to be there, hollowed out shapes that were facing the wrong way etc. These are things that I had no experience with, and it took time to get the design eventually right with trial and error.

Another example, when I was doing the soldering, I spent a lot of time trying to solder a wire to a connection point and it just wasn’t sticking, no matter how much solder I tried to put on it. Turns out that there are simpler ways of getting around it like pulling out a bit of wire to tie the exposed end around the area you want to work around with, or using the length of a wire to tie all the connections together (when I wanted to create the bus for the protoboard). These are things you don’t learn in school, and I had to pick them up on the job.

But that also meant that it was hard to meet deadlines when these small things keep getting in the way, so I was consistently pressed to finish on time, which I didn’t, so my supervisor took over. With experience, the tides will flow better.

What was fun so far?

Plenty! But I think the most fun part of the experience so far has been trying new things. I’ve gotten used to plenty of the hardware around in the office, and I got to play around with a Dremel, cut protoboards, print 3D prototypes, debug circuits, understand where to get materials like transistors (and understand what the hell they are), batteries, copter drones etc. I’ve also got to hang around with people who really know what they’re doing and know how to get the job done.

Summary

This week has been a lot of electronics with a little bit of coding for Arduino. I’m slowly getting the hang of my role in the office, and also settling in. There’s been quite a few long nights, but times will get a lot better. Here’s a photo of me cutting some proto-boards to fit the prototype we built. Hooray!

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