Why My Placement Year Exceeded All Expectations

By Madeleine Coutts

As part of my Management Degree at the University of Leeds I opted to do a year in industry. The IBM brand naturally stood out and I was pleased to see they offered year-long marketing placements in IBM UK. So there ensued an extremely memorable year with IBM.

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Exploring the City of Lisbon – Parque Eduardo VII.

How IBM supported us from the beginning

This was the first time I was entering the corporate world and the fact it was for such a large organisation made me nervous! But from the beginning, IBM helped me feel I wasn’t alone. Along with other interns, we attended an induction where we learned about IBM’s processes and people and got to know about the organization better. Being based in our London Southbank office meant there were lots of welcoming activities going on which went on throughout the year. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that IBM’s social scene was so lively! It also helped that the ‘early professionals’ community at IBM was absolutely enormous — it was still like being at University!

Learning the Importance of Networking

I was always daunted by the prospect of networking – as I thought people surely don’t want to be bothered by me. How wrong I was.

What makes IBM so unique are its people.

I did not come across one person who said they hadn’t got the time to talk to me about their career and, over my placement year, I was offered a wealth of advice from IBMers across all managerial levels and in a variety of job roles.

I began building my connections early whilst on placement and I was encouraged to shadow different people in different job roles in order to find my fit at IBM.  The work being done around IBM Watson caught my attention, so I focused my last 6 months of placement on shadowing IBMers in this area and attending Watson-specific events and workshops, all of which were opportunities presented to me via networking, and have undoubtedly strengthened my graduate application.

The opportunity to work on cool projects

I was privileged to be asked to support Michelle Unger, General Manager for Cognitive Sales Solutions Europe, at Business Connect Portugal in Lisbon.  As part of Michelle’s keynote speech, she used the Watson powered robot Nao and I was selected to be the robot’s handler for the event. I never would have thought I would be traveling on my placement year, let alone work so closely with an IBM Executive and Watson technology! This by far was one of the most exciting but also nerve wracking things I’ve ever done – 300 people watching the robot on stage and I had to ensure it didn’t play up. Everything ran smoothly, there was a great reaction from the audience and I was also able to spend time exploring the beautiful city of Lisbon before the flight home.

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Michele Unger, Nao and myself at Business Connect Portugal

Back in London, I went straight to working at the Wimbledon Tennis Championship, representing IBM. My experience on these projects show the wide variety of opportunities that one can work on in IBM.

My Advice: Take control of your placement year

IBM has a great system in place to support you on your placement year, but if you really want to make it memorable, then have the confidence to put yourself out there and discover exciting opportunities because there are so many!

With all the people I met, the cool projects I worked on, and the learnings I’ve had, I can certainly say that my placement experience at IBM exceeded all my expectations.


Madeleine Coutts worked as UK Schools & Universities Attractions Coordinator during her placement year at IBM.

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