by Yatin Vadhia (

400PB*.  The storage capacity (we assumed) of Google.

On the 23rd of November 2011, for just under two hours, Google’s Andrew Walker came to the University of Surrey to give an extremely interactive lecture (it felt more like a discussion), titled “Designing a Search Engine”. During the lecture he led us through a series of questions in which we gave answers on how we would build a search engine if it were up to us.

And he started by asking a simple question. How would you design a search engine?

So we began, piece by piece we went through some of the considerations that Google go through on a daily basis. As actual figures were not available to the public, we made assumptions. 1 billion searches a day would mean 12,500 searches a second, and 250TB of data transferred per day (assuming each results page is 200 kb/s). A very interesting fact I wasn’t aware of is that Google actually builds its own hard drives and replaces one on average once every 30 minutes.

We discussed what people want when it comes to a search engine, and also the legal obligations Google has. We also discussed the Bing controversy (when Bing was found to be ‘copying’ Google’s search results) and the various services that are tweaked for local users. For example, there is no Google Image Search in Germany because the person that serves the content (which potentially could be child pornography) is legally liable, and not the poster.

We were also told about the atmosphere at Google, and the activities that occur on a daily basis. As you would expect from a technology company, if you have an idea but not evidence (such as a graph) then the idea will go nowhere.

We learnt about an idea that once existed at Google, a box that could see what you were watching on TV, as well as listen to the conversations you were having, and then display relevant ads on the screen. This idea was apparently killed off, because it was perceived that people might find it very creepy.

This was rounded off by some information about the advertisements they serve and the rules that they have about adverts (they cannot be offensive etc), as well as a Q&A session.

Overall I would say the event was one of the best I’ve ever been to, and I think many of the other attendees would agree. I would like to thank CompSoc for making the event possible, as well as Andrew for coming to the university.

*(1 petabyte = 1 million gigabytes = 1 thousand terabytes)

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by Daniel He

IBM technology is all around us. From ATMs to Playstations, we cannot escape the fact that one of the largest companies in the world has had an impact on our lives. But what is it like to work for such a company? This year, I applied for a placement as part of my sandwich course and was invited to work here for one year. Whether you’re thinking of applying for a placement, or you’re thinking of getting a job right after graduating, let me tell you why IBM should be your first choice.

Fancy working here for a year? With a placement at IBM, you just might!

Working at a large organisation such as IBM provides many benefits and rewards. With its placement scheme, not only do you get a lot of skills and experience from your day job, but you also have a lot of fantastic opportunities to broaden your skills and really make your CV shine. As an IBM employee, you are given tasks that carry real responsibility, and there are people who will rely on you to get them done. You are able to push yourself, and the more you push, the more you will achieve.

But enough about me rambling on, I’m sure you want to know what I get up to on a typical day. First thing’s first, I pack my bag, which has the most crucial piece of equipment: my laptop. IBM has a wonderful scheme that means that desktops are no longer the norm within the workplace, and that you are as portable as you want to be. You are assigned a desk, but from that point on, you are able to work outside, during a meeting, or even work from home. Once I arrive on site, I plug my laptop into my docking station, and get stuck in, reading and replying to emails, loading up the applications I will be using throughout the day. I also take out my trusty notebook and pen. Call me old-fashioned, but I am a sucker for writing things by hand; it’s extremely convenient when you need a line number from a piece of code, or the name of a method that you are certain will slip your mind sooner or later.

Bright and early, paper at the ready, ready for another day of work

My current role is developing a piece of tooling software called APT. APT is a tool used by various members of the department and plays a crucial role in mirroring information between 2 (now 3) different systems. Unfortunately it has a wonderful habit of breaking (this is a result of many years of different placement students developing the same tool and the end result being spaghetti code), so my job is to fix any coding errors, as well as add any functionality that the department needs. You will be happy to know that it is developed in Java, and I’m also using the very familiar Eclipse IDE, so for those of you who are worried that your skill-set is not suitable for IBM, have no fear! Throughout the morning, I usually continue on a bug I started working on yesterday, as well as making notes as I go along. I also have an occasional chat with my supervisor, Jason, who sits right behind me, to get a quick idea of how I’m progressing with a specific task. Like the student who worked on APT before me says, “It’s usually a good day if Jason hasn’t said to you ‘What have you broken this time!?’”.

By lunchtime, I am satisfied with my current work and I make my code live, but before this, I also submit a copy for Jason to review, who can check to ensure I haven’t made any mistakes. He also makes suggestions on how I can improve the code further, which is a big bonus. For lunch, me and some other placement students head to the canteen, or if it’s a nice day, sit outside Hursley House and take in the fresh air.

After lunch, it’s a quick rest, then straight to see my professional development manager, Cathy, for a half-hour meeting. As a placement student, I am assigned someone who oversees my work, and makes sure that I am happy with what I am tasked with doing. Cathy is also there to help me develop my personal and professional skills, and we try to work out my career paths for the future. These meetings are extremely helpful and give me an insight into what I want to do in the future after graduating.

As you may or may not know, IBM recently turned 100, and as part of their centennial celebrations, they have asked all employees to pledge 8 hours of community work, also known as GiveBack. For my GiveBack, I volunteered to educate non-technical placement students basic Java for around 2 hours each week. Although our class is rather small with just 4 students, I get a strong sense of satisfaction from teaching, and always try my best to make sure lessons are informative, as well as interesting, as we all know that learning any programming language isn’t a walk in the park! You may have also seen me at a recent talk with the computing students where I gave a presentation to encourage current level 2 students to apply for IBM for their placement year. That’s right, it also counts as GiveBack, but more importantly, builds on your communication and presentation skills, which future employers always love to see.

By late afternoon, I’m working on multiple bugs, creating new versions of APT, getting them checked and making them live. I also have a short meeting with Jason at my desk, and I present to him what I’ve been working on. These meetings are usually the most beneficial to myself, as I can see the progress I am making, as well as being able to get feedback, which in turn allows me to better myself at coding.

By 5.00, I’m feeling the urge to put APT behind me for another day. An email pops up telling me APT has failed trying to process something, but I’ll let the me of tomorrow worry about that.

Such fancy decorations usually means an abundance of cake later on!

So why tasty working? Well, I’ve learnt it’s customary within IBM to bring in cakes to celebrate whatever event happens to be on, whether it’s someone’s birthday, or even when you’ve broken something and you need to befriend your colleagues again after all the grief you’ve caused them. I’m sure I’m overdue for bringing in a cake, but no one has noticed yet! Nevertheless, the joys cake and doughnuts bring ensure everyone is kept happy, hard working, and full of sugar.

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by Michael Hough

Surrey CompSoc is the Computing Society at Surrey. It exists to develop on what is learned in lectures to have fun with computers. We work with both the department and the Students’ Union to provide guest lectures, trips, events and projects.

Anyone with even the remotest interest in computing is welcome. We’re investigating other regions of the industry to what is covered in the Computing course, and some programming knowledge could come in useful if you’d like to take a role in coding for us, but other aspects of our work don’t have that requirement.

As for what we do, we’ve got a number of activities running or in development at the moment, including:

Mindstorms Robot construction: The Computing department have been kind enough to allow us to use a pair of Lego Mindstorms robots, which we’re using to build and program machines. We’re using both Lego’s flowchart-based software and the Java-based LeJOS platform to do this, so programming knowledge isn’t essential.

Android App Development: The Android SDK is a free download from Google’s website, and we’re working on producing a number of apps for Android phones. What’s great news for us is that Android development is done mainly in Java, which is taught by lecturers in the Computing department, so we don’t have to learn a new language. We’re going right from the bottom rungs of making a “hello world” app to fully fledged applications for the Android Market.

Web Development: We’re in touch with Surrey Entrepreneurs, who are giving us web development projects to create. These are real websites for real clients, and can be a great addition to any portfolio.

Guest Lecturers: We’re contacting big names in the industry to get talks in from staff about what the company is doing in the industry. So far, we’ve had a talk from Lionhead, who previewed an upcoming game, and one from Google is scheduled.

Trips: We’re going out to places, both to witness a bit of Computing history and to participate in competitions. We’ve got a trip to Bletchley Park in the works, where the WW2 codebreaking effort was based, and which now includes a Computing museum.  And we’re looking at competitions to participate in, both within the University and beyond.

So, in short, we’re looking to learn more about Computing, and get some great stuff for the future, but to have fun while we’re at it. We’d love to see more people taking part!

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Scott Davies current Level 3 student.

I started the LED cube to mix my interest of electronics and computing into a small, fun and educational project that has incorporated the knowledge learnt at Surrey through both the programming and digital electronics modules.

Take a look on the following website to find out more:

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by Sam Ames
BSc Computing and Information Technology Level 2, 2011-12

Prior to starting my second year of BSc Computing and Information Technology, I was very grateful to receive one of twenty invitations to visit the Google UK offices, Victoria Street, London, and participate in the very first U.K. Google B.O.L.D. Immersion programme: “Building Opportunities for Leadership and Development” As expected, Google received an astonishing number of applications.

The programme has a business focus with a marketing challenge, however several engineering lectures are included too, which is fantastic for computing students. BOLD is available to any UK student who can convince them that they are from a ‘diverse background’ (which could include just about anybody.) For the application process, google request a five-hundred-word essay in which the applicant is to describe his or her ‘personal brand’. This is accompanied by a CV.

The culture at Google is probably the most fascinating part of the organization. When I first arrived at the London offices, a member of the universities team told me that the single best thing about working at Google is the people. After being immersed in the culture for a few exciting days, I totally agree! I didn’t meet a single rude, impolite, unhelpful or unkind person. At all. Nobody seemed stressed, either! Perhaps Google’s decor contributes to this? Breakfast in their Pavilion Cafe, is served on art-pallet style plates. The tables look like those an artist would use and the lighting is like desk lamps attached to the ceiling. It doesn’t end there, though, these themed, super-contemporary decor designs span the entire office spaces of Google, and its many restaurants and games rooms. My group were lectured on innovation, and we were told that ‘environment’ is a key factor; so I can’t be sure, but I suspect that the decor is such high-quality for this reason.

On the final day of my time at Google, the group was separated into several smaller groups of 5. We were then given 3 hours to innovate and decide what the most effective use of £50,000 is, to market Google apps to Small and Medium businesses in an industry of our choice. The group that I was a part of, chose ‘quangos’.  After our three hours was up we were asked to present our Marketing initiatives to Google’s John Foong (Head of Mid-Market Business Development and Sales, Enterprise (cloud computing) division, Europe, Middle East and Africa.) Understandably, this was very challenging. I think everybody who presented did fantastically. In addition I was shocked at how great Google apps and plus actually are; I’d never used either prior to B.O.L.D.

One particular person I met has been recruiting Google’s engineers for 11-years, since working for Netscape during the ‘browser wars’ of the late 90s. I had no idea that I would ever meet people with such inspiring career positions, so this was a total honor.

B.O.L.D. programmes are becoming frequent, so regardless of your degree programme and current grades, make sure to write a stunning application.

[For the full version of this blog, visit]

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Christopher Roberts-York, BSc Computer Science undergraduate, Level 3 2011-12.

So a couple weeks ago I decided to take on the challenge of converting my Java knowledge into C# (pronounced C Sharp) knowledge.  Armed with two  Java courses I got stuck in and the switch has been suprisingly easy.

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Jay Bennett, BSc Computer Science graduate 2011.

I’m faced with an interesting situation as I begin to write this post, I am a graduate of the University of Surrey’s Computing department, already looking fondly back on my time as a student and cautiously optimistic about my future. Putting that aside I’ve been asked to share a part of my final year which took place in my free time.

One of the modules in my final year; Web Technologies, required the completion of a fairly large assignment in which our small groups would develop some form of dynamic website. The site had to be supported by a database, and with multiple levels of user authentication (i.e. admin users and regular users had to exist).

My good friend and fellow graduate Owen Jones put forward the idea that we should develop a Beer rating website. Yes, students went straight to an alcohol related activity, are you surprised?

We did plenty of research, both relevant online research, and somewhat less relevant research in Chancellors bar. Finally deciding that the website should be entirely community driven in a similar way to social networks in existence now.

The result is still running today, and can be seen at I should say that it started being run on a bedroom server, using a very simple source control system for Owen and I to work with. The migration to the Amazon EC2 cloud where it now lives was only in the past couple of months.

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Matthew Rixon, BSc Computer Science graduate 2011

My final year project could not have been more appropriate today than ever before. Working with the latest in CCTV surveillance its aim was to detect suspicious activity in urban areas and flag events that should be investigated as well as acting in support of CCTV operators. The project had a clear motive and application, which should be the aim of students joining their final year of studies. But my mind was set on this challenge before I even started the final year due to my time spent on a placement year.

My placement year was spent working for the defence industry. Contrary to popular belief, I took on real world problems and saw their immediate application. Very little tea making for colleagues, there just was not the time in between the range of projects I was working on! My passion is image processing and artificial intelligence and by working in the defence industry I had the chance to implement and learn even more. But it also meant that I could see the real uses for other parts of my degree. From my experience, it is important to see the reasons why you are studying the topics covered in the two early years of a degree. Programming for mobile device? What searching algorithm to choose? The correct way to test code? All seemed to me very focused at the time, but each module had information that could be combined and applied to a range of different situations.

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Owen Jones, BSc Computer Science graduate 2011

We’ll I can’t believe it is all over but graduation seems several weeks ago but not as long ago as when I was a student at St Columba’s College in St Albans.

Owen outside Guildford cathedral

Looking back the Computer Science course was perfect for what I wanted to study going into University as it covered many major topics in computing. The location was also ideal due to the proximity to London. I preferred the idea of a campus university, and Surrey’s is ideal as it is so close to the town centre as well as having all the key locations close to halls of residence which was brilliant in my first year.

I think one of the best bits of being at Surrey was my placement year at Detica, an information security consultancy firm based in Guildford. I was part of Managed Services who were in charge of supporting the various projects that were developed throughout the rest of the company.

I am going to work at Detica again as of September following on from a successful placement year with the company.  I will be moving to London as I will be based there instead of Guildford this coming year.

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Vedika Dalmia, BSc Computer Science Level 3 student 2011-12

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Google’s office in Zurich as part of the Scholar’s Retreat for the Anita Borg Scholarship. All the scholars got to spend two days in Zurich meeting Googlers and learning about interesting work being done by everyone.

It kicked off with advice from hiring managers about CVs and interviews. Then we had an amazing product design workshop where we were split in groups to come up with features for a new product. We got to work with Google product managers during the workshop.

We were treated to a tour of Google Zurich which is the most exciting office space I have ever come across, complete with slides, game rooms and aquariums.

The second day started with some amazing talks. There was a talk about security and privacy, specially about how people were coming together to protect the identities of victims of social media. They talked about how the name of the young child who was part of the “start wars kid” internet meme was deleted by Wikipedia users from that page if someone added it.

The other great talk we had was from a Software Engineer from Gmail who told us about the Priority Inbox. Gmail’s Priority Inbox is one of the largest and most user facing applications of machine learning at Google. The speaker explained how they came up with the ideas and algorithms, how it is implemented and where they wish to take it in the future.

We also had a talk about technology and where it was going. This included a very nice description of Google’s self driving car and how it works.

It was an amazing experience. There was so much to learn and so many brilliant people to meet in such little time it was extremely overwhelming. However, the amazing food and hospitality helped a lot.

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