Our first tech internship: The Ada Lovelace Project
We just wrapped our first ever Octopus tech internship: The Ada Lovelace Project, named after the inspirational woman commonly considered the world’s first computer programmer.
We launched Ada to help address challenges faced by our customers, and by the tech industry itself.
Firstly, we wanted fresh eyes to tackle an exciting new project to give customers clearer, more insightful access to their energy data. Skip to read more about the project.
Second, we want to make the tech sector better for future developers. Technology continually transforms all parts of modern life, and individual developers do work that impacts billions around the world. Our company's work is just one example. We use technology to fight climate change, and reshaping the future of energy in the process.
Diverse teams built on a wide range of perspectives and experiences can make sure that future works for everyone – but right now, the tech industry leaves some voices vastly underrepresented.
All tech companies, including us, have a role to play in making this industry truly diverse and representative.
Enter The Ada Lovelace Project.
Meet the team
Noshin is part-way through her Computer Science degree. As well as seeing how to put her theoretical skills to use in a hands-on project, she's working long term on ways to make the Web accessible for all.
Discover Noshin's Ada Lovelace project, working with fellow intern Natalie
Natalie's been part of the Octo 'DigiOps' (remote Digital Operations) team since 2019, managing a team of energy specialists and helping with company compliance. She's a total newbie to coding, and is using the Ada project to take on the exciting challenge of moving into Tech.
Discover Natalie's Ada Lovelace project, working with fellow intern Noshin
The project? A sprint to help customers understand their energy data
Gilly Ames, one of the first ever Octo front-end developers, spearheaded our Ada Lovelace project, collaborating with the brilliant folk over at Workfinder to make it happen.
She breaks down the mission, and how the interns put it into action, below.
We’re building a new energy consumption page for the customer dashboard, unlocking peoples’ energy data to help them understand their energy use and the cost / environmental impact it has.
It’ll give people the tools they need to start changing energy habits to save money and reduce the carbon footprint of their power, by reducing or shifting their power to greener times when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.
Our interns got the opportunity to come up with new concepts for our energy usage page in a ‘Proof of Concept’ build, looking closely at real feedback and requests from our customers, bringing their own entirely fresh perspectives as (relative) energy noobs – always invaluable – and getting support and expertise from our tech team and energy specialists.
It was a wild two week sprint from beginning to end.
Week 1 began with super speedy on-boarding, as the interns got to know each other, the Octopus Ada team and our code stack.
After discussing the project with me and the rest of the team, they got to work researching customer feedback and collating crucial data such as how much energy the average person uses at different points during the day/week, the cost of that energy across several tariffs as well as its wider environmental impact.
The Ada team started creating their own designs, fed back to the tech team and energy specialists, and eventually started building working prototypes. The week ended with a virtual presentation of working prototypes to the team, including CTO James.
An early look at the Ada Lovelace intern team's creations
An at-home 'energy efficiency' test for different appliances
Prototype designed by Cerise
This neat function asks users for info to work out a baseline energy usage for their homes. From that, it'll be able to help people understand how much power each appliance is using, and how much you can save by upgrading.
Check out Cerise's demo:
Read our chat with Cerise to hear more about her project, her background and her experience in the Ada Lovelace internship.
Agile energy consumption and price widgets for AgileOctopus customers
Prototype designed by Hayfa
I designed a few quick-read summary widgets to show Agile customers how much of their energy use happened during the daily energy peak (when power is most expensive, and also most polluting and carbon intensive) and how that compared to the average Agile customer, or to the average customer on a standard tariff.
I also created a summary of the cheapest time slots for the week to help Agile customers adjust their consumption accordingly to save money and carbon.
Read our chat with Hayfa to hear more about her project, her background and her experience in the Ada Lovelace internship.
A quick comparison to tell customers whether they'd save more money on AgileOctopus or OctopusGo, and the option to download your Agile energy consumption data to a CSV file
Prototypes designed by Noshin and Natalie
We're working on a way for customers to easily compare their projected savings on Go vs. Agile to avoid time-consuming manual calcuations.
This was a really popular one – we worked on a way for customers to access their half-hourly energy consumption data from our API with the click of a button, perfect for engaged types keen to analyse their own energy data.
A way to show customers the carbon dioxide emissions (and savings) from changes in their energy use over different time periods
Prototype designed by Natalie and Noshin
We designed a green graph that clearly shows how much CO2 you’re emitting in real terms using illustrations of trees – i.e., 'your savings this week are the equivalent of planting this many trees'.
Noshin talks through her and Natalie's prototypes in this demo:
What are the next steps?
Our tech team are now collaborating with UX designers, energy specialists and more to find the most useful, clear ways to put these features live for customers alongside the wider launch of our customer energy data page. Stay tuned!
Get to know our Ada Lovelace interns a bit better
Octo writer Samsam sat down with the Ada Lovelace Project interns to find out more about them, and hear how the experience went.
English Literature grad, self-taught coding ability born during lockdown, wants to bring community, diversity and humanity to the forefront of tech
Samsam: What drew you to Octopus and our project?
Cerise: My English degree was in post-colonial literature with a focus on Caribbean writing, which made me aware of what happens when you only have one type of person, you know, the white Oxbridge graduate, running the publishing industry and seeing the cultural implications of that.
There are microcosms of that all across society, and seeing the lack of diversity in Tech and how it impacts every other industry made me realise that the tech industry needs to change as it funnels into everything else.
Especially working in the charity sector, I realised how much tech impacts everything as it’s the tool where all the important data is collected with.
Seeing the lack of diversity in Tech and how it impacts every other industry made me realise that the tech industry needs to change as it funnels into everything else.
For example, Canon once released a camera that didn't have facial recognition for anyone that wasn’t white. I also have a friend of mine who is in a wheelchair who can’t ever use Google Maps as it doesn’t cater to people in wheelchairs at all; the app will say it’s a short walk but not mention there are 3 pavements he can’t use. These things seem small but they make a really huge impact in people’s lives and you can try and solve those problems one at a time, but until there is more diversity, the issues are going to keep coming up. Plus, those problems need to be solved at the initial development stage which is why this internship that focuses on diversity in tech really appealed to me.
Samsam: Have you got any previous tech experience?
Cerise: Not really, the closest to tech I got was studying social media during my masters in English literature which was about the positive potential of tech and social media platforms i.e. giving queer people who live in the middle of nowhere access to a community. That’s how first I became really interested in that kind of positive, community-focused tech work.
Whilst I wasn’t doing any other work during lockdown I started teaching myself to code which I have wanted to do for a long time.
Samsam: That’s impressively productive! What resources have been most helpful to you in learning to code?
Luckily, I found some free online courses. For example, Harvard has got an introduction to computer science that is totally free online where you can access all their resources and they even mark your work and give you the score. There is also a huge Reddit community of people who do questions and answers, which is really helpful.
Samsam: How have you found making the switch to tech?
This work experience has put all the pieces I have been learning together for me. When you're doing it just by yourself, it feels very abstract but when you see it in practice, it comes together. Once you learn how to code you realise how many different languages there are within tech which I think is quite fun.
You’re told tech's all maths and science but actually, you’re building things that every single industry needs, in one form or another. You're making stuff.
Not like physically with your hands but you're making stuff with logic and reasoning. It’s kind of like the Master Builders in Lego.
Samsam: Can you tell me a little more about the project you are working on with Ada Lovelace?
Cerise: Sure, so I understand that Octopus Energy have a really active and engaged group of customers who really want to understand and get to grips with their data and the actual experts are constantly fielding questions about their in-home devices, energy costs and how much usage they’re using.
So, I’ve been trying to work out a way for customers to do a home energy test for all of their appliances. The test would first work out what your baseline energy usage is and from that, it would show what each appliance is using, and how much you can save in costs if you were to upgrade them.
It’s been tough but learning is a logarithmic curve that gets quicker and quicker as you go along so I'm really hoping that happens.
Samsam: What has been your biggest learning experience throughout the internship?
Another thing is asking for help. It’s easy to feel like you should be able to work things out yourself or Google it but there's no harm in asking for help because it speeds up the learning process exponentially. Plus, all the little components in the tech work can be hard to visualise and sometimes you need someone to go over it a few times before it starts to make sense and that’s okay.
Samsam: Is there something you found out about Octopus or the tech team or anything that has been interesting or a surprise to you?
Cerise: I've been really impressed by how open the team are to new ideas. I really thought internships are invariably quite tokenistic. Like, you’ll be invited to the important meetings but you’re just there to bring everyone coffee.
I really thought internships are invariably quite tokenistic. Like, you’ll be invited to the important meetings but you’re just there to bring everyone coffee. But here, we have actually been given a lot of responsibility and encouragement.
We're expected to actually produce something tangible ourselves.
But here, we have actually been given a lot of responsibility and encouragement and it feels really good. It's a brilliant internship and I was definitely relieved as well as delighted that we are expected to actually produce something tangible ourselves.
Samsam: That’s great! What do you hope to do long-term with all the skills that you've learned?
Cerise: I want to keep learning and developing my tech knowledge and experience. Seeing the tech department at Octopus working together as a team showed me how nice and motivating it is to work in a community rather than by yourself, so I like the idea of working as part of a bigger machine.
Long-term, I would love to work in tech but in the charity sector, ideally. I've done some consulting for local and international charities and realised how little the charity sector utilises tech. Most people in the sector are really far removed from it and lots of money is spent on hiring outside companies to do the tech work, and often smaller companies end up quite behind. So, I would love to be a part of bridging the gap between tech and the charity sector.
Self-taught coder, made the switch from lab-based science to follow her passion for using tech for good
Samsam: What drew you to Octopus and this project?
Hayfa: I graduated with a STEM degree last year but I wasn’t too sure about the direction I wanted to go in. I knew I didn’t want to work in a lab because it can be a little mundane and it’s all about delayed gratification because scientific research is so meticulous and takes a lot of time. My best friend went into tech which inspired me to look further into it and I learnt that there is an instant gratification that I really like because you know whether something is or isn’t working immediately which is so stimulating.
I knew I didn’t want to work in a lab because it’s all about delayed gratification – scientific research is so meticulous and takes a lot of time. There's an instant gratification to tech that I really like – you know whether something is or isn’t working immediately.
Once I found out about the Ada Lovelace Project, I was instantly drawn to it as it felt like the perfect opportunity to gain experience in a practical sense by producing something for actual users.
Samsam: How have you found transitioning from STEM into Tech?
Hayfa: It can be difficult to break into the tech industry, coming from a STEM background with no previous tech experience. Often people from non-tech backgrounds in the UK do a 12 week unpaid Boot camp which can cost between £8,000 - £10,000, which isn’t accessible for a lot of people, including myself. Especially considering you have to find a way to pay for the course and sustain yourself without working for 3 months.
It can be difficult to break into the tech industry, coming from a STEM background with no previous tech experience – training can cost between £8,000 - £10,000, which isn’t accessible for a lot of people.
Luckily, I found some amazing online communities like Somalis In Tech and Coding Black Females which provided lots of resources I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.
There are slack groups you can use to connect with people, as well as cool open source projects. Both of those communities make sure to post about potential job opportunities in the industry, which is super helpful.
I also found this amazing Non-Profit called Code First Girls that teaches young women how to code so I completed a few of their online courses during the first national lockdown. They offer anything from an Introduction to Web Development to in depth Python Programming. So, thankfully, there are now a ton of free online resources that are making tech more accessible for people from different backgrounds, which has made all the difference for me.
Samsam: The Ada Lovelace Project is all about bringing more diversity to the tech field. Is that also something that drew you to the Project?
Hayfa: Definitely! Pursuing a career in tech was never presented as an option for me in school, even though I was really interested in learning about different career paths. Despite talking to my career counsellors and teachers all the time, I only discovered all these options and resources after I graduated, which is insane. Accessibility is so important, and the tech field hasn’t always been great in that department.
Samsam: Can you tell me more about the Project you have been working on?
Hayfa: Sure, our main focus was to come up with something that would help customers better understand their consumption, as I know Octopus customers are really interested in that. My project would show Agile customers how much of their usage is happening during the peak hours so they can adjust accordingly and save money.
Samsam: What was the most interesting thing you learnt during this process?
Hayfa: The internship allowed me to use new technologies such as React and GraphQL and provided some real-life context which was the best way for me to learn.
I received amazing support from the team and as a self-taught developer the opportunity to peer-program and learn hands-on from a developer was extremely useful and insightful.
Samsam: What are your long-term goals within Tech?
Hayfa: For the time being, I am really looking forward to getting more proficient with the new technologies I am exploring. It’s also super exciting to personally create something that works, and that people can benefit from.
I am constantly discovering new exciting pathways within tech and seeing new ways to combine tech with my other passions such as Science and Healthcare. A huge passion of mine is using tech for good, and there are so many apps, initiatives and non-profits that are utilising tech in a positive and powerful way.
Samsam: Totally - like the ‘Be My Eyes’ app that allows blind people to video call volunteers when they need help.
Hayfa: Yes! I also watched this amazing Documentary called ‘Age of A.I.’ which showcases incredible apps such as one in India which connects small kiosks with surplus food to local food banks that feed the unhoused, or some used in conservation efforts, by tracking elephant poachers and protecting animals.
I came across another great example a few years ago when I was volunteering in Kenya and met a married couple that were doctors who developed an app that can detect cataracts allowing people in remote areas to get consultations by simply using their phones. I found it really inspiring and would love to find new and innovative ways to help people using tech.
Samsam: That sounds amazing! Are you working on any exciting projects at the moment?
Hayfa: I recently won a Hackathon with Somalis in Tech, with a pretty cool project focusing on Covid-19. It is an app powered by a Chatbot that offers information about Covid-19 in Somali and English. There would also be a live chat function that would anonymously connect people with a Somali Healthcare professional for advice to counteract cultural and language barriers. The BAME community, and particularly the Somali community is disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 so hopefully this is something we can finalise building and share with people.
I just landed my first tech role as a Software Engineer during the last week of the Ada project. The team offered invaluable words of advice and really boosted my confidence during the recruitment experience which was amazing.
Samsam: What drew you to Octopus and the internship?
Computer science student, putting theoretical skills to a hands-on project and looking for practical ways to make Tech more accessible for all.
Noshin: I am currently studying computer science and I wanted to work for a company to get some practical experience, to see how a bigger team gets things done.
I also applied for the internship because it was a project where I could be creative.
Studying computer science, you're not always allowed to be creative – that's left to the designer or senior developers. So, I really wanted to be able to create and build something myself.
Samsam: It’s very impressive that you are managing to juggle all of that! Can you tell me a little more about your project?
Noshin: Sure! So, from the user feedback we realised that Octopus customers really care about their usage and environmental impact.
So I thought a fun thing would be a green graph that clearly shows how much carbon dioxide you’re emitting using illustrations of trees. Another feature that we are working on is a way for customers to easily compare the savings from the Go tariff and the Agile Tariff. At the moment, customers' are having to manually calculate the difference which is very time consuming.
Samsam: What was your biggest learning experience over the 2 weeks?
Noshin: During my course, I used a lot of the same systems but on a far more basic level.
This project made me realise how much more there is to these tools. For example, when I used React before I was doing very basic front end stuff, but it is actually far more useful and advanced than I realised. It's shown me there's a whole other side to tech that I need to learn and experience.
Samsam: Is there something you found out about Octopus, or the tech team, that surprises you?
Noshin: You have a full size API and a really big storage of data with all those terabytes for half hourly smart tariff prices. That was completely new to me.
The tech team is great. Gilly would casually mention she might create something that evening and then show up the next day with a fully functional ReactApp, which was crazy and amazing.
Samsam: What was it like working with the Octo team?
Noshin: I wasn’t sure how much support to expect but I've been given Step by Step Tutorials and demos, and every time I needed it, someone was available for a video call. I was just expecting to be given tasks and minimal help but I have had lots and lots of great support.
I was also worried about my university schedule and if a company would be willing to allow me to work on the weekends, but Gilly was so understanding and even booked a number of one-to-one follow-up meetings for me, to make sure I didn’t miss out on anything.
Samsam: This internship was created specifically to help increase diversity in tech, is that something that drew you to it initially? And what has been your experience as a woman of colour in the tech industry?
My university course is like 95% male, which I did not enjoy because I've experienced a lot of stereotypical expectations and comments like: ‘because I am a woman, I can’t code’ ...
Or, because I am a woman I'm probably just going to do something related to design. Interestingly, I did want to go into design, but they made it seem like it was a bad thing.
However, over time I saw all the people that judged women for doing computer science didn’t actually end up doing anything with computer science themselves or achieving any of the things they claimed to.
Whereas the women in my course were the ones that were really achieving and doing really well which I enjoyed.
Working with other women has been great because we're all involved in each other’s successes, whereas I have found that isn’t the vibe when you are the only woman in a workspace.
There are about 10 girls in the whole course so we are all really close and root for each other to do well, which I am really grateful for. Places where I have been the only girl, I have experienced not so nice comments and always felt like maybe I wasn’t good enough.
Some of my really close girlfriends dropped out of the course because they couldn’t handle the prejudices from peers or even some teachers.
I have even seen prejudices happen from male staff members to female staff members in the computer science department. That's why I feel like these kinds of internships are so important because it can make or break your desire to work professionally in that industry. So, I really enjoyed having a chance to work with other girls in tech and seeing them do well.
Samsam: I totally get that. Hopefully, things will just get better and better for women in tech going forward. What are the ultimate goals you are hoping to achieve from your degree and internship?
Noshin: You know, it took me a while to decide what exactly I wanted to do in computer science, but I realised I wanted it to involve creativity, technology, psychology – all the things that I like put together. That's when I discovered user experience in computer engineering. This project is helping me learn how to respond to user feedback and design. Learning how to go from user feedback to actually implementing what the customer wants is a real asset that I hope to get further involved in.
I am also working on building an accessible learning platform specifically targeted at ADHD and ADD students, for my dissertation project which I am looking forward to. I'm really looking forward to using my new skills from the Ada project to help create online spaces that are accessible and diverse.
Part of the Octo 'DigiOps' (remote Digital Operations) team since 2019, managing a team of energy specialists and helping with company compliance – now taking on the exciting challenge of moving into Tech.
Samsam: Tell me a little about your work background and what led you to Octopus originally?
Natalie: So, I never went to University due to family circumstances and got straight into work instead – mostly in hospitality. I lived in South Africa for many years, and spent some time working in transport logistics in the Congo, Tanzania and the entire Sub Saharan Africa.
Once I moved to the UK, I spent some time working.
I was living in London with a 6 month old baby, spending all my money on travel and childcare. I realised I was essentially working for someone else to take care of my child.
Eventually, a friend of mine told me about Octopus' DigiOps team so I applied. I love working here and growing professionally, and pursuing this tech internship is a part of that.
Samsam: How did you find your first foray into tech?
Natalie: Learning about coding for the first time has been really challenging as there is so much information to take in. There are lots of different languages you have to understand as well as learning how to draw the relevant information out of different systems.
It reminded me of when I first joined Octopus and felt quite overwhelmed by all of the different systems but after a few months I felt completely comfortable using them. I am sure that I'll feel the same way about coding in a few months.
Samsam: Has this internship inspired you to pursue Tech further?
Natalie: Yeah, for sure! It's really fun, and I get bored easily so I really like how much there is to learn, create and explore because everything is constantly evolving.
At the moment, I choose to work between 40-50 hours a week so it’s just about finding the time. However, considering how supportive and flexible Octopus has been I’m sure I’ll be able to find a way to fit it in.
Samsam: What was the biggest thing you learnt during the project?
Natalie: Gosh, I learnt so many things! Getting familiar with the different languages within coding has been the biggest thing, by far.
It's given me a lot of direction in terms of what I still need to learn.
Samsam: What inspired your project ideas?
Natalie: A lot of it was based on user feedback and knowing how helpful it would be to give customers’ the option of easily switching between our smart Agile and Go Tariffs.
The Green Gram idea was partially inspired by National Grid's Carbon Intensity API that shows you in real time how green your energy is and when the best time to use your electricity is. We knew how much our customers would appreciate a simple and accessible way to keep an eye on their electricity this way.
Samsam: What was it like working with Gilly and the other interns?
I loved working in an all-woman team, which I have never done before in this capacity.
In my experience, most work spaces have been very male dominated and it can be hard to establish yourself as a young woman. Especially coming from South Africa where women are not often in leadership roles, this felt really empowering. I also really loved seeing all of the creativity and how well and comfortably we all worked together.
Samsam: Lastly, is there anything you found out about the tech team throughout this internship that surprised you?
Natalie: The internship really made me appreciate just how crucial the tech teams work is. They are one of the main reasons why Octopus has been able to grow so fast and achieve so much, in a pretty short amount of time. It’s been awesome to see it first-hand.
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