“So, what can you do for us?"

Mike Donaldson, the executive chairman of James Donaldson & Sons sat me down on my first day and asked this question. His body language and phrasing gave me the impression that he was looking to me for answers. He wanted to not only know what I could do in my role but how I could ultimately improve the company. I was a bit taken by surprise.

“I’m just an intern,” I remember thinking.

I wasn’t wrong to think this either. I had never worked a consistent 9-5, and had no idea as to how much work I would be able to achieve in my short placement there. Would my work be so beneficial to the company that would interest the executive chairman?

My Saltire internship this year was working as an IT intern for James Donaldson & Sons, a 6th generation family construction business in Scotland. They currently own 11 companies in the sector and generated $349 million in 2020. I was to be researching Virtual Reality and helping lead the construction industry into a more technological future. I had previous experience with VR and so knew its potential; I wanted to try and get the company up to scratch with this software, but I had no idea how far I could get, nor ‘what I could do’ for JDS.

Cut to the 7th Week of my internship. I was seated at the table with the CEO and CTO of James Donaldson & Sons and representatives of the managing directors of 4 of the Kitchen and Bathroom Design Companies that they own. We had gathered to discuss the potential of Virtual Reality with live software demos, and the best strategy of implementing this into their current company.

What’s more, I was leading the presentation.

I had managed to define a process of implementing their kitchen models into virtual reality, with a goal to steer the company into the 3D artistry and Architectural Visualisation Sector. As the weeks progressed, I was leading meetings with external web developers to design software, creating proof of concept software for external companies to assist in the acquisition of large construction contracts, and telling managers how to better design their showrooms to fit the customers needs in the modern technological age. I was exceeding over and above my initial expectations, and helping the company advance in a way I would have never realised.

This Internship had gifted me an unforgettable summer, even during the pandemic. My research took me all over Scotland observing how multiple companies worked and how they might improve their visualisation. I got to observe design consultations with clients in premium kitchen showrooms and was even able to present demo software I had designed to the public. I visited multiple factories and timber yards, networking with hundreds of individuals and building skills and confidence wherever I went.

Looking back to the question Mike asked me on Day 1 made me realise how far I had come and the skills I had developed as a Saltire Scholar. As a product design engineer, I often felt that my skills would cater to quite a unique sector. Working with JDS helped me realise this was not the case, and that my skills can be useful and in whatever sector I choose – I now have knowledge and confidence in working in IT, design and consultancy, and construction. It’s been one of the best Summers of my life, and its Saltire that I must thank for it. As a result of my work at JDS, I’ve been asked to stay on as a consultant with the company, with the opportunity of returning as a full-time position after university.

I will be returning to university in September. I now understand the working world so much better than before and feel that this will help me so much in my final year. It has really forced me to consider other career paths other than Product Design Engineering and made me excited and confident in applying for jobs in the coming years. For those reading this blog I encourage you to try something outside of your career path, however small or big that may be. And if you are thinking of applying to Saltire in the future – do it, you won’t regret it!

Written by: Euan Gibson-Smith, Glasgow School of Art, Group Virtual Reality Strategy Intern, JAMES DONALDSON & SONS LIMITED, Fife (Blended)
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