North East Connected

North East computing students’ digital project builds a securer society

Final year computing students from two North East universities have successfully collaborated on a project designed to enhance Darlington Building Society’s digital security systems.

Earlier this year, the building society had challenged the region’s five universities (Sunderland, Teesside, Durham, Newcastle and Northumbria) to develop a live project which could potentially be used within its core business, offering students an opportunity to enhance their own technology and work-based skills.

When the University of Sunderland and Teesside University students presented their ideas to Darlington’s executive board, they were so impressed with the concepts that both universities were invited to work as part of an internship programme to extend their projects within the organisation’s own digital team.

University of Sunderland BSc Computing Forensics students, Michael Leck, Hassan Sharif and Ioannis Violitzopoulos, came up with the idea of using gaming as a way of making the organisation’s cyber-security training and continuous development more interesting and enjoyable, while Mozammel Sajib, a BSc Information Technology student from Teesside University evaluated Darlington Building Society’s website and made a number of suggestions about how it could be improved.

The challenge was supported by CyberNorth, a regional cyber security initiative and co-chaired by University of Sunderland’s Professor Alastair Irons and David Carroll, Managing Director at XQ Cyber, a cyber security specialist. It has also led to all five students being offered work experience opportunities after their studies are complete, as well as summer placements with Darlington Building Society.

Colin Fyfe, Darlington Building Society Chief Executive, commented: “This was an innovative concept to bring digital thinking and skills into our business operations and we are delighted that the universities and students approached it with such enthusiasm. We hope to build on this in the next academic year.”

Professor Alastair Irons, Academic Dean of Computer Science at the University of Sunderland, said: “This was an excellent opportunity for our students to put into practice many of the skills and techniques they learned on their course. It was great to see the confidence that the Sunderland students brought to the activity – in particular the quality of their presentation to the Darlington Building Society board was fantastic.”

Siobhan Fenton, Associate Dean (Enterprise and Business Engagement) at Teesside University’s School of Computing, said: “We place employability at the heart of our learning experience, so this was a fantastic opportunity for students to work on a live project for a major employer in the region. We are delighted that Mozammel was able to utilise the skills he has learned at Teesside to offer practical advice and solutions to senior members of Darlington Building Society.”

David Carroll, Managing Director at XQ Cyber, added: “The North East produces around 1,000 graduates in cyber security and closely related computer science disciplines each year. Dynamo’s CyberNorth initiative aims to engage and, hopefully, retain more of this talent within the region. We’re very grateful to Colin and the team at Darlington Building Society for the opportunity to do so.”

Such has been the success of this year’s University initiative that organisers are planning to host a similar challenge next year.

Student profiles:

University of Sunderland mature student Michael Leck, from Thornley, County Durham, studying BSc Computer Forensics, signed up for the challenge during a cyber-security lecture by Professor Alastair Irons. After discussions with his team mates (Hassan Sharif and Ioannis Violitzopoulos) the team began thinking of ways to combine technology and knowledge of cyber-security to improve Darlington Building Society’s business.

Michael said:  “I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the people we worked with at Darlington went out of their way to make us feel welcome and help in any way they could. Through the project I have built up a better understanding of how to work on an IT project for an employer.”

He added: “I feel that working on this live project has helped me feel more like a professional after this experience as it opened my eyes to what a company expects from graduates. I feel more confident in my own abilities; I have increased confidence in my communication and time management skills as well. The fact the project was working with such a well-established local business such as Darlington Building Society initially was daunting but it has been one of the most valuable experiences in my time at university. The project has allowed me to put the theory I have learned in my time at university into practice.”

Teesside University student Mozammel Sajib is a second year BSc Information Studies student from Dhaka in Bangladesh. After signing up for the challenge he undertook a thorough review of Darlington Building Society’s website and made a number of recommendations he felt could make it more user-friendly and attractive to customers, particularly those from overseas. A number of his recommendations have now been implemented. He said: “I was able to demonstrate my own experience of applying to Teesside University from Bangladesh and how easy it was to navigate the University’s website.

“I made several suggestions about things they could do to make it easier for people to apply for mortgages and other products offered by the building society. These included mobile optimisation, more complex coding and a better online customer service experience.

“Presenting my findings to the board was quite nerve-wracking as there were some very senior people there with a lot of experience. However, what I have learned during my course gave me the necessary knowledge to make the suggestions. It was a fantastic feeling to know that the board appreciated my ideas.”

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