In the first of our digital apprentice interviews we speak to Oliver, who will complete his 3-year Digital Apprenticeship at IBM next month, a few weeks ago he took the time to tell me all about it.
IBM are a multinational technology and consulting company. IBM manufactures and markets computer hardware, middleware and software, and offers infrastructure, hosting and consulting services in areas ranging from mainframe computers to nanotechnology.
Why digital? It’s a cliché, but I have always had a passion for technology. One of parents favourite stories of my childhood is being told by a teacher (whilst I was in junior school) that they had been struggling to load a CD into a desktop computer (oh, those were the days!) and that I had not only helped them to do it, but I then installed the application for them (at the age of 5 or 6). My dad has similarly always tinkered with technology, so I suspect I learnt a lot just by watching him breaking things and spending the time understanding how digital technology improves the world around us, it was a good grounding.
How did you find out about the Digital Apprenticeship programme and what attracted you to signing up? After taking a year-out working at Starbucks, I went to University to study Computer Science. At the end of my first year, I realised that I was not enjoying being back in the formal academic setting, and I wasn’t feeling any motivation or ambition, so I decided to look for an alternative path to a career. It was then that I found the IBM Apprenticeship scheme. I had previously attended an open day whilst at school at the Hursley lab office, so had always wanted to apply to them once graduating from university. The Apprenticeship seemed a logical choice, so I applied.
Tell me about the application process? The application process was stressful; but only because I had so much riding on it – I didn’t apply for an Apprenticeship anywhere else – IBM was the only option for me. I applied online by submitting a CV, and shortly afterwards was invited to complete an online aptitude test. It was difficult and I convinced myself I had lost my chance. Thankfully this wasn’t the case, and I was invited first to one, and then a second assessment centre day event. During the event (in which IBM assessed my natural skills in order to best place me for my first role in the business), I absolutely confirmed my lack of interest in hardware (it’s all tin, as software oriented IBMers often say!) and, more importantly, my passion for software and fixing things. After this, it was just a case of waiting for an IBM project manager to review my CV and decide that I was a good fit for the team. I heard back pretty quickly (whilst on holiday in fact – I attended my first IBM conference call from a sunny square in Lublin, Poland!) and I joined IBM in September 2012.
Tell me about your average day? I’m an Infrastructure Architect – I design solutions for clients’ business problems. One of the things I most enjoy about my role and working for IBM is that it is not possible to really describe a day as ‘average’. Generally I will get into the office between 8:30 and 9 (I car share in with another Apprentice) and take care of the glut of emails that have come in since the previous day and plan my day. I am currently working with a number of teams throughout the world – notably Poland, Ireland and India – so logging off at 6pm doesn’t mean the inbox stops filling up! I generally then kick off work on one of the projects I am leading. I am the lead architect for two major projects and therefore own the technical overview of the project – supporting the project manager, the technical teams and the client to ensure the solution is delivered as best as possible. My daily work usually centres around documentation – creating or updating documents/diagrams that describe an existing solution, an update to a solution, or an entirely new design to be implemented for the client. These documents then form the basis of many meetings I attend – either in person, travelling to client sites, or on the phone – and I help the client to articulate their requirements, and to support the technical teams and project managers to progress the solution to completion. I’m always very busy, and often it can be quite stressful to juggle various projects all of which have urgent aspects and are highly important to IBM or our clients. But, as I often say to my task managers, it’s better than being bored (or making the tea!).
What do you enjoy most about your apprenticeship? Why? I am treated like an equal to any other IBMer. Whether that is my manager (who is in fact the manager for all architects across the UK and Ireland) or in some cases other architects who have been in the business longer than I have been alive. No-one doubts my abilities to work hard and deliver results, but at the same time are always very understanding of my support needs, and areas that I might not have expertise in, and I am often trusted to work independently on highly critical projects and work closely with our clients.
How long is your apprenticeship & what qualifications/prospects will you have at the end of the training? The Apprenticeship lasts for 3 years, over which time I will gain the level 3 and 4 (advanced and higher respectively) apprenticeship qualifications. I will also have completed a number of industry qualifications (in ITIL, VMWare, architecture [IT], Tivoli Storage Manager [a backup product] amongst others) and my prospects will be really good (better in fact I think than if I had forced myself to stay in Uni). I will remain in the role that I am currently in, and I hope to take on even more responsibility and opportunities to lead projects that are critical to our clients.
What effect has the apprenticeship had on you? I feel invigorated. I want to go to work each and every day, and use every opportunity to learn and develop. My understanding of business, professional relationships and the world of IT has grown exponentially and I can’t imagine being in the position I am in now if I’d chosen any other path. I have found a love of personal development, and I feel like I have found the path for my life that I had expected to find at University.
What is your ultimate goal in life? If I could emulate the success of some of my mentors (within IBM – architects who have grown from leading projects themselves and designing IT solutions that are a part of every UK citizens life) I would be absolutely satisfied. To create a solution to a business problem in my mind, articulate that to a client and to IBM, be involved in the technical and business conversations to guide the discussion and eventually see my design implemented, and recognise that it will be a part of everyone’s life (even if they don’t know it) – that would be my definition of success.
And finally, what would you say to someone considering a digital apprenticeship? Go for it! You will surprise yourself and everyone around you. The old way of ‘good university, good job for life’ isn’t for everyone, and an Apprenticeship will take you to places you never could have imagined.