Being an Apprentice is a ‘mistake’? – Oliver Pope-Mostowicz

One of the things I was sure of when I joined IBM as an Apprentice back in September 2012, was that I had made the right decision for me. The other thing I was sure of was that many people would negatively judge my decision, and would suggest that I had made a mistake and ‘wasted’ an opportunity.
This is neither the time nor the place to give my response to the idea of a choosing an Apprenticeship over a University degree being ‘wasteful’ (although this does give me an idea for a short series we may release later – keep your eyes peeled!) but I would like to share with you my experience of the last few months, and specifically the last few weeks, that may demonstrate that an Apprenticeship is at least (if not more so in some cases) as valuable as a University degree.
As you will know if you have read my previous posts (and you really should – I’m quite happy with them!) I was working in a first line support role for the IBM Tivoli Storage Manager backup product. This was a really interesting role that allowed me to work with clients and other IBMers right across the globe and provided different challenges every day on a particular product that I became quite adept in. However, I always knew that I wanted to learn more, and I wanted the opportunities to deal with things from the other end of the project spectrum (i.e. help design and implement a technical solution, rather than providing support once that solution was already in place).
I am now very happy to inform you that I have made that transition, and as of 6th October, I am now an IT Architect at IBM and moving forwards, I will primarily be focussing on Cloud based solutions. Now I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about the Cloud, and I’m sure you’ve heard much of the mistaken ideas around the Cloud. Again, this isn’t the time or place to delve into them (as that could probably take up another mini-series of posts unto itself!), but what I wanted this post to be about was the fact that not only can you change roles within IBM, it is actively encouraged!

“I actually believe your greatest competitive advantage is the ability to learn” – Ginni Rometty, Chariman, President and Chief Executive Officer, IBM

An important aspect of the Apprenticeship as far as I am concerned – and one of the things that I have most appreciated about the scheme – is that the expectation of prior knowledge or skill is not placed upon the Apprentices’ shoulders. A burning desire to learn, to apply yourself and to seek out development – certainly, but a burden of unreal expectation – not even once. Beyond this though, and as I have already alluded to – not only is there not an expectation of prior knowledge, there is a deep, cultural understanding that it is IBM’s duty as your employer to assist you in building this knowledge and expertise.
To this end, over the last 6-8 months, the following resources have been made available to me to assist me in my role transition:
– a talent spotter listened to a presentation I did on myself and my time in IBM, and there and then took a personal interest in introducing me to execs and long-time IBMers to help me understand my career prospects and opportunities
– very high level execs and managers have taken significant amounts of time out of their busy schedules to have both high- and low- level conversations with me about my career, and answered all questions with patience and made sure I understood and appreciated the answer
– a senior exec in the SO line of business offered (and I accepted!) to sponsor my move into the new role – that is, they took a personal interest in continuing to help me to build relationships within the line of business I was transferring to, kept an eye out for possible education and generally gave me hints and tips to ensure the transition was a success
– 1 weeks formal education in Vienna to take part in an ‘Architectural Thinking’ course to prepare me for the fundamental skills I will require in my new role
There are probably more examples that I am doing a disservice by not mentioning but to be honest, the last 6 months have been such a whirlwind that I still can’t quite believe I am (at the time of writing) just completing my first week in the new role.
I guess the moral of this post is (as I have already rambled on further than I intended), the recent Apprenticeship hash tag is true – you really can #GetInGoFar if you put the time and effort in. And therefore the last two questions I’d put to you are:
– If you’ve got the opportunity, why wouldn’t you?
– Do you think I ‘wasted’ my University opportunity?

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