One Year In – Craig Wilkinson

Hello, you might remember me from a previous blog post where I gave a (somewhat) brief introduction to myself, what I do and my experience of being a new starter within IBM. You may also recall I looked forward to posting again soon. Well, I’ve stuck to that and here I am again, only this time I am no longer a new starter; this month I will be celebrating one year within IBM, and what a journey it has been!

It has been such a jam-packed year with a plethora of good experiences (and honestly, some challenging ones) I simply do not know where to begin and so much has happened, it is difficult to highlight singular memories and recall what has happened. So, to make things easier and not bore you with a life story, I have picked out some highlights!

I am going to begin where my last post left off, at the very start of my apprenticeship and shed some more light on my first role. When arriving in Swindon, and entering the Head Office of the client, I was shown around the building and introduced to many new people. I started to feel overwhelmed as I had never been introduced to so many people at once before in my life!  Two of the people I was introduced to were my new Test Manager and my Test Lead. Once I had been shown around and settled into a seat, my team had a meeting where I was informed about my role.

The very first thing my team discussed was  the conduct that was expected of me; working at a client site I had to make sure I represented IBM in a positive manner and to make sure I handle conversations with the client carefully. Although this was a very serious discussion when I was already overwhelmed by my fresh starting, I understood what it meant to maintain IBM’s strict ethical and professional guidelines and to continue to provide a brand clients can trust.

After the serious note, I was then informed of what I would be doing in my role; I would assist the Test Lead with the execution of the test lifecycle on a project which involved protecting the clients’ end-customers from malware and phishing fraud transactions. As such, this meant I would have access to, and manipulate, several anti-fraud systems so I had to learn and memorise the names of the systems and how they work to prevent fraud. Cue relentless note taking.

After a few months, work on my project had died down as there were holding few issues delaying testing. As a result of this, my Test Manager put me in for a new challenge and assigned me to another test role on a new project with a new team. However, this project did not follow the same timelines as a usual project would. Due to the client having to meet the demands of the industry regulator, this new project had to complete the whole product lifecycle within a time period of six weeks; from planning and build to live release. As a result of this, the test team only had two weeks maximum to complete all required test cycles (ST, SIT and UAT) including retesting of defects.

With there being only two members of the test team, my Test Lead and I, this was obviously a challenging timeline to meet and I could personally feel the responsibility upon me to complete the testing at a very high standard. Being led by a great Test Lead, I managed to complete all the test cycles and had a massive feeling of accomplishment and relief! Although at the time it felt like I barely even had time to breathe, I am glad I was part of this project as it really taught me how to manage my time and how to work under pressure to get a job done. Due to the nature of this project, and the timelines we had to complete our work, our project team were highly commended for our efforts and achieved team of the month, awarded by the client!

Outside of project work and as part of the Apprenticeship, you have to attend the training courses FSPE (Foundation Skills in a Project Environment) and FCP (Foundation Calling Programme). These training courses are very useful as they teach, and let you practice skills such as the client communication model, working in teams, problem solving, engaging with the client, structuring a good conversation and improving presentation and conversational skills.

While the courses were useful for learning new skills, I found them a great ‘retreat’ away (one week for FSPE, two days for FCP) from doing project work. I found them a good place to network with new apprentices and graduates I’ve never met before while also re-connecting with the other Apprentices from my starter group and catching up. For me, the most useful part of the course was being able to practice conversations and presentations with personal development managers (PDMs) and obtaining feedback on how to improve. This all taking place in a relaxed environment where everybody encourages you to do well.

Shortly after returning from my FCP course, my first project (the one mentioned earlier with all the fancy anti-fraud systems) was still quiet due to a long standing defect which was still preventing testing. After discussions with my PDM and Programme Manager on the project, I felt it was a good time within the quiet period to begin the process of handing over and moving to a new role. Before hanging up my boots on the first role, I had to handover to another resource so I had the responsibility of planning knowledge transfer sessions over the course of two weeks. In these sessions, I had to convey everything I knew about the role to the new resource, including allowing sufficient time to sort out access and introducing the new resource to the wider support team. As I was the only test team member (other than the Test Manager) by this point, I had to make sure the delivery of the handover was of a high quality as any gaps would mean delays on the project.

I had to plan structured sessions to make sure all the different categories of knowledge were covered, be prepared to answer any questions the new resource may have and go over anything they are confused about, deal with any issues encountered during the handover, arrange calls and meetings where the Test Manager would test the new resources knowledge to find any gaps and re-plan sessions accordingly.  As well as doing handover sessions, I had to continue to do my project work as normal as well as complete detailed daily reports on the status of the hand over. I would say the handover was one of the most challenging situations I have occurred to date as there was a lot to cover but also a lot for me to learn at the same time. After twenty-four hours worth of handover sessions, I had completed the knowledge transfer to the satisfaction of my Test Manager and could fully hand over to the new resource which allowed me to move on to my new project and thus, a new challenge.

Although my new role would still be a testing role in Swindon for the same client, it didn’t mean that I could sit back and become complacent; each and every project is different, especially since I will be working in a new building with a new team utilising different tools and systems. Once again, there was a lot to learn.  My new role was entirely different to my old one; I will be testing a system which will validate files which will be sent from the client’s ex-subsidiaries systems. It sounds simple on paper, but our testing involved creating test cases to make sure the correct files and stored in the correct database and that validation conditions are met such as ‘First Name’ not being too long, ‘Date of Birth’ is of date format etc.

This leads me nicely to today, where my test team and I have just finished our second cycle of System Testing on the project and this short quiet gap has given me the chance to reflect on the year that has gone by and write this post. I can honestly say that my first year within IBM has certainly been a good eye-opener for what will be my career through IBM; I just wish I could write every single experience down but between my poor memory and keeping you interested, I have only provided some key highlights.

In one year alone, I have experienced so much that has forever changed me as a person and how I conduct myself; not just at work but at life in general but I still feel like this is the beginning and I look forward to whatever comes next with great excitement. I will, of course, keep you updated on this exciting journey and any new experiences I will encounter.

Until then, I hope you enjoyed reading this post and hope you continue to have great experiences that will change you for the better. Seize them!

Bring on year two!

  • Craig Wilkinson
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