Before I get started with the tips I thought it would be best to give a little introduction to myself. So my name is Simon and I began the IBM apprenticeship scheme over 2 and a half years ago now. When I joined I had the goal of becoming a Software Developer. Unlike a lot of other apprentices, I knew that’s what I wanted to do and I was very keen to achieve it. After 2 and a half years in the scheme I am now sat in a Web Developer role and am looking onto how best I can maintain and progress my technical career. However getting this role and working effectively within it, was and is the hardest things I have done at IBM. It challenged a lot of my expectations and there was an incredible amount of work that went into giving myself the opportunity and maintaining my role. After just over a year in this role (and soon to be progressing out of the apprenticeship scheme), I feel I am in a good position to now advise other apprentices joining the scheme who are keen to progress a career as a developer. I felt the easiest way to do this would be through top 10 tips, which I have integrated with personal experience…
Top 10 tips to get the technical role you want
First and foremost you need to be committed to this as a career, there is no point just expecting it to work out it. If you want to do a specific technical role you need to show your commitment, not just through IBM courses or the giveback you did the other year. You need to show a personal commitment – time. There are so many resources online that are not necessarily IBM related that can teach you skills to help you sell yourself to that person when they think about giving you a chance. For example within software development, you should be teaching yourself the basics. There are a lot of different programming languages and technologies out there. Learn about them. Learn how to build small applications in a programming language. A good first goal is building yourself a website CV or a simple mobile application. Something you can tell and show people you have done. The reason for this is simple – most people in developer roles (and other skilled technical roles) will have a degree, that’s the long and short of it. So give yourself the best chance at competing with them. Make sure you have invested personal time in your future, it will pay off in the long run, trust me.
IBM Courses –
The IBM apprenticeship scheme gives you some freedom to choose personal targets for the year, use this to tell your manager what it is you want to do. For example set yourself the target, I want to get a basic understanding in C#. Then make sure you go online, research and speak to others in the area and find yourself a good course. It’s a great opportunity to commit time to improving your skillset. However there is a big mistake made by people who do this, not using it. You come back from your course and you feel like you know C# (or whatever you pick), good for you, and it is a great step in the right direction. What happens when your great opportunity comes along a year later, you tell people you know it because you did a course on it and when it comes to it you have forgotten everything? Once you come back from the course, set yourself personal projects and targets. Don’t just go on a course but use it, use it as a platform to build off of, Make sure you maintain and build on those skills.
Share knowledge gained
This may sound like you are sharing your skills and therefore putting everyone at the same level as you right? Why would you want to do that? Wrong. Presenting, documenting and sharing technical skills just improves you knowledge and as a bonus people tend to notice that you have done it. Knowing how to do something and having enough knowledge to teach others are very different. Therefore share, and show others how to do it, it will both improve your understanding and make you more confident in your skills. It’s also another thing to show the person you haven’t met yet who will give you an opportunity at some point. Building that portfolio of skill sand what you have done with them is important. They will ask you what you can do, and as with everything in IBM, they will ask you to prove it. The more ways you can do that the better.
Get involved in things inside and outside of IBM
This tip is aimed at communities and therefore ties into the networking side of things a little. It’s a little more than that though, join technical communities both inside and outside of IBM. There are countless communities of people sharing ideas, problems and advice. It makes sense to be part of this on the bigger scale, however not just to be a name on a list. That’s a wasted chance, be active, ask questions, respond to questions if you can but above all show your interest. We have already covered how there is a lot to know, but you can access good communities of professionals sharing tips and tricks both inside and outside of IBM.
Get a mentor
One of the best tips I was given was to get a mentor, it is by far one of the most important things on this list. As a guide look for a mentor who is further on in there technical career than you however in a position to provide you with guidance and insight that will help you progress. Personally I now have a few mentors, each from different areas of the business who help me in different ways. It is easier said than done to find a mentor and to ask someone you want to be a mentor and to do it. It involves a little bit of jumping in the deep end. Personally the best thing I can suggest is if you go to an event, or are part of a team or even go to a dinner with someone who really knows a lot about the path you want to get on. Just ask, it’s as simple as that. You can ask them, face to face, via e-mail or however you feel comfortable, just make sure you do it. A good point to remember if you are nervous or unsure is that in the higher bands of IBM people are encouraged to be mentors so chances are they will want to help.
Pick the right giveback
There are giveback projects that ask people to create an application and use technical skills (See share knowledge gained). If you can’t find any there is also always scope to come up with your own giveback project. But make sure the giveback you are doing can help you progress. As I have already mentioned investing your own time in the right way is important, and this is the same for how you invest downtime into giveback. As an apprentice the giveback you do will separate you from the rest, however (contrary to popular belief) it is more about quality than it is quantity. If you have been into 50 schools this year and done a talk about the apprenticeships that’s good. However if you have invested time into building or changing something that it now benefiting the client, the team, you or anyone then from personal experience I think that’s a more worthwhile.
Innovative thinking is important and respected in IBM, it’s worth investing a little time each month (normally as part of a team of 4) into seeing if you can come up a patent worthy idea. Also knowing and going through the process can be worth as much as the patent. Knowing the process and having made a few submissions (regardless of the result) enables you to provide help, support and communication with others who participate in this side of IBM. Manny of whom will be technical people. It’s a good example of an activity and community that can get you talking to those people who can help you build your career. It’s also worth mentioning that Master and Senior Inventors are encouraged to help and mentor younger teams, so there is a lot of support out there if you are keen on getting a patent to your name. This is more of a suggestion that can help if you are interested and less of an essential part of beginning your technical career.
This one is less about improving your skills and knowledge and a little more about actually getting the role. Firstly if you are going to events and joining communities, make sure you network. Introduce yourself and have a chat with anyone and everyone. People will bang on at you about networking, and you will be bored of the word. But there is a reason they bang on about it, it’s really useful. You are expanding the number of people you can ping and ask about roles, opportunities and advice. You are expanding the number of people who will message you, that will increase your eminence (another buzzword so sorry for that) as a technical person if you do it right and that’s always a good thing. Secondly when you do meet these people through all the stuff you are doing make sure why you are doing it is in your personal introduction. Most new interactions start with your name and what you do. I suggest you add a ‘But I am looking to move into a **Insert role you want here** when I get the opportunity’. The more people that you tell what you want to do, the more people there are who might ping you the name offering something in that area or forward an e-mail that might lead to what you want. I guess the overall point here is that someone somewhere has the ability to give you the opportunity, and the more people helping you find that, the better.
Taking the opportunity
When someone does mention to you that there might be scope for the role you want chances are they will need to be won round, I mean, why would they give the role to you over a grad who has more experience in that area? That is the question you need to be able to answer. And if you give the right answer they may still consider you. It’s not easy taking a maybe and making it into a yes. For me I had to go to the account partners a couple of times and work with them on a business case to put me in the role. I worked with them and gave them every reason to give me a chance and thankfully it paid off. You will need to do the leg work, you should chase people, show them how much you want it.
Commit to succeeding
Finally being a skilled technical person is not an easy role to get. But don’t give up. It took me a year of being in IBM before I got lucky and met someone, who knew someone, who managed a development team. Some people will get lucky quicker and for some it will take longer. But stick to it, keep working and keep investing in yourself, it will pay off. It’s just a matter of time. Getting and maintaining the role I am now in has been one of the biggest challenges for me and it has not been easy at all, but it has been worth every bit of effort. If you are interested I encourage you to continue on working for that role.
To conclude, the last year and a half has been incredibly hard for me, however it’s been worth it. The tips above are things that I found out along the way and I hope that they help you to achieve your technical role. If you are reading this to see how my top tips compare with your experiences please share them in the comments. If you have any questions again please use the comments. I look forward to hearing other opinions and responses.
Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings!