Year 1 Reflections – Richard Cure

Hi! I’m Richard and I’d like to share with you in my first blog post on how I got to IBM, my current role right now, and what I have learnt so far from my experiences with IBM.

My journey so far:

Having finished A-Levels with grades in Computing, Maths and Spanish in summer 2014 I knew I wanted to pursue a career in IT or Spanish. I ended up applying to Bristol University to study Computer Science with a year abroad and was lucky enough to receive an offer.

I also looked at apprenticeships as I knew they were viable alternatives to university. So in addition to my university application I applied to a handful of IT companies for their apprenticeship schemes, IBM being one of them.

After passing some online tests I was sent to Reading, for an assessment centre for another company’s apprenticeship scheme and naturally I was rather nervous. I did my best in the group activities and received an offer, but first I wanted to see what IBM could offer me. After a phone interview with an IBM employee and more online tests I travelled to Portsmouth for my second assessment centre. The day went well and a presentation from existing IBM apprentices affirmed what I already knew about the benefits of the scheme and what would happen for the duration of the apprenticeship.

A few months later I was contacted again to set up a final interview for the role I am doing now. This time however I felt relaxed and confident going into it because I knew what to expect having experienced interviews in my previous assessment centres. I think this showed in the interview and I was ecstatic to receive confirmation that I would start at IBM shortly after, so long as onboarding checks and associated paperwork etc. went well, which they did.

So overall it was a long process, but well worth it in the end.

Before joining IBM I had to make the difficult decision to defer my university offer but half a year later, I ultimately rejected my offer – this wasn’t too difficult after having worked as an apprentice for a while.

Now I’ve spent the last year and a bit on an IBM Programme mainly made up of application development projects aiming to develop, support and maintain a number of applications for an interesting customer and it’s been great!

What I’m doing now:

To explain a bit more about my main role – I’m working as a Build Specialist in the Server Build team, which entails looking after 200+ servers being used by my colleagues for project work (for those reading who aren’t sure what a “server” is, think of a server being like a powerful desktop computer without a monitor which performs a specific task). Our main responsibilities in the Build team are to make sure the servers are up to date software-wise and fixing any issues related to the computer environment which come our way before we hand over the servers to the test team. If testing is successful then whatever we have installed on our systems ends up in the hands of the customer to install on their systems, so it’s important we get it right first time and don’t miss anything! All these servers perform different roles and have different hardware and software requirements and specifications, so there’s been a lot learnt over the last year and for sure more to come.

In this role I’ve applied a variety of different skills, ranging from technical skills – understanding and operating the systems running on the servers (we’ve got at least 3: Windows, Linux and AIX – IBM’s own version of Linux) to personal skills – dealing with the customer, and speaking to them to arrange hardware fixes as the physical side of the servers are managed by the customer, to practical hands on skills – looking after the hardware devices physically in the office such as printers and taking responsibility for them.

The project likes to test us in different areas too, so in addition to my primary job role I’m also doing a Measurements Analyst role. It’s a natural fit for me because in this role I have free reign to look at the all data produced from the Programme which is held from a wide range of sources – databases, project logs, etc. and collate it to make sense of it, which I really enjoy. This means I get to build on my programming skills acquired from A-Level study and create informative graphs and charts which I present regularly to management. Recently I’ve been challenged with developing the estimation tool for faults used by the Project Managers to create estimates which feed in to the scheduling of their projects. This meant researching, understanding, and implementing linear regression and other statistical concepts such as Cook’s Distance into the existing tool, so I had to dig out my old statistics revision notes to help me out – who says you’ll never use Maths in your day job!

Thirdly, another role I’ve been assigned is Software Quality Analyst where I get to learn about the different software projects by interviewing the Project Managers and personnel involved and at the end of it, produce a report on whether they’ve been following best practices and procedures to ensure the quality of the project and its deliverables (by deliverables I mean work produced like software packages and project documentation to be given to the customer).

Overall it’s a lot of work, and really tests me as an early professional day in day out, but as a consequence I’ve grown in confidence, widened my knowledge and gained vital experience which you could argue university students and graduates lack to a degree (excuse the pun).

The main things I’ve learnt:

Qualifications aren’t everything. Sure they help to set a bench mark for knowledge, but it really is about the skills you can offer, and how you perform within a team to a) get things done b) add value to the business c) grow yourself, skills and career.

What things I was strong at, and what things I thought I was good at but actually wasn’t and need to work on more.

About independent living – I’ve had to move away from home and orientate myself in a new city, which has been really exciting but daunting at the same time.

How to navigate IBM. IBM is huge and have offices across the world, therefore you can’t avoid the news about what the company is doing. When I started I did find it difficult to work out which parts to pay attention to and which parts to filter out because everything was exciting and new to me. The structure and organisation side of IBM such as the employee’s homepage has improved a lot recently so it’s easier to find your way around and also now I have a feeling of the topics which interest me more than others, so I can channel my efforts and energy into what’s most important at the time. Also there’s a whole network of people you can ask to point you in the right direction.

Make the most of your time off – when you compare a full time job to studying the difference in free time is light years – so I’ve learnt to appreciate how valuable your spare time is. IBM supports you with this in the fact you can buy or sell holiday days in addition to the 25 days each year plus bank holidays. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to go on holiday to see Australia and New Zealand a few weeks ago which was amazing. I certainly would not have had been able to do this had I been at University!

Hard work pays off – I was recognised by the Programme Manager in the form of a Project Award only a few months after I joined. This really surprised me but definitely made me feel valued as part of the team even though I was only there for a short period of time.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read my first post, and I’m looking forward to what’s ahead – summer, training courses, the eventual completion of my apprenticeship qualification, and more posts of course!

Richard

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