Monthly Archives: August 2016

The next big step – Tom Cope

Hello, Its me Tom.C back with another blog post. So you may be wondering where I’ve been since my last blog post? You maybe sitting there in your arm-chair asking yourself “Cave what kind of tests are theses? am I in danger?” well let me answer that question with a question: “Why am I now talking about Portal 2?” No. No, back on topic. The reason why I’ve not written a blog post for so long is because I’ve been at Oxford. Or to me more precisely, Oxford university. Let me explain:

About a year ago I finished my apprenticeship here at IBM. After a month I was encouraged to pursue further education to develop my skills in Security. After looking through various courses my Dad suggested that I should try a part-time Uni course. After some research I found Oxford do a Part time Master Degree course in Software and Systems Security. It covers all sort of topics such as agile software development, embedded systems, ethical hacking, social engineering. The full nine yards and the best part is it’s all part-time. In order to complete the masters you have to do ten modules. Four in software and six in security, then a dissertation at the best. So I applied!

So how does it work? Well first you book the courses you want to do from a calendar. Each course takes place at Oxford University in the Computer Science building, so I tend to stay at Oxford for the week I am taking a module. There are lots of places you can stay and Oxford is a great place with lots to do. A month before you a due to start you are sent a care package with various details of the prerequisites to the course. In the case of the Java module it was a Book on “OOP Design” and I had to read the first six captures.

Then you move on to the courses themselves. Each course is five days where you get to learn about your chosen topic. The classes are really interesting and quite practical. Everyone in the class is also working part-time so you are all working on the same level. The classes are quite relaxed, if you have to take a phone call you can dip out of the class and there are regular tea breaks. At 12:00 everyone goes for lunch which is a cooked meal at the college. The food is amazing!

The class increases in difficulty over the week. On the Friday everything comes to a close and you are handed the assignment. The assignments can be anything; make an application, write an essay or both! You have some time to read it through and ask any questions you may have. Then its back home to start the assignment. You have six weeks, which may sound like a long time but when you are working full-time it goes by quite quickly.

Hows it going so far? Quite well. It’s a lot of work. There have been many long nights in order to keep up but I find it really enjoyable. You learn so much and at the end of the assignment you can look back and be proud of what you have achieved. So far I have completed three modules. Java OOP which is a prereq for the Software side of the course. Embedded software systems which was very interesting since I did electronics at A level. Embedded systems are everywhere. Writing software for them is a whole different world. To think that a millisecond delay could cost a life in an air bag system really makes you think about how reliable and safe your code is. Most recently I have completed the “Concurrent System” course which was all about “Erlang”. A really cool language with a “Let it crash approach” (it’s better than it sounds) and was by far the hardest module so far.

How does this work with IBM? Well IBM requires each employee to complete 40 hours of training a year (which is quite cool). My Oxford work equates to about three weeks a year. So I end up taking one as education leave and two as holiday. My project is great because they are very flexible and they don’t mind me taking the time off.

I have completed three courses so far all in software engineering. Now I am moving into the more security related ones. Next up is; Security Principles, Trusted Computer Infrastructure, Secure Programming and Cloud Security. All of which I am really looking forward too.

The big question that remains is would I recommend it? The answer would be YES! It is definitely hard work, lots of hard work and it can be hard juggling work, Oxford and a social life but at the end of it I will have a Master’s degree and that’s something to write home about.

-That was me Tom.C see you in the next one.

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A Day in Architecture – Gus Parkhouse

Quick question – which of these do you think Architects really do?

  1. Engages with clients.
  2. Create and design Architectural deliverables.
  3. Generate solutions to a client’s requests.
  4. Use emerging technologies to create innovative ideas to help their clients reach their full potential.
  5. Provide technical leadership.

The answer is in fact all of these. Yes, it’s true that architects really do get involved in quite a broad range of activities. I’m going to give you a closer look into what I personally do on a normal day in my role as an apprentice Infrastructure Architect. I perform a variety of tasks but I’ll start from the beginning.

When I arrive at work I need to check my email as there may be some important tasks from other members of my team. This also gives me a chance to see if I have had any replies to questions or requests that I have sent out, whilst also seeing if there are any updates amongst the communities I am a member of.  As sad as it sounds, I quite enjoy catching up on my emails in the morning as it sets the flow of the day. Whilst checking my emails I also see what meetings or calendar invites I have been sent so I can plan my day around these. These two pretty basic tasks help me to get organised and prepared for the day ahead.

On the account I am currently on, one of my main tasks is to review work requests for capacity management of servers and the allocation of these servers in their physical racks. This is an ongoing task for myself and helps to develop my knowledge of the accounts infrastructure. The requests for placement are sent across from various different team members on the accounts and it is my responsibility to place these correctly and supply the corresponding information back to them.

On this account I am also the Governance manager for all architects. This involves taking on board the work that each architect is doing and then formatting this into an easily understandable format and passing it to the chief architect, this allows him to correctly request and supply resources when necessary. As the Governance manager I also deal with all the key collateral documents on the account that help, as suggested by the name, govern the architecture work stream on the account. This requires some time with the chief architect on the account to discuss details of what we are delivering to the account, and relay these details to other architects. One of the governance documents shows the technical overview of the account and what we have promised we will deliver to the customer regarding technology, as you can imagine it’s very helpful for myself.

I also go to meetings to discuss work deliverables, which helps to build my knowledge for tasks both internal and external. The majority of my meetings are client facing which helps to build my confidence but I do also have internal meetings. In the internal meetings with other IBMers we discuss new patent ideas and review existing ideas that may need a bit of work. We also have catch up teleconference meetings to see what other apprentices are doing, whether this be the architect apprentices or the wider apprentice community, as well as “Lunch and Learns” which are very informative as some of them relate to new emerging technology or roles that I work alongside.

In the Architecture role, I’m helping to create supporting documentation for other architects including the chief architect on the account. This helps me to get a better understanding of the account and also build core knowledge on the documentation process for myself to use later on down the line. It’s beneficial to myself as an apprentice architect also because it can be used for part of my assessment evidence. Sometimes it can be daunting as when I come across a new document I haven’t seen before I like to try having a go for myself before asking multiple clarifying questions.

As any and all apprentices will say during their apprenticeship, I spend a segment of my working week writing up part of my OCR Mapping document. This involves finding and refining evidence from past activities as well as asking team members to give a statement to help reinforce the evidence I have obtained.

I regularly speak to my buddies regarding any work queries or apprentice queries, but also just to chat and catch up with them as I’ve become quite good friends with them. They are always happy to chat and listen to any problems I have and help to find a solution to them, or point me in the direction of someone that may be able to help.

Some of the information I manage in my role is requested by other teams, for example capacity management details. When these requests come through, I look through the information I have available to me and then send on the relevant data. If I don’t have the data I advise them who might have it and pass on their request. Throughout my day I receive and send emails, so it is vital that I keep on top of emails that I’ve received through the afternoon as they may be requests for vital information.

I do spend parts of my day, but not every day, looking through and diving deeper into education. This education can be role specific or a more general topic that IBM suggests may be helpful to take some time to learn.

Of course I do the important task of getting a cup of coffee, for myself, to help keep the energy high on more demanding tasks.

Gus Parkhouse

What Is Expected of IBM Apprentices – Jenny Taylor

It’s over a year now since I wrote my first guest blog on this Forum and I’m delighted to report that in that time, the IBM apprenticeship programme has gone from strength to strength, achieving unprecedented success in terms of winning external awards on both an individual and an overall programme basis. My admiration of our apprentices remains at the highest levels.

I’ve now been asked to return to write a second blog on “What is expected of IBM apprentices”. I see this as a question in two parts: what attributes do we look for in potential recruits to the programme and then, what do we expect of our apprentices once they have joined IBM.

In terms of recruitment of apprentices, we understand that many school-leavers may not have a wealth of work experience which they can list on their application form.  However, we do know that there are other skills and personal characteristics which they should be able to write about and our application form is tailored to these “competencies” as we term them. These are Adaptability, Teamwork, Effective Communication, Self-motivation and drive to succeed, Initiative and creative problem solving and Client focus. Additionally, we ask applicants to tell us why they are motivated to apply for the role and give them a chance to provide us with any extra information they feel is relevant.

We don’t mind from where examples of these competencies are sourced, and in fact the greater variety of scenarios we see on an application form, the better. So, examples could be taken from part time employment, school and social activities, volunteering and charity work, Scouts and Guides, sporting achievements, Duke of Edinburgh award projects or hobbies.  It’s also worthwhile remembering to write about and include inherent digital expertise. All millennials have grown up in a digital world with apps and technologies being second nature to them, so here is an opportunity to capitalise on these skills and show us exactly how valuable they can be in the workplace.

Equally important is to know about IBM and what our most recent achievements are.  It’s vital to us that any potential apprentice demonstrates a passion to want to work for IBM and some knowledge of our business. There’s so much information available on line about IBM, it’s easy to pass this part of the test.

Once inside IBM, we understand that new apprentices will lack specific skills, so initially we are looking for enthusiasm and an appetite to learn.  We can train apprentices in our systems, processes and knowledge specific to a role, so interest and a willingness to learn and work hard are all that is required………and that is what I see from our current apprentices on a daily basis.

I’m delighted to observe that our apprentices have demonstrated that they possess all the requisite skills and knowledge to succeed in IBM, both through their high success rate in apprenticeship qualification and also in achievement of promotions to higher professional levels in IBM.  We are very proud of them.
Jenny Taylor

Training: the core part of any Apprenticeship – Megan Murray

One of the most common questions asked about apprenticeships is about the quality of training available. Is it actually worthwhile? Do you actually get taught anything or do you just do the rubbish jobs nobody else wants? Does the employer really care about you and your learning or is it purely to fill a quota?

Well, I thought for my blog this quarter I’d give some insight into some IBM training I’ve received, because let’s face it, before you start work it’s impossible to know what to expect from ‘training days/weeks’.

I receive training throughout my apprenticeship of course, with various formal education days around various subjects, I recently attended a Digital Marketing Workshop day for instance; then I have university learning; there’s online learning, with IBM’s ‘Think 40’ initiative which promotes IBMers completing at least 40 hours of learning a year and which provides lots of online videos, reading and even games to learn more about various topics; and finally there’s informal learning that happens every day, in the form of guidance from those around me.

Last week I went on a 1 week long formal education course, and I thought I’d make this the focus of today’s blog post as an example of one of these training methods.

I’d been looking forward to this course for a while (yep, looking forward to training, I said it!) I’d heard good feedback about it from those who had been on it previously and I knew it was centred around talking to and presenting to clients, which is something I was beginning to dip my feet in to with work and needed a real confidence boost with. Whilst those I’d spoke to had said that the course did have a bit of a tough ‘practice interview’ that they hadn’t been too fond of, I was still eager to go and see what I could learn. I knew I’d be going with new IBMers I hadn’t met before either which I always look forward to and it was based at a conference venue/hotel down near Southampton, so provided a change of scenery for a week too which is always refreshing.

The training itself was intense, and at times quite stressful, especially when you were put under the spotlight having to question a purposefully awkward customer, but it had fun aspects too and it really did teach me a lot. There were so many things that had been brushed over in conversations I’d had with others about how to talk to clients but that hadn’t quite clicked with me in the way they did through this training course. It gave me the opportunity to learn and practice, get feedback, and learn and practice some more, before actually going through this process with a real customer and gave me plenty more confidence for when this does happen. I feel more prepared now, more able to guide the conversation and with a clearer idea of how to get what I want from it, whilst ensuring the customer does too.

In a year’s time I’ll be invited on a follow up course to this one, even more intensive, with even more difficult practice customers, and even worse, I’ll be graded (always scary!) But, in that time I’ll have had a year of real life practice, a chance to read up more on what I’ve learnt and more chances to learn from others too. Plus, I’ll have learnt tonnes of other things in the meantime too!

So, in answer to those common apprenticeship questions: At IBM, yes, the training is high quality; yes it’s worthwhile, it’s relevant; yes, you get taught lots and it’s not just ‘rubbish’ jobs, there’s lots of exciting things to do; and IBM take plenty of care to provide plenty of training and development opportunities, you won’t come out not having learnt anything.

Megan Murray.