Category Archives: Insight

Goals achieved for 2016 – Joe Barry

2016 was a year full of ups and downs, for Business, Politics and Sports alike. For me I will remember this as the year IBM helped me to achieve all my goals. When I started the year, I had three things I needed to do for my career and anything less than all 3 would be disappointing. January 2016 I was in Swindon working as an Industry Tester and by December 2016 I was a Project Management Officer (PMO) in Hursley. Allow me to talk through my journey.

  1. Improve my Work/Life Balance.
  2. Make an effort to learn new skills that would help me in the future.
  3. Determine my next career steps and start the journey towards it

Why would I or anyone need to improve my work/life balance?

Well in my case I was living in Portsmouth but working in Swindon. Monday I would travel up, staying a hotel and at 6pm on Friday I traveled back home. I found that I was always tired and quickly got bored of the routine. My family were under the impression that I was living the sweet life. I would always get the same comment.

“Staying in hotels must be great, don’t have to tidy up, use the laundry service for your clothes, food gets brought to your door”

This was all true but once you have been in hotels for a year the novelty had worn off.  When I finished the work day I would get back and start thinking about the stuff I needed to do the next day. I never switched off.

So, to remedy this I spoke to my IBM manager and asked for some help in getting a role closer to home that would still test me and progress my career. I got my ideal roles narrowed down to Project Management or Test Specialist and I used my network to speak to a couple of managers in Hursley. By April I had found a test role that fitted all my criteria however I needed some specific skills in order to be most effective at the role.

Therefore, I needed to make an effort to learn new skills that would help me perform in my ideal role.

The problem I faced was that I have only ever worked with client systems. I was not versed in IBM software or hardware. In this situation to have all the educational tools IBM provides was extremely beneficial. I spoke to the test manager and found out all the skills needed and found most of them on Think foundation and Code Academy online courses.

Finally, I was ready to fill my new role but was informed that I was no longer needed. The role had already been filled by someone else. This was because the end date on my previous role was too late and the test manager needed someone ASAP. I was still wanted for a test role but in the meantime my test manager used her network to find me a PMO role in Hursley.

I was relieved that I was able to carry on working in Hursley but wasn’t too sure about filling a PMO role, within the first day I realised it was the perfect position to determine my next career steps.

The PMO works with the Business and Project Managers to deal with contractor admin tasks. This ranges from on-boarding to access requests to contractor agency queries. As PMO I can use my connections with Project Managers and Technical contractors to figure out what I want to do and how I can do it. To gain a better insight to the project management role I attended an IT Infrastructure Library course that covers all types of management from service to operations and many others. I loved the course and wished I’d done it earlier. I have a new-found appreciation for how the business works and how many mover parts are in play to drive value to customers. I had already done a lot of technical courses but I enjoyed seeing them work in real life and what a Software Developer does day to day.

From my experiences both in technical and management I am currently finding a technical role that I would be happy with. I have the foundation in place to do so and other options available if I change my mind.

Thanks to IBM, I was given a lot of role options that would help improve my work life balance. IBM’s Think academy meant I was able to gather the skills to fill any role I desire. I can now see the bigger picture when it comes to business and a view of day to day tasks of technical professions all of which has helped me craft a destination for my career.

Joe Barry.


2016 Review – Will Spiers

Since we’ve rocketed into 2017 and are somehow over three months in already, I thought I would write a piece reflecting upon my achievements and experiences last year – 2016 was my first full year in IBM – only just though, given I started in March 2015. However, I feel it proved to be a pivotal year for me, in terms of my personal development, career progression and my long term plan. So, where was I this time last year?

January/February 2016, I was in the process of finding a new role, still very up in the air about where I wanted to go next, what I wanted to do and what a new opportunity could entail. I feel I grew immensely as a person over the next few months, when looking for any job, you end up speaking to loads of new people and this one was no different. Certainly within IBM at least, it’s becoming clearer throughout my career – particularly over the first two quarters of 2016 – that the network you create is literally invaluable. Throughout my search, contacting people I knew from across the business was one of two main resources. Conveniently backing up this point, I found my next opportunity through an apprentice friend, who knew someone else, who knew someone looking for a replacement because they were moving on. If you can keep up with that, you’re doing better than me! Regardless, it highlights the point – never underestimate the reach of your network and its importance, especially given the whole 6 degrees of separation theory.

So April 2016, I up ship at my first role and move myself over to IBM Hursley. Lots of things changed over this time, as prior to the move, I’d never experienced another role or working on an IBM site, so my understanding/experiences were almost doubled in an incredibly short space of time! Alongside this, as Hursley would have been a serious commute for me on a daily basis, I also begun staying in hotels Mon-Thurs, just to chuck another new experience into the equation for good measure. So, how did being flung into a brand new role go? In hindsight, my answer is incredibly well – although at the time it didn’t always feel as though it was. Here’s the thing, I recognise now that it’s always going to be slightly overwhelming at times across the first few months of moving to most new roles – it’s a period of immense development, given the amount of information you’ll almost always need to take in over such a short period. For me, in reality this meant some scenarios where I didn’t feel 100% comfortable, but this without doubt was what made me develop and kept me motivated, driven and interested. If you never step out of your comfort zone, how can you expect to grow?

So post-handover period, I tried to take my consideration of stepping outside of my comfort zone forward, something which I feel I’ve done well. During my time in this role I’ve continued developing; from my time management to my communication skills, I’ve improved them all. That’s not to say that I didn’t develop in my first year at IBM, but I feel my second – and this role – have been pivotal in taking my learning’s from year one to the next level.

Finally, throughout 2016 I also took the approach to commit to learning as much as possible – we foundation students are lucky enough to be supported and encouraged to do this, so I felt I’d be silly not to take advantage of it! As such, I completed my ITIL foundation qualification, various Lunch n Learns and a PEL course (path way to entry level – a foundation course surrounding client conversations). As well as this, I also took steps to take this to the next level in 2017, registering my interest for various courses/certifications.

So that was my 2016, a year that was rounded off nicely with a Target awards apprentice of the year nomination – hard work pays off! I hope it will act as a stepping stone to take my new skills into 2017 and continue developing at a similar place.

Will Spiers.

Networking, Is It All It’s Cracked Up To Be? – Gus Parkhouse

In my first few days at IBM it seemed to be one in every five words was “Networking”, now that I’m a year in I can see why this was emphasised so much. I know working for a tech company you’re probably thinking why is computer networking so important to IBM and why does everyone keep talking about it? Although computer networking is important as connects components and nodes this blog is all about social and workplace networking. I’ve started to really see the benefits from good networking and constantly growing my network, these benefits are;

–     Opportunities

  • Connections, Knowing people in different places
  • Advice
  • Positive Influence
  • Confidence
  • Friendship
  • Add feedback

Through speaking to my line manager I have found many opportunities such as moving from an account in London to one closer to my home in Manchester, allowing me to spend more time with friends and also allowing me to be more sociable outside of work without having to stay in rented accommodation. Without knowing who to approach this would have been a lot more of a strenuous and time consuming task. It also helped me to know who to approach with certain aspects of work, for example Cognitive computing, as I found that just knowing one person in this area was positive  as it helped to open up doors to other members of that team and eventually help progress an extremely tricky task.

Since starting as an apprentice in IBM and building a great network of apprentice architects in one base location, I have now moved to the other side of the country and don’t have the pleasure of seeing apprenticeship colleagues on a daily basis anymore. But this hasn’t stopped me from networking with them, it just changed the ways in which I do it. Face to face turned into instant messaging, phone call, text messages and e-mails. I still ask this network the questions that I feel would defy the quote “There’s no such thing as a stupid question” and they’re happy to help. I went from working in an office with distinguished engineers to working from home for 3 weeks, during this time I had to call upon my network for the majority of information needed. I found working remotely from home a very big challenge as I was getting minimal human interaction which is the opposite of what I had the week before. I also created some new connections in this period with the Chief Architect of the new account I was heading on too. My new network connections into the architects team came in incredibly handy when joining IBM and learning what was vital to learn and what could wait.

When I had settled into my new account and had started to settle in, I was advised that a new Deputy Chief Architect was joining the account. When he arrived on the account I took the time to sit down and have a chat with him that eventually turned in to going to grab some lunch to get know more about what he had previously done and what he was expecting of me, but also a less work-related chat about what he was interested in that turned into him becoming a mentor for me and helping me with architecture and learning.

On the new account I have been able to expand my network further in a very short amount of time as I now work with such a vast team, this networking has helped me to expand my knowledge and get involved in a lot more tasks. This ever expanding networking has been great for helping my confidence in meetings with both the client and senior members of the team as they are there to reinforce the information I’m putting forward. Not forgetting to mention the social benefits of being involved in a mixed team, and all of the networking I have taken part in has helped me to develop my LinkedIn profile and help create a strong virtual network.

At the beginning, I won’t lie, I was very skeptical of what the hype around “Networking” was but now after just a year I can see that this is and will always be a massively important tool throughout my career. I would now say I agree with the old proverb “It’s not what you know but who you know” and can see where it possibly came from.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, feel free to message me on LinkedIn for any questions. (

Gus Parkhouse.

A Point of View on Cognitive Computing – Richard Cure

If 2015 was the year of Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, Social and Security, 2016 was the year of Cognitive.

Cognitive is the big word at IBM right now so I thought it would be an appropriate time to share my understanding of cognitive computing and how I see it relates to business and technology.

Firstly I hear you asking, what does cognitive even mean?

Well, cognitive is the word which is used to describe systems which can understand, reason and learn. Like all IT systems, cognitive systems rely on data, which is exponentially increasing every year – in fact nowadays most businesses probably have too much data – and more importantly aren’t sure how to best go about creating value from it. Cognitive systems help to reveal patterns and relationships across data which could previously not be discovered by other means.

As the explosion of data gets ever bigger, consultancies such as IBM are helping their clients understand and refine their data better by building or integrating cognitive systems into their existing systems so they get better value from their data. And it’s not just IBM – Microsoft has Cortana, Facebook is developing chatbots, Amazon has its Echo product which comes with its own assistant Alexa, and in fact you could argue those of us with iPhones already have pocket cognitive assistants in the form of Siri, so Apple are in on it too. It’s safe to say cognitive is a competitive market already.

Those IBMers reading may well (and should!) know that Watson is IBM’s lead brand in cognitive. Watson (the question and answer based computer system) famously beat human contestants on the US game show Jeopardy in 2011 which gave way to its own dedicated business units shortly after. Today, thousands of people work on Watson and its various umbrella products such as Watson Analytics and Watson Developer Cloud at IBM across the world.

So how does it work?

At a high level, Watson is a mix of different systems and technologies – leveraging artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language capabilities. It understands questions asked from end-users – in a variety of different languages! – by using semantic parsing, which is fancy for breaking up the words in the question to understand what the question is asking. It then works off a “corpus” of knowledge, which is made up of structured data, such as tables and databases, and unstructured data, such as articles and audio. Watson then uses advanced computational techniques to very quickly extract information related to the question from its corpus.

Finally, it analyses what it understands it has been asked against what it knows to be correct and produces answers with a confidence level of accuracy – a bit like a super-powered search engine – but you don’t have to go through each result to find what you are looking for, Watson can do this for you which is what makes it so powerful.

However for this to work, firstly a given instance of Watson to be used must be “trained” using a variety of sources – human experts teaching it the right answers to questions, machine learning techniques, and feeding interactions between real life users and Watson into its corpus of knowledge. It also needs to hold data based on the questions it may receive. The advantage of this is that Watson can become very specialised in a certain areas, for example medicine or law. The disadvantage is that it requires a lot of time (and money!) to train it to answer questions and know what is actually correct because well, even Watson can’t know everything.

So overall, Watson is a system which runs analytics against a body of data to get insights from what it has been taught to be correct from experts, evidence, and real interaction, and can estimate a level of confidence to potential responses to its requests. The end goal of this technology is to inform experts to make better decisions, not to replace them, especially in data intensive industries.

The reason why these new-age systems are called cognitive is that they display very similar capabilities to the way the human brain responds to requests to do something. For example every time you must make a decision to do something you are making it based on from what you learnt from experts (teachers, education), from evidence (what you know to be correct, your values), and from interactions (your life experiences) and respond accordingly.

Already IBM has exploited Watson in almost every industry, notably in healthcare and automotive industries. At a recent conference in Las Vegas called “World of Watson”, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty and a Japanese professor announced that by using Watson they discovered a patient was suffering from a different, rare form of leukemia by feeding the patient’s data into Watson. Ultimately they were able to treat the patient accordingly after doctors by themselves were unable to come to a diagnosis, therefore potentially saving the patient’s life. How cool is that!


It’s all very well having this cool technology, however to gain approval for projects involving cognitive, there must be a good business case. In my opinion, these are the main benefits to business:

Customers have better engagement experiences with cognitive systems. To illustrate, I’ll use an example of a situation that probably frustrates all of us. When dialling customer service to get a quote from an insurance company, instead of being put on hold for half an hour and losing a potential customer, we could access a cognitive chatbot who could handle the initial interaction and gather the simple details that every quote needs, speeding up the time taken to handle the quote. But if it got into any trouble or could not handle the interaction we could be put through to a human user.

Decision makers are better informed by cognitive systems. Business leaders can gain relevant insights, tailored to their industry, from cognitive systems helping them understand more about their customers, markets, and what people are saying about their products and services from different sources of data – and respond to this information, often in real time.

They help us to explore and discover about the world and ourselves even more. Cognitive systems are making their way into the healthcare industry, assisting doctors and nurses to keep us healthier, and travel companies are creating tailored experiences for each customer by pairing cognitive systems with the vast amount of data they hold about different countries, cities and travel options like flights and trains.


It’s obvious that these systems do have potential, however we must be careful in the way we use them. What they can’t do is analyse the risk that might not be represented in the data such as environments, people and cultures.

There are still limitations to these technologies – e.g. if a predictive model suggests to buy oil in the Middle East because it is likely to be cheaper than buying oil elsewhere in the world, but the country is in conflict and its leaders are in danger and is not represented in the model, then this must be factored into the decision – in the end you can’t hold machines accountable for bad decisions.

Furthermore, I would say that smart as computers may become, there will always be a humanity gap between humans and computers, as they will always lack fundamental human abilities such as consciousness and those intangibles things which make us human such as feelings and thoughts.

So there’s a way to go before we see the film “I, Robot” come to life.


Given the rapid pace of innovation in the tech industry, I also believe that cognitive systems will become more accessible to the public not too far in the future too, just in the same way that the smartphone did in the previous decade.

So overall, I see exciting times ahead in technology at IBM and at the cutting edge in this industry. Happy December to everyone and a very Merry Christmas to you all! See you in the new year,

Richard Cure.

Goals – What are they worth? – Will Spiers

Within IBM – and probably almost all organisation for that matter – you’re driven to create goals. They create focus, allow you to measure progress, they are motivating and help drive overall direction. They come in many variations, from global organisation wide goals, to ones at an individual level. Now personally, I’ve always been an awful goal setter, and I’d be the first to admit I always saw them as more of a tick box exercise than something to actually work against and track the progress of. However, IBM introduced a specific tool recently for setting and tracking goals, I’d never of assumed it would genuinely the change the way I see and set my goals – but it certainly has. I’d be dramatic if I called it an epiphany, but it’s something loosely along those lines; when I had some spare time at the beginning of this year, I began to invest more time in updating my goals in the tool and plotting my progress consistently each week. Getting this into my routine and creating some discipline around doing it means I now rarely forget, often updating nothing and other times adding lengthy editions – it’s all valuable as it draws you back to that focal point. The tool enables this style of regular updates very well, much better in fact than the previous system of setting goals at the beginning of the year, and then generally waiting till the end to evaluate them in any depth – it’s certainly a testament to the tool that I’ve changed my ways! Now because of my new and improved drive to set and stick to goals, I thought it would be interesting to write a blog post exploring the different types of goals, what I feel I’ve learnt over the past year or so and my plans for 2017.

I think it’s important to set apart two different types of goals – those driven for personal development reasons and those related to a project. I think these are both of equal importance, but generally project related goals (for me at least) are more clear cut – you hit that deadline or you don’t, you successfully implement that release or you don’t. Now this is undoubtedly simplifying it somewhat, but I think the point stands – project goals are less around creating your own direction and more about pulling out what you’re required to do in your day job, and placing some kind of measurement around it to ensure you’re accountable and your performance is measurable. In comparison, personal development goals need to be driven largely from within, which is something I’ve personally found tricky – if you don’t know definitively what you want to do in 10 years’ time, how can you know where to aim? The last point brings me to something else I want to elaborate on; you should have goals set with different timescales, for example it’s not practical to work against a 10 year goal on a daily basis, it would be simply overwhelming, you have to break this down into smaller goals.

So what have I done to improve? Well, throughout 2016 I’ve taken a few steps to try and improve my goal setting. Firstly, I sit and I think about what I actually want to achieve and where I want to be in a years’ time. I then try to break this down and look at how I can build to that point, these different steps are what make up the basis of my goals. After which I try to ensure that each different aspect has an element that makes me accountable, for instance if I put a specific time against achieving something it’s then clear cut if I’ve failed – this is what helps constantly drive me to succeed.

What do I want to achieve in 2017? Despite us still being within the bounds of 2016, I’ve already begun to think about what personal development goals I’m going to set myself for the coming year. Now one thing that really hit me this year, was the benefit of certifications, having some kind of formal recognition of a skill or attribute can be incredibly valuable for IBM, our clients and at a personal level. Being within Foundation, we apprentices are incredibly lucky that there is a whole host of certifications on offer, as such, over the past few months I’ve been looking into which of these would benefit me the most, and have now begun to plan them in for next year – currently it’s Agile and Prince, the former being a forward thinking methodology that’s becoming increasingly popular across IBM and the wider industry, and the latter being a well-established and widely used project management framework. Both of these are easily made into goals that are specific, measurable and achievable. Some of my goals are also spanning wider than just a year, and I shall be taking them across to 2017 with me to continue working against – this has been the case for many of my project related goals, given that the majority of my deadlines are not this time year.

So that’s my whistle stop tour of my goals, I hope all have a good Christmas and I shall likely be back in 2017 with more blogs – let’s see what the new year brings, perhaps an update on the progress of my goals at some stage?

Will Spiers.

University vs Apprenticeships – Katy Turner

I was asked to write a guest blog post as a member of the behind-the-scenes blogging team and I thought in a completely original style I would just essentially borrow John Longworth’s blog post from a few weeks back titled ‘IBM Apprenticeships vs Uni (in the view of an Apprentice)’ but write it from the view of a University student on their placement…

When I was in my last year of sixth form I had very little idea of what I wanted to do with my future, I’d had images of me “finding myself” on an elephant in Thailand but with no financial savings this idea was firmly placed on the bucket list. So that left me with the option of an Apprenticeship or University.

My parents were both entirely supportive of whatever decision I made (maybe less so backpacking across the world), but with no actual plan in place they both encouraged me to apply for UCAS so that at least I had that option. Even at this point I recognised experience was going to be essential so only applied to courses that offered Marketing courses with a year in industry – which narrowed the choices considerably.

I was actually more interested in an Apprenticeship than University which in 2014 was pretty rare for my age group, I was eager to earn money and work my way up from the bottom. However, Apprenticeships back then are not at all what they are now. They mostly focused on routes such as admin, hairdressing and brick laying – none of which remotely appealed to me and they also seemed to be targeted towards those who wouldn’t get the grades to get into University as opposed to those who wanted to take an alternative route after college. After a series of equally uninspiring events by similarly uninspiring employers I decided that this route probably wasn’t going to be for me.

A few months later some form of miracle/a very generous marker happened and I exceeded the criteria needed for my first choice University. After my experience with Apprenticeships so far I felt I would just follow the masses and sign myself up for thousands of pounds’ worth of debt along with many of my peers…. and three years later here I am, student at the University of Liverpool on my third year doing my placement at IBM working in Attraction Recruitment Marketing.

Since my initial experience I have to say that after only a few months at IBM my opinion of Apprenticeships in general has completely changed. As a regular reader of this blog it amazes me how much they all seem to know about coding, software systems and java scripts… all this is like a foreign language to me. They are all in real roles that matter, engaging with top clients, traveling the country, have huge responsibility and in 2017 their starting salary will be higher than placement students such as myself.

In my role I go to so many conferences with other recruiters and it’s so apparent that Apprenticeships are taking off as key talent pools for employers, there is so much choice with so many employers and they are really starting to gain the recognition they deserve.

I think the key thing we, as a society need to focus on, is that University and Apprenticeships are both options within their own right. It’s not about discouraging young people against going to University and choosing the Apprenticeship route, it’s about providing school leavers with all the information to make that decision for themselves. There are so many choices out there now; University, Part-Time University, Higher Apprenticeships, Degree Apprenticeships, Advanced Apprenticeships and even a gap year in the workplace.

I’ve met a lot of Apprentices at IBM that have made me question as to whether I have made the right decision pursuing University and I do wonder if there would have been a different outcome had I been at sixth form a few years later when these changes were starting to be implemented. Although I think I would have gained immensely from an Apprenticeship, I can’t really regret the path I’ve chosen. For me personally, it feels like I’ve suitably pro-longed the inevitable ‘adulthood’, learned a huge deal more about a subject I’m incredibly passionate about at a great University, made some life-long friends, feel entirely independent and have a fair amount of experience within the workplace. But with University costs continuing to rise I think for the next generation it’s more important than ever that they are making their decision for the right reason and not because they see no other option.

Katy Turner

A Day in the Life – Joe Barry

A day in my life will be different to another IBMers and completely different to a day in your life. Instead of telling you why you should join our Apprenticeship scheme I wanted to instead talk to you about a subject that is never the same – a day in my life.

So before I begin I will mention that I am currently a Project Management Officer in Hursley. However I am pretty new to the role so I don’t think my day now would be very helpful until I know my role fully. Also because anytime I move to a new role most of the day is taken up but listening and reading and that is hard to blog about.

The day I want to portray is back in June when I was working in Manchester for an Insurance Company. When I was working up in Manchester, I was part of the Data Governance Team, who are in charge of working out how we can transfer current data from an old system into a new one. In order to do this, I would have to talk to specialists on both sides, arrange a possible solution and show this in a presentation for the Business on Friday.

So let’s take a specific Friday where I had to create slides to represent all the info I gathered from last week. Each problem that we came across we classed as units and every week we would pick a number of units that we would present solutions for. An example of one of the units we had to solve was how to migrate customers’ occupational data into the new system. Currently customers would manually type in their occupation when applying for any level of insurance. However this resulted in some entry’s being misspelled or hard to define. It’s amazing to see how many people misspell their job title! We had job titles written as “BrickLaier” to “Bus Diver”!

The new system we needed had a drop down box that would narrow down the occupation selection for the customer. The original data would need to be categorised to fit into this new system.  I enjoyed finding out how the Build team fixed problems and added functionalist that other competitors were not doing.

From this point I would need to have a meeting with the different areas of the business, Financial, Pricing, Build, Service and Customer to highlight any issues they can raise that I might not have seen. It was very useful to have this step, as I liked to have other people’s ideas collaborated into my solution as well as it being very interesting to see how other people solved problems. After this I would go back and discuss this with an Subject Matter Expert for the new system. Usually this would not prompt any major changes as I had a good understanding of the new system as it was quite logical.

So now that I had gathered all the info and approvals from all affected sides of the business I could create the slides to present to the business. I had to make sure I tailored the slides for both technical and non-technical people. It had to connect with the rest of the slides and it had to display the areas of the business it is effecting.

This was just one day in the 2 years I have been here. If you can experience this in that time ask yourself what you could experience with 364.

IBM have really helped me progress my Presentation skills from talking to other IBMers and educational courses available in the apprenticeship. The progression I have had from doing my 3rd ever interview for the IBM apprenticeship 2 years ago to presenting my solutions to Senior members of the business has been amazing and I hope to develop my skills some more.

Thanks for reading my blog, feel free to check out other blogs on our site, and message me on LinkedIn if you have any further questions. (

Joe Barry.