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My Opinion! What Is It Really Worth? – Gus Parkhouse

An opinion is a view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. It could also be a statement of advice by an expert on a professional matter. The following is my opinion of the IBM Apprenticeship scheme, although I am not an expert on this matter.

I considered a lot of points when writing this blog, but the main one I kept coming back to was the stigma I thought would be attached to the title of apprentice. I was concerned about being at the lowest entry point in the company and being treated differently because of this. Therefore, I wanted to make a positive impression as quickly as I could after joining the company to help tackle this worry. I also thought the people in IBM would judge me for doing an apprenticeship instead of going to university, but working alongside and talking to graduates showed me that there are benefits to both paths.

After a few days into the scheme, and when all the admin work was completed, I was quickly shown that I was not seen in this negative light at all for being an apprentice. I was treated with respect from the moment I met with my peers and felt very welcomed. This was quickly reinforced when I was given a large amount of responsibility for work deliverables in a short amount of time. The perception was set that I was trusted and this gave me good expectations for my future as an IBM apprentice.

During the first days I also had a chance read through an online description of the scheme. It mentioned that I would be considered a permanent employee and the scheme would be flexible with the roles, work-life balance, exposure, experience and great benefits that are offered to all the staff. These are all true and, put simply, it does what it says on the tin. The apprenticeship scheme provides a more than adequate amount of training; helping me to develop my technical, business and personal skills. The two week intensive induction provides a good cushion of technical and business knowledge to fall back on if necessary. The induction also helped me to ask any questions about the scheme out in front of other apprentices who may have the same worries.

On the scheme I have developed a great social and work colleague network around me that consists of early professionals, distinguished engineers, managers and senior employees. This network helps me to develop in my role, which I see as being the most important aspect of the scheme for me and the business as a whole. Within this network I have an early professional’s manager (EPM) that helps me with queries that aren’t related to my account, no matter how small they may seem. This is incredibly supportive as apprentices can be quite young and in need of a mentor to be able to talk to whenever it is necessary. My EPM has also helped me to develop through routine reviews to gain feedback, work on a development program and see what is necessary to progress in my career.

To emphasise how strong my network as an apprentice at IBM is, I have been assigned two “buddies” who are more experienced apprentices. The two buddies I have been assigned have been able to help me with work, as they are both in the same role as me, and help me with any queries I have about the scheme, as they have experienced it themselves.

The time it took to get onto the scheme was lengthy. There were times when I wouldn’t hear from the IBM team for a while and the gap between the assessment centres was quite nerve wracking. However, my assessment results were sent out quickly. The HR team were very obliging during the application and on-boarding process, helping me to feel at ease with starting and creating a good first impression.

There are a lot of apprenticeship schemes available in this day and age, but my opinion is that this is the best suited for me as it caters to my need to grow and develop continuously.

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My opinion of the IBM Degree Apprenticeship – Megan Murray

Hello!

For my blog this quarter I decided to cover my opinion of the Degree Apprenticeship Scheme… and as a painfully honest person it’s always a little bit scary to voice your opinion on anything; let alone when your employer and people responsible for your future career will be reading what you have to say!

A summary for those of you reading who may not be aware of the scheme – the IBM Degree Apprenticeship is a part time degree over 4 years in Digital & Technology Solutions (Computer Science and Business essentially), and we attend Queen Mary University of London twice a week during term time and work at IBM for the rest of the time as normal employees. This year was the first year of the scheme and after a couple of weeks of exams the first year of uni will be complete!

The first opinion I guess I’d have to give is that it is hard work… you get plenty of uni students who struggle and they’re often not even having to balance going to work for one of the biggest tech/business companies alongside it all! It can be stressful and difficult to keep up with everything you’ve got going on, plus depending on your background, the content can be tough to get your head around, especially if you’re trying to learn stuff for work at the same time! Thankfully though IBM really are very flexible with it all and if you’re struggling, there is always something that can be done or someone who can help, but resilience definitely goes a long way.

The second thing is the number of opportunities to do something else in addition to your ‘everyday’ apprenticeship, it’s astounding! For me I wanted to fully focus on university and getting through first year until I really got involved in anything else, but I can’t wait to start to get stuck in to some other events and opportunities that are open to apprentices.

Thirdly, it’s massively rewarding… even more so because it is difficult. Whether it’s passing a mid-term or handing in a piece of coursework, or doing something to really help your team, or taking part in some Giveback. You are praised for what you do achieve, and supported in what is more difficult. The apprenticeship scheme at IBM is recognised and you are appreciated. It’s difficult not to be proud of yourself when everyone is telling you how much you should be when taking on a degree and work at the same time!

Finally, because it is a central reason why many people take apprenticeships, it’s undeniably a huge attraction not having to pay your uni fees and get in all that debt. They’re covered by the Government and IBM, plus you get a salary so technically you almost get paid to go to university, plus you get tons of real world experience and knowledge too… and that’s pretty sweet whichever way you look at it.

In summary, I guess my opinion is that if you’re willing to put in the hard work and dedication then this scheme is a really good option. It’s rewarding, comes with plenty of opportunities, gives you the chance to learn loads of new stuff and kick starts your career… I don’t think anybody could say that isn’t a good choice.

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

6 months! Feels more like 6 weeks! – Megan Murray

It’s official, next week will mark 6 months to the day that I joined IBM. I’m still so new, but now, already in that time, so many more new starters have joined and are even newer than me! I’m Megan, new to IBM and new to this blog, so … Hi!

I’m from the midlands, went to school, sixth form, had a couple of part time jobs whilst there, and had some idea around going into a design/marketing job after I had finished studying. I applied to study a foundation degree in art & design to see if it was what I really wanted to do before committing to university, and I didn’t even make it to enrollment. I thought travelling Europe would be a far better way to spend that time (and I wasn’t wrong!) The other important revelation though was that I didn’t want another year in school to see if a design-y job was for me, I wanted to see if I could cut it in the real world. My Dad was the one who suggested I look at internships with the likes of IBM, suggesting I could use my love of design in a more practical way, for a job in consulting maybe, or in marketing to aid communication. As soon as I started my research I realised this would be the perfect company to gain a year’s work experience with and I applied.

I completed the application form, agonising over whether I’d have a chance in a million; I completed the horrible IPAT, feeling certain that I had failed. Each stage had such a long wait for the email to say I was through to the next filter, but I made it to London for the assessment centre, completed the group tasks and I sat down in front of my interviewer ready with my presentation about myself and IBM. The question that threw me in that interview: ‘Why didn’t you apply for an apprenticeship?’. Honestly, it was because when I had first applied I had only wanted work experience, to see if it was for me, to help decide what to do next, but this no longer applied, I knew I wanted to work here, I like learning and I wanted to gain qualifications as well as skills… so, I was moved from Futures onto the apprenticeship application track.

It got to the time I was leaving to go travelling and I still hadn’t heard much, I thought my chances would be ruined because I was away and wouldn’t be able to go to London for interviews. However, IBM understood, I had phone calls on the roof of a hostel in Munich, in Vienna, a failed phone call in Rome thanks to building works, then more calls on a beach in northern Italy, then France. My application process was by no means a normal one, but everyone is different. I was in the south of France when it was confirmed I was being hired by IBM as an apprentice; it wasn’t till all the admin came through a week later on iffy WIFI on an old computer in a hostel in Barcelona that I actually allowed myself to believe I had it.

A month or two later and I had moved to London, started and completed the 2 week induction and got started in to my role supporting a software sales team.

6 months after starting and my role has evolved and expanded as I’ve settled in. It feels like it’s been no more than 6 weeks, but when I look at how much I have done, how much I have learnt and the opportunities I have had, well, no art & design foundation degree could of taught me all of that.

Stepping into IBM – Gus Parkhouse

More than 872,000 people were employed on government funded apprenticeships during the 2014/2015 academic year and I was fortunate enough to be one of them at IBM. I wanted to join the IBM apprenticeship scheme because I saw our products everywhere and heard how IBM worked with the majority of big corporations. I wanted to be involved in that!

When I first got the email and phone call that I had been accepted onto the IBM apprenticeship scheme I was overwhelmed by a wave of emotions, I was ecstatic, nervous, apprehensive and proud – all at the same time. I didn’t even know this was possible. I, of course, immediately informed my Mum and passed on the good news.

Once the excitement had simmered down a bit, I was overtaken by nerves and a sense of worry that I wouldn’t have the knowledge or experience to competently perform the role I was going to be assigned. Over the next few days from receiving the good news I was swarmed by emails informing me of the next steps, what I needed to send in and what I needed to complete before my start date (the more admin side of things). I knew these emails were meant to be helpful but, honestly, it just made me more nervous. Fortunately the foundation team set up a call for the new apprentices to chat to a foundation early professional’s manager and learn more about what to expect on the induction course. This was great as I felt like I was finally getting to know some of my peers, albeit over the phone.

I really wanted to get their opinions of the hiring process and how they found it all. The general consensus seemed to be the same as mine: that the online skills test was impossibly hard but somehow we passed it and the interviews, as daunting as they were, were actually quite nice once I got over my nerves and managed to string a few sentences together. It was a great opportunity to showcase past experiences. Whilst waiting to start the apprenticeship I kept thinking which ever role I got, technical or business, I would definitely need training to make sure I had the adequate skills required. I thought the overall hiring process was quite long but looking back at it I think, with the vast amount of applicants, it couldn’t really be shortened or it might seem a bit rushed. As my start date got closer I couldn’t help but feel a bit scared and intimidated that I would be joining a team of more experienced IBMers and may not meet their standards.

Once I started on my induction course I was very promptly met by the other new apprentices, who I’m happy to say were both excited and nervous about the apprenticeship as well. It was nice to get to know my fellow apprentices finding out about their backgrounds and what prompted them to apply in a quick “ice breaker” session. Over the course of the two week induction there was a lot of information to take in, ranging from how to use our new laptops down to how binary works. I feel that although the information I was being taught was helpful it was all completely necessary, but I am finding a lot of it is coming in handy as I’m going through the apprenticeship. On the first day I met my Early Professionals Manager who was incredibly helpful and welcoming which was great as I found out I’d be meeting with him quite regularly. The first week was very “new joiner” focused like getting through documentation and health and safety. I’d say a lot of this I knew before I had started but it had to be covered. The second week was a lot more intense and interactive as we were learning about different parts of technology that we may come across. At the end of the technology week we split into groups and presented a final presentation on what we learnt over the two weeks and what were the key points to us.

During my induction I was contacted by an IBMer and informed that I was placed in an Infrastructure Architect role which was incredibly exciting. I’ve never had a job role like that before it sounded like unlimited possibilities. Not so bright but early on Monday morning I arrived at work to meet my new manager and peers, I was keen to learn more about my role and to make a great first impression as I knew I’d be around my team mates a lot. When I arrived in the office I was greeted by my line manager who was quick to introduce me to the rest of the team in the office. This consisted of 3 other apprentices and 4 senior architects. As the day went on I got to know my team and what they were working on – they were all very inviting and knowledgeable. The apprentices within the room took me for a brew and a chat to impart some early tips and advice for starting up. Unsurprisingly there first tip was to do the mandatory education first so that you have time freed up for my project when I’m aligned to one. The other apprentices in my team had a lot of tips to pass on and just proved what I had been told by my early professional’s manager on my induction that “Everyone is willing to help and share information”. So no surprise I decided to get started on the learning I had been assigned for both on boarding and for my architecture role. I was slightly overwhelmed by the amount of learning I had to do straight away, although I have not used a lot of it I can see parts of it being useful in the future. Through doing the education and chatting to the team I was able to learn an exceptional amount about my new role and began to want an account to do work for.

Within a few weeks of starting at IBM I had been assigned a task manager and an account, and I was quickly given work to do for my task manager. I quickly learnt that I was capable to deliver the work being asked of me and asked for more to help stretch my comfort zone and hopefully learn faster. My mentor and task manager understood I was an apprentice and helped me only when I needed it – so I was not spoon fed. Once I had the workload under control I wanted to get some further training which IBM agreed to put me on to continually grow as an employee and a person in general. I am proud to be an IBMer!

IBM Apprenticeship – What’s not to like? – William Spiers

Firstly, I feel as though I should introduce myself – I’m Will Spiers, first time blogger and fresh apprentice, with only a year at IBM so far! For this post I am going to discuss my opinion and experience of the IBM Apprenticeship scheme, the good bits and the bad bits (are there any genuine pitfalls… we shall see).

So, how did I end up here, and why? After leaving college with my newly achieved A levels in Business, Statistics and Geography, (no IT based subjects I hear you say… let’s broach that one later!) I was left with two choices: university or a full-time job. Whilst I had the grades for university, there was no subject I felt passionate enough about to be certain I wanted to chuck tens of thousands of pounds – and years of my life – at. So I was left with the full-time job option – let a life-time of standard 9-5s begin! Initially I took to full time work in a label printing business, which in my mind was only temporary, and during this time my awareness of Apprenticeships grew and I began trawling through the National Apprenticeship website on almost a daily basis. However, for the most part I still remained uninspired. I wanted something with the potential to try new things, and many of the more traditional “trade” Apprenticeships (in industries like electrics and carpentry) did not interest me. Persistence was key though, as eventually I stumbled across the IBM offering – the name pulled me in initially, followed by the description and what seemed like potential for varying opportunities.

In order to leave you with a nice positive feeling of the scheme I thought it best to start with the pitfalls – are there any?! Well truthfully for me yes there are some… is any scenario perfect? But (and that’s a big but) they are minor and apply to Apprenticeships generally rather than specifically the IBM scheme. Firstly, it’s the age old one of not moving out of home like you do when you go to University, which it seems these days is becoming almost a rite of passage! However, with the IBM scheme there are so many opportunities to travel and move around, and this has almost faded away for myself, and hey for some this may be a positive. Secondly – and I think what follows may be slightly obvious, so I’ll just come out with it – the Holidays! There are no more 8 weeks plus off in the summer, but I’m getting used to it! As you may have noted these are some pretty minor gripes and none actually apply to the Apprenticeship specifically, more work in general, which I think speaks volumes as to how good the scheme has been for me so far.

Moving on to the positives, which certainly come to me more easily than the negatives. Let’s start with something I mentioned previously – my lack of IT qualifications. Coming into the scheme this is something I thought may hinder me, however, everything I’ve needed to learn has been taken from the very basics. This is a great attribute to the scheme for me and it’s allowed me to try my hand at something new. Alongside this it’s not just technical opportunities, there are many different aspects and lots of more business-style roles to explore if this is your thing. In addition, the potential for change is one of the most significant benefits to me. Despite having only been here a year so far, it is already becoming apparent that I have so many different options for learning and career paths, be it technical, managerial etc. For me, at only 21 years of age, this is so important. Personally I feel these days it’s an early stage in my life to commit to a lifelong career, so having these options has really helped me not feel trapped down one specific career path with no opportunity for lateral progression or change! Now I could go on for a fair while about the positives of the scheme, but I want to keep it fairly brief, so allow me to just explore one more. The people! Being at IBM gives you the opportunity to draw knowledge from willing, industry-leading experts in so many different fields. This means that any subject I want to explore, I am almost certain there will have been people at IBM who have been down that road before and are now experts, and in my experience these people always seem happy to help and encourage.

I want to finish this post with one last note. When I first became involved in the blog, I took some time out to read through many of the previous posts, and the thing that really stood out to me was the achievements of some of the other bloggers who have been around a bit longer. It really highlights what’s possible with some hard work and the opportunities the scheme has to offer!

Will Spiers

Welcome to the team…

blogLogo2

Clock-wise from top left: Sean Bell, Oliver Pope, Thomas Cope, Ryan McManus, Samuel Mcauley, Hollie Sauvage, Adam Stankevitch

“Beginnings are always messy” – John Galsworthy, Nobel Prize for Literature 1932

“And here. We. Go.” The Joker, played by Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Here’s to living up to those fine words … please welcome the new IBM Apprentice Blog team. Each one of the above photos belongs to an IBM Apprentice who is now an official author and contributor to the IBM Apprenticeship blog. Exciting stuff!

Watch this space for weekly blogs (starting next week with Hollie Sauvage) introducing you to the team, their roles, their experiences and anything else that makes for good reading! Make sure you keep an eye out as well for guest contributions on Sales School (I’m sure lots of learning was had!) and updates from the Connecting Women in Foundation project.

If you want to get involved, there’s still plenty of time, please contact Oliver Pope (olivpope@uk.ibm.com) to get your picture on the banner!

See you next week, it’s going to be great.