March 26, 2020
A degree apprenticeship was a no-brainer
By: Emily McGonagle

Deciding on a degree apprenticeship
I was about 14 years old when I knew I wanted to work in technology/computer science, so when considering my career options post A-levels, I thought that if I wanted to go into a field like software engineering, it would be better to have hands-on experience rather than pure theory knowledge. I think you can teach anyone the theory behind computer science but, that’s only useful when you start to apply it. Therefore, going to full-time university for three years compared to starting a job straight away that combined a degree was a no-brainer really.

Accenture came to a couple of open evenings at my school and there were a few apprentices and some senior people talking about the work they do and answering questions. They also bought some technology from their Innovation Zone which we could try out. The evening was so useful because people talked about their jobs and what they really do, rather than technology in general, and that’s what inspired me to apply. I also knew a few people that already worked here and got the impression from them that it was a good place to be and importantly it was very much a ‘people’ company that valued their employees and that appealed to me as well. Also, one of the main things about the apprenticeship scheme was that we were not going to be treated any differently – I knew it was a full-time job and you’d have real work rather than tasks that nobody else wanted to do, which made me feel like I would be doing valuable work.

Growing in my role
I started in August 2018, but it was not until December that I got on my first project (we call this being ‘On the Bench’). That first four months gave me a great opportunity to really focus on learning, studying and understanding how Accenture worked. I did have a bit of programming knowledge so was not coming in completely inexperienced, but when starting on my project the first few months were mainly spent shadowing my manager who would sit beside me and teach me how to do the work. Then, after a few months I started getting some work to do on my own. Since then, I’ve overseen projects within the team and have been training people myself - I went from being taught how to do things to teaching the new people who joined my team in around a year.

I work on prototype projects, not long-term ones and these generally last around two to four weeks. My job is a developer and I do everything from the backend to the frontend. I’m learning different programming languages all the time because we’re always using new technology and I’ve even worked with Alexa as well as more general web development.

University Life
In terms of study, I’m working towards the Digital Technology and Software Solutions degree at Sunderland University. Right now, we’re doing two modules – one is a work-based project which involves a report on what I’m doing at Accenture and the other module is learning the C# programming language. We have one day a week at university and during that day have two hour-long lectures, each followed by a three-hour lab. It’s all apprentices but there are a lot of people from other companies as well and, I guess although we feel like normal students, we do know that we’re not. We are tracked like normal students, but they tailor the course around the fact that we work – they use real-world examples and relate it back to our jobs and that means we can talk about how our jobs relate to the course which is very useful.

There is a lot of self-learning and as I’m in my second-year things are more advanced now so I’m finding that after the day at university I generally need to do additional study at home. But I think that is down to your own skill-level for the module you’re learning - I’m not great at C# so I tend to look over the course again to help me better understand everything.

We do get a lot of support from Accenture for our learning, including study days that we can take off. If we’ve got deadlines or assignments coming up, the managers here are really understanding and are good at ensuring you get the time to study and don’t feel weighed down.

Having options
I love the people and the environment here in Newcastle and once I finish my degree, I have high hopes of staying on here and working my way up. I’ve already been in talks with my career counsellor about what I’m going to do when I finish and what kind of path I want to go down. That said I’m keeping my options open and doing extra training courses so when I do finish, I can see where my strong points are and grow in that direction. Being at Accenture means I could join a different capability and learn a new skill set if I wanted to, rather than being confined to just development – the choice is yours.

If you’re considering your career options, my advice would be to think about what it is you really want. If you are interested in software engineering why wait for three years, then look for a job when you can just do it now? Get the experience and get your degree but also think about what you would find more enjoyable as well as what would make you feel more confident.

You can find out more about our apprenticeship opportunities via our website.

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