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September 18, 2020
Training alternatives unlock new talent
By: Rob O'Connor

Rising star Rob O’Connor is working on projects that apply technology to help support communities.

As a software engineer, Rob O’Connor spends most days developing Alexa skills, cloud infrastructure and working with virtual reality and augmented reality. He also takes the time to share this technology at Accenture-sponsored events for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The technology excites the teens, but it’s Rob’s story that lights them up. Rob grew up on a council estate in Ireland and struggled in school because he wasn’t interested in what was being taught. He found his path through an Accenture apprenticeship as part of the Movement to Work initiative.

“I share in detail what happened when I was growing up,” Rob says. “People I grew up with, who lived on the same estate as me, a few doors up, are now in prison while others have criminal records, some have killed themselves. As soon as I explain this to these young people, I immediately get their attention. They can relate.”

“Then I say I managed to get myself out of that situation,” he adds. “I wasn’t going to go down that path.”

This brought Rob to London where he worked at Harrods demonstrating toys.

“I was obsessed with solving this Rubik’s Cube and I got very good at it,” he recalls. “I think that’s when I realised I really enjoy solving problems. When I’m able to solve a complex problem, it feels good.”

He decided he wanted a job that allowed him to do that and immediately started noticing ads for software engineers on job sites. This presented a new kind of puzzle: with no university degree and having never written a line of code, how could he qualify for one of these jobs?

An internet search led him to Movement to Work. He applied, interviewed and landed an apprenticeship at Accenture.

“That was the start of a huge change in my life. That change progressed and just kept offering more and more opportunities to the point where I’ve excelled in university, at work and have been interviewed live on Sky News – twice,” says Rob, who won a Rising Star award at the Movement to Work awards after graduating from the University of Roehampton with a First.

In addition to speaking to young people about apprenticeships – which he calls “education’s best-kept secret,” Rob is also using his new skills on projects that utilise technology for the good of communities.

While working as an Alexa developer with Liquid Studio, an Accenture rapid prototyping team, he participated in a hackathon where a colleague wanted to use Alexa to help his grandmother. They quickly created a proof of concept for “Homecare” by combining Alexa with a mobile phone messaging tool.

“It sparked the idea: ‘what if we could help older people live more independently and stay in contact with the people they care about, or their carers, just by using the power of their voice?” he says.

As part of a trial, Rob’s team invited older people into Accenture to explain the technology and ask them what would be helpful for them. New additions included a medication reminder, mental health resource and integration with the community event site Meet-Up.

For Rob, it pointed him towards a new obsession, health tech, where he hopes he can develop cutting-edge technology and continue to give back to the wider community. His contribution is a chain reaction that began with Movement to Work.

“You don’t always have to get amazing grades and go to university, there are other options,” Rob says. “That’s where I think Accenture is coming into these communities and is having a huge impact.”

To learn more please visit: movementtowork.com

Read how we are creating positive impact in the UK for our people, our communities and our planet.


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