The power of the apprenticeship

By Anita Jaynes on 3 February, 2020

To celebrate National Apprenticeship Week 2020 (3rd-7th February), The Business Exchange is helping to put the spotlight on our area’s young talent and why becoming an apprentice is a great route to gain skills and future employment.

Alice McNeil is an apprentice at Bath-based tech firm, Rocketmakers. Alice talked exclusively to TBE about her apprenticeship journey so far and what it’s like to be a young woman in tech. 

Why did you decide to go down the apprenticeship route?

I have to admit that after finishing my A-levels I knew that the academic route that most of my friends were taking wasn’t going to suit me. As I didn’t have any idea as to what sort of career I wanted to pursue I really couldn’t justify spending three plus years’ in a university classroom, studying and stressing about exams and amounting exponential debt for no guarantee of a job at the end of it. 

I knew I wanted to contribute to the ‘real world’ as quickly as possible. My apprenticeship ensured that after I completed my 16 week training course I could go straight back to Rocketmakers and start developing real projects within no time at all. The pace of this scheme was really important for me as I enjoy creating and developing projects much more than the theoretical studying of it. I love that projects I work on here are used by real customers, especially since Rocketmakers’ projects are almost exclusively ‘for-good’ and can improve people’s lives. 

When did you start the apprenticeship? How long is it? And what level(s) are you completing?

I was introduced to Rocketmakers through another company in Bath and was offered a six month internship here. I was able to work on social media campaigns, events and general operations. As a result of this opportunity, I grew an interest for coding and jumped at the chance to participate in a British Computing Society (BCS) Digital Industries Apprenticeship in Software Development through Rocketmakers and their connection with Mayden Academy (and their software development course). 

The 16 week intensive course at Mayden Academy started at the beginning of February, and it really felt like it was meant to be. Mayden Academy was my official training provider for the apprenticeship and they succeeded in teaching me an excellent baseline knowledge of Full-stack Software Development in just four months. After graduating from the coding bootcamp on Friday, I was back at the Rocketmakers office on Monday and working as a developer on one of our projects – the green energy company Pure Planet.

My apprenticeship is just over a year long, within that time I have to take two exams (BCS Level 4 Certificate in Software Development Methodologies and MTA / MCP programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3) and create a portfolio of evidence. I will also complete a final individual project to be graded by the British Computing Society. 

How are you finding it so far?

I am thoroughly enjoying my apprenticeship at Rocketmakers. The best thing about this company is the lack of hierarchical structure, meaning I have never been referred to as an apprentice or a junior developer, meaning I do forget I am technically an apprentice sometimes – I am just considered part of the Dev team. 

Knowing that every person in this office would make time in their day to help me to learn is really reassuring, especially as I am just starting out in my career in development. I haven’t ever experienced prejudice from my team about being a young female in tech and frankly wouldn’t have it! I pride myself on being judged for my skills and contribution as opposed to age or appearance. I understand that I am incredibly lucky to work in a judgement-free workplace with so many other benefits. I cannot recommend this job enough, the work-life balance is maintained with flexible hours, unlimited holiday and more team activities than I can list. Rocketmakers really are everything I could want from a workplace. 

What would you say to any other students thinking about going down the apprenticeship route?

Apprenticeships give you real world experience in a workplace with the chance to contribute to real projects. Not only is this a valuable asset to your CV but it’s an excellent and natural segway into a career. 

I would encourage other students considering apprenticeships to be proactive and to independently look for opportunities. The majority of small to medium-sized companies don’t advertise apprenticeship opportunities formally, so I would suggest researching local companies that are interesting to you and send them an introductory email. Outline who you are and what you are interested in and potentially attach your CV if you feel it’s appropriate. The company might not be offering apprenticeships (or internships) at the moment but follow up by asking if they could suggest any other companies in the same field that you could get in touch with instead. 

When you are inevitably asked to come into an office for an interview, remember that it is just as important that you feel that you’re a good fit for the company, as it is that they approve of you. The most significant factor in my apprenticeship being successful is the company environment and people I work with. Rocketmakers gave me the support and freedom I needed to pursue avenues that interested me, enabling me to find my dream job. You’ll spend a lot of time at work so it is important that the company will be able to help you grow and learn as a member of their team and as a person. 

What’s been your biggest learning so far?

If I had to pick one thing that I’ve had to learn as an apprentice software engineer it is that not knowing really is ok

Software is a really expansive industry and it is impossible to know everything as new technologies are released every day and implementations are unique for nearly every project. When I was just starting out on this journey to becoming a developer it was so easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of things I didn’t know. I had to learn very early on that not knowing the answer immediately was more than ok

What are your future aspirations/ goals? What would be your dream outcome at the end of the apprenticeship?

At the end of this apprenticeship I would like to keep on doing what I am doing and to stay at Rocketmakers (if they’ll have me!). Obviously I want to continue learning and improving as a developer but I do love the graphic design side of creating applications. I would like to explore the process moving from idea stage of a project, to designing and building a vision and eventually seeing it successfully being launched and used. At Rocketmakers we work with a lot of startups and scaleups who have innovative and interesting new ideas – this makes it the perfect place for me to continue to develop after my apprenticeship ends. 

Another more personal goal that I have is to be more proactive in encouraging underrepresented groups to explore tech as a career option. Unfortunately, the people that work in tech aren’t typically very economically or socially diverse. Last year, I organised a work experience week specifically catered to young women who weren’t necessarily considering tech as a viable career option. I am hoping to run another work experience week here to help change people’s misconceptions about development as an industry and show off how creative and social software development can be. 

Visit Rocketmakers online at: www.rocketmakers.com and to find out about Mayden Academy go to: https://mayden.academy