“Now I’m innovating everyday” — life as a degree apprentice

17.07.17

Graduating today at Aston University, James Gee is one of the UK’s first apprentices to achieve the Digital & Technology Solutions BSc — a trailblazer degree apprenticeship developed by employers in the Tech Partnership network. The young graduate completed his degree as part of the Level 6 apprenticeship programme with Capgemini.

James Gee

The Tech Partnership caught up with him ahead of the big day to find out about the programme. James recounted stories of his many successes — client side and personal — but also the lessons of balancing work and study while adapting to life as a young adult.

While he originally set his sights on a career in architecture, James’ interest in technology took shape during his GCSEs. He had always been excited by innovation and became fascinated by the role of tech in everyday life from a young age. From the brickish Binatone mobiles to the early iPhone incarnations, he loved seeing Moore’s law play out in real time. A work experience placement with a network engineer crystallised his desire to pursue a career in technology.

Binatone to iPhone

Fast-forward to the present, James now spends his days in Capgemini’s Applied Innovation Exchange in Holborn, London, dreaming up and developing new tech solutions for clients to deploy in the market.

The alternative degree

He studied A Levels in Geology, ICT, Physics and Maths with the hope of going on to study Computer Science at a top university. Usually students drop a subject in A2 year but James couldn’t decide so carried on with all four, achieving two As and two Bs.

He fell short of the necessary three As for his top two university choices, prompting a major rethink: he could enter clearing, take a gap year and reapply — or do something completely different. A family member had heard Capgemini was starting a degree apprenticeship scheme with Aston University so encouraged him to apply. The rest is now history.

Aston University

The apprenticeship began with a three-month boot camp at Aston University to learn the basics before hitting the road to work for clients around the country.

From his very first project, James saw how his work made a difference to clients. “My first project was for a public sector client — we were integrating two different software programmes to improve their IT service delivery. Five years later it’s still working, which is a real success — I think there’s only ever been one bug. Not many 18 year olds can claim that.”

“I can see the difference”

“Last year I worked on a transformation project for the police to help officers become more efficient in responding to calls. Whenever I see a police vehicle I can see the difference our technology solution has made to the service.”

Different perks

Apprentices learn most of their skills while working on projects. “I’m a practical learner so appreciated the ability to develop my skills on the job”, James explained. “In university, you rely on lab work to test what you learn in class. It’s been the opposite for me — I could spend 100 hours on Java programming for a client, then be studying the theory behind it for my degree. I’d fly through the course material as I’d seen it in action already.”

“Of course, compared to my friends on traditional university courses my apprenticeship was a less socially-focussed experience”, James said. “But both have different perks. I was getting a full time salary and would also socialise with colleagues after work, perhaps in more ‘upmarket’ places than my university friends.”

The apprenticeship was a personal challenge, too. The job-study split requires apprentices to take on responsibility for their own workload and study time. As a full member of staff, 18-year-old James had to book his own hotels, train tickets and fill out expenses. Even with support from dedicated mentors James said developing those life skills was tough to start with. “I had to grow up pretty quickly”, he said.

“I also went through a tough patch the year before last. My mother was in hospital so the distance was hard.”

Apprentice culture

Capgemini promotes a culture where ideas trump grades of seniority, he said, ensuring that everyone’s opinions are valued.

“I quickly learned that putting yourself out there and making mistakes early on helps in building you up as a professional. We were the first degree apprentices at Capgemini so no one knew what exactly was going to work well. But we proved ourselves as assets to the projects — at least as much as the traditional graduates.”

Interestingly, James said getting traditional graduates and apprentices to work together on projects produced great working environments: “You have the graduates with a strong theoretical background and apprentices with the on-the-job practical know-how. We view problems from different perspectives and come up with some really dynamic solutions.”

“I’m on a high right now”, James concluded, “I recently moved to a nice place in Notting Hill with my girlfriend to work in Capgemini’s Applied Innovation Exchange. It’s like being in a start-up — we come up with new ideas for clients and find ways of making them a reality. Innovation inspired me to pursue a career in tech and now I’m innovating every day.”

If you are interested in degree apprenticeships in technology, visit The Tech Partnership’s website: https://www.thetechpartnership.com/recruit-and-train/degree-apprenticeships/

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