NAW 2018: Dynamic apprentices to software engineers

This week is National Apprenticeship week 2018, Capgemini have a popular degree apprenticeship programme, you can find more details here. This article looks at the Alex Bance and Zoe Dawson who joined the Capgemini Dynamics team Software Engineers working with Microsoft Dynamics 365.

For the last 2 years the Capgemini Dynamics team have had apprentices join the team, this article shows how two of the apprentices manage work and study.

Alex Bance

What is the degree apprenticeship programme and how does it work?

The degree apprenticeship programme is an alternative to university, where you work full time and study during the evening and weekends. During the first ten weeks of the job, you are on a full time ALE (accelerated learning environment) that covers all the material in a comparable foundation year of a computer science degree. I studied Java and SQL during these ten weeks. I already had knowledge both Java and SQL, however, there were many people in the same cohort as me that didn’t know what they were. After ALE I joined the business and began working full time. You then attend lectures and do quizzes and coursework around the working day which is usually around eight hours a week.

How did you hear about the degree apprenticeship programme?

I heard about the programme when two apprentices did a talk at Woking College, where I was studying at the time. I then attended an event in London to learn more about Capgemini and the degree apprenticeship programme. Since working for Capgemini, I’ve had the pleasure of representing the company at several external events where I talked to many potential degree apprentices.

How do you manage studying and work?

Balancing study and work is fairly easy; lectures are easy to attend as they are scheduled in the evenings, which means there are very unlikely to clash with any work based events. Capgemini also provides us with study leave, enabling us to effectively balance study and work, so for big pieces of study for exams and some coursework , you would request study leave so that you don’t try and balance too much at once.

How you have found the degree apprenticeship programme?

I have found the degree apprenticeship programme fantastic! I knew that I didn’t want to go to university but the field I wanted to be in (software engineering) for the most part required a relevant degree. Therefore, the programme provided the perfect solution for me; I’m able to work in a field that I want to be in and study towards a degree at the same time. At work I am given the opportunity to expand my skills to a level that wouldn’t be possible at university as well as gaining experience which, in my opinion, is worth its weight in gold.

Summary of your previous roles and projects

After finishing ALE, I was working within Capgemini’s Applied Innovation Exchange, I was part of a two-person team where we did rapid prototyping using mainly Microsoft technologies. I worked extensively with Azure and Cognitive services as well as expanding my knowledge and experience of C#.

I attended a week-long Dynamics 365 course, which at the end of I sat and passed the Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016 Customisation & Configuration exam.

I then joined a Dynamics 365 project for a public sector client, during which I expanded my knowledge of Dynamics 365 significantly. I worked within a scrum team mainly fixing defects after a couple of months I moved to a testing role within the same project.

Your current project

I joined my current project in late September of 2017, again for a public sector client. I’m part of a small development team working on a CRM system.

Would you recommend the programme and why?

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the programme, as I’ve already expressed I think the combination of studying towards a degree and gaining experience is priceless. The programme lasts four and a half years, which is only half a year longer than a standard degree with a year in industry and you come out the end of it with a job and four and a half years of relevant experience. On top of that, Capgemini is a fantastic company to work for, the people are great and there is always someone willing to lend you a hand if you need it.

Where you see yourself in the future

Before I joined Capgemini, I had wanted to be a developer for a long time so I’d like to carry on doing that for the foreseeable future.

Zoe Dawson

What is the degree apprenticeship programme and how does it work

The degree apprenticeship programme allows you to study for a degree funded by Capgemini, while also working full time. So 9–5:30 is normal office hours, and then when we get home, we watch recorded lectures, attend tutorials and do coursework. When I started the programme, we did the first year of university as a higher apprenticeship provided by QA, which was coursework based; we then went on to enrol at Aston University starting at 2nd year. Each year of university is taught over an 18-month period, so I will graduate in August 2019. Each block of modules is around 6 months and at the end of each is 3–4 exams, depending on the modules being taken.

How did you hear about the degree apprenticeship programme

I found it online after looking at alternatives to doing a degree at university.

How do you manage studying and work

It can sometimes be difficult; generally, I tend to wait until I finish my current block of modules to focus on my work related objectives and certifications, as there is usually a gap of a few weeks to a month before the new modules start. However, if I get behind on my uni work, I then have to book a few days of study leave to catch up, so it’s really important for me to stay up to date with everything.

How you have found the degree apprenticeship programme

Although it’s been challenging, I have found it interesting to be able to put what I am studying into practice at work. I think it has been helpful in terms of performing better in my role; for example, drawing UML diagrams and implementing the observer model are a lot easier to do when you have used them in previous coursework that you have recently written. It is also reassuring to know that once I have graduated, I will have attained the almost obligatory 3+ years of experience and software engineering degree requirements for most job applications in the IT industry.

The ability to take study leave from work is invaluable, but most HAs still have to come to terms with both missing out on “the uni experience” and not having that much of a social life for a few years. In theory, the programme is great; it gets you a degree with no student debt, a full paid job, career progression and all important work experience in the IT sector. In practice, for some it can be challenging, frustrating and overwhelming at times.

Summary of your previous roles and projects

I have worked on two projects since joining Capgemini, both for over a year; I have just started on my third role. The first was a large facilities management/outsourcing provider, where I worked as a tester for around a year. After this, I was put on a project for a large public sector organisation, and was finally able to fill a development role, which I worked on for a year and a few months.

Your current project

I am now in a short-term role in application discovery.

Would you recommend the programme and why

I would recommend the programme, but would say it is a full on, challenging way to gain a degree. Being able to both gain experience and a degree at the same time means you meet the requirements of many IT roles faster than if you get the degree and experience one after the other. The prospect of having no student debt is also definitely appealing, Although it is a more challenging route, it is definitely rewarding.

Capgemini also offers a good level of progression, and treats apprentices and non-apprentices equally; you won’t be stuck making the tea for three years.

Where you see yourself in the future

I would like to stay with Capgemini after my degree, and gain some more experience, before maybe moving into game development, which is something I’ve always wanted to try. I don’t really have any definite plans, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be working in something to do with IT.