How I got into tech through apprenticeship

Hi! 👋🏾

My name is Hodan. I am a Junior Software Engineer.

I was able to get my foot in the door of tech by an apprenticeship scheme ran by Makers Academy. I decided to write this blog about my apprenticeship journey to show those who are interested in going into tech that there are other options than doing a coding bootcamp, going to university or being self-taught.

I specifically wrote this blog to talk about my own experience so there might be some changes or differences to the current curriculum.

What is Makers? 🧐

Makers Academy is London’s leading software development bootcamp. They provide a 16 week, full-time course which helps launch their student’s software engineering careers. They have trained thousands of developers, me included. The holistic learning style Makers provides gives their students the toolbox needed to thrive in the tech industry. Makers provide two pathways for their future students: bootcamp or apprenticeship.

What is Makers Apprenticeship? 🤔

Makers Apprenticeship is the route I took. Makers are a training provider for the Level 4 British Computing Society (BCS) Software Developer Apprenticeship which is the equivalent of a Foundation Degree. They work with a range of hiring partners offering apprenticeships in the UK.

Why did I choose to do an apprenticeship ? 🤷🏾‍♀

  • If you are interested in why I got into tech, I wrote a blog post ‘Why it’s Okay to be lost in your twenties’ about that.
  • But the reason why I specifically wanted to join an apprenticeship and not a bootcamp was because I would be guaranteed a position and would be paid from Day 1.

BCS Level 4 Software Developer apprenticeship

The expected time frame for this apprenticeship is 24 months but I started in Feb 2020 and completed by June 2021.

Figure 1: Makers Apprenticeship Timeline

During my apprenticeship, I completed a 3-month bootcamp for ‘off the job training’. After that, I went to placement which means I was assigned as member to a team within in my company. During my placement, I completed two exams (Knowledge Module and Vendor Qualification), as well as a portfolio and an employer reference. This was then submitted to BCS and I went to ‘Gateway’ in order to do my final synoptic project and complete my end point assessment interview.

Bootcamp 🪖 🎖

Photo by Mars on Unsplash

I attended a 3-month bootcamp were I learnt key skills and basics of Object-oriented programming. We were taught in Ruby and completed small tasks or programmes to manipulate data to develop our programming skills (looping, sorting, conditionals, etc) by ourselves or in a pair.

The main premise of the bootcamp was about self-led learning which is important in a developer’s career because the student will be constantly learning new concepts, languages, frameworks, etc.

Our cohort completed two group projects which is a microcosm of how actual development teams work. We were expected to implement a project, create and delegate tickets, do testing, etc. We then present the final project in a showcase which is available for the public to attend.

Placement

Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

Portfolio ✍🏾

The portfolio is a document which contains real-life work I completed during the placement. The document should include examples that fulfil a criteria set by BCS that prove I was a well-rounded developer. I was able to spend my Fridays focusing on completing this.

Knowledge Module 📇

The knowledge module is an exam provided by BCS about Software Development Methodologies. This exam tests the student’s knowledge and understanding about theory and techniques of Software Development methodologies. I had to know about:

  1. all the stages of the software development lifecycle
  2. different types project management methodology such as agile and waterfall
  3. understand the different roles in a development team

Vendor Qualification 📇

The vendor qualification is a certification that students have to complete to prove your competence in a software language. This could be in any language you are confident in. I completed the Microsoft 70–480 Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3 certification to fulfil this requirement.

Employer Reference 🏢 📑

This was a reference provided by my employer. It should, like the portfolio, prove my competency in the BCS 18 standard point criteria.

Gateway

Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

Synoptic Project 👩🏾‍💻

The synoptic project is the final project you complete. I was expected to do this project after I submitted everything in for Gateway.

I was given 4 projects to choose from and I had to implement it within a 40-hour exam. I was expected to:

  • complete the minimum viable product (MVP)
  • tested the application (unit, integration)
  • written documentation for how to use it
  • provide a detailed document about the process of making the application, reasoning for decisions and features, and what I would have done differently

End Point Assessment Interview 🗣

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

The interview will happen after submitting everything. Before the EPA interview, the accessor would have went through all the work you have submitted prior in order to ask the apprentice questions in the interview. After the interview, they will grade you holistically.

What qualifications did I gain

  • I achieved a LV4 apprenticeship
  • A Certification on Software Methodologies
  • Microsoft 70–480 Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3 Certification
  • Received RITTech (the professional register for IT Technicians) status for free which lasts for 2 years.

My Experience

Applying and Interview process 💼

The interview process went through 3 steps.

I applied via Makers website. I signed up to the apprenticeship pool to be informed about an incoming cohort. Then I was emailed that my company were hiring apprentices and applications were now open.

I was given some coding exercises to complete. It was a Ruby course on Codecademy about the basics of Object-Oriented programming.After completing that, I was given a mini online exam to confirm my capabilities.

Then there was a phone interview with Makers. Once I passed this phone interview, I passed onto a list of applicants to be interviewed by my future employer.

I was then emailed by my employers that they would like to see me for an interview. They explained their plan for how the apprenticeship should go and asked me standard interview questions. Luckily, I was accepted.

Bootcamp 🪖🎖

Bootcamp was the most beneficial experience for me for someone who has never done anything programming or tech related at all. I was able to learn the key concepts of programming that’s language agnostic such as:

  • Data structures, looping, conditionals, sorting, etc
  • Testing
  • Coding conventions
  • Refactoring
  • Debugging

There was also a focus on soft skills in emotional intelligence and meditation workshops in order to handle stress. This included daily meditation sessions and also group yoga.

Overall the bootcamp taught me good habits I need in order to become a great developer.

Placement 🏢

During placement, my employer decided for us to rotate between three different teams with another apprentice and then afterwards we would decide where we wanted to stay. I felt like this was a great approach because I had a buddy as well as being able to work on different teams, projects and tech.

Synoptic Project 👩🏾‍💻

For a lot of people, me included, found the synoptic project pretty stressful. I think that was the most stressful part of the whole journey, it’s a 40 hour exam.

But, we were expected to prepare beforehand. Luckily, the other apprentices and I had help from seniors within the company which I am very thankful for.

Conclusion

What I learnt? 👩🏽‍🏫

The 3-months Bootcamp gave me the toolbox of skills and tools for my developer career. I learnt how to create programmes and projects following conventions of object-oriented programming and software development methodologies for project management. The bootcamp provided me with a microcosm of how software engineering works in the real world. I also learnt how to learn new skills in general. I learnt how to do self-led learning. This came in handy during placement because it was a huge learning curve.

The placement structure that my line manager laid out for me allowed me to have experience with working on different services, areas and also dealing with different responsibilities. I was able to work on front-end and focus on details of front-end components but also back-end work. I picked up different responsibilities such as On Duty roles and also even participated in showcases. Within a space of a year, I felt like I had some experience in different responsibilities within the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). I even had the opportunity to contribute to a project outside of my immediate team.

Tips for future learners 💡

The biggest tip for future Makers apprentices or anyone stepping into the tech industry with no prior experience is that it’s okay to make mistakes and it’s okay to ask for help. The most difficult part for me during the whole journey wasn’t learning a new language or new tech but having the courage to contribute, asking for help and being okay with getting stuff wrong. I think these are common issues that many people face regardless of what industry you work in.

The way I overcame was by reminding myself that I am not expected to get everything right and in fact, I am expected to ask for help and make mistakes. I still get the gnawing feeling of imposter syndrome but I cannot improve my skills without challenging myself.

Would I recommend it? 🤔

I would recommend the Makers Apprenticeship to anyone who is interested into getting into tech industry and want to have guaranteed position and start getting paid at Day 1.

The UK government are planning to do major expansion in post-18 education and training to level up and prepare workers for the post-Covid economic rebuild. There is no better time than now to do a tech apprenticeship.

If you have any questions or queries about doing a software developer apprenticeship or you are thinking about applying for the Makers Apprenticeship scheme, please feel free drop a comment or send me a message on my socials! (Twitter, Instagram)

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