Frances Mahony

Employer:  Shell Energy
Job Title: Apprentice Software Engineer
University:   The Open University
Programme Title:  BSc (Honours) Digital and Technology Solutions
Start date: September 2019

Recommendation by Andy Hollyhead, Practice Tutor, Open University

Frances has faced numerous challenges since starting her apprenticeship at Shell Energy both within the working environment and outside. She has tackled all of them with the same pragmatism that secured her original position within the organisation.  Frances works within an agile team following the Scrum methodology and both her contribution and Java programming skills have been recognised and are highly valued by her team. She is committed to creating solutions and tools which meet the needs of business users. Academically, Frances continues to excel on the DTSP programme, recognising the need to go the extra mile to gain the high marks that she continually strives for. The difficulties of moving to remote working – an issue many apprentices have faced over the last fifteen months – have been embraced by Frances and she has risen to the challenge. As she nears the end of her second year, and starts her Software Engineering specialism, she is looking forward to the opportunities of honing her skills further in her chosen career. 

In conversation with Frances

Please describe your current role.

My role is as an Apprentice Software Engineer. I work within a software engineering team that specialises in developing solutions relating to energy suppliers’ interactions with Smart Meters.  This includes building tools for the business users as well as automating the communications to and from meters at customers’ addresses.

What do you do on a typical day at work?

The teamwork in an agile way following the scrum methodology.  This means that there are scrum ceremonies that I attend on a daily basis.  In these, we discuss progress and anything that is blocking us.  We also elaborate on initial user stories to gain a shared understanding of the problem and the various options we have to solve it.    We also have a number of other regular sessions for example:

  • retrospectives to consider things that will help us improve as a team.
  • Sprint planning to agree to the goals of the coming sprint (2 weeks)
  • Sprint review/ show and tell  where we share what we have delivered with any and all interested parties

I also regularly pair with other team members to collaborate on the development of a specific solution. Often the business users need tools to allow them to perform specific business processes.  We assist by developing those tools.  This requires close interaction with the users to develop tools that deliver exactly what they want.

What has been the best experience of your Tech Industry Gold degree apprenticeship?

I’ve found it very exciting to be learning new things. It’s been incredibly rewarding learning how to code; the frustration of working out the problem and being rewarded with the satisfaction of getting something working.  Doing this in a collaborative way with other apprentices or with more seasoned professionals is really satisfying.

What has been the most challenging experience of your Tech Industry Gold degree apprenticeship?

Returning to education has been a bit of a challenge. I’ve needed to learn better ways of managing my time.

It’s also been difficult finding a work/life balance especially during the preceding 12 months when stepping away from work has been naturally more difficult.  (working from home, laptop ever-present)

What has your employer done to help with your degree apprenticeship that you particularly appreciate?

The people I work with at Shell Energy have been very supportive and enthusiastic regarding my studies. My line manager has changed over the term of my apprenticeship, however, they have both allowed me the space I’ve needed to focus on my university work whilst at the same time giving me the support I need.  The members of my team are always eager to help even when they are extremely busy and have competing priorities.

What has your training provider/college/university done to help you with your degree apprenticeship that you particularly appreciate?

In particular, I especially appreciate the support I have received from my practice tutor. There have been times where I have felt quite overwhelmed with the workload and balancing my time and he has been incredibly helpful and supportive.

What advice would you give someone considering a Tech Industry Gold degree apprenticeship?

I think it’s an amazing opportunity to begin a career in tech, especially if you come from a non-technical background. You not only get a qualification but practical experience working in the field. It’s hands-on, everything you learn you can see being applied directly in real-world scenarios.

What are your career plans?

My plan is to learn as much as I can and then follow where my interests take me.

There are numerous avenues within software engineering and lots of them are available to me at Shell Energy.  I have yet to choose what to specialise in.  Whatever route I choose I may want to pivot and choose something else in the future.

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