Poppy Pinner

Employer:    Goldman Sachs
Job Title:  Software Engineer (Investment Banking Division)
University:  Queen Mary University of London 
Programme Title:  Digital and Technical Solutions (Software Engineer) 
Start date: Sept 2018

In conversation with Poppy

Please describe your current role.

I am a Full-stack software engineer – working mainly in Java, JavaScript/HTML/CSS and associated frameworks, MongoDB, SQL. Also acting scrum master for my regional team’s Agile SDLC.

What do you do on a typical day at work?

I work on the development of a core internal application used by Bankers. This involves front-end development, as well as service and database management. This work is done in collaboration with colleagues across the globe. We have daily stand-ups in my local team, a weekly global stand-up and bi-weekly sprint demos, planning, and retrospective sessions. Most recently, I have been working on developing a new tool for the division’s technology to help improve user adoption of new features. This task involved speaking with users frequently to obtain ideas and feedback, as well as writing a unit test suite and carrying out end-to-end testing within the application.

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

Definitely being a part of a team at work, fully immersed in the role from day one. The learning curve was initially intense, but after just a few weeks I had found my feet and since then I have been contributing to real systems and learning constantly – something which most other students have to wait until their work placement or graduation to have the opportunity to do. I have also formed lifelong friends and built a professional network from being in the office and having the opportunity to attend various talks and events through my employer.

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

Often the number of things we have to juggle as an apprentice can be quite difficult to manage, especially with added extra-curricular events and activities. I found early on that time management was one of the most important skills I needed to meet all my deadlines both at work and university, and the workload varied throughout the semester so it was not always guaranteed the schedule I set for myself would work. Over the years I have learned how to balance and pace myself throughout the semester and manage expectations with my manager. I find this helps me produce my best work in all areas of my degree apprenticeship, whilst also ensuring I take some time for rest and other interests such as competitive sport (via the university).

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

My team at work made an effort to co-ordinate my work tasks closely where possible to what I was learning at university at that time, to ensure I get the most benefit from the blended education. This means I will be studying a core concept on a Monday along with the other students, then using that knowledge and applying it, often in a more advanced approach and context, on a Wednesday. My colleagues were always willing to help fill in the gaps in my knowledge to help me succeed and often were intrigued to hear about my university work, offering interesting alternative resources from their own experience to provide me with further understanding of different modules.

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

In the work-based modules we were often encouraged to share knowledge and experience gained from work tasks with others in the session, spanning different pathways and companies, which was great for learning and fully understanding what it was we had worked on and why. I found QM lecturers understanding of the situation degree apprentices were in and I was also able to set my own boundary as to how much of the student life I wanted to be involved in. I think this is so important as it is often the major deterrent for people from pursuing work-based study, but I have still been able to be involved in societies and sports since my first year and it has enriched my overall experience both personally and professionally.

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

The biggest piece of advice I would pass on is to ask questions and be chatty. A key benefit of being an apprentice is the unique position of not being expected to know anything about the job or the working world in general (particularly in your first year) and so taking full advantage of this means you learn faster and better. Even using it to introduce yourself to new people from various teams and companies can open up new conversations, opportunities and give you a great stepping stone for the future.  You will be surprised how quickly you’ll find yourself leaning on the network you’ve created and been on the receiving end of the questions from others!

What are your career plans?  

I hope that I will receive an offer come September to return to the firm as a full-time Analyst after my final year exams, staying within IBD Engineering. I’ve absolutely loved my time with my current team and I feel I have more value to add to some of the longer-term projects which we have started during my time here.

Anything else to add?

I have seen a great improvement in the publicising of and accessibility to degree apprenticeships over the past three years since I’ve been an apprentice, and I’ve visited multiple schools both in my hometown and the London area to speak about the scheme and let students know that university isn’t the only route after school. I’d love to see this alternative option more widely known about in mainstream schooling as I believe it is the most comprehensive next step you can take to kickstart a career and work out the applications of your skills and interests within the real world.

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