Thursday, 12 July 2012

I've Got a Golden Ticket

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; one of my all time favorite films. The most memorable scene for me is where Charlie buys the chocolate bar, unwraps it slowly and realizes he has found a golden ticket. This is followed by an excited Charlie running home to give his family the great news. If your worrying that this blog has turned to film reviews, don't worry, there is a point to all this (I think). This scene is a perfect analogy for the day I have had.

Today, I took my SAP certification which, if I passed, would show my company and colleagues that I have the knowledge for the job I have been hired to do. It would also open up many doors in my job including new and exciting opportunities for progression in my career path. After a painstaking 3 hours and 80 questions later, I was ready to press the submit button. I took a few deep breaths, gave a short prayer and pressed the button. The hourglass appears and I now know I am seconds away from knowing my fate. Beads of sweat drip down my face and these agonizing seconds seem to last for hours. I close my eyes and several seconds later I slowly look up to see the following word: 'Congratulations'. I pump my fist in joy to the annoyance of the guy next to me who still hasn't finished. I leave the room and make haste to get back to work to announce my victory over SAP. With this, I have been told I am being primed to get some hands-on consultancy work next week which I have been unable to get so far in my year at the company.

The certificate I will receive shortly acknowledging my exam success is my 'Golden Ticket' and I can honestly say I know what Charlie was feeling. One thing I failed to do though which my friend Charlie couldn't resist; sing.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Guest Blog - The IT Side of Insurance

After being on holiday for the past few weeks coupled with revising for the biggest exam of my life, I am finally back to writing on this blog. To make it even easier for myself, I have for you this site's 2nd guest blog. This time Carline James (@carlinejames), a recent graduate at a top insurance company, has provided her insights into the graduate scheme she is on and the insurance industry. I hope you find her insights as compelling as I did...

I currently work in a bit of a hybrid role as a Business Analyst/Project manager at a large insurance company after graduating from Plymouth with a 2:1 in Computing. I was extremely fortunate to be able to return to my Company after completing my industrial placement with them and was thrown in at the deep end from day 1. Returning to work after an extremely hectic final year I was curious to see what life as a graduate would be like and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. In my first month alone I was working on a number of projects in our Commercial division, participating in our graduate recruitment and studying for my Certificate in Insurance which were all fantastic opportunities. I think this is the really great thing about where I work, each day is different and graduates are given high levels of responsibility right from the start.

The graduate population within our workplace is fantastic and a strong emphasis is placed on us being a real community. Our first week training involved team building activities apprentice style and learning about the nature of the business we would all be working in. As the week progressed all 27 of the new team became extremely close, collaborating more successfully in each task we undertook. The majority of schemes last 2 years, with the opportunity to move around to different divisions during this time. This gives a good understanding of what permanent role you want to go into and before the end of the 2 years grads work with their development manager to make their full transition into the company. We are always told the emphasis is placed on retaining graduates and ‘growing talent from within’, highlighting the company’s investment in their staff.

9 months in I have started my second ‘placement’ within the Claims team on a large agile project which has been amazing to participate in. The theory behind agile was explored as part of my final year project as part of the Computing course and to see it in action on a global scale is crazy! Having now worked as a business analyst using both Waterfall and now Agile I can really see a difference in how my approach to requirements gathering has been refined. I have been enjoying the nature of creating proactive interactions between our developers and business representatives but also realising the challenges this kind of project creates.

Fused with this I have started managing two projects for our HR/Finance division, time management being forced to reach ‘superhuman’ stages these days. But this is what I have always wanted to do so looking forward to the challenges ahead, one of them being studying professional qualifications alongside work. I have already embarked on my insurance diploma which involves various modules including finance and insurance principles, essential we are told, if we want to one day move to senior management. Then Prince 2 and our internal stakeholder management course to come. As Dan Williams has already noted in his blog ‘My First Year Working for a Small Business’ I agree that training and development is used as a key driver to attract people through recruitment.

The IT side of insurance has been good so far, lots of technical insurance lingo to learn but essential everything I do is probably what you would expect from a typical IT grad scheme. For anyone who hasn’t considered Insurance as a field they would like to work in I would highly recommend it. I know the perception of this industry can sometimes be boring, but I strongly believe with the changing nature of technology there will be lots of creative opportunities for graduates going forward, getting rid of the legacy systems so commonly associated with this industry.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

My Past 2 Weeks

So it's been nearly 2 weeks since I last posted on here. It's a bit disappointing but there's a good reason: I have finally been given the responsibility I have been looking for HALLELUJAH. And now I have this responsibility, how do I feel? The answer is simple: tired, drained, confused....but loving it. It's safe to say that it is hardly the most exciting work, but it impacts the project I am working on in a serious way. If I do the work well, my profile is raised and people will see that I can be a dependable staff member. If I do things bad...well let's not go there for now!

So what is this work I have been doing I hear you ask? Well, our project has just gone live in one of the EU countries and people are needed to track any problems that arise. We have a 'war room' set up in the office and we are bombarded left, right and center by things not working as they should. Our job is to prioritize these problems, work out what needs to be done and who needs to work on it and ultimately, we are responsible for seeing these problems go away. My official job title for this role is: High Priority Ticket Chaser. In layman's terms, this means headless chicken running around making sure everyone is doing their job's correctly. Like I said, not the most exciting job in the world.

However, what I have I learnt from this? Let's put it this way, I have learnt more about how a project is run in these 2 weeks than the past year of my time in the company.

The main lesson to take away from this, especially if you are thinking of or currently in a graduate job, is to get yourself dropped in the deep end. You will be amazed to see how well you can do and how much you can pick up when you are given lots of responsibility with little training. It beats me then as to why there are so many formal training courses in the world when real-life experience is free...

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Guest Blog - My First Year Working for a Small Business

This blog has only been up and running for 4 days but I am pleased to announce that we have our first guest blog! Yes, the community is already starting to grow and with this growth comes articles from different sectors, different experiences and different lives.

Our guest blog today comes from Dan Williams, a recent graduate who has ventured into the world of the small business. Dan mentioned to me that his first year in industry couldn’t have been more different from mine so he wanted to give the community a compelling view into small business life.  And if any aspiring techies are reading this, well this will be double the fun for you. If you would like to get in touch with Dan, his twitter page is open for comments: @danMwilliams.

I work as a database developer for a small business intelligence company focused on the pharmaceutical industry. I graduated from university in the summer of 2011 with a 2:1 Computing degree.

Right with all the formalities out of the way, I wanted to provide an overview of working in a small business and hopefully share some useful insights.

Throughout my final year of university I juggled the horrendous workload with filling in rigorous application forms. I am sure I am not alone when I say that there is a special place in hell set aside for the person in each organisation who draws up the recruitment procedures. I was successful with some and not with others.

After graduating I was full of enthusiasm to implement some of the theory that I had obsessed about over the four years. I was approached by the company I currently work for and I was thoroughly impressed with them when I visited for an interview. They explained that they had a completely flexible working policy where I could attempt to implement some Agile software practices I had used at university. They explained further that the majority of training provided was completely bespoke to each individual. I saw this as an excellent place to begin my career.

Each graduate was required to take part in specific training followed by my old nemesis, an exam, to accomplish the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) certification. This certification provided a firm base to enable taking on other training and future employment in a wide range of areas. Interestingly, training seems to be the main advantage that people use to sell working for large organisations. The company I work for may be unique but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the case as other small businesses look to fill skills gaps with existing employees rather than bring in the hired mercenaries that are external contractors.

Salary is normally a showstopper for some when considering small businesses, as typically it is less than the amount offered by larger organisations. Through speaking to colleagues, this does seem to be the case but my graduate scheme is only a year, meaning I will receive a pay rise sooner putting me on a par. So hang on for a year and you will catch up!

The main advantage I want to put across is the responsibility that I have been given in the short nine months that I have been working. I am currently the lead developer on two clients which are large international organisations. As resource is sparse I am the project manager, business analyst and developer. This type of experience is invaluable when building a career as it prevents any potential pigeonholing. They have very much thrown me in at the deep end but this has helped with a number of skills which I needed to improve, from technical abilities to overall self-confidence.

I believe that small businesses should not be looked down upon when graduates are looking for their first employment, especially in the current economy. If you are looking for real world experience from the very beginning and your chance to make your mark on the company, rather than just being reduced to a payroll number, then I strongly recommend checking out recruitment agencies for vacancies within small businesses.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

5 Reasons why a Large Multinational is the Best Place to Spend your Early Graduate Years

I realise I expressed frustration in my opening post about my first year on my graduate scheme. Reflecting on this, I feel the reason for this frustration is partly me not knowing what to expect and it not living up to how I imagined it in my head. I also feel this frustration can be partly blamed on the people running the scheme and not the company itself. To clarify, I am on the first year this scheme has been run so I shouldn't really expect much from being a guinea pig.

I really admire the company I work for and I can see in my departments how much people enjoy their jobs and it gives me hope that I can be like this. So this got me thinking about the crux of this blog post, what do I feel are the main reasons why I like working for this company and can still see myself there in several years time? After much soul searching, and from my discussions with colleagues who have much more experience than me, I have 5 reasons why I feel working for a large multinational is the best thing that can happen to a graduate during their early post-university years:

1. A New Role Every Year - Say Goodbye to Interviews
For me, this is one of the most compelling reasons for working for a large organisation. Most people I have talked to in my company have had a new job role every year for the past decade with each role giving them exposure to new parts of the business, letting them learn new skills and giving them ever increasing amounts of responsibility. To top this off, the only interviews they had was to get in and out of a graduate scheme. I don't know about the rest of you, but I can live without interviews!

2. It's Who you Know, Not What you Know
I'm finding this saying to be increasingly true with every day that passes. To give you a fun example of this in practice, I have a friend whose brother is a professional football player. Due to this connection, I get cheap tickets to his matches and have seen the likes of Tottenham Hotspur for next to nothing. In business, this analogy is just as true. Ask anyone in my company how they got their current role and they will tell you it was through a connection they have in another department.

3. A Cultural Cocktail
Never underestimate the power of learning how different cultures operate. If you work for a company with colleagues or clients in a different country, it is imperative to learn how they work and what is 'normal' for them in their country. Without this knowledge, it is very difficult to maintain a good working relationship and to also not take something they may do as an offence, when it is perfectly normal in their culture. Working for a multinational enables you to learn this from Day 1 - so far I've interacted with the US, India, Germany, France, Australia...the list goes on.

4. CV 2.0
What I have found to be a big green tick in a prospective employer's mind is a noteworthy company placed on the CV. Doing my placement year during university at Oracle Corporation enabled me to get the job I have today. I know this to be particular true for many other friends and colleagues also. One tip though: make sure you do a good job at the noteworthy company otherwise this reference would not mean a thing!

5. Live & Breath the Organisational Organism
Experiencing how a large organisation operates is critical to understanding why it works like it does. This in turn can lead to you seeing the problems and coming up with innovative solutions to solve these. Even if no one listens, it reinforces your learning and will come in handy during future endeavours at your current and future company. Learn why the organisation is structured the way it is, learn where critical decisions are made and learn what the different business units are striving towards.

I would love to hear your feedback on the points I have presented. Let me know if you agree or disagree with them, why you feel like this or examples of your experiences of these.

If you have found this post useful, please share this so we continually reach the ever-growing graduate community

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Why Am I Writing? And Why you Should get Involved

I realise there are a multitude of blogs available on the Internet these days; each one with their own unique spin and take on life. Some are interesting, some are just plain gibberish. I have never been into the idea of blogging so your probably thinking to yourself, why is he doing this? Well that is a very good question and makes for a good introduction to my blog. To answer this, you need to know a little about me first.

I'm Mark, a 23 yr old Somerset guy who has recently moved to the big smoke. I graduated from Plymouth University in 2011 and was very overwhelmed by getting my first job at a major pharmaceutical company. The job sold to me was working on their biggest project which will fundamentally change the way the company works. This sounded like an amazing opportunity for my first job and I was looking forward to making a real impact. The reality, however, was not what I was expecting. Don't get me wrong, I haven't been making the tea and coffee, what I have been doing is much worse; nothing. I cannot honestly tell you what I have been doing on this job in the past year other than learning and training. It has been hard to prove myself or shine as an individual as I haven't been given the opportunity to do so. "I haven't been given the opportunity to do so". As soon as I said this to myself I had a thought; why should I wait for someone to give this opportunity, why don't I make the opportunity for myself and grab it with both hands? It's this thought that has given life to this blog. I wanted a way to share how I am faring with life as a graduate and hopefully help give other graduates advice and insight into life beyond the job advert. It also never hurts to practice my writing ability and bolster my CV whilst I am at it :)

Now I don't want this to be all about me. If anyone has any insights of their own experiences in their first few years as a graduate, how they have coped and fared and any advice that could help fellow graduates then please let me know by emailing me at and I will gladly post a feature on here to help and grow this community

I hope you are as excited as I am to join me on this journey