Maisy, Level 6 software engineering apprentice

Maisy Sinclair is in her third year of a four-year degree apprenticeship in software engineering, in digital partnership with PwC and Queen's University Belfast.

Degrees and apprenticeships aren’t at opposite ends of the spectrum, there’s a lot of overlap

I always knew I wanted to go to university. I realised I could combine Art and ICT by doing something like Computer Science, including app development. So I decided to apply to Queens University to do Computer Science or Software Engineering as an academic degree. I applied to UCAS, and got an email asking if I would consider this new course. I went to the information evening on the degree apprenticeship and liked it. My family was supportive. I put my name down and started the application process.

Speak to different universities as well - Queen’s, Birmingham and Leeds are all doing the ‘Flying Start’ degree apprenticeships in technology

 

I was concerned about not having as much of a social life as my school peers who’d gone to uni, being bombarded with work, and not having time to study if I’m on placement. But this is a good balance. It’s actually a benefit - you’re not thrown into one placement and having to commit. You can experience different parts of a company and build up a network over four years.

Applications can be hard work, but at the end you’ll know that you’ve earned your place

It was a detailed process - 500 words about yourself and why you wanted to do the course. Then you got shortlisted and did a further essay about PwC - what you knew about them and your intentions with the course. And then there was an assessment centre.

I had a one-to-one interview with someone from PwC and Queen’s, and a group role play. There were 18 people, split into three groups. The waiting at the beginning of the day was the worst bit for me. But it was a quick day. I found out they’d accepted me and then I got the formal offer through UCAS.

Course structure is based around blocks of study, with regular placements

This apprenticeship is good because you get short bursts of different sectors. There are four placements normally. In a traditional degree, you get one year out in one sector.

I dreaded the placements in summer time - not going on holiday, not having the traditional student life - but actually most of my friends were working anyway as they needed the money.

Last year I did Forensic Services - forensic technology. I enjoyed it, but my preference is the programming side. I then got placed in the ‘Operate’ technology department in Belfast - working on an app that gives information about different companies. It’s more hands-on, which I enjoy at the moment. It has been difficult, as I’d never done any type of coding before in my life. It was a challenge but it was good.

PwC tech apprenticeships give you a grounding in a wide array of fields

The hardest thing is you have to get used to nine-to-five and the early mornings - when your friends are lying in and you’ve got a lecture on. And getting used to the structures. It prepares you for working life.

If you’re thinking about it, go for it. It’s definitely a good experience.

We have a daily stand-up every morning - 15 minutes with everyone on the team. It’s quick and short, about what you did yesterday, what you’re doing today and if there are any problems blocking work etc.

We do a two-week sprint; we’re given a set of tasks that we need to do for the app, and you work through your tasks throughout the day. If you’ve finished your tasks before the two-week period is up, you move on to help other people. There are new bugs and issues that come up as you’re working through.

I go on the Python Programming Language in my free time. Our manager encourages us to learn. Every Friday afternoon is a dedicated learning session - we need to do that to do well at work.

PwC on their tech degree apprenticeships:

If we are serious about upskilling for the wave of digital disruption we are seeing today and expecting in the future, we need to recruit and train people in innovative ways, tapping into and nurturing talent we might not otherwise reach. Our technology degree apprenticeships are designed to meet this challenge. The students who form part of our tech degree apprenticeships are a new wave of talent that will bring crucial skills, different ideas and new perspectives to our business.

At PwC we are committed to bringing more specialisms into the region and with a growing specialist tech team here in Belfast we are opening up the opportunities to people who may have thought that university or technology careers were potentially out of their reach.