Danielle is a Software Engineer Apprentice at the intelligence agencies. Here, she talks about why she believes a mix of classroom and on-the-job learning is a great route to a career in tech.
I’ve always been interested in coding and even at college I knew I wanted to be a Software Engineer. We’d always been encouraged to focus on going directly to university, but I felt that if I wanted to achieve my career goals, I needed industry experience. So, when I did work experience, I spoke to different people, and soon realised there were other options out there for me. After speaking with my college counsellor, and taking time to consider my options, I decided that doing an apprenticeship and getting straight into the workplace was the right choice for me. And I’ve been able to enjoy the best of both worlds as a Software Engineer Apprentice at GCHQ.
I first discovered GCHQ when I went to a career fair and got talking to someone who was already doing an apprenticeship there. I was intrigued by what the organisation did, and thought it sounded exciting. They helped me realise if I joined as an apprentice I’d get to work on live operational projects. It was clear that it was the perfect fit for me, so I went to the website and registered my interest. As soon as an opportunity became available, I applied, and after successfully making it through the recruitment process, I was thrilled to get accepted.
You do different placements throughout the apprenticeship, so there’s lots of variety. I’m currently working as a Developer on a project that follows an ‘Agile Software Development Lifecycle’. I work on lots of different things, and I feel like a valued member of the team. I also attend regular lectures at university and have a dedicated day during the working week to study towards my degree. It can be tough to balance study and work, so developing time management skills is crucial, but my Line Manager and Skills Coach support me with this.
And I’ve learnt so much. Not only do I get to apply the knowledge I gain from lectures directly to the projects I work on, but I’m also able to lean on and learn from supportive tech experts. If I ever need help, there’s always someone to talk to. I’ve picked up both technical and soft skills during my time here, and I’m now mentoring others too. It’s great to see my progress and how far I’ve come. I’d recommend doing an apprenticeship to anyone.
So, my advice is to speak to your career advisors at school or college and do your research. Find out what career pathways are available at the organisations you’re interested in. You can see more about the careers that are offered at GCHQ as well as our partner organisations MI5 and MI6 on their websites. We have a huge range of opportunities such as apprenticeships, summer schemes and development programmes, so it is worth taking a look. It might feel a bit daunting applying but just go for it. I’m so happy I did.