Last year AL had a pretty scary decision to make. Our DevOps Academy is one of the most successful aspects of the business, but we’d never tried to run one entirely remotely. The Academy is a 12-week intensive course for 6 STEM graduates to become junior DevOps Engineers. Usually, these graduates would spend 12 weeks in a ‘classroom’ at our HQ in Waterloo. 

Thanks to our Leadership Team, and Academy trainer Steve Shilling, a plan was put together to move this to an entirely online platform, which we believe was a huge success. How was it for the graduates, though?

Martha and Kim kindly took the time to talk about their experience, from job hunt to graduation. 

The job hunt 

Martha – Despite being on the job hunt during a global pandemic when the supply is high and the demand low, it’s important to choose a job that is right for you. The main thing I was looking for in a career was to work somewhere where I felt I would fit in and have the support of those around me. I also knew that I wanted to move into the tech industry, but had no idea about how to get there. My degree involved only very niche IT skills, and so finding a company that was willing to invest in my learning and development was hugely encouraging.  

Kim – My priority was finding a job with good support and training so I could develop my professional and technical skills in a defined way with all the help I needed. The amount of information about the academy available on linked in, like the full details about the course structure and content, gave an idea of exactly what I was applying for much more than a job advert can, and made it clear we’d be getting an incredible amount of support during the training.

Why did we choose the academy?

Martha –  When I found the job posting for AL I really appreciated how much detail was given in terms of who should apply, what the job would involve, how the training would take place, and what the perks of working for them would be. I had a good idea of what working for AL would be like before I even applied for the job! This was confirmed during my application process; all the hiring staff were incredibly friendly and kept me updated during every point of the process. AL is also super transparent as I got a chance to talk to people of varying seniority throughout the company and always received thorough and honest answers to everything I wanted to know.

I also really liked that AL doesn’t demand specific technology experience. I had the chance to gain knowledge in a field I knew very little about but was really interested in. Training in the academy for the first 3 months was a massive plus for me, it made me feel confident that I would have the time and resources to develop my skills to a professional level before working with a client. 

Kim – Once we’d applied, the openness and amount of useful information didn’t change, AL made an effort to send us things that might be useful and scheduled catch-ups with the same people, making us feel completely comfortable asking questions on anything from socials to the nitty-gritty of the program content. My coding experience was very casual, writing Python scripts for my degree and in my spare time with no real rules and using a Linux terminal to run simulations, just learning things from the internet. I found that I enjoyed coding a lot, but knew I needed to learn a lot to be valuable in a professional IT environment so having a good idea of what I might learn and where I should be starting from made me feel a lot more confident that I was applying to something I’m a good fit for. It was also very obvious that AL was trying to recruit a real human being to be their colleague, through all the applications and interviews I felt they genuinely wanted to get an idea of who I was as a person which made me feel much more comfortable.

Initial experience, being entirely remote

Martha – Working remotely was definitely something I was slightly anxious about before starting the academy. I worried that I wouldn’t get to know anyone or that I would fall behind without having the support of an office environment, but within a few days of starting the academy, I felt a lot better! The training is super thorough, we were spending virtually all day on a video call with each other which really helped us support and get to know each other. Although it will be great once we actually get to meet each other in person when it’s safe! Our trainer, Steve,  also made really good use of online learning tools so I honestly never felt that I was missing out on potential learning due to being remote. 

Kim – It was definitely a bit strange starting a job not having met anyone in person, but we got such regular contact in the run-up to starting that it did definitely feel real! We managed to get a virtual office feeling by being on a video call of some shape or form for all of the day, whether a mini-seminar type thing with all of us and the trainers or two or three of us working on a project together it made it very easy to just quickly ask a question or run something by somebody else in the group. By a couple of weeks in, we felt totally comfortable chatting away and at this point, it seems really strange to think we’ve not met each other in person.

Favourite Parts

Martha – Throughout the academy you get to pick the brains of real experts in the DevOps field, everyone in the company is always eager to help out and answer even the smallest most basic question. I also really appreciated how the academy wasn’t just like learning at school or university, it was centred around project-based work for ‘clients’ within the company, so there was a huge amount of real-world practice of the concepts we were learning. Through this, it was much easier to see how our work would impact clients and why DevOps is important. The highlight of this has to be our final project in which our entire cohort worked on together to create a discovery tool that could eventually be used by other engineers within the company. 

Kim – Like Martha said, being able to pick people’s brains was fantastic, especially having the trainer on hand all the time to go to one on one and ask really specific technical questions. And I definitely agree that one of the best things was having project-based work, which we split up and planned the way it would be in a consulting team out on a client site. It was great as it let us get an idea of how actual teams collaborate but without the pressure of needing to complete things for an actual client.

The culture

Martha – Before we even started the academy there was a virtual social meet to help us get to know our fellow grads and those from previous academy cohorts. That really set the tone for the company as a whole, there are loads of socials to get involved in and even just during the workday you get to chat to lots of different people! I also like the company-wide meeting that happens every month, it’s really nice to catch-up on what everyone has been up to and makes the company feel like one big group where everyone knows everyone. 

Kim – Despite working remotely we still met a lot of people pretty quickly. We each got two buddies from previous academy cohorts who were super helpful and made an effort to find time to chat with us. Then while doing the academy people from other teams often popped into our video call to say hi and introduce themselves which made us feel like a part of the wider company. Doing the consulting training with the delivery team meant we learnt how consulting works and how the teams gel together as well as what they actually do, giving a real feel for the working culture.

Are we engineers now?

Martha – I’ve seen a massive change in myself since the start of the academy, not just in pure technical skill but in my attitude towards work, and in particular consulting. The academy teaches you how to manage client expectations, to be able to accurately assess your own skills and plan what can feasibly be done in the given time. I’ve gained technical skills that I never thought I’d have, but everyone at AL always wants to be pushing forwards, and so even though I’ve learnt a huge amount in the academy I know that there’s always so much more to learn! 

Kim – The way the academy is structured means that along with the actual base technical skills we learnt how to tackle a whole project and break down individual tasks, how to use the documentation and quiz senior engineers for help with new things and how to manage expectations, both ours and other people’s. So yes, it has made me feel very confident in my ability to join a team, adapt to the project and provide valuable work.

Any negatives?

Kim – It’s very easy to put too much pressure on yourself, no matter how much everyone at the company is telling you not to, so managing my own expectations is definitely a skill I’m building up as I go.

Martha – I wouldn’t even necessarily say this is a negative, but I do think a lot of us worked perhaps a little too hard at the start of the academy. It’s a lot of information to learn and skills to develop in a short space of time, and as Kim says it’s easy to put pressure on yourself. 

What now?

Right now we’re doing individual training in the Innovation Lab, focusing on our own development of skills we decide ourselves, and completing some qualifications. We can’t wait to get onto a client site but are glad to have some time to consolidate the huge amount of knowledge we gained during the academy before we do so. 

Interested in joining our next Academy? Take a look here for more information or email 

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