Dispatches from the Servelec Digital Academy: 1. First Term Reflections

September 2019 saw the launch of the Servelec Digital Academy: 12 software engineering degree apprentices are enrolled in a unique four-year programme, embedded in the workplace at Servelec while studying for a BSc (Hons) Digital and Technology Solutions Professional degree at Sheffield Hallam University.

As the first term draws to a close, Academy Lead, Damian De Luca, and four apprentices – Declan Rhodes, Sam Walker, Adam Sutton and Travis Melton – have been reflecting on the journey so far.

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Speaking with Damian and the apprentices, it’s clear the academy has quickly established itself as a place that innovates and inspires. “It’s been so enjoyable to have this team in the workplace,” says Damian, as he discusses the time he has spent with the group so far.

“There’s real joy in teaching them different methods and watching how they approach problem solving. They have to absorb knowledge fast in this boot camp environment, and they’re committed, passionate and extremely engaged.”

The programme began with four weeks of team-building, which Damian credits with creating a real bond, before the group spent eight weeks at the Hallam covering topics including computer fundamentals, systems analysis and design, computing security and networking.

In recent weeks, they have been back in the business undertaking assignments and working with experts across the company as they continue their journey towards becoming full stack developers.

Teamwork and support

Each apprentice has taken something different from the first term, but there is no doubt that working together as a team has allowed them to get the very best out of the experience.

“I enjoyed the programming projects the most,” says Adam. “We all helped each other and shared knowledge which was great.” Sam agrees: “We did a module on networking and I hadn’t touched on it before. It was good to learn about it in the wider context of working at a software company. And because you’re on an apprenticeship with 12 others, you can draw on their experience and help each other out.”

The contrast between the work environment and university experience has at times been challenging for the group, but the unique programme set up helps them focus and stay motivated – reaping the benefits of a routine built around both work and study.

“It’s helped to give me structure and visualise an end goal,” says Travis. “I took a break from education and I’ve had to learn how to get back into it. Without the apprenticeship side, I think it would be harder to self-motivate to study.”

Hands-on experience

With the basics covered, the cohort is looking ahead to the new year, where the focus will be on front end development – HTML, CSS, Javascript frameworks and angular.

“Now we’re properly based at Servelec for the coming months I’m looking forward to getting into big project programming where we can group code together and work in a team,” says Adam.

Meanwhile, Declan is looking forward to getting hands-on with Servelec’s products. “We’ll be able to explore what makes the products tick and think about how we can put our own spin on them which is really exciting.

“The business is all about creating platforms that many people need. It’s so motivating to think the things we’ll work on in future will be improving people’s lives.”

A career launchpad

The apprentices are unanimous in their appreciation of the opportunity they have been given and the expert tutelage they receive from Academy Lead, Damian.

“It’s been great to see the buzz around the Digital Academy internally,” he says. “The business has undergone lots of change in the last 12 months, investing more in research and development. We’re excited about the platform we’re giving these 12 young people and what they’ll be able to achieve as a result.

“Within a year they’ll already be junior engineers, at least two years ahead of a more traditional learning route and already working on Servelec products. It’s a real launchpad for them, and we’re learning from them too as they bring new perspectives on what tech we should be looking at in the future.

“Products are important, but the people who make them are more so, and we’re providing a safe environment for them to fail, put trust in each other, and grow as individuals. I can’t wait to see them wow Servelec in the months to come.”