What attracted you to the UKHO? What made you apply?
I graduated from the University of Exeter in 2020 with a Computer Science degree. I came across the advert for the UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) Trainee Scheme in my hunt for a Graduate role. I'd never heard of the UKHO and had no idea what they did. I also imagined the Technology Division in government to be behind the curve and not what I wanted. When I investigated what the job entailed, I found the complete opposite – the Trainee Scheme offered complete training in Agile and Scrum, Cloud computing training in Azure for CI/CD and full access to learn .NET Core and C# among much more. The other companies I was applying for didn't offer this level of training and my university course didn't teach any of this industry specific toolset. I was excited to get the opportunity to learn all of this as my day-job, and it felt like the perfect transition from being a university student into being a full-time software developer. In the end, I rejected any other offer I received, because I felt that the opportunity to be allowed to learn at this level for 12 months was too good to miss.
Why do you think you got the role?
The UKHO above all values a passion for the role. Although I'm sure having a degree in Computer Science helped, this alone probably wasn't what made me successful in my application. I had been programming as a hobby since my early teens, and really loved being a developer. I made sure to put this across as much as I could in my interview. I spoke about the hobby projects I'd worked on, and especially the niche ones, as I believed that showing this side of me was important. Along with this, I had taken up an internship during my time at university and I really believe this is one of the best things I could have done. I worked for a great company that allowed me to dive right into developing and deploying applications right to the customers, and this experience is great to talk about in an interview.
What can you expect from the UKHO Developer Trainee Scheme?
The Trainee Scheme officially lasts 12 months, though depending on your own level of learning, it could be shorter. I believe it's a great way to learn for a new developer. As a trainee, I have been given a technical mentor who is another developer at the company – he is there to answer any questions and guide me through my first year at the company. I started with 1 to 2 months of settling in and developing some core skills. I was given access to Pluralsight which has innumerable courses taught by great tutors and was given full autonomy as a developer to make my own decisions on how and when to learn the skills that are required.
My first few months in the company were spent learning about skills like the SOLID principles and some advanced C#, as well as going along to a 2-day virtual Scrum Professional training course. The Scrum course is mandatory, but the other skills I chose to develop during this time were my own decision guided by my mentor. I also get the time to complete a project of my own, which is chosen by me to be used to reinforce my learning as I go along. I've chosen to create a collectible card game which allows you to battle other users with your card deck. The project will consolidate my knowledge in developing and deploying API-based web apps.
I am just about to embark on the next 6 or so months, where I will join a couple of delivery teams on rotation for around 3-4 months each. This is the stage where I hope to gain the most experience and learning on the core skills and tools that the UKHO uses in development. I have started to attend all the standard Scrum events and be part of a self-managing development team.
How do you think your career might progress at the UKHO?
Since joining the company I've met a dozen Senior and Lead Developers who joined the company in the trainee scheme which showed me how great the career progression at the UKHO is. My current mentor is a Lead Developer who joined as a trainee – his progression to Lead happened within a few years and is just one of many examples of successful trainees at the company. All of this shows me that my path is whatever I make it to be.
What makes the UKHO different from other employers?
One of the most surprising things I found when starting at the UKHO was how committed everybody is to use the best tools, frameworks and solutions regarding software development. The Scrum process is mandatory training and is followed well by everyone at the company, which leads to a good development environment. Everyone is supportive and flexible with how you need to work.
There are around 40 developers at the UKHO, and for somebody learning how to be a developer, this is one of the best resources I could have asked for – many, many developers who are all happy to give a helping hand or offer their take on something. The work all these developers do is meaningful, and they care about what they are developing. There are lots of opportunities to work on a variety of systems and technologies that support interesting things such as navigation and safety at sea.
When I accepted the role in early summer 2020, a lot of companies were either closing their doors or furloughing their employees due to the pandemic, but the UKHO were still hiring and supported me entirely to work from home, with great tech to use and flexible working, which gives me a great life balance. In uncertain times I feel the Civil Service has provided me with some security and I feel I have a future I am excited about.
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