"Apprenticeships exist in all forms and you'll meet some great people along the way"Louisa Seers of IBM on studying as a degree apprentice
In this blog marking National Apprenticeship Week 2022 (7-13 February), Louisa explains why she chose to study on the programme and how her career prospects are being boosted by what she is learning.
Louisa, tell us a bit about yourself and your job at IBM
I'm currently a second-year student and I joined IBM around seven years ago as a Level 3 Technical Apprentice. Initially what drew me to IBM was my curiosity to understand how technology impacts people. Since then, I've worked across the company including consulting and product development, which led me to working today in Hursley as a software analyst. My department supports IBM products worldwide, and I project manage potential acquisitions and monitor IBM products in their compliance of open-source licensing.
Alongside my day-job, I play the flute and saxophone, regularly go to live music gigs, and spend a lot of time reading fiction.
Why did you sign up to the BA (Hons) Business Management and Leadership degree apprenticeship at the University of Winchester?
I've spent a lot of time in IBM trying to understand what I wanted to do - data science, data analysis, service management - but nothing quite felt right. When I made the transition into the IBM UK Research Lab, I met several inspiring people managers, who gave me insight into what challenges they face. I'd ask endless questions about their journey into management, how to build a successful team.
Over time, this interest just intensified and the degree seemed like a natural move. I hadn't considered business as a career path until I realised that I was much better at people than software development! The modules at Winchester fit the kind of study I was interested in, and it would complement my job well.
What's your biggest achievement throughout your degree so far?
I was shortlisted for the National Apprenticeship Awards back in October 2021 which was very exciting - there was an online ceremony and a lot of stiff competition. I've also won an Outstanding Technical Achievement Award at work for research into new tooling, which has since been adopted by IBM's development community.
What does a typical week of work and study look like for you?
My week varies hugely depending on which project I'm working on. I'm a year 2 Degree Apprentice and go to University on a Tuesday, where I spend most of the day in lectures or seminars with the other people on my course. We also get time to catch up and chat about the classes we're doing. I generally spend time outside of the office environment on University work too, reading or writing my assignments in Starbucks; I like to get away from my normal desk.
The rest of the week is a combination of working from home or in the office. I enjoy going to Hursley because there's always a friendly face to get a coffee with! Most days I have a morning progress meeting to check-in with my small team of technical leads. For example, if I've got an acquisition coming up, we would have a meeting with the IBM team and the target company staff on the Monday to understand the company, what kind of products it develops and launch tooling to identify its open-source software (part of the audit process).
Ideally, when I'm back on Wednesday, the company data would have arrived and I would spend much of the rest of the week analysing the results in order to report back to the IBM acquisition team, Intellectual Property lawyers and my team, and resolving any issues.
What parts of the degree course have you found most interesting so far?
University has taught me to think very differently to my day job - I'm required to look at journal articles, understand how someone has conducted research and use theoretical models. I've enjoyed spending time learning about ethical and responsible leadership in business.
For example, we spent one term learning about the different types of leaders (transformational, transactional and authentic) and I chose to investigate IBM's former CEO to see whether she fit these theories or not. This required me to look broadly at IBM and consider the strategic direction of the company under her leadership. I then had a really engaging discussion with my lecturer on how to develop trust and openness as a leader, which opened my eyes to the impact of their communication and decisions on business.
And what have been the most challenging?
I'd say there are two things I've found challenging - the first being that I hadn't been doing any formal education for six years, so I had to figure out how to learn again. This might sound odd, but I had no idea how to structure an essay, or how to present an argument. I remember my first assignment was to choose any topic and write an essay, and I immediately felt out of my depth. However, the feedback I've had from tutors and getting more practice has helped.
The second challenge was being asked to consider IBM in its entirety, rather than my part in Hursley, which seemed an enormous task at first. By finding and speaking to contacts and mentors within IBM who could explain the company's strategy and vision, essays and research became a lot easier to write.
Where do you hope your degree will take you in the future?
I'll admit I am ambitious, although if you ask anyone that knows me, the ambitions change almost on a weekly basis! In the short-term I'm considering a first management role and in the longer-term I hope my degree will provide me with the tools to become a business leader and will enable me to help others work out what success looks like to them - whether that's in management, coaching or mentoring.
Do you have any advice for someone thinking about signing up to a degree apprenticeship?
Don't be afraid of being different. At the University of Winchester, you are open to many of the same opportunities that a full-time student has - the gym, societies, Fresher's Week activities. What's more, you're being paid by an employer, so you're able to get real-world experience for what you're learning. Apprenticeships exist in all forms, and you'll meet some great people along the way too.
The University of Winchester is an established provider of degree apprenticeships. We partner with a wide range of local and national organisations to give apprentices an opportunity to learn as they earn, and to develop the knowledge and skills employers want and need. Find out more about what Winchester can offer and about the Chartered Manager degree programme.Back to media centre