Version 1’s Uzma Ahmed’s post-pandemic career switch

  • Sync NI sat down with Uzma Ahmed, early careers manager at Version 1, to find out how she went from educator to tech newbie for a change of pace

    Q. As early careers manager at version one, can you tell us a little bit about your personal journey and how you came to work at version 1?

    A. I worked in education for 21 years. I was an Assistant Head Teacher at a large inner-city school in London. I was the head of upper school and managed a team of 14 people and was responsible for the progress and attainment of 240 children as well as key stage 2 results and data. Additionally, I oversaw the Early Career teachers. As their mentor, I ensured they had a great start into their teaching career by setting targets, sharing the vision and reporting and working really closely with the stakeholders.

    After the pandemic, the world had changed and I felt like I needed a career change too. I applied to Version 1 and had a conversation with a couple of departments. I had a call from Talent Development and they put me through to the interview stage. However, they warned me that because of my lack of technical background that I would maybe not get the job. I just went in and gave the best interview I could and they said that I blew them away!

    So that’s how I ended up with Version 1 and I’ve been here for nearly a year now as Head of the Early Careers team. When I started, it was just me and an intern but I’ve since grown the team and there’s five of us now with varying levels of experience.

    Q. Version 1 has several early career initiatives. Can you tell us a bit about these?

    A. The main initiative that I focused on this year has been our Academies. We have run academies across Northern Ireland, England, Ireland, and India and they consist of a 12-week intensive training program. We work with local authorities and training providers, and we create a bespoke 12-week training academy. It is based on what the needs are within Version 1 and our technical trainers work

    closely with the training academies to compose the programmes. Anyone that goes through the 12-week program obtains four accredited certifications.

    From the beginning, anyone who joins our academy is treated as a Version 1 employee. For me, it’s about creating that sense of belonging from the offset. While they’re in the training program, we get them into the local office where they get to meet the Early Careers team. They also get to meet members of the Version 1 team and colleagues across the organization. We ensure that throughout the 12-week program, we have lots of different representatives who will jump on calls and talk to them about their journey within the company and the technologies they work with.

    We also set them up with a buddy who is a former Early Careers person that has been through the training program. They do weekly catch-up calls where they can just talk to the associates that are on the training program about their experience and their journey within Version 1. This means that if the Associates have any questions, they have the opportunity to ask those questions in a safe space. Next year in 2023 we are looking at placement years and apprenticeships to expand our Early Careers programme.

    Q. Is a STEM background essential to have a successful career in IT?

    A. No, we've had people join our academies from a range of backgrounds. The most important thing is that someone has the passion, the drive and they're eager to learn - that's enough for us. In April, we ran a women’s reboot program in Dublin, where we had women returners who had been out of work for up to 18 years and they wanted to return to the workplace. We had women who were not from a technical background, but they just wanted a change. We had 18 women join the Academy and all 18 women are now successfully working in Version 1!

    If you look at the Version 1 Early Careers web page, we actually have a video where you will come across someone called Thomas Watson who is within Version 1. He was a lighting engineer who worked at technical events and he worked on some of the Version 1 award ceremonies. He then got involved in one of our academies, and now he's a DevOps engineer. I often get him to join calls and just talk about his experience, because he was from a non-technical background. He’s having a great time within Version 1, living his best life!

    Q. What can young graduates expect when starting off their career with Version 1?

    A. I think from just being on that intensive 12-week program they've got so much to gain from it and the fact that they have that opportunity to also obtain accredited certifications gives them that stepping stone. Once they’ve joined Version 1, they fall under the Early Careers radar for the first 18 months and we track their journey closely. We make sure that their career has started successfully and that they're benefiting from all of the opportunities. We ensure that they’re engaged, involved and they feel like they're being listened to and that their network is growing. We set up virtual events where they get to meet other associates and we have monthly meetings with them to share what's happening across the organization.

    In the first 18 months, they have the opportunity to get three pay increases in their salary. So if they complete the first six months successfully, they're entitled to a 5% pay increase, the next 12 months, they're entitled to a 5% pay increase. And then at 18 months, they're entitled to a 10% pay increase. We have found that anyone who has completed our academy has accepted a job with us, which is a testament to the success of the programme.

    Q. What advice would you give to anyone interested in working in the tech sector?

    A. There are three pieces of advice that I would give, the first is to focus. The world of technology is broad and it can be easy to try to look at every aspect. Focusing on one area at a time can help specialise in particular areas rather than trying to do everything.

    Secondly, do your research. Go to career fairs and take those opportunities to meet organizations to find out about them. When you're going for an interview, make sure you really prepare for it. Look up the person who is interviewing you which you can do on LinkedIn. Learn about the company and know their core values. Know a little bit about the company and give examples when you're answering questions.

    Lastly, I think it's important that you sell yourself as well. If you have achieved something, talk to us about it! We'd love to hear about it.

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