Interviews

PwC NI is creating more tech opportunities than ever before

  • The company is on a mission to become the most digitally-enabled professional services firm.

    If you haven’t noticed big changes happening at PwC NI over the last few years, you’re in for a surprise.

    It is now a global hub for blockchain, creating fully funded degree apprenticeships in technology with Queen’s University Belfast. It is the principal sponsor for Digital DNA, Northern Ireland’s biggest digital conference, and is making a record investment in its new HQ Merchant Square with a keen focus on its technological capabilities.  

    With this ambition comes a range of opportunities for people who want to develop a successful career in technology here in Belfast. Andrew Jordan is Head of Technology and Innovation at PwC Operate, the firm’s fastest-growing division which was created here, and Victoria Porter is one of the firm’s first tech degree apprentices who is about to start her second year.

    Hi Andrew, tell me a bit about yourself and your career to date.

    A: I have a degree in English and History, as well as an MSc in Comp Science, both from Queen’s. My first brief job was at Lution, a start-up incubator. I ended up specialising in eCommerce technology and front end web development. After a spell in FG Wilson I moved to London to work for Axon (now HCL) as a consultant, working on large scale ecommerce implementation projects for companies moving sales online. 

    I then ended up at Motability Operations for around 10 years where we moved to selling cars online instead of at auction. I've always had an entrepreneurial streak and went on to co-found two companies where I worked as Chief Technology Officer. Vouchedfor is still going and Moola we sold. I enjoyed going on those start-up journeys from idea to product. 

    Moving back from London just before my twin girls were due to start school I continued to work in start-ups for a brief period but saw a huge opportunity to be part of the early stages of building the technology element of Operate. It was still a relatively young part of PwC and right from the start the senior management team shared a vision that technology would be central to what we do. That commitment was matched by an appetite to invest in the technology team and infrastructure.   

    Describe the team: what work do you do and what is your typical day like?

    The Operate technology team has grown to reflect the demands of  our wider PwC business and our clients. These demands are typical in the industry as more businesses seek to increase the automation of repetitive tasks, gain more value from data and reduce the time it takes to get from idea to product. We work extensively across automation; employing Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in particular, data analytics, rapid application development (low code platforms), platform implementation, AI and Support. 

    Our purpose is to develop solutions to pressing business problems and ensure that the skills of our workforce are directed towards the right activities; not wasted on tasks that add little value which we'll seek to make efficient or completely automate. We also invest in R&D (research and development), building solutions and partnering with other innovative companies to ensure we'll be well placed to address some of the changes our experts see on the horizon. 

    My day is typically working with the teams who are building solutions and speaking with project stakeholders and potential clients. I also spend a lot of time looking at new technology and seeing how it could be applied within our business. The team plans to maintain continued growth in order to support the needs of the 1300-strong Operate division and we foresee a lot more investment in new technology and training to help this.

    Is it challenging to find people qualified in your field right now?

    This is always challenging as Northern Ireland is home to a competitive job market, with more companies recognising the quality of our local talent. Some of the areas we work in are relatively new to Northern Ireland, so finding skills in areas like automation, data and analytics, and AI is difficult, especially as those people have a lot of good choices now. However I'd be remiss not to mention that we have a lot of open roles presently at entry and experienced levels! The Technology Degree Apprenticeship we sponsor through QUB is a great channel for us and is one of a few tools we use to support continued growth.

    PwC now has hundreds of tech specialists in various Northern Ireland-based teams, across software development, blockchain, automation, data, DevOps and more. We use some of the latest technologies and are partnered with companies like Google to drive the technology agenda forward. I'd encourage anyone thinking of returning to Northern Ireland to take a look at how the tech landscape has changed here, and the scope and depth of tech roles that we have now, often without the frequent travel requirements that may have been the norm in the past.

    In September 2018, 20 students joined the first year of PwC's Tech degree apprenticeship at Queen's. Part of this fully funded programme includes paid summer placements. Victoria Porter spent time with Andrew's team.

    Did you always want to work in tech?

    V: I spent a large portion of my life working towards being a doctor and had aspired to one day become an orthopedic surgeon. I needed 4 AS-Levels for Medicine and I decided to take Software Systems Development (SSD) with the intentions of dropping it at A2.

    I had never coded before so I found it very challenging and I quickly developed a bipolar relationship with the subject. I started spending my free time building small apps and learning efficient ways to code so that I could perfect my coursework. At that point I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in technology.

    What attracted you to PwC’s tech degree?

    I had already applied to Computer Science and Software Engineering at university when my SSD teacher told me about the PwC Tech degree apprenticeship offered at Queen’s University Belfast. The Tech degree offers the degree pathway I want and guaranteed summer placements without any work during the academic year; I found this aspect particularly attractive as it allowed me to focus solely on my studies. And being fully funded means no student debt!     

    How have you found the first year?

    First year has been fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed my modules and I took advantage of the vast amount of opportunities that the university offered, such as assisting in the build of an autonomous wheelchair. It was great to go on placement during the summer as well as I know the experience has, and will continue to pay off. 

    You've spent time in PwC on placement - tell us about it?

    I was placed in Operate which is an enablement team based in Belfast. I spent the first few weeks becoming certified in RPA before being placed on a project where I had to design and build a robot using UiPath. I also did some scripting where I rebuilt a birthday calendar for Operate. On top of that, I attended Digital DNA which was definitely one of the highlights and my first official networking engagement! I also sat on a ‘Females of the Future’ panel and I attended the Belfast I.T. Girls graduation ceremony as a mentor which was fantastic. Lastly, I recorded a podcast with WebTalksNI, something I wouldn't have had the opportunity to do elsewhere. PwC was very supportive and flexible with these events which I am grateful for as they have all dramatically improved my confidence!

    Any hints/tips for anyone applying?

    Step outside your comfort zone and always look for opportunities to prove that you're passionate about technology as this will make your interview much easier.  Most importantly, prepare for your assessment and try your best - that's all anyone can ask from you.

    This interview first appeared in the Autumn 2019 edition of the Sync NI magazine. 

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