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AFS UK Graduates, Learning and Development: One year on

  • With Niall Corry, Maisy Sinclair, Patrick Donnelly, Caolan Egan, Glen Campbell and Lauren Vallely.

    Give us an introduction and some background on yourself.

    ● I am originally from a science background and studied Biology and Chemistry to PHD level, but I have always had an interest in software engineering and have some friends in the field who enjoy their jobs. Because I had gone so far down the science route, I didn’t think I would have the opportunity to do this as a career. During lockdown, however, I had the opportunity to do the Software Development Master of Science conversion course, which gave me the option of science or software. With all the opportunities here in Belfast, it wasn’t a difficult decision, and I am really glad I chose software. (Niall Corry)

    ● I am currently a Software Engineer at AFS. To get to this point, I did a higher apprenticeship with Queens University in partnership with PWC. This training allowed me to study Software Engineering full time, as well as get hands-on experience. When I completed the degree, I then applied to a job at AFS and here I am. (Maisy Sinclair)

    ● I was a late-comer to software development. I had a previous life and career in healthcare, but I always had a keen interest in tech, computers, and software, and it was an itch that I never scratched. I then completed a Software Development Masters degree which I really enjoyed. Once the Masters was complete, I applied to a few software jobs and landed here at AFS a year ago. (Patrick Donnelly)

    ● I started uni doing an undergraduate course in Physics and Maths. As I continued through that path, the career conversations started and I considered software but wasn’t 100% sure how to get there. I decided to test the water by completing a post-graduate software development certificate with the Open University, which then led me to my Masters in Software Development. (Glen Campbell)

    ● I graduated last year from Software Engineering with a digital technology partnership with PWC. This was a higher-level apprenticeship that allowed me to do placements alongside studying. (Lauren Valelly)

    ● My undergraduate degree was in Law. Not 100% sure why I ended up there — I think at school it was seen as a good degree to do. I graduate in 2018 and then worked as a paralegal for three years, which is a stepping stone to becoming a solicitor or barrister. But I realized this was not the path for me. Over lockdown in 2020, I found out about the software development conversion course and then started that in September 2021 and graduated in 2022. I graduated on Friday and started with AFS on Monday. A quick turn around! (Caolan Egan)

    What attracted you to join AFS?

    ● From the very first interaction with the TA team, it was very obvious how passionate they were about the company — seeing that first-hand was important to me. Coming out of university, I wanted to work on cutting-edge technology and I knew that AFS were doing that and, in particular, working with cloud technologies. Cloud was something I worked on at university and was super appealing to me. In short, it was the passion from people in the company and the modern tech that attracted me to AFS. (Niall Corry)

    Who or what inspired you to start a career in Software Development?

    ● No one specifically inspired me to start a career in this area. My first exposure to software was when I studied Software Systems Development. I was always really creative at school and liked art but also like Maths, so I thought tech would be a good way to combine the two. I was the only girl in the class and that really motivated me to keep going and stick at it. I went on to meet senior female leaders during university. Plus, at Apex there are many female leaders who inspire me, so that really cemented it for me. (Maisy Sinclair)

    ● I would say this was a combination of two things. The first was having friends in the industry and seeing the work that they were doing. The best jobs are normally in IT — especially in Belfast — and you will always have opportunities and won't feel cornered by a market. (Glen Campbell)

    What advice would you give someone looking to get into Software Development?

    ● It's a steep learning curve as there are so many different areas and technologies within software. My advice is stick at it and practice, practice, practice. Soak up as much information from those around you. I have also found that people are really giving and generous with their time and more than happy to share their knowledge. There's no such thing as a silly question. (Patrick Donnelly)

    ● Don’t let your previous education or work experience put you off a career in tech! I felt for too long that I was on one path and couldn't change. Let's be honest, a law degree is almost the complete opposite of a technical degree, so I just felt that the door wasn’t open for me. Even though yes, it is daunting, don't let it put you off. A lot of the skills that you will gain in different careers will transfer over more than you think — it has even surprised me. Don't be afraid! (Caolan Egan)

    ● There's many different pathways to software development, so I would research all the different ways and talk to as many people as you can and try to find the best one for you. Before that, though, you can try and do your own projects and see how much you like coding and if you do enjoy it then start the research — everyone is always happy to help! (Lauren Vallely)

    What have you learned in the last year working at AFS?

    ● In my team the biggest stand out thing I have learned was coding in Python. My background was actually in Java, so that was a steep learning curve. My team has been so supportive and helped me every step of the way. Now, one year on, I am very confident coding in that language. Also, I’m getting hands-on experience with GCP and now being ready to start my GCP certifications, which AFS are putting me through. (Niall Corry).

    ● Not to be afraid of asking questions and digging into the WHY, not just the WHAT. This can give you a better vision and insight and help you come to solutions. In a practical sense, I have touched many technologies: Python, SQL, Cloud. I have been thrown into the deep end in some ways — but supported the whole way at the same time. (Patrick Donnelly)

    ● I have continued my understanding of technical work and working with Java and other technologies like Git. Other than that, soft skills like teamwork and collaboration are other things I have learned to develop. Sometimes at uni, one person can take charge, but that is not beneficial or realistic in the workplace. Also, learning to ask questions as a graduate and knowing when to say I need to go a little deeper or need a bit of support. (Glen Campbell)

    ● I have learned a lot and really enjoyed taking the skills I learned at uni and putting the Java and SQL knowledge into real-life projects. How to follow coding guidelines and produce good quality code. Also how to properly test, which is something I didn’t do much on in uni, so it's been great to test code end to end and perform unit tests. (Lauren Vallelly)

    What's your biggest accomplishment so far?

    ● One stands out for me amongst a lot of highlights. Not too long after I started, I was lucky enough to get to go to Portland as part of our company's bi-annual tech days event. Software Developers get together to work on things outside of the day-to-day and work in fresh teams. Working on the new project was a fantastic experience, working with those I haven’t worked with before, and working with those at different levels. At the end, I got up and presented our project in front of everyone, which was a really

    rewarding experience. For being in the company only a couple of months and to be given the responsibility of this presentation was my stand-out accomplishment this year. (Niall Corry)

    ● Not a specific — but a year in, I am now assigned tickets that I can work on myself from design stage to implementation stage without my hand being held. It's a great feeling to have that independence and ownership. (Maisy Sinclair)

    ● Getting to the point where I am contributing to Apex as a software engineer. Being able to pick up different tasks and being able to do this independently, all while integrating my work with others around me. Feeling like I am adding value to the company. A huge accomplishment for me is feeling like I have integrated into the team here and the sense of achievement of making the shift in career from healthcare to software. (Patrick Donnelly)

    ● Becoming more confident in my own ability to contribute to the team. After around six months, things started to click and work was much less overwhelming. I have become more independent and I am contributing now. The accomplishment is more me looking back and being able to see how far I have come. (Caolan Egan)

    Describe AFS in 3 words.

    ● Impactful. Teamwork. Fun. (Niall Corry)

    ● Innovative. Supportive. Inspiring. (Maisy Sinclair)

    ● Forward-thinking. Dynamic. Fun. (Patrick Donnelly)

    ● Competitive. Community. Communication. (Glen Campbell)

    ● Innovative. Rewarding. Team-orientated. (Lauren Vallely)

    ● Supportive. Collaborative. Ambitious. (Caolan Egan)

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