IT Life: The Apprentice’s Tale

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

How do we solve the IT skills crisis? Barney Wimbush knows being a tech apprentice has worked for him!

The IT industry in the UK is in the grip of a massive skills crisis, with a lack of trained staff ready to work in high-tech roles. This week IT Life has a look at one answer.

The government has been overhauling the ICT education system, but TechWeekEurope  readers have said that apprentices are the answer. Apprentice roles are rare because of the difficulty in setting them up – and some people are uncertain of their value.

We wanted to know what it is like being in IT apprentice, so we asked Barney Wimbush. For the last year, he has been at ionCube Ltd, a Kent-based software firm whose PHP Encoder and Package Foundry products help manage PHP scripts. But as well as honing his own skills, he’s had a role in finding the next generation of IT people helping to run a competition for school-age programmers.

What are your areas of expertise ?
I feel my talent is based in the client-side aspect of projects. I love designing on the front-end; graphics, interfaces and the general look and feel. After gaining experience at ionCube, I’ve designed the logo, website, flyers and more for my (newly opened) family tattoo studio, Purple Ink.

I also like supporting ionCube’s customers. The knowledge that there are thousands of customers using our company’s products every day and that we are entrusted with helping them is a responsibility I welcome.

What is your favourite project so far? 
This would have to be EPIK (Encouraging Programming In Kent). For myself and fellow apprentice Chris Shepherd, our main role over the past year has been to manage this project, which at its core is a competition to find and place young people interested in IT into technology apprenticeships.

We were asked around the beginning of 2012 to design a website for the competition. Since then, both our skills and the project have come a long way. We’re looking to redesign the website and all the flyers, banners and more for 2013, get more employers on board and generally promote tech apprenticeships. 

What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
Ten years ago I was only nine years old. This was the year we got our first family computer, which had a 300 MHz processor, 64mb of RAM and a 10 GB hard drive with dial up – the only reliable thing about it was that it crashed every time I played Age of Empires. I also got my first phone, a Nokia 3310 (snake II for the win).

What tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time? 
Everything’s going to go mobile. I can’t wait to see the industry standard for a smartphone in 2022. Another interesting thing that will probably be fully developed by then is the Google Glass augmented reality glasses

Who’s your tech hero? Who’s your tech villain?
I wouldn’t say I have any heroes or villains in tech but there are two people I admire. One is Sir Jonathan Ive (pictured) the lead designer at Apple.

I think it’s Apple’s presentation, design and marketing that give it its status, rather than actually having any technology the others don’t.

The other is most likely my boss, Nick [Lindridge, ionCube founder] – mainly because he has done exactly what I want to do, which is start my own (successful) tech company. It’s also because he’s inspired me to take my interest in IT and tech further by providing the means to do so.

What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most
This would probably have to be the multi-touch screen. There have been some really clever apps made for mobile devices that use this technology. One I use a lot is the Peavey Ampkit Link, which alongside Garageband means I have an 8 track recorder and after effects/editing all from my iPhone. I also love the power of social media, while it isn’t a technology in itself.

What is your budget outlook going forward? Flat? Growing?  
Being in an apprenticeship does have one downside, and that is the lower minimum wage. While ionCube does pay significantly more than the minimum, the government provides little funding for apprentices not living at home and this can be impossible at times.

However I would say it’s worth it as not only am I working in a job I genuinely enjoy, but my career prospects for the future have grown ten times over. I also know that my company has taken Apprentices as part of a long-term career plan, so it’s comforting to know if I work hard then I have a position I enjoy along with a steady wage afterwards.

Apart from your own, which company do you admire most and why?  
I’d like to be supportive of a new start-up company like Kickstarter (crowd sourced funding for projects is a really innovative idea) here. Honestly though, it’s probably Google. Its products are always incredibly intuitive and bug-free. It also has really cool workplaces and looks after its employees.

What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?
I would see the biggest challenge as standing out against the crowd. The company I work for sells products worldwide, which means competing against a potentially huge market. Creating a brand definition and product to become an industry standard is a massive challenge.

To Cloud or not to Cloud?
Cloud computing is brilliant. It seems to be the ‘in thing’ right now, and I believe that’s for a reason. Google Apps are a shining example of this, offering something similar to Microsoft’s Word and PowerPoint but accessible from anywhere. In my opinion, Microsoft has been far too slow to offer a similar service for free.

What did you want to be when you were a child?
I’d never really decided on one career and when I was at school I didn’t have the maturity to gear my maximum potential towards anything in particular. It was only after I finished sixth form that I started messing around with design and the Web.

It was lucky I stumbled across this apprenticeship (we weren’t made aware of opportunities like this at school, possibly because so few of them exist) on a small jobs board at a local Connexions office. After working a year in this field, I have much clearer career plans and I would hope a much higher chance of actually reaching them.

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