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From computer science degree to technology consultancy

Five minutes with a senior manager at a tech consultancy

Former computer science student Lucy Rickards describes life as a senior manager at Alfa and advises on picking an IT career path that’s right for you.
Companies focusing on software development are adopting very relaxed working styles, providing food and other benefits that blur the lines between work and home life. Choose a company that aligns with the way you prefer to work.

Describe your job for us.

I manage a team of Java developers within an IT consultancy that delivers functionality to major UK leasing companies. This involves working directly with the client business and development teams to capture requirements, technical design and general management tasks. Additionally, I specialise in the integration of Alfa’s main product (ALFA Systems) with client systems, and offer advice and expertise to other teams and clients on design of web services and other forms of interface. I also contribute to the overall technical steer of the company.

What subject did you study at university, and why?

I studied computer science at university. I had always been fascinated by computers and programming and the mathematical theories behind them. Cambridge offered a theory-focused course, which made it a natural choice for me. I studied computer science, physics and maths in my first year and then fully specialised in computer science for the rest of my degree.

Did you do any work experience?

I was sponsored by the UK Civil Service throughout university. This involved nine weeks of work experience each summer during my course. I was placed in a different department each summer and so was able to experience both software development roles and IT support roles. It allowed me to gain experience of programming in a work environment.

What was your first job after uni?

I decided to do a PhD in theoretical computer science after my undergraduate degree. This involved putting together an application for a grant and submitting a research proposal to potential supervisors. The process was largely informal.

How did you know IT was the right choice for you?

I enjoyed my degree and also the work experience in IT. The idea of building and delivering a product and seeing it used has always appealed. I was also interested in consultancy in general. While I had enjoyed my time in computer science research in an academic environment, it had convinced me that I would be more suited to working in the industry on shorter projects. This made pursuing a career in IT consultancy the natural choice.

What aspects of your CV do you think helped you to get hired by Alfa?

Having evidence of a good degree result and relevant work experience in IT was the most relevant in helping me to be hired. I followed advice to keep my CV concise and to highlight the key aspects by placing them in order of relevance. I also believe some importance was placed on past work experience during school, as well as my A level results, as this showed consistency of academic ability and an interest in IT. I adjusted my CV slightly for each potential employer and I believe this also helped.

What have your major career steps been?

I began my career as a software developer and worked on a variety of projects, sometimes on new enhancements and sometimes in a testing support role. I then specialised in integrations and ran the integrations stream of a major project in Sweden. I was a technical architect for a US project and ultimately assumed my current development management role.

What words of career advice would you offer young people entering an IT profession?

Consider what kind of work you like, such as varied shorter projects or longer-term work such as enhancements to a large mature product. IT work can offer either. The level of exposure to end users can also be very variable. Some people enjoy working directly with users and some do not. Different career and company choices can offer different levels of exposure; consider this when looking at options.

Different companies can have very different working environments; for example, some IT departments will be more traditional with contracted hours, dress codes etc, while others are more relaxed. Increasingly, companies focusing on software development are adopting very relaxed working styles and even providing food, sources of entertainment and other benefits that blur the lines between work and home life. It’s important to choose a company that aligns with the way you prefer to work.

What particular skills do you possess that make you good at your job?

  • I’m technically strong and good at visualising overall architectures. This makes me good at technical design.
  • I’m flexible and can undertake a variety of very different tasks, which is essential in my role.
  • I’m considered approachable by both clients and my colleagues.

What aspect of your job do you find the most challenging?

Multitasking and time management. My current role requires me to attend client meetings, write up documents and designs, manage work pipelines for my team and report on my progress. This requires a lot of prioritisation and task switching.

What exciting developments have you witnessed in your area of work?

I’ve seen a move away from installed applications on individual computers to web-based applications. Now everyone is moving towards more dynamic, cloud-based deployments rather than keeping rooms full of their own servers. There is also an increasing focus on mobile devices in all areas of the industry.

Do you manage to have a good work/life balance?

Alfa is very committed to its employees maintaining reasonable hours. However, there are critical occasions in any project-based work that will require a little extra time at the office.

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