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Spotlight on software engineering at Thales

21 Jun 2023, 15:41

Thales employees give an insight into working life as a software engineering graduate, and the kind of career it sets you up for.

Two software engineering graduates at Thales

Software engineering is crucial to ensuring Thales’ work in aerospace, defence, transport, security and space is future-focused. But what is working in this area like?

To find out, we spoke to six software engineering employees about their experiences at Thales:

  • Andy – software team leader
  • Cameron – software discipline and capability director
  • Daniel – software engineer
  • Emma – software engineer apprentice
  • Georgia – software engineer
  • Luke – software engineering manager.

Joining Thales as a software engineering graduate

Thales wants recruits to finish the software engineering graduate programme armed with a broad understanding of software engineering, as well as specialist knowledge to support them in the area in which they choose to begin their career. So, the programme includes:

  • Two initial placements, lasting one year each, which involve rotations across different Thales sites around the country and seeing the engineering lifecycle from the perspective of different business units. During this time, graduates start to figure out where their interests lie.
  • Two final year-long placements tailored to the interests of the graduate, enabling them to start building and consolidating knowledge in their chosen area.

The impact you’ll make on the Thales graduate scheme

The size of Thales and the depth of its work means that there are endless opportunities for software engineers – in terms of the teams they join, the job roles they take on and the projects they contribute to. Just a few of the projects that software engineers at Thales have previously worked on are:

  • Sonar systems for submarines and mine detection vessels
  • Communication devices for the Royal Navy’s Type45 destroyers
  • The new UK passport system
  • Flight simulators

You will have the opportunity to make a difference in important fields such as national security – and you will often be able to see your work in action. ‘Getting the chance to install my software on a submarine and seeing the delight on our customer’s face was an incredible experience,’ says Georgia.

You definitely won’t be sat on the side-line watching as a graduate. ‘There are no tea-running roles for graduates. Everyone works together and everyone is key,’ explains Daniel. ‘No matter how long you have worked at the company, you will be on the frontline of technology and the software you work on could be used in so many areas, from airplanes to smart fridges.’

And, as a global company, Thales can provide you with opportunities beyond the UK. ‘I’ve been on overseas trips on numerous occasions to visit other Thales sites or to work on customer sites around the world, and I lived in France while on two different secondments,’ says Andy. ‘The company also hosts hackathon events, sometimes internationally, that employees can participate in.’

The career path you’ll take after Thales’ graduate scheme

Many of the senior members of Thales’ software team, including Andy, Luke and Cameron, started out on the graduate scheme. ‘There are lots of routes for progression from the graduate scheme. You could become a technical specialist in a domain or technology; go down a leadership path, running a team or multiple teams; or focus on project or programme management, delivering projects and pulling together all of the experts,’ explains Cameron. ‘And then, in each of those routes, there’s different roles all the way from a programmer or developer to software architect or data analyst.’

Whatever path you choose, Thales encourages and supports ‘moving up’. Luke reflects: ‘On day one of our Thales induction my fellow graduates and I were told that, if we wanted it, we could become the future leaders of Thales. I can see myself running a division of the company one day.’

Although the graduate scheme supports you to start your software career in a certain area, this doesn’t mean others will be closed to you. Switching and changing is always an option.

Cameron became a developer after the graduate programme. He has taken on a vast number of roles since then in the software engineering, research and development and corporate areas of Thales and is now a director. ‘I always describe Thales as not just one company. We’re a lot of different companies under one name,’ he says. ‘This has allowed me to work in multiple domains and environments without leaving Thales, and to grow my career by moving across different career areas as well as moving up into roles with more responsibility.’

The working environment: what is it like to work at Thales?

For all six software engineers at Thales, their colleagues have been one of the biggest highlights of their jobs. ‘Wherever I have worked in Thales, the people have made the job special,’ says Luke. Georgia agrees: ‘Everyone helps each other out, and the culture is friendly and supportive.’

‘Thales really feels like a family that cares and looks out for your career, development and well-being,’ says Daniel. ‘When young engineers on our graduate scheme face hard times, I have seen that Thales has not hesitated to provide the support, care and consideration they need.’

Thales has specific measures that make it easier for people to look after their well-being, including half-day Fridays and options for flexible working. For graduates, a buddy is assigned early on – this is someone to talk through problems or simply get a coffee with.

Commitment to inclusion

Ensuring everyone can reach their potential is important to Thales, and one important focus is on supporting its female employees.

‘I am most involved with Manchester Digital’s Digital Her scheme, which aims to give women the support, opportunities and guidance to get into digital and tech roles,’ says Emma. ‘Thales is a sponsor of Manchester Digital, which made it really easy for me to get involved.’ Both Georgia and Emma have given talks and lessons in schools, proving to the next generation of women that a career in software is an option for them.

Thales is also inclusive when it comes to differences in the way people work and think. ‘We have a neurodiverse environment in which you do not have to behave in a certain way,’ explains Cameron. ‘We hope that people are themselves and we will value them for their potential.’

If you’d like to inspire the next generation of software engineers, this is also something you can do at Thales. ‘I’ve been involved in a few outreach programmes, including becoming a STEM ambassador,’ says Daniel. ‘I’ve also helped to run work experience weeks and Thales family days on site.’

Continuous learning and development

As a graduate, you will be trained to become a chartered engineer by the end of the scheme and you’ll be given a mentor who will support you towards this. You will have the opportunity to complete training courses, both to improve your knowledge and to hone more general career-related skills such as leadership.

The learning doesn’t stop once you’re no longer a graduate, though. Thales recognises that continuous learning is key to feeling equipped enough to do your job well. ‘Every engineer can request ad-hoc training suitable to their role,’ explains Andy. ‘Recently, I have been on external Agile courses and achieved my Certified Scrum Master qualification.’

Thales also supports its employees to work achieve technical expert status. ‘This is an internal status, not like chartership, but it is recognition of the work you’ve done. You get a different colour company lanyard once you are a technical expert and I wear mine with pride,’ says Cameron.

The requirements: what does Thales expect from software graduates?

Firstly, you’ll need to have or be on track to achieve a degree in one of the below subjects:

  • software engineering
  • computer science
  • cyber security
  • computing
  • computer and data science
  • data analytics.

Secondly, you will need an obvious enthusiasm for working in software engineering and Thales. Lastly, this must be backed up with plenty of research into what the company is doing. ‘My best advice would be to read up and research the kinds of systems and products we produce,’ says Andy. ‘Knowing a bit about our domain before your interview will really help you to stand out. It’ll also be a good eye opener into some of the things that go on within the world of defence, which drive our projects and products.’

Cameron advises: ‘When you come in, be enthusiastic and willing to learn. These traits will take you a long way at Thales.’

Head to Thales' organisation profile on targetjobs to find out more and apply to open vacancies.

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