Working life at BT for graduates: freedom, innovation and trust

BT graduates tell us that they are encouraged to innovate and make a difference to customers' lives, right from their first moments in their graduate jobs.
I love my role. It's tangible. It's fascinating. It solves real issues with good science – Vidhya, principal research scientist

The pride that BT employees take in their work comes through loud and clear when you talk to them. They are determined to convey just how ‘bleeding edge’ (that is, beyond cutting edge) and innovative their work is. In fact, it was the company’s innovative nature that encouraged software engineering intern Liam Self to apply in the first place: ‘I visited BT when I was in high school. We were shown how its work might benefit us in the future. This made a lasting impression on me and it was the first company I applied to for a placement year.’

BT employees say that they have innovative, impactful work

BT doesn’t innovate just for innovation’s sake: it must have a positive impact for the customer. Banhi Shikha Bhowal joined BT as a graduate and, five years on, is a customer experience lead in customer care. ‘I’m currently working on a project that seeks to introduce a pioneering screen-sharing technology for our customers,’ she says. ‘This capability will allow customer service advisers to text a secure one-time link to a customer’s mobile phone, which will then fire up a screen share and the adviser can share items such as terms and conditions during a sale. This will provide a brilliant customer experience and save callhandling time.’

Vidhyalakshmi Karthikeyan, meanwhile, is a principal research scientist, having joined BT as a graduate eight years ago. She is an inventor on 25 patents and patent applications. ‘I am a data scientist and I work as part of a larger team that enables the business to take data-driven decisions,’ she explains. ‘By applying data science and machine-learning techniques to large volumes of network and service performance data, my work has helped to diagnose various root causes of previous TV degradation across our nationwide infrastructure.’

What does this mean in practice? ‘I’m quite proud of when I designed an algorithm that predicted with a high degree of certainty the likelihood of a failure based on data derived from devices’ temperatures. These precursor signals were previously being ignored, simply because there was no way to know that there could be a firm correlation until my work discovered the link.’ But her work doesn’t stop there. ‘Some of my work recently helped to increase the number of channels delivered over our network by ensuring that we have sufficient network capacity to carry that traffic. My research enables our customers to watch high-definition TV in good quality in their living rooms and on the move,’ she says. ‘I love my role. It’s tangible, it’s fascinating, it solves real issues with good science, and it directly affects BT’s broadband and TV customers – and I am one of them!’

Now a BT TV operational systems lead, Nabeel Qazi (who joined a BT graduate scheme four years ago) recalls a project where he had particular influence: ‘I designed and deployed a cloud wi-fi solution for a very high-profile global customer,’ he says. ‘I was solely responsible for the technical aspect of the deployment.’ He is also aware of the innovation happening around him. ‘Our apps are great examples of innovation,’ he says. ‘As a big football fan, I totally love the BT Sport app during the Champions League games. The first time I used it, I was very impressed – even more so when I discovered that graduates were involved in building it.’

BT employees say that there is an innovative culture

BT actively encourages innovative thinking. It runs a Dragon’s Denstyle challenge and a Challenge Cup annually. These are based, in turn, on devising an innovation that will help solve a societal problem and making life better for customers. If ideas are feasible, they are implemented. Séainín McCoy, another alumni from BT’s graduate programmes and now a lead designer in smart diagnostics and data analytics, praises these initiatives: ‘They are amazing. Ideas have ranged from process changes that simplify an activity to complex new algorithms. They empower the brilliant people who work here to make a change.’

BT also holds an annual, week-long event celebrating innovation. In 2017, it was held in its technology hub Adastral Park, which also hosts smaller technology companies. The week highlighted the latest technology work being completed at the park and was attended by clients, the wider community and BT employees. Vidhya played a prominent role. ‘It’s a brilliant opportunity to showcase our research,’ she says. ‘I presented talks on our central stage and hosted visitors to our pods that demonstrated our research. I had lost my voice by the end of the week, but felt fantastic nonetheless.’

Liam also attended. I was taken aback by the sheer variety of research and development that BT engages in,’ Liam says. ‘Over the week, I heard so many people say, “I never knew that BT did that!”. My university lecturer also attended and remarked how impressed he was by the demonstrations and by the contributions his students had made to them.’

BT employees say that their contributions are valued

Employees feel rewarded by the autonomy and trust they are given. Vidhya particularly appreciates being able to shape her own research and this type of freedom even extends to interns. ‘I’m trusted to plan and manage my time and I have independence, while also being supported by an experienced team when needed,’ says Liam. ‘The trust I’ve received has made me feel valued as a member of the team.’ Banhi puts it succinctly: ‘BT is a great place to work, a place where people are truly valued’.

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