Piara Bhamra

Piara is on a Lloyds Banking Group Advanced Apprenticeship in IT. What has he discovered so far?

Best thing – ‘I’m in control’

“I’m a keen pilot, and I can tell you that nothing beats the feeling of flying, especially when you’re at the controls.

“That’s probably the best thing about this apprenticeship – I feel like I’m in control of my career, working with my mentor to go places.

“I’ve just started my development journey and already I’m discovering all kinds of job possibilities.

“It’s only by being in a place, working, learning, earning, that you find out what’s available.

“If you’re curious about what technology can do for millions of our customers, this could be the apprenticeship for you.”

 

Choice – ‘No student debt, thanks’

“Before I chose this apprenticeship, I thought about university but decided against it.

“I weighed it up. Three or four years of my life, away from home, accumulating £9,000 a-year debt in student fees – and no guaranteed job at the end of it. Thanks, but no thanks.

“So when I saw this apprenticeship, I got very excited and stayed up until 2:00am typing away at my application.

“I reckoned an organisation the size of Lloyds Banking Group would have a remarkable IT division, with amazing systems and networks linked to incredible mainframe computers.

“And I concluded this would mean I’d be learning from some of the best in the business – and now I am. It’s a dream come true.”

Day one – ‘A warm welcome’

“I received a very warm welcome from the team on my first day, and immediately I could see they were committed IT professionals. I thought, “Yes, I’m in the right place.”

“I looked around at everyone’s computer monitors, black screens with lots of green writing. It was like being in ‘The Matrix’. 

“This scared me a little – never in a million years did I think I’d be able to write code or learn how to use the software.”

“But now, six months later, I can write code and submit jobs on the mainframe. My mentor’s shown me how – I’d never have learnt it by reading a book.

Tip – ‘Become the go-to person’

“I’ve always loved keeping up with technology. I’m the ‘go-to’ person in my family when we have technical issues. This makes me feel useful, and I want to feel that at work too.

“A while ago I decided to build a PC from scratch. I ordered the components online, studied schematic drawings and YouTube videos, and assembled it in my bedroom.  It was much easier than you’d think.

“Doing things like this have helped me to ‘get inside the head’ of computers. That’s when I realised how important it is to maintain them and keep the infrastructure functioning properly.

“It’s like maintaining any machine – if you don’t, it’ll seize up and stop doing the things you want it to do.”

Design – ‘Feed your passions’

“My love for computers also feeds my passion for good design.  I regularly design flyers for a company that promotes artists in the Thames Valley, and I taught myself to do this through design software like Adobe Photoshop.

“I’ve even used my design skills at work, creating a pop-up banner for the payments team at their offices on the South Bank.

“It’s fantastic to be able to apply your passions at work – it feeds your spirit.”

Self-development – ‘Your number one priority’

“My idea of my own development is very broad – it’s not just about acquiring  technical knowledge and skills for my job, although that’s an important part of it.

“It’s about immersing myself in life, inside and outside work. That’s my number one priority – to develop all round, as a person and as a professional.

“So my view is that any opportunity is an opportunity for self-development, which is why I’m constantly throwing myself into activities across the wider Group.

“My manager is very supportive of this – in fact he actively encourages it. As I result, I’ve made a lot of new connections that have opened my eyes to the size and scale of our organisation.”

My work today – ‘Problem solving and communicating’

“In my current team I analyse the performance of our mainframes and plan for capacity, making sure we have the computing resources to meet the ever increasing demands of the business.

“What are the strengths I’m developing every day?  Teamwork, analysing, problem solving, critical thinking, communicating. I code in SAS (a programming language) and I use Excel spreadsheets for organising data.

“One day a week I work from home, which lets me to focus on the more formal side of my apprentice studies. The rest of the week I’m learning on-the-job from my experienced colleagues.”

Discovery – ‘Mainframes are the modern world’

“I had some idea of what a mainframe was before I started this apprenticeship, but I never realised just how critical it is to the functioning of an organisation like ours.

“Without a mainframe we couldn’t run our business, at least technologically we couldn’t – everything would have to be paper-based, which is impossible in the modern world.

“75% of the world’s Fortune 500 companies use mainframes, and we even have a special name for our ‘mainframe world’ – we call it ‘z-world’, after the zSeries mainframes pioneered by IBM.

“My manager recently sent me right to the heart of z-world, to IBM, where I met IBM graduates and got to see the actual z/Series mainframes in real life. They’re masterpieces of technology – mind-blowing machines!”

Presenting – ‘Hundreds in the audience’

In September 2016 I presented to hundreds of mainframe experts at the GSE (Guide Share Europe) annual conferences.

“The GSE is basically a z-world conference – and when I got up on stage I looking out at a sea of faces in the audience

“It was a massive honour, and I’d never presented at an event like that, so I was petrified!

“Once I’d calmed my nerves, however, it went really well. And now that I’ve done it, I know I’ll be less nervous next time, which is a big step forward for me.”

“I’m now a lead’

“Collaborating with others and making in presentations is important in my job, so my manager made me a lead on our RLC Espresso team, which hosts regular events design to stimulate new thinking in IT and digital across the Group.

“Being an RLC Espresso lead is making me a better communicator, especially in the way I write my emails, and a better time manager.

“I organise Espressos alongside my full-time job, my apprenticeship and my volunteering work, and it’s definitely making me more efficient in the way I use my time.”

Volunteering – ‘Help others to plan their futures’

“Lloyds Banking Group is big on volunteering, so I’ve been mentoring students at a local college. I help them to prepare their futures by sharing tips on CV writing and other enterprise skills.

“I never thought someone of my age would be giving advice to others of my age. It’s teaching me leadership, and it’s rewarding to think I’m helping others to plan their futures – just as I’m planning mine.

Long-term plans – ‘Enjoy the journey’

“In my spare time I plot my flight paths, at work I plan my future. My long-term plan is to move into management, where I can get a ‘helicopter view’ of the business – maybe I should be learning to fly helicopters as well as planes!”

“The thing is, capacity planning comes with experience, and a planner who’s been doing the job for 25 years will obviously know much more than I do now.

“So it’s going to be a gradual process. In a year’s time I should have a deeper understanding of my specific role, which means I should be performing better.

“In three years’ time I hope to have my own portfolio of projects to work on, with more responsibility and accountability.

“In ten years’ time I should be an SME (Subject Matter Expert) who knows the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of everything to do with my role.

“It’s an enjoyable journey ­ each day I discover more about capacity planning, about mainframes, about my strengths and interests, about the IT industry, and about the Group as a whole.” 

My advice – ‘Start exploring from the inside’

“You’d do well to get an apprenticeship in something that interests you, and start exploring from the inside. I believe it’s the best way to get on.

“If I met you on the first day of your apprenticeship, I’d tell you to get involved in as much as you can, immerse yourself in everything that’s going on. When an opportunity comes up, put your name down.

“Also, never be afraid to ask questions or ask for help, and network with as many people as you can, as often as you can.

“You’ll have a lot on your plate, which is good, so do everything in your power to get to grips with your role and where it fits in the greater scheme of things.

“Just because you’re young with less experience, you won’t be treated differently. But you will be supported by people who really know what they’re doing.”

Finally – ‘You can experience all this too’

“I knew a bit about technology before I started this apprenticeship, and now I’m writing code for our mainframes, analysing how they’re performing, and working out their capacity for serving our business.

“I’m learning from brilliant people and presenting to large groups of IT specialists, which for me is much more nerve-racking than flying a plane.

“I’m doing it, I’m making new discoveries all the time, and my confidence is going up and up.”

“If I can experience all this, you can too – perhaps even more.”

In my spare time I plot my flight paths, and at work I plan my future.