1. Please give an overview of your role and what this involves on a day-to-day basis:
I am currently a java developer in a large scale space and defence project. This largely involves assessing the requirements of a task, identifying the root of the issue, implementing and testing the work required. This is a process with many steps and using a number of tools outside of the basic java libraries so it's often more of a challenge to get these aspects to work together harmoniously than it is to code in java itself. Whilst the level of management responsibility in this role is limited, the challenge and complexity of the work is significantly greater than some of the more 'senior' roles that I have taken on in my time at CGI.
2. Have you learnt any new skills or developed existing skills?
I've developed a significant number of skills since joining CGI, from more technical skills such as the administration of version control, artifact repositories and continuous integration platforms, scripting in batch/powershell/VB and coding using java, spring, hibernate and gwt, to business skills such as release reporting, development of project processes and team leadership. The project aspect of the course has been phenomenal for this. Whilst most of this has been on the job learning, I have also attended an external training course involving familiarisation to new concepts in the latest release of java.
Of course the degree in the sponsored degree programme has taught a number of skills outside of the project role. It should be noted that despite being on the technical course, the majority of these were business oriented skillsets such as report writing, project management theory/practices and presentation/communication skills. These have however proven of huge benefit in the workplace and provide good practice in areas that can otherwise be out of a traditional technical employee's comfort zone.
3. To what extent do you enjoy your programme?
The work has been great throughout this programme, with very inclusive teams and a company culture that works well for new joiners. It was notably different from the sales pitches at the time of joining, and therefore some promised perks for being within the SDP never came to fruition, or were held in a different light once contracts had been signed.
Whilst I definitely enjoyed the work aspect, some of the degree modules are arbitrary, and communications issues from both the University of Winchester (largely in the first two years) and central SDP management (throughout the course) caused issues that both significantly increased stress and significantly marred the enjoyment of the course overall. Recent organisational reshuffles have also altered the culture of the company in the past couple of years, and whilst this is not necessarily a bad thing, it should be noted that it has clearly been a transitional time and the atmosphere in the offices has reflected this.
4. How valued do you feel by CGI?
In the early years of the course it was easier to feel valued than it is now. There are a number of factors to this that aren't entirely the company or scheme's fault (some of which have also since been rectified), but it's largely a culmination of small issues that stack up to diminish the feeling of being valued as an employee.
Direct teams usually value the work and enthusiasm of SDP students and will advocate for them if and when issues arise, as would be the case in any well functioning corporate entity. Whilst recognition is not always shown, and the internal schemes for this such as ReCoGnItion are applied inconsistently between business units and projects. However, on the most part the appreciation is there.
5. How well organised/structured is your programme?
Having now completed the course, I can now see the method behind much of the madness, particularly regarding university topics and their order. Whilst much of this is designed to develop skills that can be carried into other modules, these are not necessarily directly related to the topic area and therefore not necessarily easy to pick up on. This does make more sense as the course goes on, but it's common for students (particularly in the first year) to feel as though they're guessing when it comes to a lot of the university work.
6a. How much support do you receive from your training provider?
Training and support for university are available as to any other student and although geographical limitations are often a factor, the University does provide additional support to CGI students to assist with this.
6b. How much support do you receive from your employer?
Project support is very good at CGI. It's in the best interest of the team to make sure that you succeed and this is evident from the help provided and rapid progress made in competencies by SDP students.
From CGI's perspective, the mentor aspect of the first two years is a very strong point of contact both for the specific module they are tasked to help with and as a general contact within CGI. The induction is also strong albeit a lot to take in. The support from CGI ends here, and contact will be minimal, abrupt and sometimes abrasive. The student support point of contact will be those who interview you and it becomes clear quickly that although toted as the main point of contact, in reality their primary focus is recruitment. Whilst this is not necessarily easy to deal with at first, as the most obvious point of contact will not necessarily provide the help needed, there are usually alternative resources at the university or through the CGI mentor that can cover the gap well enough to get by.
7. How well does your salary/package meet your costs?
The old scheme was sufficient for all living costs (although it could be a bit tight in the first year) and project travel expenses are often applied where any excessive costs are incurred.
8. Are there many opportunities outside of work?
There are plenty of opportunities including a sports and social club which organises heavily discounted events for a small opt in monthly salary deduction and local volunteering opportunities at school career fairs.
Notably on the course though, it's not always possible to find the time to attend.
9. Would you recommend CGI to a friend?
A simple no doesn't really do this justice as I have learnt more than I could have possibly imagined and cannot really see myself having not been a part of the scheme.
That being said, there is no way I could ever do this again, and given the severity of some of the unique issues faced by SDP students, I'm not sure I could wholeheartedly give my recommendation for this scheme.
10. What tips or advice would you give to others applying to CGI?
Ultimately just be yourself, the assessment centre is really looking for three things, ability to succeed in the workplace, ability to achieve the required level at university (2:1 or higher) and a cultural fit for both the company and the degree course.
Whilst the majority of assessments are by the individual, a lot of the university learning revolves around interactions and group work/presentation with other students. As the CGI cohorts are so small, and often isolated from the main student body, it is important for the organisation to see that applicants will be able to get along with the others on the course and make positive contributions towards a common goal, even when the inevitable stresses of the course hit.
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