In this case study we hear from Alexandra Matzari, a GA student on our BSc (Hons) Software Development for Business programme, on her experience so far in the Enterprise Team, here at Heriot-Watt University.
We also hear from Gordon Ross, Alexandra’s mentor, on the impact she has had in the team.
Alexandra Matzari, GA student
Please explain how you found the graduate apprentice position and give some background as to what you were doing prior to being offered it.
Prior to finding my job at Heriot-Watt, my studies up to the postgraduate level were focused on finance, but I soon confirmed that it was not something I wanted to pursue despite being very successful and receiving a scholarship to follow this career.
I feel lucky to be part of the entrepreneurial team of GRID, where dreaming with the right support is the key to properly inspire and plan the implementation of future ideas.
Last summer I attended an intensive Java programme for 13 weeks and pushed myself to at least give it a try to understand programming even if it was the hardest thing I was feeling at the time. I did not regret this decision. I started to feel full of energy and excitement again about new things I was learning every day on the code development. With the completion of the programme, I wanted to find a job anywhere in the field of programming.
I could never believe I was lucky enough to be able to create VR content and projects related the gamification functions, via Unity right now. To support new virtual reality projects, AR/VR, in collaboration and goal-setting with other sciences in engineering, tourism, health and education, in private and public sector. Being part of the Heriot-Watt University family, I feel lucky to be part of the entrepreneurial team of GRID, where dreaming with the right support is the key to properly inspire and plan the implementation of future ideas.
What were the benefits of the graduate apprenticeship programme that attracted you the most?
What I liked most about this programme is the combination of working with continuing education. I could not pursue a university undergraduate studies again without this programme. Now at work I am learning and working on AR/VR technologies while for my studies I am learning and deepening in a normal 4-year degree in the direction of software technologies knowledge. I'm learning about other programming languages and computer science in general. So I'm evolving in two different directions at the same time, developing myself for this particular job position but also for my future.
Please describe what you are employed to do and how you have coped with the challenges of learning new skills whilst studying towards a degree.
My main responsibilities are:
- to assist in the development of virtual reality, immersive and gaming content within GRID.
- to support in developing code/content to showcase the VR/AR and gaming capabilities to industry partners.
- with support from the Enterprise team, to drive engagement externally in our world-class VR function (Imagineering Suite)
- to resolve day-to-day issues, working with the Enterprise Team and other colleagues to solve a range of technical challenges and support industry partner visits, workshops and public outreach activities.
I think it's the best recipe for someone who wants to learn and work on their interest and passion. At the same time, the workplace tasks are useful for my studies. I can solve what I perceive at work and it raises questions for me by asking professors at the university, as well as questions related to my studies, I can also discuss them with the team at my workplace. This includes developing a good habit of trying to find the best information you need for accomplishing your goals.
The study’s curriculum is designed to support the employer's requirements in the workplace. They do not burden me with knowledge that is unnecessary, which motivates me to be good both at work and in my studies.
What is your proudest achievement to date in your role and can you explain how this impacted on your working environment and or helped deliver results on behalf of your organisation?
I am very proud to be building a website that will present the projects and international collaborations of the Enterprise team. It is essentially a portfolio of work produced in relation to the new technologies we use for VR/AR and gamification. This will help to better publicise the amazing ideas we are part of. And it can help develop new partnerships and concepts for exploration.
What are your future career hopes and goals on completion of the graduate apprenticeship? (Please explain how you think this will differ if you had gone via the traditional route of achieving a degree via a full-time undergraduate programme.)
By the end of my GA, I would like to have gained the appropriate knowledge and convenience of speech around the technologies that interest me the most, to really use every academic year to actively participate in supporting the University's identity and success story of Heriot-Watt strategy, to have created an electronic game that helps with the easy understanding of history lessons for school children, creating a VR book, which is based on the idea of audio books.
Additionally I would like to promote the active participation of women in software creation field, as I feel sometimes lonely in this technical world. In the year of 2020 there should be greater equality in STEM subjects and that’s something that I feel passionate about.
I have already gone through the traditional training model as I have mentioned, I have a bachelor’s degree in business administration and economics. I find the theory incredibly useful to be directly related to practice. That was missing from the traditional model of a BSc egree. The essence of education is to help you deal with the real world with the best preparation, so why should this meeting take place after graduation? The earlier the more effective.
If I had known this program at the age of 18, I would have chosen it directly.
Please give a quote to sum up your overall experience of the graduate apprenticeship programme.
It takes more than luck to be able to have a second chance and work on ideas, dreams, inspiration which becomes a reality.
Gordon Ross, GA mentor
What are the key reasons why the graduate apprentice model suits your business or industry?
There is a huge demand for software engineers and developers. It can be challenging to attract fully qualified resources. The benefit of GA allows us to acquire enthusiastic talent that can be deployed as their abilities develop without waiting for the finished article.
In short, smart people are useful from day 1. They of course improve as they learn new skills, but they come with talents from the beginning. Having their brains about the place is good for everyone.
What appealed to you most about Heriot Watt University as the GA provider?
We are part of the Heriot Watt ecosystem; it is a known quantity for us as we are fully integrated into the culture.
In what way has Alexandra made a contribution to the workplace or business?
Alexandra has contributed in many ways including but not limited to the development of software products, pitching for contracts and to the overall cultural diversity of the team. She brings bright and inspirational ideas and often a fresh perspective.
How do you feel about the Alexandra’s future?
Alexandra is an ambitious and talented learner. When she takes an interest in an area her appetite to understand is insatiable. Even the sky is not the limit for Alexandra. It will be for Alexandra to pick a goal and she will achieve it. Our role is to expose Alexandra to opportunities and challenges that interest her.
Based on your experience of the graduate apprenticeship programme would you happily employ another graduate apprentice in the future?
Yes, it has been a great experience. Alexandra is not the only GA in our team and we are delighted at the prospect of further hires via the system.