Tom Smith, IBM
Tom was the winner of the Personal Excellence awards: IT Apprentice of the Year 2020.
What does it mean to you to win this award?
I truly feel honoured to receive this award and this recognition. I think it goes to show that hard work and focus really do pay off.
I also think winning this award reflects just how supportive and compassionate the mentors, coaches and teams are that I have worked with - both in IBM and the clients I’ve worked with. These people consistently support and share their experiences and expertise, not just with me but with many other apprentices and young professionals too.
Talk us through your career
I left school at 16 and had a great opportunity to join Mercedes-Benz of Winchester and complete a level 2 and 3 Light Vehicle Maintenance and Diagnostics apprenticeship.
After fully qualifying, I wanted to challenge myself further. I’d invested a lot of time in understanding the vehicles' systems and developed a real interest in the technology in modern vehicles, so I decided to look for a role in the development of software and systems.
I half-heartedly applied to IBM in 2017 while I was working at Mercedes-Benz and didn't make it past the online assessment. That’s when I pushed and challenged myself to get into IBM by the following year. I went through the application process all over again and this time I was successful, joining IBM in 2018 on their software test pathway.
My journey at IBM so far has been super exciting. I've had a range of testing experience, carrying out a little functional testing and a lot of non-functional testing. I’ve mainly been focused on performance testing and working as a performance test engineer, ensuring clients’ systems can handle hundreds of thousands of transactions a day, while remaining fast and faultless. This has included working with the world's largest building society, working on key strategic projects and some critical systems to enhance the company’s capabilities.
More recently, I have started working on a new critical project, ensuring that the UK's trade sector is ready for a huge increase in imports and exports as a result of Brexit.
What does IBM do?
IBM is the global leader in hybrid cloud and AI, serving clients in more than 170 countries. More than 2,800 clients use our hybrid cloud platform to accelerate their digital transformation journeys and, in total, more than 30,000 of them have turned to IBM to unlock value from their data. Guided by principles of trust, transparency and support for a more inclusive society, IBM also is committed to being a responsible steward of technology and a force for good in the world. For more information, visit: www.ibm.com.
What does a typical working day involve?
My day starts off with a stand-up, where each person in the team discusses what they did yesterday, what they will do today and if there’s anything blocking them. I’ll then have another call with a small group of my team to discuss exactly what our objectives are and how we’re going to achieve them.
Next, I configure the environment so it's ready for our testing and I’ll kick off the performance testing, monitoring the resource utilisation, analysing the results, writing up reports and then presenting them to stakeholders.
I find the most interesting part of my job is identifying problems and analysing logs and graphs to identify where and why the problem has occurred.
Career highlight to date:
My favourite part of my journey at IBM so far has been working with schools as part of the P-Tech programme - mentoring and teaching children and sharing insights into what it's like to work for IBM.
I’ve also enjoyed having amazing opportunities to present to some senior ‘IBMers’ about the work and the projects I’ve been involved in.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in test engineering?
I think a more general bit of advice would be to have multiple mentors and coaches. I've found having mentors from different levels with a wide variety of experiences and expertise can really help when learning new skills - whether it be a technical or soft skills - and when looking to grow your career.
Who has been the biggest influence in your career?
Well there are quite a few people to be honest - I don’t think I could just select one!
Certainly, my people manager who believed in me and has given me some excellent advice and support throughout my apprenticeship. Also the technical managers I’ve had, Joe and Chris, who have helped coach and teach me the technical skills required to be a performance tester.
But I think most of all, my biggest influence has probably been my Dad. He also works at IBM and without knowing it, he’s probably influenced me the most by sharing his expertise and experience, giving me the confidence to push myself, and introducing me to the world of IT.
Who do you admire and why?
Quite a few people once again but if I had to choose one, then it would be one of the performance architects who worked for a client whose account I was on in the first two years of my apprenticeship.
He was not only dedicated to achieving his goals and the success of the project team he ran, but he dedicated a lot of time to helping me achieve my goals and ensuring I got the best experience while on the project. He ensured I had a range of different experiences in testing and if I wanted to try something out, he would push me to do so.
What are your aspirations; how would you like to progress?
One of my more long-term goals is to work towards the senior levels of IBM, perhaps leading a practice within IBM with more responsibility and ensuring IBM moves forward and grows.
In the shorter term, I’d like to achieve some certifications in cloud technology and solutioning, particularly, RedHat and Amazon Web-Services.
Another aspiration of mine is to travel the world with my work. I’ve always wanted to spend a few years in Australia and if I can bring my work with me (especially performance testing which is what I love doing) then that would be an amazing experience and opportunity.
I’m also a huge fan of cars and the technology in vehicles and would like to be able to use my earlier career as a mechanic at Mercedes-Benz - somehow link it with my current role in performance testing.
What are you happiest doing when you're not working?
Watching football. I’m a huge Burnley fan and love watching all football as well as other sports like rugby and F1. I also enjoy the social side to it, meeting with a group of friends and watching the games - obviously it’s a little different now with COVID but I’m sure we will get back to it once this blows over.