The Big Picture
Max worked at IBM in the Cognos technical support section as part of a small team who served as the bridge between the customers and the product to deliver a satisfying user experience. He helped clients from across Europe, as well as some in the USA, to troubleshoot the software in ways such as fixing errors or building complex SQL queries.
“Cognos is a business analytics software that helps clients build business reports based on all the information their business collects in their very large databases.”
The Learning Curve
Max had no prior experience of using Windows operating system, which was essential in order to troubleshoot Cognos on these devices. In addition, he had never used Cognos prior to his Year in Industry and was given a user guide and a month of training to help him start. The guide gave instructions on how to operate the software and set up your own environments. The role required building environments, recreating and solving client issues and modifying environments personalised to the clients’ needs.
“During the final presentation I delivered at IBM, I mentioned that I had never used Windows before. My seniors were shocked and pleased to see how I had progressed, nevertheless. They said they were unlikely to have offered the role to me if they had known this during the application stage. However, having worked with me, they now knew it wasn’t necessarily a barrier.”
Technicalities aside, Max was apprehensive about speaking to clients at the end of his first month of learning how to use Cognos, but after being given training and having the support from those who were in his position a year ago, he came to view it as quite fun.
“They were there to help us if we got stuck, so when we actually came to meet clients and solve their issues, they were at hand to come and help us out if we really needed it.”
Max solved over 200 client cases during his Year in Industry which ranged from software defects and error messages to authentication issues, he also wrote over 30 technical documents. Using his own initiative, he identified a need for technical guides for installing and using Cognos on Linux. This was not only useful for clients who found the command line based Linux operating system intimidating, but also to his fellow, and sometimes more senior colleagues. This added great value to the Cognos Analytics Technical Support Team.
“It turns out that quite a lot of clients wanted to (use Linux), so I made the tech note, and then one of the permanent staff didn’t know how to do it himself, so I also helped him learn a new skill.”
The Physics Connection
While on his placement, Max started to notice the impact that IBM has on the modern world.
“IBM are at the forefront of technology, and a lot of that stems from physics however I didn’t realise quite how much. Returning to university this year, I saw one of my exams even mentioned IBM technology from semiconductors, early magnetic read-write memory, quantum computing systems and all their applications.”
The Professional Skills Stuff
Max used the research skills he learned in pursuit of his degree in order to quickly help clients fix issues that would otherwise be losing them a lot of money.
“Probably one of the most important parts of it was the ability to research and to know when you find answers, which will be useful and to be able to separate those from the useless ones quickly and effectively.”
IBM is a multinational technology company with over 350,000 employees in more than 170 countries. Max was based at their office in London.
IBM had a free skills library where Max was able to learn about different areas of programming, from Big Data to machine learning, and he earned IBM credits for acquiring these skills. Max had a good work-life balance with IBM and was able to form a close rapport with his team.
“We went go-karting, we had darts nights, and would go out quite often with the closer team every week and the wider team once or twice a month. It was a fun way to build relationships and network with people outside the office who otherwise you may not have worked with.”
Max submitted an initial application before doing some online tests to determine where he would best fit into the sector he had chosen at IBM. He attended an assessment centre day before being interviewed for the role.
“Numerical and logic testing seems to be quite a common thing with most applications.”
The Final Word…
Max decided to apply for this role because he didn’t have much work experience and he would highly recommend a Year in Industry to anyone who has the opportunity.
“It looks great on your CV, the experience itself is amazing, along with the people you meet along the way who become invaluable business contacts. I don’t know why more people don’t try it, I thought it was an incredible experience.”
….And the Next Step
Prior to his Year in Industry, Max envisioned himself delving into a more academic, physics-based career upon graduation, but has since changed his mind.
“I think it helped me focus that I want to work in the field of computing and more specifically in the field of AI and machine learning while retaining a connection to physics.”