The Big Picture
Xanthe has worked at BAE Systems as an Automated Test Engineer for three years, following the completion of her MPhys in Physics at the University of York in 2016. For the first year of her job she was a Manual Test Engineer before being given the opportunity to automate the process using code, mainly Java, which was something she was apprehensive about when approached with the task, having not enjoyed Python at all at university.
“I passed the modules and it was fine but I did really struggle with it and so you know when I came to this job and they were like “do you wanna start doing some coding” I was like “oh god no””
BAE Systems are happy to invest in any training for Xanthe as this is beneficial for them too – the more skills Xanthe has, the more places they can utilise her skill set within the company. Xanthe did lots of free Java courses to prepare for her transition from manual to automated testing and now loves her job despite not enjoying coding whilst at university.
“If I had just spent a bit more time on coding then I would’ve got it, but because I was juggling so many other things at the same time it just didn’t click.”
The Application Process
Prior to graduating in July 2016, Xanthe started looking for jobs in September 2015, using sites like Milkround to find interesting roles, she then explored these companies further through Google and if she met the requirements, she’d apply. Xanthe narrowed down her choices to two very different jobs, one working for BAE Systems and one as a physics tutor at a school.
“Once I thought like more long term about where I wanted my career to go I thought that BAE Systems was probably more suited to me rather than teaching”
Xanthe came to this conclusion because she knew she liked the aspect of problem solving that she had become familiar with throughout her physics degree, and the job description at BAE Systems appealed to her in that way.
“I’m gonna have to like actually use my brain everyday and think about things quite logically which I like”
When applying for jobs, Xanthe felt her CV was well-rounded. It included her multiple summer placements, a lifeguard qualification, as well as extracurricular society activities such as being a member on the Executive Committee for the Pole Exercise Society.
“Prove that you can work with other people and actually talk to people and send emails and that sort of thing, and they really like that aspect”
Xanthe realised that a lot of places had already closed their applications by the time she started looking for job opportunities. Applying early is always best as some positions are first come first serve, so once a certain number of applicants have successfully secured a role, applications are closed to other potential candidates.
“I’m not the kind of person who is able to just shrug off and be like oh yeah that’s fine.”
Xanthe found getting rejected from job positions frustrating, remarking that the application processes were sometimes so long and arduous that getting to the end of all that and not securing the place was a bit disappointing. She understands that a rejection is nothing personal and that it is best to move on to the next application.
“I know people who, they graduated and they didn’t have a job and then they had sort of the summer just to sort of try and find what they could and they were all getting like a bit, yeah depressed about it basically, but then after a couple of months of looking that’s when they found their like dream role and now they have a job that they absolutely love.”
Day to Day
Xanthe’s day normally starts with a team stand up meeting where everyone briefly discusses what they’ve been doing, what they’re going to do, and any challenges they are currently facing. She finds this a useful and productive way to start her day as it means that everyone can offer assistance to someone who is struggling and that no one’s workflow is hindered.
“Mostly day to day, I sit down, I open my laptop and then I sit at a desk for however many hours, but I like it. It’s nice to be able to have to like problem solve.”
Desk jobs aren’t for everyone, but Xanthe enjoys the intellectual challenge that her job brings each day.
Teamwork or Solo?
In Xanthe’s current team, she is the only one who can write tests so, in that sense, she works alone, but she says it depends entirely on the project. BAE Systems is very accommodating on work style in Xanthe’s opinion:
“Some people prefer to just like go off and do stuff and then will only come to others for help when they need it, or some people love to work together with other people to like ‘pair program’ and to like create stuff together. So our business is quite flexible.”
Asking for Help
“I went into systems engineering and then testing, and I didn’t know anything about those sorts of things.”
Xanthe’s field was entirely new to her and she acquired a lot of knowledge on the job as mentioned previously. Part of this learning experience involved Xanthe recognising that asking for help is not only encouraged but necessary, especially in a workplace environment. A certain level of resilience and individual effort is expected, but it saves time and resources to ask for help when you need it.
“Sometimes I think saying I don’t know is better than pretending like you do or not asking for help and then really really struggling because that, like certainly in my project at the minute, will add a lot of time that you can’t afford to add, so it’s just quicker to be like right, I don’t know the answer.”
The Physics Connection
When asked how much physics or maths from her degree Xanthe uses in her daily job, she confidently responded with:
In terms of the actual theory that Xanthe learned studying physics, none of it is crucial to her role as an Automated Test Engineer. However, everything she learned from the experience of getting a degree, whether in physics or not, has been vital for securing and performing well at her job. Similarly, Xanthe’s colleagues come from a wide range of backgrounds, further showcasing that it isn’t the content of the degree that’s important but the experience and skills learned before graduating.
“We’ve got people who did english degrees, maths and physics, someone with a history of art degree…People come from all over and they all do the same job which seems mad but actually it’s quite good because they can all think about things differently and they can all approach things from different angles.”
The Next Step
Xanthe can see herself working for BAE Systems in the long term given the flexibility she has in which projects she works on. If she isn’t particularly enjoying a project, she has the opportunity to switch onto another one. The projects themselves vary in subject matter, going from working for international governments to testing mobile apps.
“(Within my class) I’ve heard so many stories of people doing different jobs…we all did physics and we’ve all gone to do these different things. It’s really different but it’s really nice.”