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Apprenticeships, flight simulators & guide-dogs

This week we start a new series of posts, introducing you to the brilliant people behind Climate Policy Radar and unpacking what drives them, both inside and outside work. In honour of National Apprenticeship Week, we speak to our multifaceted software engineer Katy about climate change, her search for a job with purpose, and the #SkillsForLife she took away from her apprenticeship degree.

Who is Katy? Tell me a bit about your journey…

I am a software engineer and have been for 5.5 years now. I joined the workforce 2 weeks after turning 18, as an apprentice, which was definitely a unique (but great) experience. I started out working on flight simulators for an aircraft designed in the 90s, and then moved on to developing a flight data analytics product from scratch for the same aircraft fleet, which I absolutely loved! 

I had wanted to take the ‘traditional’ route from school to university but for a multitude of reasons that didn’t end up happening the way I had planned. My employer before Climate Policy Radar had done a lot of outreach at my school, which is how I ended up finding out about the degree apprenticeship course they offered in software engineering. 

How would you describe a degree apprenticeship course for those unfamiliar with the concept?

I define it as a job that blends academic and workplace learning, i.e. combining full-time paid work with free part-time study. Most of your time is spent doing on-the-job training, and the rest is spent working towards a qualification (in this case either a Bachelors or Masters degree from a UK university). 

The whole point of being an apprentice is to combine real work with study whilst gaining cross-functional skills – ranging from areas like digital skills, project management and cybersecurity – to make you more well-rounded and address the skills gap that employers were experiencing with graduates coming into the workforce. 

Because of this, I was working on ‘real world’ projects from quite early on and was able to really stretch myself by saying ‘yes’ to all the opportunities that came my way, which I think has made me a better engineer.

What led you to software engineering?

When I realised I wasn’t necessarily going to follow my peers’ path it was a bit of a shock. At the time, there was a lot of focus on preparing people for university at my sixth form, so other options weren’t really spoken about. Ultimately, I ended up going to university via an apprenticeship, and knowing what I know now, I would choose the apprenticeship path all over again. It was right for me in every way! It’s taught me to trust in myself that when things don’t go to plan, You’ll find a way to make it work. 

Managing your studies whilst you’re working full time was intense, and as I wanted to protect my weekends, there were a lot of late nights instead. It’s taught me prioritisation, balance and how to work with people from all walks of life. I’d say my social skills are pretty good as a result of that experience. I hadn’t worked with another woman in engineering until I joined Climate Policy Radar, which also taught me not to be afraid to speak up or contribute when I have something to say. 

What excites you about Climate Policy Radar?

I’m really mission-driven, which is ultimately why I’m here. I’m interested in Tech for Good, I think ‘what’s the point of being able to do these things if you’re making the world a worse place? Or not actively contributing to making it better?’. That’s the difference between technical progress, ‘progress for the sake of progress’ and trying to solve meaningful problems. Climate Policy Radar fits that bill completely. 

Climate change is ultimately the biggest challenge of our generation(s), so being able to leverage my tech background to help build a product that can have a positive influence on the world is super gratifying. We have a really great engineering team at Climate Policy Radar. We all have a shared ambition, we care about what we’re doing. There’s something quite special about working in a team where you have a common goal.

What does a day in the life of a Software Engineer look like?

I’m a full-stack software engineer at Climate Policy Radar. I create new features to leverage the data that we have and improve functionality. The way I talk about my job is almost like doing a really hard sudoku, or word search – you don’t have to be naturally good at maths, but I like the way it makes my brain work. I like taking my time and seeing all the pieces of the puzzle falling into place: it’s so gratifying when you solve the proverbial ‘puzzle’. The job is variable, every day is different, you could be working on the front-end, the back-end, and I love the variety. I can’t imagine doing anything else. 

Climate Policy Radar has been operating a four-day working week. Where can you be found on a Friday?

I love having a free Friday. I use them to catch up with friends and family, or spend quality time with my partner, whose work schedule changes month-to-month! Otherwise, I’m usually on a long walk in the Ashdown Forest or maybe at a pilates class.

To end on a serious note, tell us about… your dog

She’s called Natalie, which is a weird name for a dog. She’s a beautiful 9 year-old retriever-lab cross. My mother was working with the RSPCA at the time, and the woman who sat next to her in the office fostered and trained guide-dog puppies. Nat almost made it to the end of her training, but then failed, so that’s how she ended up with us. It’s handy having a dog who can open cupboards.

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