Leveraging the technical & social revolution to advise Gen Alpha

2020 started pretty well for me: aged 25, I’ve been catapulted into playing a pivotal leadership team role in AI Firm Sidetrade’s new R&D strategy to enable our hyper-growth in the UK, as one of the most exciting machine learning/AI companies in Europe rapidly scaling. Now, what bearing does this have on the subject in the title? Hold tight and you will see.

In January this year, I also had the privilege of being invited to the first APPG on Apprenticeships meeting after last year’s general election. The main priorities to come out of the meeting, in my opinion, were around accessibility of information in finding apprenticeships, as well as impartial career advice for young people – Generation Alpha.

Just under nine years ago in July 2011, aged 16, I became the youngest apprentice on a new Microsoft scheme. I then worked as a software engineer with Delta Financial Systems and by the age of 20, I was a technical lead of around 15 developers – all with much more experience than myself.

Subsequent roles with BrightTarget as lead application engineer, and a new technical leadership role with Sidetrade aged 25, demonstrates that an apprenticeship is a pathway whereby you can enjoy a meteoric rise in your career.  

At 21, my career development sparked a sense of responsibility. I wanted to use my experience and passion to get more young people into tech - so I started an additional journey.

Delta Financial Systems were finding it so hard to recruit new people (the tech talent gap we hear so much about is real), yet computer science graduates had among the lowest employment rates in the UK. Why was this?

How could I be enjoying such success yet see opportunities that weren’t being presented to young people. My answer: technology moves very quickly. A pretty obvious statement yet overlay that with the fact that a degree takes years, and you quickly see the lack of alignment. So, I formulated the concept of software bootcamps in my head.

I truly believed this was a viable business and pursued it aged 21. At the time, I started to see validation in the concept already in the market - I heard about Hack Reactor, Makers Academy and General Assembly (who were acquired by Adecco for $413m in April 2018).

I saw these guys charging to the tune of £8-12K for courses. The idea of this scared me. So instead I joined AI start-up BrightTarget in March 2017 (subsequently acquired by Sidetrade). But I couldn’t hold back my burning passion for alternative routes into tech. I wasn’t motivated by turning the concept into a business. So, I incubated a trial of the coding bootcamp in October 2018 at Sidetrade.

We officially launched the Sidetrade Code Academy last year and recruited five new graduates, taking Sidetrade’s total intake to eight in just two years. It’s a completely free, new rapid way of training, creating jobs, and supporting diversity.

Back to the APPG meeting. A couple of suggestions were floated around apprenticeship uptake, such as a platform similar to UCAS but also around the problem with impartial career advice and negative stigma of apprenticeships.

According to Oracle, 80% of businesses want chatbots by 2020. With the power of Microsoft and Amazon cloud services, and the progression of AI, I asked the question to try and answer the problems the APPG were facing: Why can’t we leverage these principles and provide a disruptive service that genuinely talks to Generation Alpha, in a way that makes sense to them?

An AI-powered career chatbot that’s accessible through social media, where interaction is normalised to Generation Alpha. Talking about your career should be a cool, intellectual process after all, and what’s more impartial than AI suggesting the best route to start a career?

@LukeHennerley, @Sidetrade


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