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A view from Cyber Security Apprentices

I’m really interested in keeping in touch with our new Cyber Security Apprentices on how they are finding their placements. Understanding the work they’re doing, who they’ve met, and the experiences they’re having is important in terms of helping shape this scheme and make it a big success.  I asked two of our apprentices at The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) if they’d tell us about their time at the Digital Academy. Here’s what they thought.

Our experiences…
As apprentices new to DWP, we were invited to Leeds to attend the Digital Academy. Our learning aims were to understand more about Agile methodology and how it is implemented in government, as well as get a sense of the wider digital agenda across government.

We knew the first week might feel a bit daunting, given we’ve only been in DWP a short time, and there’d be lots of concepts and terminology we’d be unfamiliar with. Despite this, our peers (from our group) were very approachable and friendly, helping us to settle-in and get to grips with Agile concepts. By the end of the week, we really felt we had learned a lot, becoming competent in basic Agile principles and writing HTML scripts.

Going into the second week we felt a lot more comfortable in the Academy environment, as well as within our group, and we were really looking forward to continuing our learning.

We split into different teams and began our discovery phase - which was based on improving the existing Cold Weather Payment Service. We felt able to take the initiative more with our projects, which our peers appreciated. We were also fortunate to be able to hear from Kevin Cunnington, Director General for Digital Transformation at DWP, about the Department’s vision for digital services. It was great hearing from Kevin, and really helped to put our programme into a wider government context.

During the discovery, we both took on user research roles, using qualitative research to help formulate and design a minimum viable product to bring into alpha (we were beginning to use Agile language!). We also experienced other aspects of Agile, including taking part in our first ‘show and tell’ where we were able to showcase our journey through the discovery phase to one of the cross-government groups. Reflecting on how much we’d achieved was a great confidence boost at the end of our second week.

By the time we arrived for our third week, we felt like valuable assets to the Digital Academy cohort. The highlight of the week was by far the first sprint of our projects. We both took on the role of developers within our teams; we each developed functional digital prototypes for our Cold Weather Payment services. Our teams were extremely pleased with the products we had developed and our second ‘show and tell’ was a great end to the week.

For the fourth week, we got the chance to go to the Home Office as part of our placement week. Here we shadowed the team behind the Lost and Stolen Passport Online Service, observing their Agile practices. This allowed us to see the theory we’d learned applied in a real project scenario. On the final day we went to HM Passport Office in Peterborough to witness some real-life user research and testing. This gave an excellent insight into the world of user research and overall we found the placement a very useful experience.

The highlight of the final week was the Academy security day, which we found one of the most interesting and engaging sessions of the five-week programme. We began by identifying various threat scenarios that we explored in detail. Thursday was our last day as Academy students and our task was to deliver a final ‘show and tell’ to an audience of stakeholders, including a demo of one of the minimum viable products.  We spent the morning doing lots of preparation and we were really pleased with how it was delivered. It was really encouraging to get positive feedback from our peers, line managers and teachers. It felt like a fitting end to our five-week journey, where we not only learned a wealth of knowledge and skills, but also got to know some great people.

Coming away from the Academy, we are both more confident, competent individuals ready to continue our apprenticeship and further develop our knowledge and skills.

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