Informed Solutions - Software Engineering Academy

Leading independent provider of digital transformation services finds a like-minded training partner

Background

Informed Solutions has been a leading independent provider of digital transformation, technology and management consultancy services for the public and private sectors since 1992. Founded by visionary Group CEO, Elizabeth Vega, the SME has built a global reputation for delivering technology enabled business change for the Central Government, health, emergency services, energy, utilities, and transport/logistics sectors. Informed’s achievements were formally recognised when it was made a winner of the prestigious Queen's Award for Enterprise Innovation in 2018.

Informed embraces diversity and inclusion, believing that this leads to broader skills, outlook, productivity and innovation. In practice, this means that Informed’s consultants join the company from a range of personal and professional backgrounds, and a key priority is to provide training, coaching and mentoring that develops talented people in to well-rounded professionals with strong technical expertise.

Given the continued rapid growth of the company, Informed sought to engage a partner that could help it to support it in developing the technical expertise of its Consultants as part of its broader talent development programme. We were excited to be chosen as Informed’s external training partner to design and deliver a two-week Software Engineering ‘bootcamp’ that would give technical and non-technical Graduates alike an accelerated introduction to software development best practice.

Informed Solutions - Elizabeth Vega

The Brief

Informed Solutions approached Framework Training to shape and deliver a two-week Software Engineering ‘Bootcamp’ that would give technical and non-technical Graduates alike an accelerated introduction to software development best practice. Tom Weeks, Informed Solutions Technical Director, stated:

“Consultancy is a challenging career to get to grips with and Graduates have a lot to contend with in terms of understanding their client, the clients sector and the particular problem space they’re working in. When you add the need to learn new technical skills in to the mix, particularly if you’ve come from a non-technical background, that’s no small feat and so we wanted to give our people a structured training programme that helped them with this journey.

The goals of the training were to:

  • Provide all trainees with a fundamental understanding of, and skills in, object oriented software development using Java as the basis for their practical learning.
  • Equip trainees who aspire to follow a technical career path with the core concepts, skills and working practices needed to deliver high quality software.
  • Equip trainees who aspire to follow a non-technical career path with the understanding and confidence needed to: (1) collaborate with technical colleagues and deliver technical projects that are on time, of a high quality and meet user needs; and, (2) understand how a client requirement is translated into working software.

Informed is a technology independent company, meaning that they deliver solutions using the technologies that are most suited to the client and problem at hand. Whilst the training would be based on Java, much of what the course would cover had to be programming language agnostic and focus on general software development practices such as how to design, write, test and debug high quality code. This, coupled with a practical understanding of Java, would give trainees the skills they needed to learn new programming languages, tools and technologies when they needed to.

The Solution

From the outset, we shared a very constructive dialogue. Informed Solutions seeks to create alliances with well-regarded organisations that share their values and principles. As such, from the start of the engagement Informed were keen and willing to consider our experience-driven contributions, such as how best to measure and pace the training in order to strike the best balance between breadth and depth. They also acknowledged the importance of providing sufficient time outside the classroom for practical exercises and exploring mini projects.

It was clear from our first discussions with Informed Solutions’ Technical Director, Tom Weeks, that he was passionate to encourage budding talent from various backgrounds to embrace software engineering as a career.

Together we composed a programme consisting of two 5-day blocks of instructor-led training sandwiching a period of self-study (three weeks) covering Java basics, software engineering principles and the fundamentals of web application development - in a modern, fast-paced, yet easy to digest context.

Framework Training's Ian Watson says "Previous experience has made us aware of the potential pitfalls where clients have initially wanted us to deliver as much content as possible. On paper a brimming syllabus can look impressive but this not how people learn most effectively."

The initially requested set of high-level topics for the graduate training programme was quite content-heavy so we felt some simplification was in order. We could see there would be major benefits if the programme introduced aspects of Design Principles and Patterns in tandem with hands-on coding. This would provide immediate practical context for the theoretical elements.

We identified early-on that there were significant variances of technical knowledge within the audience. This disparity can have a potentially disruptive impact on the efficacy of a training course. To address this imbalance, we suggested a Pair Programming approach to the practical elements of the training - bringing together those who could share their knowledge with a less experienced partner to work on the exercises. It sounds strange but teaching someone is a great way to find out how much you actually know, and both people can benefit greatly as a result.

The final curriculum had at its core an introduction to Java and JavaScript; from basic coding, processes, front- and back-end, web applications and cloud platforms. More sophisticated coverage of frameworks such as Angular were rejected on grounds of complexity and time constraints.

Our suggestion to include a planned period of consolidation/self-study between the two tranches of classroom training would allow the delegates to really explore the first half of the content, improve their comprehension and find (and fill) small gaps in their understanding. True learning takes time!

Another innovation we proposed was to conclude the programme with a two-day group project aimed at bringing all the elements of the training together - simulating the real-world experience of working in a team to produce a functioning software prototype.

What did we learn:

As with all strategies, there is no better way of measuring success than to implement them in the real world and monitor carefully. The training program was well-received overall and was considered a success. The event did highlight some areas that could be improved to enhance subsequent deliveries of the training programmes.

As the audience also included graduates from a non-technical background, somewhat simplified content could have proven a little more accessible. In the delegates’ words though, the instructor did an excellent job to tailor the training on the fly to be as inclusive as possible for all the participants.

For future deliveries a more detailed pre-assessment would be a useful tool to help identify how the audience might be brought into closer-aligned groups, in terms of existing technical experience (this would not be a reflection on aptitude).

Learning curve: The ‘Bootcamp’ approach will be involved in to a series of smaller ‘bite size’ modules that can be more easily tailored to the needs of technical and non-technical trainees.

Feedback:

We’re always keen to inspect and adapt, so it is important for us to embrace constructive feedback - this refinement leads to ever-better training programmes. The opinions gathered from the participants have been a huge assistance in terms of identifying the successes and areas of potential improvement for future runs of this exciting programme.

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Meet Tom

Tom Weeks, Technical Director

Tom Weeks, Technical Director, Informed Solutions

Informed Solutions

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