Interview: Paul Chester, Apprentice of the Year 2021

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Interview: Paul Chester, Apprentice of the Year 2021
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Interview: Paul Chester, Apprentice of the Year 2021

"It is one thing getting recognition from within your own organisation but for other people to recognise that is both uplifting and motivating."

No matter the industry, it's a truism that apprentices are thrown in at the deep end and must either sink or swim. Paul Chester of Leidos, our Apprentice of the Year at the Rising Stars Awards 2021, is definitely among the latter group, having aided with the development of a large, complex and important suite of tools - while still studying at university

What is Leidos all about, and what do you do there?

Leidos' mission is to make the world safer, healthier, and more efficient through technology, engineering, and science. We provide our customers technological solutions to tackle and solve existing, new and upcoming challenges. It's exciting to work for such a large, global company.

I am currently a software engineer apprentice at Leidos. Having originally joined as a member of the IT Service Desk as a Level 3 Apprentice, I took the opportunity to transition to the software team on our Degree Apprenticeship Programme. My role involves attending university once a week and working on customer projects for the other four.

Since starting on the degree apprenticeship programme, I have been involved with the development of Intelligent Approach (IA). IA is a suite of adaptive air traffic controller tools that safely optimises arrival spacing at airports to maximise runway capacity and efficiency and is used at London Heathrow, Amsterdam's Schiphol airport and NavCanada.

I work in a team developing, updating, and integrating the software for a number of major airports. Being a software engineer, my day-to-day work can vary. I am involved in programming using multiple software languages, writing supporting documents, configuring containers, automating builds and deployments, testing at both string and unit level, as well as identifying and fixing bugs. On my university days, I have a mix of lectures and live labs related to software engineering.

I enjoy the wide scope and variety of competencies that a software engineer role involves. No two days are the same, with new challenges always being presented. From a young age, I have always been a keen problem solver, finding out how things work and how to fix or improve them. My role allows me to challenge myself when solving complex problems and I take satisfaction from not only being able to solve a problem, but also understanding when it occurred. As technology is always moving forwards, it requires constant learning, which I am able to enjoy from the process of both work and study.

Planes outside Heathrow Terminal 5
Heathrow Airport is one of those using Leidos' Intelligent Approach tool suite

Can you tell us about your entry to the Rising Stars Awards?

I didn't find out about my entry until my manager mentioned he had nominated me! I was nominated for both Apprentice of the Year and Rising Star, which caught me by surprise; although I knew I was getting good feedback, it didn't cross my mind that I would be nominated for any awards off the back of it.

I am proud I was nominated as it solidifies and recognises the work I've been doing, and the feedback from it. My manager summarised one of my biggest achievements in my role so far as part of the nomination: he highlighted my contribution for taking a lead role in part of the customer-facing element of Intelligent Approach, researching, designing and implementing the solution.

What does winning the award mean to you?

Being Apprentice of the Year 2021 is a huge achievement and it means a lot to be recognised for my hard work. It gives me more confidence and a sense of achievement that not only my colleagues, but also the award judging panel, see me as deserving of the award. It is one thing getting recognition from within your own organisation but for other people to recognise that is both uplifting and motivating.

I wouldn't be in this position if it wasn't for my manager nominating me, and also the project I am on giving me the opportunities they did to be able to display my competencies, work ethic and willingness to learn.

I am driven by the opportunities to learn about more technologies. The chance to make a positive impact with technology and being recognised for my achievements makes me even more driven and affirms I am on the right track.

What one personal achievement in the last 12 months are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my work on refreshing and re-designing the control and monitoring interface for IA. This is the main user-facing element, as it is the dashboard end customers see, to be able to both monitor and control the application.

I was able to improve the look and feel of the solution, as well as implement new technologies such as containers and upgrade the security; as technology evolves, security solutions must become more advanced to protect against new threats.

I was given the opportunity and time to be able to research and learn about all the aspects of the solution before making the changes; I learned more about web development and database integration, as well as containerisation and network messaging protocols. Through the development stage, I learned about user experience from leading meetings and demonstrations with key stakeholders.

The entire process developed my collaboration skills and enhanced my knowledge and expertise in the areas covered needed to make the changes. I have now become the point of contact within the team for anything container-, SNMP- (Simple Network Messaging Protocol), and control and monitoring-related, which in itself is a huge achievement and something else I am proud of.

What are you working on this year?

This year I am still working on Intelligent Approach and projects that relate to it. I am looking forward to my next modules at university as they will increase my programming and database knowledge and expertise. My second year of university is due to end at Christmas. I am also looking to encourage new and upcoming talent in technology and am hoping to be able to support the early careers and STEM programmes here at Leidos. I am excited to see what other projects may be coming up that I can get involved in to widen my experience and knowledge.

The Rising Stars Awards will return next year. Stay tuned to Computing for more details.

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