Apprenticeships at Digitas

I’m Mikel Fernandes, a data apprentice at Digitas. This blog post is about my experience as an apprentice and the decisions that led me there.

What are apprenticeships?

Many people have the preconceived notion that apprenticeships are the route people go if they want to pursue a more labour intensive career instead of going to university, which has a more academic and studious approach that can lead to a wider variety of jobs, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Apprenticeships provide a way for people to kick start a career in a wide variety of fields, learning while gaining hands on, practical experience in the workplace, a qualification at the end and (maybe most importantly for some people) a salary.

Apprenticeships are supported by the UK government and are available to anyone living in England (there are different organisations that will deal with apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), who are 16+ and not in full time education.

Why I did one

Personally, I was going to go to university and had secured a place to study computer science. However, I decided to go the apprenticeship route as most things coding related are very practical, which means to actually get a job in the field, you need experience, which you usually don’t get at university. Also tuition fees (and maintenance fees on top of that) are very expensive and so I had to weigh up the financial implications. I think that going to university will always be the preferred option for certain career paths like Law or Medicine, but for others, an apprenticeship should be considered as a viable alternative.

Application process

I started my search by googling ‘find an apprenticeship’. The first result was the government website that has all the information you need. I signed up to the website and looked through the different apprenticeships available; some information about the role, the distance they were from my home, their requirements, and I did further research to find out more about the company. Some apprenticeships allow you to apply directly from the government’s website, but some will take you to the website of an apprenticeship agency. In my case, one of these agencies I was redirected to was WhiteHat.

WhiteHat primarily aim to help people between the ages of 18–24 who have not gone to university to get apprenticeships (you can apply with them if you don’t fit that demographic as well), and support them until they finish. When I signed up to their website, they were very responsive and encouraging me to complete my profile on their website, which acts as a replacement for a CV. I attended their ‘Kick Off Day’ where they told me and some other future apprentices some key things that we should do to make ourselves employable. I then applied to multiple companies I was interested in, and waited to see if I’d get a response.

I did get rejected from a few places, and not just from those I applied to with WhiteHat. But I didn’t let myself get too down about it. Getting rejected doesn’t always mean you did something wrong. What it does mean is you have a chance to improve yourself, so that next time maybe you will get the job. 3 months after I initially applied to WhiteHat, I got an interview at Digitas (a media agency which is part of Publicis Groupe).

I was quite nervous for the interview as it was only the second one I had ever been to. They asked me to create a small presentation about myself beforehand to show them. When I arrived, the other applicants and I first got a tour of the office. It was very big (at least that’s what I thought not having worked in one before), open plan with hot desking in place. There were multiple kitchenettes and foosball tables and a pool table too. We then we did our presentations individually to 3 members of the data team; Leila — head of the data department, Rupert — data science partner, Zvezda — lead analyst; and 1 person from strategy; Dave — Strategy Partner and Apprentice Mentor. Then each of them interviewed me individually and asked me about previous projects I’ve worked on, how I’ve worked as a team on them, if I’d done any in-depth analysis or coding projects, and what they consisted of. I learned later that this can differ between companies and roles. Some people I know didn’t have a regular interview at all, but an assessment day instead, where they mostly did group activities, and had Maths and English tests. Overall, what I experienced was a much more relaxed and better than I expected, and I hoped that I sold myself well enough for the role.

The next day, I found out I had! WhiteHat informed me, and gave me 24 hours to decide whether I wanted to accept the role. I weighed up my options, and decided I was going to take it as it seemed like a great role. I started working a month later.

Being an Apprentice at Digitas

The first day was just a general introduction to the company, mainly admin things to know to about, I got my laptop and a tour around the building. The second day, I was introduced to my line manager and the rest of my team, and after a bit of setting up, I was already told about some project work that I would be starting within the next week. I was surprised at how quick this was, so I started preparing by learning about web scraping, which is basically extracting data from websites. Soon I was having meetings and writing code for this project, which was well received at the first meeting with the stakeholder.

The apprenticeship scheme at Digitas is quite new. I spend 4 days a week working for Digitas, and 1 day studying, in which I work towards my final grade for the apprenticeship (80/20 work to study which may be spread out differently depending on the company, role and whether or not it is very busy a certain week). Those 4 days, I operate as any other employee would, working on different projects, for different clients, collaborating with different people, always learning something new. The study side is run by Whitehat. They give me objectives to work on every month and have multiple sessions on subjects relating to Data Analysis. So far at Digitas, I have worked on multiple projects involving different methodologies such web scraping (as I mentioned before), using APIs, emotion detection in text, topic modelling, automated data cleansing and comparing different AI platforms to help clients decide which to use.

Thoughts 3 months in

At first, I was overwhelmed with all the new things that were introduced to me, as I had never worked at a big company before. But soon I settled in, and picked things up quite quickly. Everyone here is very supportive, my study day is respected, and I find my work interesting.

A lot of what I do is very technical, such as writing code, understanding and using tools for AI and machine learning, which shows you don’t necessarily need a degree to do this type of work. I’m confident that this applies to many other types of jobs as here at Digitas, we also have apprentices working in Client Services, Strategy and Media.

I am learning new things all the time, and people seem to be very impressed with my work. I’m looking forward to working on new things and completing the rest of my apprenticeship in the coming months.