Michael Sage – An Introduction

Is getting into University the first time around the be-all and end-all for kick-starting a career in IT? Like most things, the first step of getting your foot in the door is crucial… but what if there were different ways to go about it? I’ll give you some insight into how I went about it and how accessible the IT sector in Belfast is for those who are keen to get involved.

At A-Level, I had studied a selection of subjects that would generally be seen as vastly different from one another (those being Spanish, Computing and Music). Initially, I would’ve agreed with that sentiment but the concept of being creative with logic runs through each of these subjects. These three areas are ones that I still very much enjoy and are integral parts of myself.

Ultimately, I didn’t get the three Bs that I needed to get into the Software Engineering course I was hoping to get into after sixth-form and felt a bit lost at first. Thankfully a relative of mine was able to point me towards the Foundation Degree in Software Engineering that Belfast Met offer (thanks Paul!). With the initial idea of spending two years on the course to then go onto university to get my degree, I was happy to go ahead. Little did I know just how many more opportunities that would arise in the next couple of years.

The course itself is geared to set students up for work after graduating. After having already learned the basic concepts of programming in A-Level, I was able to spend a lot more time absorbing as much information as I could about different technologies that were being taught on the course (namely Java, C#, SQL, HTML/CSS, and JavaScript). I also chose to become a STEM Ambassador during this time, something that was provided to us by the course.

Throughout the majority of my first year, I still had that same intention to finish the course and remain in full-time study. An idea that was still quite solid in my mind due to always believing that you had to go to university to establish the foundations of a good career. However, when we were invited to attend an industry talk hosted by Bring IT On (Belfast Met’s programme for pathways into IT careers), a switch flicked inside my head. All of a sudden I realised that I could get my foot in the door in the IT industry a lot sooner than I had anticipated; this set me up perfectly for the next stage
of the course (after my exams that is!).

Before starting the second year of the FDSE, the staff put together a work placement information session in which potential employers come in and give insight into what placement looks like. It was there that I had heard of Allsop and realised that, not only would they take a placement student, but
that there was also the opportunity for a full-time job at the end of it. With Allsop being a local company, I was attracted to the fact that I could get as much exposure to the development life-cycle. Being a bit of an eager beaver, I had already prepared a CV and sent it off when the session had
ended…two weeks (and two informal meetings) later I had my placement ready to go for January! I also had the chance to work part-time during my day off from class which not only helped me hit the ground running come January but also helped me to further improve my work on the course.

Fast-forward a few months and I was offered a permanent role on the Allsop team. Throughout the next year and a half, I gained the opportunity to represent the company at awards dinners, enrol on a part-time degree, attend multiple tech conferences (including one at which I delivered a talk),
become an ambassador for Bring IT On (the very programme that I mentioned earlier on), feature on an episode of WebTalksNI and be shortlisted for two Young IT Professional of the Year Awards in 2019 (BCS NI and Belfast Telegraph). All before I would’ve even finished a four-year course if I ended up getting into university first-time around.

All of these things are something to attribute to the fantastic pathway was available to me and something I never would’ve even known about had I went the conventional route.

Don’t knock the seemingly ‘unconventional’ routes and explore different ways to get to where you want to go. Belfast is a fantastic place for IT and can only get better.

Thank you for taking the time to read the first (of hopefully many) of my articles on this platform. See you soon!

Michael Sage