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Apprenticeship update: projects, portfolios and problems

books, notepads, pen, Python For Dummies, table
SITS, ExCeL, crowd, people, stalls

I’m now into my second month of being a Data Fellowship apprentice.

Month one wasn’t a particularly big deal. There was an eLearning module on the data and analytics lifecycles, which had to be completed before our first two-day training session. And then there was an objective to write an introduction about ourselves, the company we work for and how our role fits in with their mission.

Other than a few nerves about the big project which would have to be completed at the end of the apprenticeship, nothing cropped up in April which gave me much cause for concern. I was managing to stay on top of the required number of study hours pretty easily and the subjects covered in the videos I’d been watching were making sense. The transition into May felt like a positive one and I was looking forward to seeing what would come next.

But then we had our second training session. Three hours were spent listening to our coaches give an introduction on the End Point Assessment (EPA) and like me, I’m sure a lot of the apprentices came away slightly freaked out. This is made up of two evaluations. The first is a 40-minute presentation on a real work-based project finished over eight weeks, followed by a professional discussion about a portfolio made up of around ten projects that will last for an hour.

That’s 100 minutes. Over an hour and a half of me having to stand up in front of a small audience and talk. I’m an introvert at heart anyway so this was always going to be difficult but spending a couple of years working from home during lockdowns has made my introversion increase. And what happens if I can’t come up with enough good project ideas, or even enough projects ideas at all to make up an adequate portfolio? Ten months sounds like a long time, but this is all extra work which needs to be finished on top of my day-job.

That’s 100 minutes. Over an hour and a half of me having to stand up in front of a small audience and talk.

Our coaches thankfully issued a few objectives as a push in the right direction. This made me feel better because there’s nothing worse than staring at an empty page and not knowing where to start. To fulfil the job of getting my initial project brief ready for the next session at the end of May, I set up a few chats with people around my department to ask if there were any problems I could help with. They obliged and helped me create a rather long list full of data-related tasks which could potentially form the basis for projects.

A worrying trend popped up while I was looking back over these afterwards though. My colleagues had all covered the starting point, the data set in question and the end solution they wanted to see but had completely missed the ‘analysis’ part. For example, one wanted me to take monthly data downloaded from a learning platform and turn it into a dashboard using something other than Excel. And another asked if I could help convert a JSON file containing IP addresses into a format which was readable by another system for automatic updates.

Analysis is a huge part of the Data Fellowship apprenticeship. It’s all about proving you can take raw data and turn it into meaningful insights that a business can actually act upon. While the people I work with had suggested some interesting tasks which would involve getting my hands dirty with code, they might not necessarily make the best projects for a portfolio. I’m now in the awkward position of trying to convert their ideas into something which would be beneficial, both for them in terms of their workload and for me in terms of the apprenticeship.

To make things more difficult, there’s no set format for the portfolio or associated project documents. It’s usually easier if you have a starting point like a template but one doesn’t seem to exist anywhere. It makes sense that this is the case, seeing as the portfolio is meant to reflect you, your personality, and your individual learning over the previous year. But the whole thing just feels so freeform and right now I’m stuck in a loop of rewriting everything repeatedly because I can’t hit on a format I’m happy with.

Although I’ve been with the same company for a long time, I’ve always switched teams and roles every couple of years so maybe it’s time to do that once again.

Part of me is tempted to ask my coach if I can turn my portfolio into a blog. I’ve never really had an issue with deciding on formatting when I write posts and learning to use my ‘blogging voice’ is really helping make the apprenticeship documentation I produce less formal and corporate. Obviously, I’d need to be careful about what was shared in the public domain and not disclose any personal or sensitive data. But maybe this is a way to make the portfolio feel less like something alien and more like me.

Regardless of how I end up presenting it, I’ve got little over a week to finally decide on my first project and get that brief draft written up. And longer term, I need to come up with a way of helping my colleagues understand the importance of analysing your data before deciding on a solution. This all needs to be done while staying on top of the responsibilities of my day-job and making sure I hit the required number of study hours each week. Thank god I’m a gamer and have honed my multitasking skills.

It’s not all stress though. Going to the SITS 2022 show with my old boss and friend-of-the-blog Phil last week reminded me of how much I enjoyed my previous career in service management, as well as how useful the insights found through data can be in such an environment. The experience has given me a lot to think about. Although I’ve been with the same company for a very long time now, I’ve always switched teams and roles every couple of years so maybe it’s time to consider doing that once again.

And there I go again, distracting myself from apprenticeship objectives by talking about another subject. I really need to focus, buckle down and get this done. As soon at that first project brief draft is completed, I’m going to lose myself in an adventure game and chocolate for an entire weekend.

Thanks for your patience. We’ll return to your regularly scheduled programming with a post about video games later this week.

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