From architecture to software engineering – Poonam Ale

Student Circuit recently had the pleasure of talking with Poonam Ale, one of the finalists for this year’s everywoman Apprentice Award, where we got to learn all about her journey into the tech sector and advice she has for like-minded individuals.

Ale’s journey into tech

Ale initially went to university following what she believed to be her passion, studying architecture and working within the field for two years following her bachelor’s degree, but something wasn’t quite fulfilling. Ale explained: “About halfway through my experience working in architecture, I found myself gravitating towards all of the tech-focused tasks.” From here she took on a more tech-oriented role instead of a design role, encouraged by her employer at the time, but she soon realised that perhaps this was her true career calling.

Answering the call, Ale moved away from architecture altogether, moving into an apprenticeship at American Express which focused on software engineering. “I’m now working at American Express on the accounts receivable team, working as a back-end engineer. I’ve been primarily focusing on these backend programmes and modernising legacy applications,” she explored. Continuing: “Essentially what we are doing is building a massive calculator to help with AmEx, which as you probably know is a credit card company, in their efforts to accurately calculate interest rates. It’s very logic-driven, which is why I enjoy it so much.” Ale is now thoroughly enjoying her new role within the tech sector, something that not even a few years ago she may have never seen herself within.

Why an apprenticeship?

Ale had a number of reasons why she decided to follow through with an apprenticeship as opposed to going back to university or undergoing other routes into the sector like a boot camp. “I knew I didn’t want to go back to university, as I had only really just come out of it, I really didn’t consider that path viable, but at the same time, I did want that sort of structured learning path it offers. I was also considering a boot camp or something similar as well, but in the end, I settled on an apprenticeship.” For Ale the apprenticeship approach offered exactly what she wanted, a structure learning approach full of experience that is tailored to her as an individual. “The apprentice is far more tailored to you than a boot camp, which can be as short as 6 or 7 weeks. This one [at AmEx] was 18 months, I could take it at my own pace and, apart from just the structured learning, it was quite nice to have fellow apprentices in the same boat around me for support,” she explained. Ale had 12 other apprentices start alongside her and felt that having fellow learners was great for confidence, support, and just to know that she wasn’t alone in it all. “I would definitely recommend it; it’s been great to be able to apply what I’ve learned as I have learned it and have people around me that can help when I have a problem.

“At no point did I ever feel like ‘oh, I’m stuck and there’s no way forward.’ There were always people around and plenty of support and training available,” she enthused.

Ale gives credit to AmEx who have been very supportive in her journey, and has even convinced her younger sister to follow in her apprenticeship path!

A pivot in career

As previously mentioned, Ale realised in her first role that perhaps a technology-focused career could be for her and encourages others to do the same if they feel like their passion may lie elsewhere, regardless of experience or qualifications. “I think, at the start, I had only ever done three months of coding work, and the coding that I had done was quite basic, nothing more than self-taught YouTube tutorials, and I hadn’t actually built anything myself yet.

“I think as long as you have enjoyed your journey [at the very start of your new path] and want to push yourself further, then that’s enough of an indication that it’s something for you. It doesn’t really matter whether you’ve had three years of experience, or lack qualifications in the field, you just need to know that this is something you wish to pursue. Of course, it will help to have experience, but it is more dependent on if you have the passion for it. Don’t look at the experience you have, you can always build experience, you just have to start somewhere,” says Ale.

More than just work

Ale isn’t just a software engineer at her new role, taking on other responsibilities that she feels passionate about, such as encouraging the next generation of apprentices. “At my company, all the apprentices, interns, and graduates are under this umbrella called early careers. I was quite interested in meeting all the other members and put myself forward to be in the socials committee where we organise events and activities.” Ale did this actively for her first two years at AmEx and found it to be an enriching experience. Now she has moved onto the panel that looks at new apprentices coming into the company. “I’m there to tell them about my day-to-day, encourage them to apply, and show them there’s nothing to be afraid of. On top of this, I also volunteer to be a buddy for the new apprentices, as I’ve been there and know it’s a great thing to have!” she enthused.

Words of wisdom

To finish, Ale had some words of wisdom she wished to share to anybody who is thinking about going down a similar path to her.

“This is for anyone who is starting their journey as an apprentice or joining tech, always compare yourself to you. I think one mistake I made, and one that is very easy to fall into, is to join a new place or try something new and immediately compare yourself to others, but I think that’s the wrong approach. You should just compare yourself to you, compare yourself to how you were last month, or the progress that you have made over the last year, if you see any sort of progress, then celebrate it! Acknowledge that ‘yes, I have made progress.’ If you keep doing that, pushing yourself, and expanding your knowledge then you will end up with the results that you desire. It’s a much more positive way of thinking.”