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Oct 2017

A graduate’s transition from university to the defence sector

TRL’s Sam Lichy provides her perspective on moving from higher education to an engineering role in a dynamic, innovative technology company.

As a maths graduate, it is a very different kettle of fish when I am solving a linear second-order boundary problem for a weekly assignment compared to when I am using a linear error correcting code to correct a single bit error for a project deadline. For starters, my work is not being handed in to a supervisor for him or her to grade, it is contributing to work that will eventually be handed over to a customer; there is no room for error. And secondly, I cannot leave certain pieces of work until the last minute; time management may have been important during my degree, but it steps up to a whole different ball game when you enter the world of work.


It sounds daunting to any undergraduate coming to the end of their degree who is wondering whether they are sufficiently prepared to enter the world of work; fundamentally, you are now going to prove to yourself that you can apply the skills you learnt during your degree in the real world, and whether your skills are relevant.


However, for those of you who have landed yourself with a job in the defence sector, you will be working around people who are still learning themselves. Working in this sector means you can never stop learning. Technology changes day-by-day, so whether you are coming in as a graduate engineer or as a consultant with ten years’ experience, you will never stop learning and training. If you do not have the skills to work on a particular project, you will pick them up and, from experience, you will be astonished by the amount of skills you pick up in your first year.


One of the first things I noticed about TRL is that they value progress, and are eager to offer training and education to their employees. Since I first joined the company, TRL has provided me with both in-house, and external training in C++ and, at present, a small team of colleagues including myself are registered with the Open University to study for a course in the programming language, Java.


However, aside from core training, you will pick up many skills on the job without realising it. When I first joined TRL, I had little knowledge of the Linux operating system; I was unaware of the Git version control system and I very rarely used a PC terminal. However, I have picked up these fundamental skills on the job and can now confidently use them with very little help required. Therefore, whether you start working for the defence sector with skills in mathematics, physics, computer science or some type of engineering, you will very quickly develop your skills, via core modules or on-the-job training, and identify specific skills that can be enhanced.


An interesting point about working for the defence sector, and particularly TRL, is that you will get to work with a range of people from different backgrounds. TRL values the benefits they get from employing people with skills in diverse areas. When I joined the company, I was a mathematician in a group of graduates with degrees in physics, computer science, ethical hacking and various forms of engineering. Not only does this open doors for graduates studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, but it also provides the defence sector with the wide range of knowledge they require to solve some of our country’s leading problems.


In December 2016, the MOD issued a statement explaining that the ‘UK is facing a national skills shortage related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics’. TRL, along with many other companies in this industry, are doing their part to inspire young people and demonstrate that a career in STEM is an exciting and rewarding opportunity.


One of the reasons I joined the defence sector was that I always wanted to work for an industry that made a difference and delivered security and growth to our country, and working for TRL has allowed me to do just that. After spending three or more years developing your skills at university, it can be very motivating for a graduate to apply those skills to their job, but for myself, that motivation did not compare to the motivation of knowing your work is contributing to national security. Being responsible for a section of work that will contribute to the build of a product or service that will help to save lives around the world can be incredibly inspiring, and leave you with a sense of pride in the work you and your company do.


If there is one final thing I can say about my transition from university to the defence sector, it is that working for a company like TRL will put you at the forefront of technology. Working in the defence sector will mean you get to have the chance to work with cutting-edge technology and the opportunity to be involved in solving some of the country’s most complex problems. Studying mathematics at university, I did not have the same exposure to technology as, say, a student studying electronic engineering; most of my time was spent working with numbers… or more accurately, Greek letters! Therefore, working for TRL has provided me with that exposure and consequently a better understanding of technology in general.


To put it into context, it can be very daunting making the move from university to a full-time job in the defence sector; you are moving into a fast-paced industry where your skills will be put to the test. However, you will pick up a phenomenal amount of skills at a very fast rate, you will be working with people with a wide range of skills and you can take pride in the fact that your work is contributing to the safety of the country. To that end, as daunting as the transition was, I am thoroughly enjoying my career at TRL and I am sure I speak on behalf of all graduates here when I say we are excited to see where our career with the company takes us!