Discover one student’s experience of Ada, the national college for digital skills
Imagine you’re 13, a girl at an all-girls’ school, and you know you really want a career in digital. But how? Your school doesn’t even offer computer science GCSE, let alone the A-levels you’re going to need. And how are you even going to get onto the right A-level courses without that GCSE?
Well that was me. And it wasn’t in the dark ages in some far off place but just five years ago, in Kent. And somehow I got from there to now, starting a degree apprenticeship this autumn in the tech sector while being paid to work … at Deloitte!
The key to this was Ada. Not Lovelace but the college (though it is named after Ada Lovelace).
Back when I was 13, to be honest, there wasn’t much I could do straight away. But I worked hard and got the GCSEs I’d need for sixth form, even if they didn’t include computer science. Then things came to a head when it was time to choose what I’d do next. I’d got the grades and I still had my dream. I had drive and by now I was aching to get hands-on and practical.
But my school just wasn’t going to deliver. So in some desperation I started applying to boys’ schools. At least they took STEM seriously. But the more I looked, the more I researched, the more I realised that, in a different way, they also weren’t going to deliver. They were A-level machines: what mattered was the grades. But I wanted the skills. For example, in the first year you wouldn’t even do any coding. But I just thought: I want to do the coding now.
Then my grandparents saw a newspaper ad for Ada. The national college for digital skills, it said. The only college of its kind in the country, based in Tottenham, London.
The place for me
It was when I went to the open evening that I knew I’d found the college for me. I thought, “That’s it, I’m going here no matter what.” I had my heart set on it. It wasn’t just the skills and qualifications. It was Ada’s links with industry. In fact, the push on industry was probably the biggest attraction. The fact that Ada worked with all these massive companies and did projects with them that gave you the skills to do real-life projects: that was a big reason for going there.
But what about needing that computer science GCSE? Not a problem, it turned out. Ada makes a point of providing a digital skills education to people from schools or sixth forms that have a poor digital offering or, in my case and I’m not alone, none at all.
Hands on and digital
It was just right for me. Ada focuses on subjects that align with digital and you follow one of three distinct pathways: creative, practical or entrepreneurial. We all had to take a computer science BTEC*, alongside relevant A-levels, and we had termly ‘industry projects’, which I’d so wanted to do. We worked with names like King Games, Deloitte and Salesforce, who simulated real-life digital tasks for us to complete. I learned how to code, I took advantage of the projects and I networked. This was the hands-on I was after. I don’t mind the academic stuff but I just want to get on and do it. Especially with things like coding and programming, the only way to learn is by doing. Sitting and watching someone else do it isn’t how you learn.
What’s not to like?
I did well – this summer I got really good grades. University was now an option, of course, but I was far more attracted by a degree apprenticeship, working with an employer while studying. I looked around and decided to go with Deloitte – and one of the reasons was that I would continue to be taught by Ada. (Ada started as a sixth form college in 2016, then in 2017 it added apprenticeships to give tech-savvy students like me a practical and career-focused alternative to university. It’s working so well they’ve just launched Ada Manchester.)
So a group of us joined not long ago as Deloitte Bright Starts. And immediately I saw the value of those industry projects. We had to do what Deloitte called a ‘simulation’, which was literally exactly the same as we’d done at Ada. I’d already done them four or five times before… and all the Ada apprentices were like, “we’ve got this.”
It’s really working for me. I’m getting a degree, for free, and while I do it I’m getting paid, getting on-the-job experience and getting contacts in the area that I’m going to be working in. I feel like I’ve got a head start. What’s not to like?
Find out more about Ada.