Student Spotlight: Christopher Gemmell
Christopher’s decision to retrain as a Software Engineer with Academy Xi paid off with an exciting new tech role at Macquarie Group.
Christopher enrolled in the Software Engineering: Transform course with big ambitions to launch a new career in tech. After teaching web development for 6 months, he finally landed a dream role as a Software Engineer with Macquarie Group.
What were you doing before you studied with Academy Xi?
Career-wise, a bit of everything. I was a labourer for a little while and then an engineering estimator for a glass and aluminium company. I worked in civil construction after that and more recently, managed an arcade. It was while I was working at the arcade that I decided it was time to make a serious career.
I’ve always enjoyed working with tech, so I decided to sign up for the Academy Xi Software Engineering course. Luckily, I was able to cut back my hours at the arcade. Even though the course was full-time, I was able to study and keep working.
I was on very good terms with the owners and had already automated a bunch of the company’s paperwork with Excel scripting. I’d built tools to help with roster scheduling, task management and stock management. That bit of exposure really sparked my interest in programming. The owners saw the value in me developing my tech skills and backed my decision to study.
Why did you choose Academy Xi specifically?
I looked at quite a few different options before I settled on Academy Xi. The main motivation for taking the course was to kickstart a new career, so the Career Support Program was very appealing. Other courses had similar programmes, but they seemed a bit strict.
It also helped that Academy Xi offered decent payment plans. In the end, it worked out best for me to borrow the money from my parents, pay in full and then repay the loan. Even so, the study-now-pay-later options were a big draw when I was making my choice.
How did you find the course?
It was really good. I’d had a bit of coding experience before the course started, mostly using VBA to automate Excel. VBA’s pretty frustrating to learn, but once you’ve picked it up it can help you turn a 6-hour task into something that takes 20 seconds.
Working through the course content really throws you in the deep end. You download the coding software and immediately have to start learning how to use it, which isn’t easy.
With other coding courses, one of the biggest problems students have is they’re not solving real problems. They get given instructions and then perform certain tasks, without really understanding the process and testing out the different possibilities. As a result, nothing sticks until they’re pushed to do other things.
With Academy Xi, you get exposed to the technical stuff as soon as the course begins, which might seem harsh, but it ultimately means you learn a lot very quickly. Plus, everything you learn really beds in. I think a lot of that was due to my mentor being super knowledgeable and very keen.
How did you find working with your mentor?
My mentor was Schuman Zhang and I can definitely attest a large amount of my success to him. I took up as many of Schuman’s one-on-one slots as possible, not because I was struggling, but because I wanted to make the most of his experience and know-how.
In the end, I developed a really good working relationship with Schuman. He was a reference for me and recently helped me land a new role. I’m still connected with him on LinkedIn and now that I’ve moved to Sydney, I’m sure we’ll meet up soon.
What was your favourite project that you worked on?
I really stretched myself with that first project. I spent a lot of time coding and problem-solving by myself. It helped that it was a project I’d designed. If you’re working on something you care about, you’re more willing to bash your head against the wall trying to get it to work! With other courses, you’re just working on a project because you’re told to, which means you’re less likely to put in the hard yards.
I also enjoyed the industry showcase at the end of the course. It had been a few weeks without any classes, so it was great to check out everyone’s projects and see just how much they’d grown.
What have you been up to since graduation?
After the course finished, Renju from Academy Xi put me in touch with Generation Australia. Generation needed teachers for the Junior Web Developer programme they run in collaboration with Academy Xi.
I taught with Generation for 6 months, which involved leading Zoom classes with large groups of students. I was 25 years old and teaching students who were older than me, which gave my confidence a real boost. The soft skills alone made the job worthwhile and helped me land my new role.
Can you tell us about your new role?
I’ve been working for about a month as a Senior Associate Engineer at Macquarie Group as part of their infrastructure and personal technology department. The role involves working with servers, laptops, mobile phones and any other physical technology the company relies on.
My team’s in charge of automating tasks that would otherwise be performed manually. Our motto is that if you save 2% of someone’s time, it might seem like a small amount, but over the course of a year it adds up. To give an example, we might make sure that if a laptop is being repaired, all of its files and settings are automatically downloaded and then uploaded to the new device.
From a non-tech perspective the role might sound a bit boring, but I find it really challenging and rewarding. The team is pretty hands-off, so if I find something that I think needs improving, I have the freedom to tinker and do my own thing.
Are you using what you learned in the course still?
Definitely. Academy Xi gives you a solid framework, but you need to build on it once you start working in the industry.
In terms of the hard technical stuff, I’m working at a much deeper level than I did during the course, but that’s more a reflection of how complex banking systems are.
At Academy Xi, we were taught how to code the front and back-end. We learnt the full-stack and dealt with everything from the databases to the UI. At Macquarie, we have a specific team that only deals with the databases, and even that team splits into further teams which work with specific parts of the process.
My team works with the API and automation, but there are about five other teams involved in that too. I’m a very small part of the business, working on very specific projects, so the level of the detail I work with is extremely high.
Would you recommend Academy Xi?
Absolutely. I’ve already recommended Academy Xi to a friend who’s signed up for the next Software Engineering cohort.
For anyone interested in studying Software Engineering specifically, I’d say go for it, but make sure you keep yourself in check and stay motivated, because a lot of your work will be self-directed.
It’s also important to really engage with the content and test out everything you’re developing. It’s one thing to read the material, pass the tests and then move on to the next module, but if you’re not putting everything into practice, it’s not going to properly sink in.
I went to the weekly classes, spent about 5 hours working through the course material, and then supplemented that without about 10 hours of my own study. That level of commitment meant I could experiment and really get to grips with coding. As long as you put the time and effort in, you’ve got all the resources you need to develop those deeper skills.
Are you keen to launch a new tech career just like Christopher? If so, check out our Software Engineering: Transform courses.