John McParland - Solution Architect at CGI

Issued: Mon, 29 Jun 2020 00:00:00 BST

Tell us a fun fact about yourself

I am double-jointed.  This means I can bend my knees, elbows, fingers and wrists backwards.

Tell us about your careers journey so far

Around 13 or 14 years old, and inspired by the computer games I used to (and still) play, I wondered how computer programs / software were made.  I wanted to be able to make a program and know that someone had interacted with it, and from then on it was my dream to do that.

From this inspiration, I did a little research using my school careers library and a dial-up internet connection and discovered Computer Programming.   Learning that I needed to gain qualifications in Computing, Maths and a science I studied hard through school and university, inching closer to making the dream a reality.  After gaining my degree I started my first job as a Software Engineer at a large technology company. 

This opened my eyes to large software solutions which ran on several servers, using huge datasets and yet presenting that data on screens to users in a way which allowed them to carry out their jobs more easily.  I wanted to know more about how these large software solutions were designed and what the “architects” had to think about to create them.  Whilst getting the chance to create my own designs, I’ve  been lucky to work with a number of good architects who kindly mentored me so that I could grow into an

  • Technical Lead (leads the programmers on a project)
  • Software Architect (designs the software for a project)
  • Solution Architect (designs a whole solution to help a business)

Now, at my current employer, CGI, who are one of the world’s largest IT and business consulting services firms in the world, I have the opportunity to help our clients achieve their goals, including becoming customer-centric digital enterprises.

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

I loved Computing and Physical Education and I hope one day to find a project which allows me to combine sport and technology.

My enjoyment of Computing Studies came from being introduced to programming.  I enjoyed creating small programs and running them, even if all they did was say “Hello World”, or only allowed the user to type in some text.  For PE, the enjoyment was taking part in sport which I still do today as a road runner.

What subjects/qualifications are useful for your role?

As you might imagine Computing is important as is Maths.  However, I think the key thing is to have a passion for technology, a desire to learn, and to enjoy solving problems.  I’ve not always used what I learned in the subjects directly, but the skills I developed while studying them (such as logical reasoning and breaking problems down into small pieces) have been invaluable.

One thing to highlight is the variety of ways to enter a career in technology.  I took the University Degree route which remains popular however, CGI hire a number of graduate apprentices who combine their University studies with working, and modern apprentices who do the same but take vocational qualifications at college too.  I believe the introduction of graduate and modern apprenticeships make technology careers more accessible which is great given we have a shortage of STEM skills.  I hope, as a result, more young people will find the right route for them into a technology career.

What is a normal day in your role like?

At the moment, I spend time talking to, and importantly, listening to customers, colleagues and other technology companies (partners). This allows me to understand what each of them may require from a solution, or what problems they may need to be solved. 

I will also research new technology, understanding what problems they are designed to solve, and how they do so.

I draw lots of pictures, to help me understand what I’ve heard, and also to help me communicate how solutions solve the problem from each person’s perspective.  Once drawn, I write documentation that tells a story of how the solution came to be.

In other projects, where I have had to design and guide the implementation of technology, a typical day would involve a bit of the above as well as frequently talking to developers to ensure they understood the design and to listen to their challenges so that we can jointly find solutions.

What's your favourite thing about your job?

It’s the same as the initial inspiration – I love to know that I have created technology that either, someone uses to make their job easier, or, provides a critical / important service to a business or industry.

Can you suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?
Please share links to relevant resources.

The online programming websites like Scratch are very good and require little technology to use.  They are also fun, and quickly give you that feeling of “I made that happen” which is still what drives me today.

If you're a STEM Ambassador in Scotland and want to share your story you can download the form here.