A woman wearing glasses and a chequered shirt smiles at the camera from behind a laptop. She is Wanqi Chen, an associate software engineer at Liberty IT.
Wanqi Chen. Image: Liberty IT

Why this graduate chose Ireland for a software engineering career

16 Nov 2023

Associate software engineer Wanqi Chen discusses her experience in Liberty IT’s graduate programme and why interpersonal skills are crucial for her role.

Wanqi Chen first became aware of the career opportunities in tech during a six-month internship in the HR sector, while she was completing an administration management degree at Yangtze Normal University in China.

“As part of this role, I was hiring people into tech-related roles and this gave me an understanding of the opportunities that are in this booming industry.”

This inspired Chen to learn programming before finishing her degree and this exploration led her to working as a front-end developer, which she says solidified her interest in IT. Chen went on to obtain a master’s degree in information systems management from the University of Galway.

But why choose Ireland? And why Galway? Chen explains that the strength of the country’s IT industry stood out to her, as well as the investment that the Irish Government was putting into the west of Ireland. “This gave me confidence that there would be many roles available there in the future.”

Chen was drawn to a graduate programme at Liberty IT, due to a “blend of learning that focused on technical and business elements”.

“I saw that Liberty wanted to help develop us into software engineers – which I recognised as being different from a software developer. This means that the focus is more on providing solutions and using design-thinking techniques, and I enjoy these different challenges.”

She began the programme in September of this year, which consists of 12 weeks of training before being integrated into an engineering group. Here, she discusses her experience in the programme as an associate software engineer.

‘Your journey in tech starts with believing in your potential’

Can you describe a typical day in your role? What are your favourite parts of the work you do so far?

So far, it’s been varied! I’ve taken part in a comprehensive orientation programme, which gave me a deeper understanding about our company and the business. We even had a team-building day at The Jungle NI, where we took part in lots of fun outdoor activities and got to know each other a little better through collaboration.

Across the programme, we’ll get the chance to explore different areas and technologies within Liberty IT. I’ll be working directly alongside other graduate software engineers and we’ll be able to lean on each other for support while we are building digital solutions for our parent company, Liberty Mutual Insurance.

All of us graduates will be working through a real project in our training window – I think this is cool. I like coding and this practical learning really gives us an insight into what it’s really like working at Liberty IT and confidence for when I join my team.

I actually live in Galway and the training programme is taking place in Belfast. I love the fact that Liberty is fully including me in this in-person training and are providing accommodation for the full 12 weeks! I’m able to explore a new city that I’ve never been in before, which is something that I love to do.

Did your responsibilities and workload change as the programme progressed?

I’ve had several impactful experiences that are shaping my understanding of my role and the company. Early on, we met with Liberty IT’s senior leadership team. Their insights were invaluable, as they delved into not just the overarching culture but also provided a nuanced view of the company’s strategic goals. This has equipped me with a foundational understanding of our purpose as a company.

Additionally, I’ve attended an array of cross-departmental workshops and introduction sessions, each with its own focus areas like high performance engineering (HPE), agile methodologies and product mindset. These workshops haven’t just been informational, but they’ve been thought-provoking – offering a new lens for me to see my role as a future software engineer. For instance, the HPE workshop laid the groundwork for understanding how continuous improvement and validatory metrics can help improve our engineering practices.

The exposure to different departments and the chance to chat with senior co-workers and leaders has broadened my perspective and understanding of the various facets of being a software engineer at Liberty IT.

What skills have you developed since being part of this company’s programme?

Beyond the practical and technical skills that I’m building in the workshops, Liberty IT has shown interest in our personal and professional growth. This was really evident during a DiSC assessment session we attended. This session was not just a standard personality assessment but an enlightening experience, where I worked with other graduates to understand all of our personality and working styles. It offered actionable insights into my own traits and communication style, which in turn helped spark ideas of how I can enhance teamwork and foster better working relationships.

After the DiSC assessment, I was equipped with a good understanding of my style and how it meshes – or sometimes contrasts – with the styles of others. This kind of self-awareness is invaluable in a collaborative environment. For example, based on my DiSC profile, I’ve already started adopting different communication techniques when interacting with team members who have differing styles, allowing for more effective collaboration.

While it may be tempting to think that as software engineers we’re focused solely on writing code, Liberty emphasises that interpersonal skills are equally crucial for development. I meet with team members throughout the day, but we also have time for social get-togethers too. For me, it’s important to get to know each other, it’s valuable to have a good connection with others in the programme.

In essence, Liberty IT’s approach to development has allowed me to grow as an individual and is preparing me for the dynamics of a diverse workplace.

What have been the most challenging parts of working life since taking up this programme?

Moving from student life to working at Liberty IT has been a really interesting shift. Time management is definitely more of a thing here than in university. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not about clock-watching, it’s more about making sure you’re contributing and keeping pace with your team. There’s a shared sense of wanting to do well and everyone helps each other out to meet our goals.

On the relationship front, the DiSC assessment workshop we did was super helpful. It taught me how differently we all communicate. Knowing this makes it way easier to connect with my new colleagues. Honestly, I feel like the better we know each other, the better we work together and that’s something Liberty IT really encourages.

Would you recommend the graduate programme at this company to others? Why?

Absolutely. There’s a reason this company has a solid reputation in our community. For starters, they’re really invested in our growth. Their TechStart academy onboarding programme is thoughtfully designed, reflecting a genuine investment in our professional development. I can see that the skills I’m acquiring now will be invaluable for me down the line.

And let’s talk culture. It’s more than just buzzwords here; I feel like people genuinely look out for each other. You can feel it from day one. Plus, the variety of social events goes beyond mere formalities, serving as genuine opportunities to build relationships and feel integrated into the team.

What advice would you like to give to future graduates who are just starting out?

My advice to future graduates would be to never sell yourself short. The digital age provides a range of resources, so use these to grow your own knowledge. Have confidence in your skills and don’t hesitate to aim high, even in an industry where you might encounter challenges like gender inequality. If more people break these barriers without fear, then the industry will be more inclusive and diverse as a result.

When I was younger, I looked towards figures like Katherine Johnson, who broke barriers in her time. I found that really inspirational and it’s helped me not to be afraid of biases. Your journey in tech starts with believing in your potential and from my experience so far, Liberty IT is a place that helps you realise it through promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in everything they do.

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