Q&A with Morgan Stanley technology apprentice Mikaela Thompson

Mikaela started the Morgan Stanley technology apprenticeship programme when she was 17 in 2016 and currently works in the cybersecurity team. During her time at Morgan Stanley she has worked in a range of different areas of the business, including technical support, entitlements and access and technology risk. At the last SFE Awards held in October 2019 she won the SFE Rising Star Award.

In the following interview Mikaela explains how both the area of technology and the apprenticeship route only became career considerations for her towards the end of her time at school and after she had applied for university. The decision has proved to be extremely rewarding while also allowing her to contribute time outside of work to the promotion of STEM subjects to children and young girls.

Why did you choose to pursue a career in financial services?

Working in Financial Services was not something I had considered while I was at high school. I applied for university but then heard about a new technology apprenticeship programme that Morgan Stanley was running in Glasgow.

My background was not technology. At school my focus was more around maths, physics and business management but then I saw an opportunity for IT management. I had never really considered technology but when I heard that Morgan Stanley provided training on the more technical side of things, such as programming, I thought with my maths skills behind me I would be able to turn my hand to it.

I really wanted to do an apprenticeship because I thought the work experience I would gain would be invaluable. I wanted to do something relevant to my field of study so I could kickstart my career as early as possible.

What do you enjoy about your job?

During my apprenticeship, I have been given many different responsibilities. One of these was to migrate data from one of the main servers in London. To have this level of responsibility at such an early stage in my career was really rewarding and made me feel like people believed in me. From that point on, I have continued to try my hardest in everything I do and to deliver the best of my ability every day. It’s always been a focus of mine to do everything to the highest standard.

How important has it been to have that support and vote of confidence?

When I started the programme I was young and I’d never been in a professional environment before, but as soon as I joined the firm I realised how friendly and supportive everyone was - it really brought me out of my shell and improved my confidence. People notice how different I am in comparison to two years ago. Without that support network, I do not think I would have been able to achieve as much as I have, both in terms of university and on the work-side of the programme. Everyone is keen to help, apprentices especially. We now help the younger apprentices who have joined the programme so there is always someone to support.  In light of COVID, we had to move our Apprenticeship Programme open evenings to a virtual setting where potential applicants, parents and teachers can find out more about the programmes we offer.

What commitments do you hold beyond your role at Morgan Stanley?

With the pandemic still very much a reality, all my engagements have been virtual in this past year. However, before that I used to attend events at different high schools around Glasgow and the surrounding areas ranging from career fairs to talks and presentations to classes that focus on subjects that are more technical. I have also been involved as a STEM ambassador and helped create an introduction to coding day at Anderson Primary School, teaching children about the basics of coding and programming.

I have also been involved with the Glasgow apprenticeship challenge, along with all technology apprentices, during which we delivered a robotics lesson plan to different community groups. I have also been involved in a separate STEM learning programme with Morgan Stanley, which involved a two-day event at the University of the West of Scotland teaching more than 700 girls aged between 10 and 14 years about the skills technologists need. We covered logical thinking, requirements gathering, cyber security and many other features.

I am keen to keep up the STEM work and continue to inform young people about the career opportunities available to them in technology. It certainly was not something I had considered until the end of my time at school. I feel if I had been given that push earlier and inspired at a younger age, I would have been far more technical and might have ventured down this route more naturally. Having said that, I do not think it has been a hindrance to come into technology at a slightly later stage.

What do you enjoy about the STEM work?

Before the pandemic, I enjoyed going out and seeing young children who maybe had not experienced what technology has to offer. For example, when you show primary school children how to develop code that operates a Minecraft game, you see their eyes light up. With something as simple as that, they can take the tools and knowledge home with them and develop their understanding even further. We want to inspire people and when we deliver a successful presentation and the pupils are interested, it motivates me to keep going. My studies do require a large part of my time and while I cannot get involved in all of the events, I do try to give back to the community whenever I can.  We have pivoted to a virtual engagement mode where possible but when it is safe to do so, I really look forward to when we can resume meeting in.

Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2021 runs from 1-5 March. As part of the week, SFE Chief Executive Sandy Begbie announced SFE's support of the Young Person's Guarantee. Read the full story here.