Rob O’Connor

Name Rob O’Connor
Company Accenture
Location London
Last Known Job Role  Software Engineer
Movement To Work Programme 2019

Rob lived on an estate where life was very tough; he was assaulted multiple times. A close family member died on his 11th birthday and the grief he felt from this, and the anxiety and depression from living in such a difficult environment, led to him not engaging with school.

Rob ended up with few qualifications, and though his parents were supportive he had no other encouragement or guidance. He was unemployed for three years and depression led to him not caring about his future.

When he reached 21, his mindset suddenly changed and he knew I had to do something with his life. He started searching online for potential careers and noticed there were a lot of adverts for software engineers. But he wondered how someone like him could ever do a job like that. However, in online searches Rob came across a link to Movement to Work, which got him a work placement at technology and consulting firm Accenture.

Rob treated the placement like a three-week interview. When he got an interview for a job at the end of the placement he was confident, the placement had really helped. After the interview the feedback was that he had thoroughly prepared, with great research.

Rob was offered an apprenticeship, working on voice-activated systems like Alexa, and is doing a technology degree.


Tell me a little about your background and why it was challenging for you to move into work?

I grew up initially in the UK and then moved to Ireland with my parents. I lived on an estate where life was very tough; there were fights all the time, I was assaulted multiple times and I had my jaw broken, there was a lot of crime. A close family member died on my 11th birthday and the grief I felt from this, and the anxiety and depression from living in such a difficult environment, led to me not engaging with school. I used to call in sick all the time, I didn’t want to be there.

Consequently I ended up with few qualifications, and though my mum and dad were very supportive I had no encouragement or guidance from elsewhere. I was unemployed for three years; the depression led to me not caring about my future. I looked for work and had no interest in doing anything that someone with few qualifications could do.

What was it that made you want to change your home life and build a good career for yourself?

It’s difficult to say what was the trigger but I realised that when I reached 21, a milestone, that I had achieved nothing. My mindset suddenly changed and I knew I had to do something with my life. I started searching online for potential careers and I happened to notice that there were a lot of adverts for software engineers and that they seemed to earn quite a lot of money! But I wondered how someone like me could ever do a job like that?

However, I knew I had to push myself so I started researching what being a software engineer involved, and then found myself starting to learn programming from online tutorials.

How did you hear about Movement to Work? And tell me a little about how they have helped you?

In my online searches for how I could achieve that dream job, I came across a link to Movement to Work. It has employer members who sign up to offer work placements to people like me. Movement to Work got me on a three-week work placement at technology and consulting firm Accenture. I thought when I started it: “This is my shot at being a success, I’m going to make this happen.” It was the first time I’d been confident enough to think that, and someone had given me the chance.

 How did you get into the job with Accenture?

The placement gave me an insight into the corporate world, and it allowed me to see that I could be part of it. I had great feedback, which fed my new-found confidence further, I knew I could do this!

I treated the placement like a three-week interview, I knew that everything about me was being relayed to Accenture’s recruitment people. I gave everything I had. When I got an interview for a job at the end of the placement I was confident, the placement had helped so much. I was told that I needed to show my passion for technology and that I was eager to learn. After the interview the feedback was that I had shown these, and that I had thoroughly prepared with great research.

What does a typical day involve?

My days are really varied. One of the things I do is build software that helps voice-activated systems listen and respond better, and do what you actually ask them! I’m also doing a technology degree and whilst most of it is based on my work I also attend lectures. I work in offices around London depending on what I’m working on day to day. I’d like to work from Accenture’s overseas offices too one day.

What kind of qualities do you need? And any specific qualifications?

You need to be willing to learn and have a passion for technology. Self-motivation is important too, I can’t play a video game now for more than five minutes because I know there’s something better I could be doing, my new attitude has helped in my personal life too.

As for qualifications: there are two groups of people, some with qualifications and some without. Within each group there are talented people who can do the jobs business require, I’m in the latter. Luckily companies like Accenture and Movement to Work’s other members recognise that looking deeper into the labour market uncovers people with unique talents. After the work placement Accenture put me on its ‘Trailblazer’ scheme that helps people like me prepare for the demands of an apprenticeship.

What are the best things about the job?

The feeling of having an impact; building software and people using it. For example, when working on voice-activated systems like Alexa, I worked with older people and in care homes making sure that what I did could be used by them to do things like liaising with carers and making medical appointments.

And what are the most challenging?

Getting my head around new and complex technology concepts and terminology. Luckily I’ve found that I love solving problems so when I see something and I think “Oh no, what does that mean?!” the next thing I know is that I’m enjoying working it all out.

What advice would you give to young people from challenging backgrounds who want to move into work?

You must start to believe in yourself, even if you think others don’t. Don’t write yourself off, there was nothing in my background that would have suggested my career. And if you don’t know what you want to do, start a process of elimination to decide what you definitely don’t want to do! And if a number of things appeal then research them, and look at online tutorials like I did for programming, that really worked for me.