Andrew Illsley goes around Europe, into huge companies, RAF bases and prisons to install stuff like broadband and wifi – yes, prisons. He didn’t get a degree, and he hasn’t had any formal training either – it’s all about working your way up through a company (he works for O2 Telefónica). Fancy travelling all over the place, never working in an office and getting to install cutting edge technology before anyone else? We caught up with him for some tips…

What’s the best stuff you install?

I really like the tele-conference equipment – basically, you have a room with half a desk and a huge screen then across the world, another setup that’s exactly the same but the opposite way round. It looks like you’re sitting opposite the person in a regular meeting, but they can be thousands of miles away – a lot better than your normal conference calls. The really big companies have this, like EON and Shell.

What’s the best part of your job?

No day is the same – it’s very rare you’ll get sent to the same site two days on the trot. Going all around Europe is great because while you’re there you get some downtime to have a wander around the city – we were abroad when the last World Cup was on, and it was definitely an experience watching it in a bar surrounded by people shouting for the other team. Also, the hours are varied so the work/life balance is really good, too!

And the coolest place you’ve worked?

The prisons are quite interesting, we go to several  high security ones. Generally, you’re assigned a guard that stays with you all the time, and obviously it’s a safe environment because they know where they’re going and keep you away from the… erm, general population (i.e. criminals). We do a huge variety of things though; Argos recently came to O2 for help with their new reshuffle – so I went and installed wifi and a new system in lots of their stores which allows customers to go into a shop and browse the catalogue on their own phone or tablet. So it’s a huge range!

…And the worst?

Actually, the fact that I travel a lot and it’s so varied is both the best and the worst – I’m told what I’m doing the following week on Friday, so it can be hard to plan your social life sometimes. Usually they keep it local, though, and if there’s a big trip you’ll find out about it a little more in advance.

How did you get into it?

Like a lot of people, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do when I left school so did a few jobs – including being a delivery driver – before getting into IT. I just got a really low level job in the company and worked my way up sideways… I never got any qualifications, but instead, a lot of on the job training.

How can someone become a field engineer for a telecoms company?

It depends what sort of person you are, I prefer learning through experience but you can do Microsoft accreditation if you want to work on the user end of things and a Cisco accreditation for anyone who wants to work the back end like me. It’s a personal thing, but working your way up is a good way to do it because it’s easier to move around a company once you’re in. Apprenticeships are great to, they didn’t have them when I was getting into the industry, but I’d definitely recommend them for anyone looking now.

If you want to get your foot in the door of the IT industry, check out these great apprenticeships and grad schemes with IT giants Capgemini. 

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