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Living with autism: becoming an apprentice

Alexei is a software engineer. He also has autism. Find out about the challenges and rewards he encountered during his apprenticeship.

Name: Alexei Barnes
Qualification: Level 4 IT Apprenticeship completed with Aveva and Firebrand training
Role: Software engineer at Aveva

Why did you pick an apprenticeship?

Since I first put fingers to keyboard I've had a passion for computer science. After a year at the University of Kent studying Computer Science, I decided to leave as I felt the course wasn't right for me.

I wanted to learn about the intricacies of real-world software problems and get tangible results for my efforts, so I spent two years working for web start-ups in San Francisco.

Towards the end of my time there, I began thinking about the future and came across apprenticeships schemes in the UK, and decided they were the next step for me. So I went for it!

I moved back to the UK, and began an apprenticeship with Aveva, an engineering software provider, who work with Firebrand, an apprenticeships training provider.

What challenges do you face and how do you overcome them?

Living with autism can sometimes present its challenges. Sticking to a regular schedule has never been easy for me - I've had trouble with time management and organisational skills.

The flexible working hours scheme at Aveva has made this easier for me. Regular meetings are part of my role and have helped me to develop a schedule and become more organised.

I've also had to stop myself from getting too caught up in my own opinions. At the best of times I've been called pragmatic; at the worst of times flippant. This can be quite common with certain autism spectrum disorders.

How did your employer and training provider support you?

My mentor at work has been very supportive, which has been really helpful especially at the start of the apprenticeship. He helped me get to grips with my role and adapt to the new environment.

I also get regular reminders about deadlines or work I had forgotten or not prioritised.

Firebrand also provided comprehensive plans for travel and accommodation for training, which makes everything less daunting.

What's the best part of being an apprentice?

The work - I find I always have an engaging problem to work on which is an incredible motivator for me.

What's the hardest part?

Balancing my work/study balance. Completing my work without neglecting my write-ups or other tasks on the training programme has been tricky to switch between.

I think this is partly because my work was more immediately satisfying, while completing my apprenticeship was a longer-term goal.

What are you most proud of?

My determination to succeed. Going to university wasn't my idea and I think that had a lot to do with my experience there. Finding an apprenticeship was how I got myself back on my feet through my own determination, and with the help of others.

I've now completed my Level 4 apprenticeship and achieved a distinction for my work in the licensing and draw teams during the programme. 

What would you say to others thinking about their future career paths?

University is an effective way to learn for some people and subjects, but it's not for everyone.

Pick a path that will motivate you and take ownership of your education.

What are your plans for the future?

I've accepted a role as a software engineer at Aveva. I plan to continue my career in computer science while seeking further education in statistics.

Tell us something else about yourself.

My hobbies include computer games, hiking, climbing, tabletop roleplaying games, music, and amateur astronomy.

In my spare time, you’ll often find me studying physics and chemistry.


More from our autism series:


Find out more

Alexei took an apprenticeship with the training provider Firebrand, a training provider that delivers accelerated training to apprentices, working closely with organisations like the National Autistic Society to ensure their digital apprenticeships are accessible to all.


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