Hanson Fernandes is a final year student at UCL studying Information Management for Business.
He has had a rich experience working in the tech industry and has taken up a part-time position at Apple since 2018. In his sales position, he has been consistently rated 5/5 in ‘Team Member Score’ by customers. As a student at UCL, he led a team of six and was awarded first place for UCL’s IBM & Cisco Design Sprint in 2020, as well as the runner-up prize for the Transport For London project in 2019. We were delighted to have the opportunity to interview Hanson, where he shared his insights about working in Big Tech and gave students who are passionate about tech some valuable advice.
Q1. To start off, could you tell us a bit about how you prepared yourself for the application process for Big Tech companies? How did you make yourself stand out from the other candidates, especially when nowadays, everyone has access to various online learning resources and learning how to code has become much easier and beginner friendly?
It is true that applications have become a lot more difficult in the job market, especially in tech. I think I was very lucky to have gotten a lot of help, advice and feedback from my friends at university, family, SEO London, as well as the career advisor within my department. These people have always advised me on what opportunities were out there, and I always went to them for advice and practise.
Other than that, whenever it has come down to applications, I've tried to be organised by making an Excel sheet and writing down the names of the companies, as well as any deadlines. If there are applications that are not open, I would continuously try to find out when they actually are, so that I have those dates written down and so that I can start applying as soon as I can.
Whenever it comes to writing your CV, although what you've studied— such as coding— is really important to businesses, tech companies tend to value your personality and the human side, because they can teach you what to learn, but they cannot teach you to be a good human. That's what they essentially want to know from you on your CV as well.
In my interviews with Google and Apple, they've always been very informal; it's more like a conversation and getting to know each other. I’ve always been able to get my personality across— in interviews, I would say that I might not be the smartest man in the room, but I'm sure that I will be able to contribute something that would help. These tech companies are already shining. They already have some really good products and good people working behind them. They obviously want to hire the best talent, but they also want to hire according to the culture. They don't want to ruin the existing culture, which might just ruin the product creation. With everyone studying the most brilliant courses out there, you might have the most knowledge, but if you cannot hold a conversation, and if you don't do anything outside of your actual degree, then you're not really standing out.
The biggest tip I would give is that Big Tech companies put a lot of emphasis on your voluntary work. I went on a volunteering trip to Nepal and helped people affected by the earthquake in 2015, and this is something I always bring up in my interviews as a personal life experience that I'm really proud of. It shows the recruiter who you really are, and these experiences are valuable because they cannot be bought. It could even be something small like helping the people in vaccination centres right now, but it shows that you care, and that you’ve done things outside of your wall to help other people too.
Q2. What is the element that you’ve found most enjoyable or beneficial as part of your experience in working for Big Tech Companies? Is it the culture? The networking opportunities? The training?
Culture is something you only have an impression of until you actually get there, so it always starts with the training. The training was relaxed and rigorous at the same time— they want to make sure that they're not degrading the service that they provide, but at the same time, they want to make sure that they give you independence in the learning process by giving you autonomy.
The second thing is the culture. It’s valuable for all companies, because you need people to be passionate about the product. Speaking from my personal experiences with Apple, if I'm not passionate about the product and my work, I would not be providing the best service. It’s because when I go there every weekend, my managers are cracking jokes and having a good time with my teammates, that it becomes a more personal experience for the customer when I can share it with them. The customers trust us because we don't really have targets. We try to find the best product for the customer, so they trust that we’ll give them the right advice, rather than the most expensive product.
Rather than using facial recognition and scanning your facial emotions during interviews, Big Tech companies focus on personal interviews to get to know the person behind the name. I think that's how they get these talents— they know the person even before the person has entered the building. This is why Apple and Google are able to create these irreplaceable cultures.
In terms of network, it's something that cannot be bought. During my time in Google and Apple, I’ve built up a huge network with alike individuals, and we still communicate through Whatsapp. We talk about opportunities, and some of them have already started their jobs at various companies. The network is very important, because when you first start, you might not have all the knowledge; with good friends, you never know when one of them might end up going to work for these companies, and so they can always help you along the way.
Q3. What do you think is the key to success when working on projects?
The key is having a good team. Even if you have the right idea, you might not have the perfect skill set to tackle that problem at once, so you need the right team.
All of these projects are open projects without problem specifications, so you have to find a problem and try to solve it yourself. In terms of the Transport for London project that happened last year, we were looking at how TFL could reduce injuries around the London train systems. The first thing we thought of was the barriers we could put near the trains, but that was not innovative. But then, we looked at the research, and found that the main reason behind most injuries was the tune of the door closing notification, which didn't have a clear start point and endpoint, so people didn't know when the door was about to close, and so they would jump in anyway. Japan faced a similar issue, and so they changed the tone of the doors to a rhythm which started with a lower pitch and gradually went higher, then lower again, so that people would know when it started and ended. They were able to reduce injuries by 10%, as opposed to 9% before. We pitched this idea to the advisor to the Mayor of London, and because this idea was not difficult to implement, he took it on board.
Ultimately, the team needs to be set up right— everyone needs to know what their strengths and weaknesses are, and everyone needs to be able to meet the deadlines. This isn't a matter of a week; you learn so much more about your team every passing day! And once you do, it always helps to meet the team goals.
Q4. How can students better apply their technical skills and knowledge in a business setting?
I have a different take for this question. Whether it’s Apple or Google, they accept that you might not have the knowledge, but they want the right person. You need an open mindset to learn in order to attain knowledge and skills.
However, you should not be afraid to show what you've learned in the past. Some people might consider that as “being cocky”, but this sets you back. It is always important to show that you have gone through a rough period learning those skills, and so you just need to make sure that you're not putting someone else down or cancelling someone else’s idea.
Be humble, but don't be afraid to conquer.
The best way to apply your skills and knowledge is to make sure that you're applying it in the right scenarios to the right task. Only apply the relevant skill to relevant projects. Don’t try to oversell and show that you know everything before you enter the business, because then they won’t see your willingness to learn, which is what tech companies really appreciate.
Q5. How did you find your passion in tech, and what advice would you give to students who are passionate about it too?
You can learn to be passionate about tech. It doesn’t have to come naturally. I’m originally from India; before I came to the UK, I didn't know much about technology. Choosing to do IMB at UCL was an amazing decision; since then, I’ve become more and more passionate about tech. Your passion for tech could come gradually as you learn through experiences. For those who aren’t sure about their career paths, my advice is that working as a consultant is the best way to go about it, as you will be working with businesses from different sectors, and that's when you're going to learn what you’re really interested in.