After winning gold at the national competition, 21 year old Thomas will showcase his skills on the international stage at WorldSkills with the French team in September 2024. What does he do? He designs business software solutions. He is learning his trade from Zakina, his application development HND teacher Lycée Jean Rostand in Caen, who has been specially training her student over the last year. Let’s take a look at multiple perspectives from an ambitious teacher and student with a bright future!

Can you tell us more about the job? What does it involve?

Thomas: This year I’ve been working as an apprentice at a college as part of my course; I do website and internal application development. It’s a bit different for WorldSkills: we’re given a fictional or real company and each candidate has to design a user-friendly solution that meets the client’s needs and specifications. We have to design mobile, website and office applications.  

Zakina: There are lots of IT sectors; business software development involves designing applications, usually management tools, for companies with the users in mind, because there tends to be a database to safeguard. It can range from websites that “just” provide information to banking apps, website or mobile apps. There are a lot of different names for this trade: designer, developer, website or mobile application developer, front-end, back-end or full-stack developer. Different names for different specialities. Then there are lots of jobs that tie into it, like web designers who design a website or app and give it its visual identity.

Worldskills-Normandie

HND students are called "developers". Most of them carry on studying to degree level so they can work in project management or leadership roles.

Zakina Annouche

Bio

Zakina Annouche is an IT teacher, specifically in application development. She has previously worked as a design and development engineer and a project manager. She has been teaching the SIO HND (organisation and information systems) at Lycée Jean Rostand in Caen since 2006. She also teaches in prisons, teaching inmates application development techniques.

What do you like about your job?

Thomas: I love the reasoning behind it, the thought you have to put in to bring it all together. You can’t just throw yourself into a development project without a clear plan. There’s a sense of freedom too: as long as you meet the specifications, there are lots of different ways of doing things. You never get bored and you’re always learning so you stay up to date with changes in the industry!

Zakina: Yes, that’s what I like about it too. Technology is always evolving so you have to keep learning, training, updating your skills and keep your ear to the ground. Another thing that I think is great are that the applications are often designed for clients working in different sectors: banking, medical etc. You almost have to learn the basics of their trade when you develop an application for them. Depending on the client, you have to learn their vocabulary. It’s part of the service industry so you have to soak up the business culture. It’s very rewarding.

A day in the life of Zakina

Usually, I read my emails, stay on track with ongoing developments from the day before that need updating or solve errors in applications and make improvements.

There could be new projects: they are sometimes based on existing applications or you have to start from scratch. You have to be in constant communication with new users, so that means project management. The good news is that companies have been using the AGILE method for a few years now. It streamlines everything and improves performance with the help of communication.

 

Which qualities do you have to have to work in this job?

Zakina: You have to have soft skills as well as technical qualities. Especially people skills, that’s essential. You have to be able to communicate well, write well, work independently and as a team. Basically, the technical side is obviously important, but companies are increasingly focusing on personality. 

We accept students studying any Baccalaureate onto our HND courses. Especially young women! It's unusual, but anyone can do this job and women have a role to play.

Zakina

Thomas: You also need a programming mindset and know when to take time out to think. You need to enjoy teamwork too: several of us tend to work together on business projects. And you do need to communicate well, and fast, to get the information you need.  

How do you think the job will change in the future?

Thomas: It’s definitely a trade for the future! IT is everywhere nowadays. In terms of the future, AI is going to be huge and developing very quickly. Personally, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for my trade because there’s always going to be an aspect of consideration and contact with the employer and clients. It will be a real asset for saving time on simple tasks.

Zakina: That’s right, it is a trade for the future. There’s still lots of work to do. People are concerned about the development of AI but I agree with Thomas: it will help do things like identify and correct errors but it will never replace business culture. 

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Being a developer has always had lots going for it with the internet, social media, connected devices, big data etc. There are lots of sides to it, lots of new careers that can come of it and that means lots of opportunities with just one course!

How was the test at the regional competition? What does your training involve?

Zakina: Thomas is a very calm student, he goes with the flow. He’s good at managing his emotions and he’s always played sport, so he understands the pressure of competing. He’s a computer engineer but he’s very sociable, he loves talking to people and has travelled a lot. 

Thomas: I currently play floorball in Caen (national league 2) but WorldSkills is different: it’s more of a mental competition. I practise every week or fortnight on Teams with my coach in Lyon for the international competition. I also have two or three courses with physical and mental training plus specific courses with the industry expert and substitute. It really helps, especially with certain types of programming language. For example, I’ve always used Java so I have to work on C#. It’s similar but the syntax is different. I’ll get there though, I just need to work on it!

Zakina: I started coaching him for the French championships. The training focused on certain required areas which he topped up with extra modules. 

Someone else is coaching him for the world championships with specific training modules.

The national competition was so interesting, I met other people from my region who do the same job as me. We talked about techniques, backgrounds… It was very rewarding.

What do you think sets Normandy apart?

Zakina: Students tend to find work in Normandy. There’s a network of small, medium and very large businesses that have vacancies. In terms of training, there are more and more courses although Rennes and Nantes are the biggest draws. For example, there’s Sainte-Ursule in Caen which provides degree-level courses, ENSICaen and CESI where some of our students go. I come from Caen and came back home after a dozen years in the Paris region. I’m staying put. We have the sea, the countryside… and we’re not far from Paris! It’s a real asset because a lot of people in our line of work often work from home.

Anne Soullez
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Another advantage is that Normandy isn't far from Paris: a city with a lot going for it in our field. Plus, the advantage of my job is that I can do it all remotely.

What’s next? What’s the plan?

Thomas: I’m going to keep working in development, maybe specialise in secure software and continue my apprenticeship course. Secure development has become essential to protecting client data. 

“I started studying development in Year 9 – I went to see my maths teacher who did development and algorithms with Python. A real passion! It went from there: I specialised in ISM in my science Baccalaureate, studied website development then I went to computer college for a year. My HND with Ms. Annouche taught me about software and web development. And now I’m doing my bachelor’s degree!”

Zakina: I’ll always keep an eye on what he’s doing! We have a WhatsApp group with several teachers to see how he does at WorldSkills.

We feel like we’re part of the process: we had students who weren’t very motivated but want to try again; at Lycée Rostand, we’re preparing for the next championships to be held in September 2024. 

Thomas: I can’t wait for it, September isn’t that far away now: time will fly. I can’t wait to compete against other countries, meet people in my line of work and learn other techniques. It’s rewarding. And I can’t wait to fly the flag for France and Normandy! 

Eglise_Saint-Pierre_de_Caen Calvados

I love Normandy. I had a happy childhood here. I don't want to leave Caen. My family and friends are all here. The sea's just next-door, there's the old town, two long-haul airports and beautiful towns like Rouen and Le Havre. We're close enough to everything and that's a good thing. And I think the sports facilities are pretty good.

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