Guest blog: Colin Bannister, VP of Solution Engineering, VMware EMEA

Shortly after finishing the first year of a Geology degree, I realised university probably wasn’t for me. It wasn’t that I felt I couldn’t keep it up, I just… didn’t really want to. As a young adult, I was much more interested in making money and picking up new skills than I was in living the university experience, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Though it’s becoming increasingly common to seek other routes upon leaving school, I’ve found myself in an industry where the majority of employees have a relevant, tech-based degree of some sort.

So, when asked to discuss my own alternative route, and the work we’re doing to introduce degree-apprenticeships to VMware, I was more than happy to share.


My first job out of school came when my Mum not-so-subtly suggested I apply for a job as a trainee computer operator. I’d like to think that she saw the value in me honing my practical skills early, but in reality, it was much more likely that she wanted me out of the house during summer break.

After a few weeks in the job over summer, I realised that I actually enjoyed this a lot more than university, and let’s face it, the fact that I was making money definitely added to that. From there, I worked my way up in the industry, eventually landing in my current role as Vice President of Solution Engineering in EMEA. I have a team of just over eight hundred of the most talented solution engineers in the business – and I’m proud to work with every single one of them.

I’m currently heading up VMware’s apprenticeship programme, which we’re piloting for the first time this year. The initiative is something I wish had been around when I was choosing my next steps. It combines all the benefits of a legitimate degree with the added bonus of hands-on, practical experience.

Essentially, our school leavers will work with VMware in a paid role over a number of years, gain practical experience, and by the end of it will leave fully certified with a degree, minus accompanying debt. (Phew.)


Obviously, I think the programme is amazing for a multitude of reasons. But one of the most significant successes of this programme, and others like it, is that we’re able to use it to foster a new era of diversity in the tech industry.

I’m quite open about the fact that we have an issue in our sector, and that’s gender balance. In my team of 800, approximately 10% are female, and it’s just not good enough. We know that tech is a traditionally male-dominated environment, it can be difficult to change that overnight, which is why 

it’s so important to use programmes such as the degree-apprenticeship course to usher in a more diverse, fair workforce.

We’re really proud to say that in our current graduate scheme, we’re working with a 50/50 gender split, and this is something that we’re actively ensuring continues in the degree apprenticeship programme.

After all, diversity means diversity of experience, diversity of knowledge, diversity in skillsets. We’re selling to a customer base that is approximately 50% female, so why should we settle for an unevenly balanced workforce?


Whether it’s because of outdated ideology, because the industry hasn’t done enough to encourage female applicants or a mixture of both, we can see that tech has an image problem.

A lot of people associate technology with long, all-night coding sessions in a darkened room, and that’s quite frankly just not the case at all.

What I would say to anyone, especially those who haven’t considered the technology industry (female or otherwise) is that it’s so much more than what you might imagine.

Technology has an impact on every single part of our lives and choosing a career in technology is one of the least restrictive paths you can take. No matter what you’re interested in, be it fashion, charity, environmentalism or something else, there’s a tech role there, waiting to be occupied. You could find yourself making waves in the creative world using new technology, or working as a tech engineer in the performing arts.

The opportunities are endless, I guarantee that taking the technology road could lead you anywhere you’d like to go, it’s truly an unrestricted path.

Take a look at the TechSkills’ video – Is a Digital Career for Me?


Thank you Colin for sharing your experience.

Find out about Tech Industry Gold accredited degree apprenticeships

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