I’m Steve, and I’ve been in Software Quality Assurance for about 11 years now and at AO for more than 7 of those. Before I broke into the tech space as a QA at Rentalcars.com, I worked in their call centre for a few years, as well as behind the tills at CEX and Music Zone (anyone remember Music Zone?)
I first started at AO in September 2015 and I still have my original pass which is looking a bit worse for wear. I’m really grateful to be in the role that I’m in now and for the opportunities that I’ve had over the years such as the STAR Programme.
The STAR Programme
The STAR programme is a training scheme aimed at bringing leadership skills to a new generation of AOers. I was lucky enough to be part of the programme way back in 2017 and I’m still using the skills I learnt 6 years on.
Back then it was split into 3 major parts:
- Classroom learning sessions
- Presentation skills workshops
- A business project.
Communication is key
Classroom learning sessions were structured learning opportunities designed to prepare us for situations that are difficult to navigate if you are new to leadership. These sessions included topics such as communication styles, conflict management, mentoring and coaching.
One of the things that stuck with me the most is what I learnt during the communications style module. Everyone has their own unique communication style, and as a leader you need to identify what that is and tailor your approach according to their needs. It helps to reduce ambiguity, build relationships and ensures that a person is comfortable giving you feedback. To this day, I still use the practical advice from those sessions.
Putting it into practice
The presentation workshops were a great opportunity to be creative. You’d pick a topic that interested you and present back to the others on the programme which was a lot of fun. Between this and feedback from peers and mentors I learnt how important it is to be succinct, engaging and gained the confidence to present to a broad audience.
We also had to do a business project as part of the programme. Working as a team we came up with an idea for a business – think of it like an episode of The Apprentice! We used a combination of skills we’d used in the presentation workshops and the classroom sessions to put everything into practice.
Lessons learnt for life
It’s fair to say that learning to understand others and how to be understood is the chief lesson I took away from the STAR Programme. I apply these skills every day when mentoring and coaching, not just my direct reports, but all the people I work with who in turn will be doing the same for me. The programme helped me develop the skills to contribute to creating a nurturing, creative environment at work and I sincerely hope those who work with me have benefitted from that.
I would recommend doing the programme to others, it was difficult at times, and you need to be prepared for that. But I met a lot of friends along the way who I may not have had the opportunity to work with and gained knowledge and experience in a short time that might otherwise have taken years to build.