Born into a family of IT professionals, Lenny Merlo is fittingly enrolled as an IT apprentice in the Julius Baer Apprenticeship Programme. He shares his experience in this one-of-a-kind programme, teaches us why failure is not to be feared, and reveals how long it actually takes to build a computer.
“Math always came easily to me – English, too. I like the language,” says Lenny Merlo. His affinity for one of the global lingua francas, at least, is apparent. “I also love to do sports with my family, like swimming, running, and mountain biking. And of course coding.”
To some, Lenny may conjure up the expression ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ – his mother is an IT professional, as was his grandfather. He grew up in the town of Rüti, Zürich, not far from the lakeside city of Rapperswil, St Gallen, and recently moved to nearby Jona.
His apprenticeship officially began in August of 2016, when he started attending the ‘Zürcher Lehrbetriebsverband ICT’, a training centre that teaches future IT employees the basics of programming. Equipped with the required programming knowledge one year later, Lenny joined Julius Baer’s IT department as an application developer, a position he feels is his vocation.
Coding as a calling
“An app developer is basically a computer software engineer who creates, tests, and programmes apps for computers, mobile phones, and other electronic devices,” explains Lenny. When asked how he realised his passion, he says: “When I was younger my grandfather, who was an IT specialist, and I spent about four hours building a computer together. We first took it apart and he showed me how to reassemble it, step by step. Although I enjoyed it, I later realised that I prefer to do things on a computer itself rather than build one.”
Lenny now spends hours at a time coding. “I love it – creating something new, because you can instantly see what you’ve done. The most satisfying feeling is when you’ve been coding for, say, five hours and it won’t work, so you take a guess as to what the error might be, make some changes, refresh the app, and all of a sudden it works!” he says with a smile.
A day in the life
And what does a typical week look like for Lenny? “As it’s my fourth and final year I have less school than the previous years. I usually work from Monday to Wednesday, go to school on Thursday, and am back to work on Friday,” he explains. “At the moment I spend most of my time developing a new app called ‘Career Navigator’,” he says.
Another component of the programme involves doing presentations. “During the final three years of our apprenticeship as application developers we do a number of presentations on various topics related to IT. These are usually topics we want to learn more about, so everyone benefits.”
Working in a team of about 20 people, Lenny sits next to someone who recently completed Julius Baer’s Apprenticeship Programme. “It’s helpful, because I can go to him whenever I have questions. In fact, I could go to anyone in the team – they’re all supportive.” He is quick to add that this sentiment extends to the entire organisation: “People are friendly and eager to help you and they don’t shy from offering advice to help you do something better.”
A multifaceted programme
Julius Baer’s ambitious training programme enables apprentices to either obtain a Federal VET Diploma as a bank clerk, or become an ICT specialist or IT professional. In addition to comprehensive training that prepares the apprentices for a career in banking at Julius Baer, they are also given the opportunity to build a network across the company.
When asked what he likes best about the programme, Lenny hesitates for a moment: “That’s difficult, because there are many things. My favourite aspect is the family-like atmosphere within the bank, as well as among us apprentices.” He adds that the ‘Integrationslager’, a week-long camp organised by and for the apprentices at the start of each year, is a great way to get to know one another.
And what’s more, thanks to the programme’s flexibility and support, Julius Baer sponsored Lenny’s recent month-long internship abroad. “My experience in Shanghai was amazing,” he says. “Together with four other students from my school, as well as a local high school student, we were tasked with alleviating the stray cat problem in China. So we used gamification and started to build an app in WeChat, in which players could spend money, which ultimately went towards helping stray cats.”
What lies ahead?
Now, as his apprenticeship nears to an end, Lenny reflects on his plans for the future. “I’d like to continue at Julius Baer and do exactly what I’m doing now – it’s been a perfect fit,” he says. And to those interested in completing an apprenticeship at Julius Baer, Lenny is quick to offer: “Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, because you’re meant to learn and grow from them.”