Moving from software engineering into accounting

I'm looking for a change of career and want to make the result relevant

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After 20 years of designing electronics and writing software as a person with aptitude and interest (and after having had some good breaks allowing me to learn quickly), I feel like I have completed engineering. Alongside working in industrial units which are cold, a diminished set of working conditions (when I started as an engineer, they were fairly well respected, attracted good salaries and had perks like decent pensions and private healthcare) to the point where it's not guaranteed that milk and tea is provided, I don't feel inspired any longer in engineering. I've learned plenty about electronics but as performance needs drive integration, electronic design has become less interesting (ie it is all in chips now instead of discrete circuit design because that's the way to get good performance) and software is software - once you've picked up one programming language you can largely write in any and design patterns don't really change significantly quickly so there's not much to learn there now either. The next stage is leading a team (which I've already done but stepped back form) but that's even less about engineering and more about fighting sales people (slightly tongue in cheek but only slightly)! But that is a bit beyond the scope of this forum so lets move on...

If I hadn't become an engineer I would have become an accountant. I've known this since I became an engineer. At the time, accountancy looked less fun and engineers were still "respected" and less commoditised which is why I went in that direction. Whilst I'm certain that moving into accountancy and finance is the right move, as I don't know anyone who works in accountancy practice (my friends are and always were engineers or IT techs) I can't work out what the best first move for a software engineer is. It would be useful as an experienced person/manager to move across initially into something where I can be useful outside of pure accountancy (I'm not talking about R&D tax credit reports really though I'd probably be really good at that).

To put more scope on this, I am a little torn between ACCA and CTA but I am definitely not wanting to go down the CIMA route as that's more of a financial administrator role which I already do as a project engineer/engineer and I want to go into accounting practice, ideally with the big x.  However, CTA is pulling ahead for more reasons than better potential crossovers - I think I am just drawn to it more.

I hope that was understandable, I wanted to talk more about me as the available qualifications/paths are all quite well documented but I wanted something from behind the scenes like for instance places where automation, scripting and technology are being used or, if indeed going into R&D but as an actual CTA (maybe ATT) grad might be the best route. I'm open to any inside knowledge.

(additional - I hate working on industrial estates in factories, I want to be able to get a bus to work, be in the city, have offices that are open 24hrs, have targets, not be asked to do things that defy the laws of physics and then have something I can retire onto - such as a few book keeping clients to keep me ticking over and I am keen to work in an industry that doesn't require me to be on the M4 or the home counties to find work as I don't live there right now).

Replies (39)

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
27th Feb 2024 11:02

There must be software engineers and software engineers as my son is one and was earning more as a contractor than I did in accountancy by his late 20s, 6 years post university. (He is also described sometimes as a software developer though I have never understood difference) Now 32 he is at manager level with a US consultancy and suspect the money is pretty eye watering even though he no longer contracts.

If I were you I would be spreading my wings further within software engineering sphere (few extra courses etc) rather than charging into accountancy which imho is , certainly in the SME market, going to continue to become relatively lower and lower priced.

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Replying to DJKL:
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By merlinembedded
27th Feb 2024 11:30

I think I've highlighted some of the issues I have with engineering. Pay was not one of them. Geographical location was one of them. I've been a manager and a consultant and frankly... I've done it all! Time for a new challenge with less dull colleagues.

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Replying to merlinembedded:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
27th Feb 2024 11:57

Well, if you think accountancy as a career has legs fine, I think it is going to be more about the haves and have nots re work types/ job satisfaction etc. Perhaps with your background you could become a late start with a larger firm who will have accountancy/tech operations but late starting can be tricky (My training firm were sceptical about me because I was old,at 25 ,when I started)

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Replying to DJKL:
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By merlinembedded
28th Feb 2024 15:48

Hello,

Yes, I've just completed engineering. I want a change. Accountancy is something I have aptitude for (there are things I haven't described here that I have been doing for a long time which tell me this is the case). Since I can afford to do my own training (lets be honest, most of the initial exams look pretty straightforward looking at past papers - it's the last slog after the first couple of years of study that will actually be hard, just like uni was) and am also presently working in a well paid role, I have a lot of flexibility that perhaps a graduate might not have.

Thanks

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Replying to merlinembedded:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
28th Feb 2024 16:22

Exams without direct work experience in accountancy/tax etc will likely not get your foot in any doors post completion of same, training contracts are a mix of exams and experience (noting everything you do down in your log/record/diary (whatever each of the bodies do) and getting it signed by the party training you, submitting to institute etc)

Real life is very different from the exams, exams start their accountancy questions with certain data available to you , here is a trial balance that balances, with x, y , z errors, correct, incorporate these other bits of information (bad debts/accruals etc) prepare accounts, real life you need to acquire and verify that starting data, it is not that neat. That is why I and most others apprenticed for three years whilst sitting exams (ICAS in my case) and why just passing exams with little practical experience probably will not be looked upon favourably by employers.

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Replying to David Ex:
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By merlinembedded
27th Feb 2024 11:34

Thanks, I've been using Google for longer than I've been working as an engineer. I've read all these. I'm actually asking people with experience in practice if there's a good specific route to target when moving from engineering to accountancy. Google has yet to give a good answer to that.

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By paul.benny
27th Feb 2024 11:13

Three questions for you

1 Are you prepared to be a junior, bottom of the pecking order, not knowing what you're doing, etc for the next few years
2 Are you prepared for a drop in earnings - can you even afford it?
3 Are you/your partner/your family for A Lot of study for the next few years?

These are questions you should ask yourself - don't answer them here. An interviewer may well ask similar.

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Replying to paul.benny:
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By merlinembedded
27th Feb 2024 11:32

I think these are all a given. If I feel I'm clever enough to pass the requisite exams one would hope I was clever enough to know they require some study and that moving into a new line of work will come with a commensurate and hopefully temporary drop in salary. This doesn't really address what I'm asking though.

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Replying to merlinembedded:
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By David Ex
27th Feb 2024 11:49

merlinembedded wrote:

I think these are all a given. If I feel I'm clever enough to pass the requisite exams one would hope I was clever enough to know they require some study and that moving into a new line of work will come with a commensurate and hopefully temporary drop in salary. This doesn't really address what I'm asking though.

Your interpersonal skills need some work. I won’t be responding further.

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Replying to David Ex:
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By Leywood
27th Feb 2024 12:29

+1

What makes you think Accountants are respected more than engineers these days? Just take a look at all the freeloaders demanding answers on here.

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Replying to Leywood:
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By DKB-Sheffield
27th Feb 2024 12:36

Leywood wrote:

+1

What makes you think Accountants are respected more than engineers these days? Just take a look at all the freeloaders demanding answers on here.

And... many of those freeloaders are freelance IT consultants!

This is not a dig at the OP... more an effort to highlight where accountants actually sit in the pecking order.

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Replying to Leywood:
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By merlinembedded
28th Feb 2024 16:03

It's interesting that you said this. I tried to add a lot of detail as to my history but in doing so I have probably just made it difficult to comprehend, especially to people who aren't engineers.

If you look carefully I describe hating being a "professional" working in an unheated shed (often with no windows) on industrial estates, off bus routes where tea and coffee comes from a Klix machine or not at all. There are some exceptions of course but those businesses are just machines with not much going on and where you're shoehorned into a specific role or product (which is boring).

Every job has its downsides, but at least the accountants are (also) getting good salaries, pensions, gym memberships and private healthcare. They are also (importantly to me) working in City centres on bus routes in heated offices near places where you can buy a varied lunch (I'm so bored of ham sandwiches) or go for a drink after work.

What the job is actually about is one thing, but the way it fits into my lifestyle (or no longer does) is also an important part of job satisfaction.

You'll also see the same freeloaders asking questions on the element14 and designspark forums of the general form "I want to communicate with serial port on STM32. How do I do this please?".

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Replying to merlinembedded:
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By Leywood
28th Feb 2024 16:31

merlinembedded wrote:

I have probably just made it difficult to comprehend, .

Condescending

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Replying to David Ex:
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By Paul Crowley
27th Feb 2024 14:52

Same here
I would not want that Ego upsetting either my staff or clients.

@OP
Try applying for jobs in your local area. If you struggle to get employment you have an answer.
If you get three offers at a generous salary then you have a different answer.

Firms like mine regularly get people asking to work for free just to get accounting work experience on their CV. I have taken on and then employed three such people, all still employed.

Accountancy exams are worthless without experience.

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By merlinembedded
28th Feb 2024 15:50

What jobs do you suggest I apply for?

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By paul.benny
27th Feb 2024 12:43

The OP was almost 600 words without an actual question.

And the questions I suggested you ask yourself are not about whether you are aware of the study, salary drop, loss of seniority - but whether you have properly thought them through. Your response suggests not.

So I'm out.

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Replying to paul.benny:
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By merlinembedded
28th Feb 2024 16:39

I think that's for the best. Others have posted some useful comments.

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By DKB-Sheffield
27th Feb 2024 12:19

You may (inadvertently) have hit the nail on the head with R&D. Software engineering and development is (still) a tremendous growth area, and good R&D technical specialists are like hen's teeth. An R&D software techy with even the most basic of grounding/ understanding of tax could be a good win for an R&D specialist firm.

Be aware though... your suggestion of CTA (or even ATT) without significant understanding of the fundamentals is going to be a very hard slog. Neither are what I would suggest to be entry-level (or even intermediate-level) qualification... regardless of your level of intelligence. You don't need MENSA membership to do CTA but, equally MENSA membership won't be much of a benefit either!

Without sounding harsh... there is a big difference between an accountant and a tax adviser. The 2 qualifications you mention (ACCA and CTA) are really for two different jobs. If you're looking at Big 4 (or x), the choice of qualification (and the modules taken) may matter much more that they would at Local & Co.

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Replying to DKB-Sheffield:
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By merlinembedded
28th Feb 2024 16:18

Hello,

Thanks for the comment. I don't think you'll need to respond to this but I'm 100% about the lifestyle change (ie simplified as not working on an industrial estate with a lino office floor providing tech support for the broken network) and 80% interested in tax so, whilst I might have confused things when talking about ACCA, I was really just checking that I hadn't gone way off tangent where ACCA employers would have arms open wide for an ex engineer and I'd not noticed. The trouble is once you start, they're not transferable so it has to be right first time.

It's interesting what you say about the modules and whilst the first modules are all common, I thought I would crash a university jobs fair to get more information about the next stage. Perhaps at that point I'll be in a better place to ask questions and maybe with stage one modules completed I might even be in a position to look at those R&D tax credits jobs and get the rest of my training funded. Applying alone may provide feedback.

I will be honest with you, I've looked at the past questions for CTA and compared to hand calculating fast fourier transforms, parasitic capacitances and gate charge times on transistors and all that control systems theory, the exams themselves look very straightforward as it's all about one thing. Your brain doesn't go from discrete components to theory about making semiconductor devices then learning to solder like it did at university. It's one interesting story which is of interest whereas making diodes is something I have never done nor ever will do in England as we generally don't (actually we do in Oldham but they employ few engineers to do that and they're probably physicists really).

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Replying to merlinembedded:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
28th Feb 2024 16:33

Get yourself into audit and you could spend lots of time on industrial estates.

I can recall as a junior being on Broadmeadows Industrial estate (Dumbarton) being sent out in a blizzard with a soggy sheet of paper on a clipboard to check vehicle registration numbers against the fixed asset registers, also being sent to the estate van for some sausages in rolls for the audit team, or worst of all car dealerships and checking chassis numbers on new Nissans parked so close together that my suit got covered with pre showroom grease squeezing amongst them , opening bonnets, recoding numbers. (At least I never got sent to the fish meal processer client, apparently the reek destroyed whatever clothes you wore on site, though I did wreck a suit in the paint store of a factory that made crisp packets/biscuit wrappers printing on film as a couple of splashes transferred to my pinstripe)

No idea what people put up with these days, but the grass back in the 80s/90s was not always greener.

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By merlinembedded
28th Feb 2024 17:07

But has that changed into something you wouldn't trade now?

We all have these stories - I remember spending a solid week re-tuning the balancing circuit of an RF antenna on 250 units so that we could deliver and invoice. Ironically those units probably pass through Dumbarton East station daily.

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Replying to merlinembedded:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
28th Feb 2024 22:16

Well audit never appealed to me, getting wet and dirty did not appeal. If you want to sit in a nice warm office do tax but do not expect to get out of the office that often.

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By tom123
27th Feb 2024 12:26

Hi Merlin,

I am a CIMA qualified accountant, and spent the first 20+ years in the finance function of engineering companies. Indeed "some of my best friends are.." etc.

I recognise the large industrial sheds in the end of nowhere, with rubbish heating..although we always had tea and coffee.

To be fair, sales and finance were often also in conflict. After all, sales people love to give stuff away (extra year warranty) and write stuff off (all historic service call invoices)..

Working in finance for a company (and yes, you can get board level posts - not just paper pushing) is a very different idea to working in an accountancy practice. There are some small similarities - but, in my view, they are almost two very different jobs.

I suppose what I'm saying is you might make more progress, more quickly, if you were seeking to do management accountancy, maybe within industry, and be able to build on some of your knowledge. Going into practice, you would have very little to really sell yourself on - in my view.

And, yes, I did end up writing the R&D claims - with a little help from the engineering dept.

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Replying to tom123:
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By merlinembedded
28th Feb 2024 15:43

Thanks for this, it's one of only a couple of responses (so far) that makes sense. Everyone else seems to be in it for the money without realising that as an engineer I have fulfilled every reasonable goal and instead of being a career, it has now become a job no more interesting than working in a supermarket (possibly less interesting as I spend all day on my [***] with no people around).

The second to last paragraph is important though - this is what I thought and I am happy that this may be the case, however I was looking to confirm that. It sounds like the best route (based on one of the other sensible responses) may be via R&D but since I'm 79% certain I want to go tax rather than practice accountant, this is just a useful coincidence. I don't want what you've described and this is exactly what I thought.

At this stage, I've made a lot of money in engineering and have a tiny mortgage and already own a modern car. I think I have flexibility in starting at the bottom again.

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By Justin Bryant
27th Feb 2024 15:35

You are doing exactly the right thing in following your gut. See: https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/commentary-and-opinion/mother-in-law-go-wit...

You just have to keep trying (redoubling efforts etc.) and eventually you'll make your own luck as they say. (But you don't need Google or me to tell you that of course and you knew that already.)

So don't waste any more time here except to come back & tell us when you have succeeded!

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
27th Feb 2024 16:03

Do remember survivorship bias- only those where it works tend to report back, those where it doesn't more tend to slink of without a word. (Like stockmarket investors or gamblers who only tend to remember their winners)

I do not totally dismiss gut feelings but would probably only value them from someone who has been round the houses a few times and is relying on experience. (I do like a touch of empiricism in my philosophy and am generally not so keen on reliance upon innate knowledge- rewind 40 odd years to 1980 and my first year at uni with Locke and Hume)

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By Justin Bryant
27th Feb 2024 16:07

I speak from experience . I changed my career from engineering for more or less the same reasons (I also studied philosophy of science at Cambridge). Better to regret having done something than not having done something and a bad decision is better than no decision etc.

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
27th Feb 2024 16:31

Snap (though not Cambridge) I started out doing a Bsc in Mechanical & Electrical Engineering, switched to humanities at Edinburgh (The Scottish approach, do not know what to do so study everything) and only after that did a one year PG conversion course in accountancy to become a relevant graduate.

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By merlinembedded
29th Feb 2024 11:39

One of the things that attracts me to accountancy (and always has) is that they undermine undergrad degrees by having their own qualifications at a fraction of the price of going to university or studying at the OU (which I looked at as part of this career change).

The first thing you have to do on graduating is then have to study for their own exams. Even as an engineering graduate I get similar exemptions from the early ACCA exams (maybe some others but haven't checked recently since I decided that I would take all of them as study prep since the syllabus is relevant and the exemption costs the same as taking it) as an accountancy graduate.

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By Capitalised
28th Feb 2024 16:07

Merlin - your post makes interesting reading. As others have said, we do typically see engineers with your experience in the R&D tax relief field. Assessing whether a project is R&D and meets the criteria for that relief often requires specialist knowledge. Alongside that there is the financial analysis too in order to compute a claim. Having said that there is no reason that you might not consider other aspects of the tax system - you are very likely to be adept at systems thinking and coding - effectively that is what the tax legislation is/does.

I am CTA qualified and have trained with/trained colleagues with an engineering background. Most were successful and a few have returned to engineering. The one area that some struggled with was the CTA exams. It was finding the balance between absolute accuracy (and running out of exam time) and sufficient response to pass the exam. I trust that helps.

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Replying to Capitalised:
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By merlinembedded
28th Feb 2024 16:35

Thanks, that's just the kind of insight I was looking for. Even if I make another career change into (lets call it) pure tax later, perhaps R&D is the obvious entry point I was looking for confirmation of and definitely writing of ACCA as the "no obvious entrypoint" selection. This suits as I was more interested in tax anyway (for some reason!).

I'm generally pretty good at exams having done a bit of teaching at university in my time and generally being an exam loving person. Going back to tough exams in adulthood is always a challenge though. I'm looking forward to it as I've not done any new learning for years in Engineering. I taught myself VHDL in lockdown but it took six weeks because one programming language is pretty much like the next even if it's a HDL.

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By Capitalised
28th Feb 2024 18:04

I think you'll be fine. Of course it is a different skill set and there will be new skills to learn but it sounds as if you have thought about this a fair bit already.

I wonder if you think you'd be able to move into the finance or tax function within your current organisation? From your employer's point of view they can retain your project knowledge within the company for a while and put it to use in the finance function. From your own point of view, you will probably be working in an office and also will gain some relevant experience for your CV.

I guess you have also considered progression in the tax role? This does depend on where you'd end up. However, for instance in HMRC/industry the role would be different than in a practice. In the latter, senior roles can become more about team management and sales.

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Replying to Capitalised:
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By merlinembedded
29th Feb 2024 11:34

Hello,

It's an interesting thought but staff turnover at engineering companies is either ridiculously high (BAE because they make everyone redundant at a project end) or ridiculously slow (the same reason I want to leave engineering - I still have pace but much of the industry that has money doesn't).

I have been doing other things for a number of years that will support my applications however. I can't say what they involve because it would make me personally identifiable. This is stuff on a national level and is pretty fun.

I am not sure exactly where tax may take me (after all engineering took me into electronics and then software) but as a late starter I'm unlikely to make it to senior roles before I'm thinking of winding down my career (that doesn't mean working less as I am not a person ready to retire otherwise I wouldn't be retraining as I am now, just not the needing to pay a mortgage and buy a car mentality) however sales can be fun and rewarding if you're selling something that you think people actually should have and benefit from. I think that does come in as part of the R&D role at some of those specialist consultancies. Ultimately I want to be working with one of the big x though. The locations, pace and lifestyle are what I want - I'm no person looking to settle down and go home at 5. Never have been.

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By tom123
29th Feb 2024 07:24

If you are just looking at tax, then you don't need to do accountancy first. You can just do tax, via the ATT (Tax Technician,) then CTA route.

Personally, I added ATT onto CIMA - I tried CTA, but it was too big a jump for me, as not much of the work (which is basically law) crossed over with my day job.

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By merlinembedded
29th Feb 2024 09:51

Hi Tom,
I will be honest and say that ATT seemed a bit too trivial for me (at least, lets say I'm motivated to do more) but I understand how it doesn't cross the CIMA barrier. Amusingly the things which you did not gel with are what attracts me to tax. I would make a great civil servant with my love of regulations and rules. There's actually a lot of "law" involved as a senior engineer with compliance and safety but it's of a different type and not as fun.

A useful comment though, I liked it. It pushed up my confidence that I am choosing the right course and direction for me.

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Replying to merlinembedded:
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By tom123
29th Feb 2024 11:59

I think it could be a mistake to conflate ATT with AAT in some way - it is certainly not something a completely inexperienced (but presumably graduate level) person could simply walk up and take.

I was very pleased to have been able to complete ATT, following 20 years working in industry, a CIMA qualification and an accountancy degree.

Having said that, I have an apprentice taking AAT, and the requirements for that are not trivial either.

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By Helen Vines
29th Feb 2024 08:08

Can I ask where you're based? Anywhere nr Bristol?

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By merlinembedded
29th Feb 2024 11:40

Not anymore. I move around a lot. It's necessary in engineering. I have lived and worked in Bristol in the past though.

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