Growing up I always loved Maths, but I’ve never been sure of what I wanted to do or be. It was a no-brainer to study Maths at A-Level, it was the other subjects that were tricky to decide on so I thought studying Computer Science might complement my Maths studies nicely. At that point in time, University wasn’t really on my radar and no one I knew had gone either. It was a career advisor that suggested I should consider it. I ended up applying and going and it was one of the best choices I ever made. It was hard though; I nearly gave up halfway through. It was a big life adjustment for me, and a 3-year commitment felt a long time. But I stuck at it, and I actually ended up enjoying studying so much. It led me to carry on and study further for a PhD. I know this is a lot of studying and you absolutely don’t need to go that far to work at the Intelligence Agencies, but for me, I just wanted to keep going as I loved the experience so was curious to see how far I could go. University gave me skills that I now cherish – being able to work independently, not being afraid of trying out things in case they don’t work (lots of things don’t work the first time), enjoying learning, working through the unknown.
For a long time, I still didn’t know what I wanted to “BE” though. I did know that I didn’t want to become a researcher full time, so I went into the world of work. I’ve had a varied career which has largely been a mixture of programming, data analysis and data processing. I haven’t been set on a particular career path but have been seeking roles that I think I’ll enjoy and will help me improve and develop skills. What I’ve come to realise, is that you don’t need to “BE” one particular thing. Do the jobs you are interested in, try new things and focus on what you want to learn, not what you want to “BE”.
I work in an area that takes initial ideas for an artificial intelligence proof-of-concept and help to integrate these into other work in the intelligence services. It combines my interests in maths, programming and researching new areas, as well as getting to work with a variety of people.
Each day is different, which is something I love as well. It can involve anything from learning about a new machine learning algorithm, trying a new piece of code or software, and discussion with colleagues. Writing is another aspect of my role: reports, blogs or presentations, as well as presenting live from time to time (which I’d not really done much before). We have a great community here and people are willing to share their knowledge and help each other when you take on new tasks like this which you’ve never done before.
Don’t worry if you don’t know have your 5-year career plan all detailed out, just focus on doing what you enjoy. What’s important is that you continue trying new things where you can and spend time developing the skills that you want to. In the words of the Canadian Astronaut, Chris Hadfield, “Decide in your heart of hearts what really excites and challenges you and start moving your life in that direction”.