Computing Enrichment Day at Tanbridge House School

Tanbridge House School is a co-ed secondary school in Horsham, Sussex, that offers specialities in Science, Maths and Computing. To maintain their quest for excellence and offer their students a great foundation in knowledge application, the school is very proactive in forging links between relevant industries and businesses.

A recent event, organised as part of this programme, was a presentation by three computing and information technology companies, to a group of 200 students interested in exploring career opportunities within this industry. I was one of them and was joined by Richard Gardener from The Creative Assembly, a Horsham based game designing company, and Adam Swann from Millnet; computer forensics. Three very different type of businesses, providing a very broad view of careers in IT and software development.

I thought it was worth sharing some of the excellent questions put forward by the students, as well as the answers. They give a good insight into the industry and highlight the kind of issues that were obviously important to the students and could play a role in motivation and pursuit of such careers – potentially valuable insight for employers looking for bright sparks – as well as offering useful information for other young people considering such career avenues.

How did you find your first bit of work?

Simon: Great question! Kieren, my business partner, and I sat in a café in town and defined the ethos for the company – what we wanted it to do and the values we wanted it to be based on – before we started trading. I had many contacts from my time immersed in the business community here, which provided a great starting point for potential clients. We were given a purchase order for two days of work to help sort out problems with an online document portal. That project led to £1.2M for that company over the next few years.

Do you get to travel abroad?

Adam: Yes, I travel extensively as I need to go where the security issues arise.
Richard: I used to work in Seattle so yes!
Simon: 40% of our sales are exports and I have been working in Finland, Germany, Holland and Ireland.

How many women in your organisations?

Simon: about 25% but we are actively encouraging women to apply as the communicative nature of our business does not always suit technology focussed males who are not great at talking. See more on this in a recent blog post here.
Adam: Nearly 50% in our business.
Richard: About 25% but we are positively discriminating to get more women into the organisation.

What do you look for, is it just qualifications?

Simon: We look for attitude and train for the rest. It is always great to look at pet project that candidates have worked on and to hear them speak of their work. We like to hear the passion and drive.
Richard: Agreed!

How long do you work?

Generally it was agreed by the panel that the industry favours a flexible 9-5 day but that there were crunch times that required extra hours and weekend. This was generally fuelled with pizza and curry!
Simon: I am the owner of my company. I try not to work 7 days a week but sometimes have to.

What’s the biggest project you have worked on?

Simon: Not the biggest, but the most pressured was our project for NDE a global company working in the oil and gas industry. It was a global system which took 4 months start to finish and involved 500 man days of work. Going live around the globe for a business critical system on New Year’s Day was exciting.

How did you get into the industry?

Adam: I did a computer science degree and then specialized in Forensics, which I had no idea existed previously.
Simon: I have a PhD in physics and designed scientific instruments. In about 1997 we commissioned a company to write a control system for us. It was late, “buggy” and looked awful. I sat in a project meeting and stated that it was rubbish and I could do better myself. I thought I’d better back that up and started learning programming. I took a course, then another and another. A colleague of mine, the software development manager left to set up a software consultancy. I asked if he wanted any help and he promptly said yes. My first day of work was in Xerox working on a system for Nokia.

How much do you earn?

Adam: £45 – 55k with bonuses.

In summary, it became apparent to the students throughout the session that there are a wide variety of roles within computing firms – it’s not all just “techie” stuff, but there are opportunities that would suit many skill sets. Also that passion, people skills and genuine talent, is valued before qualifications – or at least equally so!

This is very much on par with our values at Red River, not just in our approach to staff recruitment and development but our mantra of “people first” is also how we like to work with our clients and influences how we design technology.

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