I graduated with a degree in Physics from university. What I did afterwards was not clear-cut. I was invited to stay on and to obtain a PhD in my favourite aspect of physics, Astrophysics. I was very good at the more mathematical aspects of the subject, although the university specialised in things like electronics, in which I had no particular interest. However a few months before the degree, it became apparent that I would not only get a good result, nut also a good job, so I decided to enter the workforce.
Despite this decision, i didn’t really have much idea what I wanted to do. The safest bet in all my years was to stick with what I know, and so I found a job with the UK Atomic Energy Authority as a physicist. I was very much a jack-of-all-trades, I didn’t feel particularly skilled at anything. Not long in, we won a big project to test a spacecraft engine. The unique feature of our company was that it had a couple of large vacuum tanks, ideal for testing spacecraft engines. The project demanded some probes, and software to both control these probes and to analyse the results from the experiments. They asked me to get involved, and my career in software development was born!
The project began and ended very successfully, and I had a taste for more development. But this was a research company, and software development was incidental to their main activities. I was forced to scrape around for work to further my development skills.
By the time I got my next job, I was a very good programmer. The next job was with a software house, and of course at first there was a question of whether I’d be any good or not, but I needn’t have worried. In fact, I was stronger than most. I saw a career path toward project management, and I became ambitious. In fact, I left that job for one which promised project management experience.
You always try and take positives from a job, and this one not only gave me management experience (in fact, I was leading the development effort), it also gave me a year of working in the USA. But there were flip-sides. This was early-internet, the company was a startup led by a couple of marketing guys, and quite often they promised things to clients which were more desirable than possible. Of course, I was the technical expert, so I knew this, but let it slide. In later years I’d have spotted the warning signs and walked.
The job ended when they wanted me to work permanently in the USA, but we couldn’t agree a deal. Looking back, the job was very high-octane at times, did not run smoothly, and the aspect of being a manager was actually sufficiently unpleasant that I resolved to stay technical in the future.
Back in the UK, I formed my own company and worked freelance, something I would do for the rest of my time in IT. I worked in the New Forest area for three years before taking an assignment up in London. Over the years there were several clients – nominally, a role could be as little as three months duration, although there was never a shortage of work for competent people, and I worked 10 years with one client. I specialised in designing solutions for clients, although to be honest, they all expected hands-onness to some extent, so I never lost the ability to develop things. As it turned out, that was fortunate in terms of working after the stroke.