Yesterday I spent some time with students from a school in East London  talking about careers in technology. The kids were in Year 8 and so starting to face choices about what subjects they should choose for GCSEs. It’s the second such event I’ve been involved with since the beginning of the year.

It’s a daunting time for them and it was interesting for me to take myself back to when I was their age and think about the meandering path that my own career has taken since 13.

There’s nothing quite as scary, though, as being in front of an audience of 12 and 13 year olds. They have a very limited attention span and are incredibly direct with their questioning.

“How much do you earn, sir?”  invariably came up with every group with which I spoke.

My message, as much as I had one, was that there are certain skills that you can equip yourself with that will enable you to have broad and varied experiences throughout your career, if that’s what you choose to do. My own combination of technology skills and a curiosity to explore ideas and to understand people has enabled me to be able to tick off experience of working in all of the various fields that I had on my “when I grow up” list during my school days (for the record, architecture, music production and broadcast media). There have been many more areas besides, but I’m still wondering if it’s worth bothering to grow up…

The one thing I do know, though, is that I’ve had opportunities as a result of the contacts that I was offered when I was younger through my parents – chats with John Coll (one of the unsung heros of the BBC Micro) who my dad knew, and someone in the HR department of Channel 4 (a friend of my mum’s) spring particularly to mind. It wasn’t that any of those conversations were jobs on plates, but much more that they gave me the opportunity to ask questions to people with knowledge and experience.

And that’s why I take part in events like those yesterday every so often – kids (often from the first or second generations of their families in the UK) living in some of the most deprived areas of London have so much opportunity on their doorsteps, but need help and advice and nudges to be able to take advantage of them.
Yesterday’s sessions were organized by the East London Business Alliance, who make connections between the private, public and voluntary sectors in the capital to help extend opportunities to more people. If you are interested in being a career mentor or helping in other ways, drop me a line and I can put you in touch.

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