Choices

When I look back at my lucky breaks in life, the biggest and luckiest was to go to a good secondary school. I’m not sure my mum would have agreed with the word lucky, as she lobbied hard to get me in there.

I have read biographies of achievers, and they make it clear that they wanted to better themselves from the get-go. But it was not so with me. I wanted to go to the local school. Mostly, I wanted to be with my mates. The school where I was offered a place was on the other side of the city, and I knew nobody. However over time, I not only survived, but thrived. As well as all the bits of paper I earned from this school, though, one of the big things it gave me was the confidence that I would succeed.

I once posted about my early involvement in politics (here), so much so that in my teens, and armed with the confidence I was gaining from school, I harboured desires to go in that direction myself. And if you want to become a lawmaker, what better way in than to study Law?

So, as I progressed through school, I always had this goal at the back of my mind. The problem was, how to best manouver myself into position. There was an A-level (age 18) qualification in Law, but it was very rare to find that course offered anywhere, and I would certainly need to move from the school I had been settled at for five years. Fortunately, universities realised that A-levels in Law were few and far between, and were quite open regarding the subjects they accepted. As long as the grades were there, the subject was less important.

I decided just to concentrated just on the subjects I was good at, Math (first) and Physics (second). Despite these subjects being very numerate, when the time came to apply for a university place, I could easily apply to study Law. And I trundled on to my exams.

Politics, though, also had a countering effect. One of my friends worked as something called an agent. It sounded like their job was interesting. They weren’t the front-man, but were paid organisers. I even apprenticed at being an agent myself – in a local election which we expected to lose heavily. The stakes weren’t high and it gave me a hands-on opportunity to learn the trade. While I had applied to study Law, it would not have been required if I took this avenue so my choice of Law as a university subject became less concrete, to the point where, just before my exams, I really wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to move forward.

I was still good at Math and Physics, and I started mulling over pursuing these subjects instead. Again, because I was good at them. Stick to what I knew!

I ummed and erred, becomming less and less sure that I wanted to follow a legal career, and eventually decided to switch subjects to one of those I already knew.

I also had my eye on what job I could possibly be qualified to do afterwards. I had little knowledge of IT, and thought that a degree in Math would qualify me for nothing more than becoming a Math teacher. Little did I know!

But this thinking drove me toward Physics, despite my Math being stronger. With hindsight, since I ended up in IT anyway, it wouldn’t have made much difference. I suspect I’d have found Math easier, but Physics was probably the more interesting course. Plus, Physics is considered to be a good general degree, by the end of the course, you haven’t narrowed your options down too much.

So, following through my logic, I switched courses from Law to Physics. Physics was a far less popular course than Law in any case – many universities had spare places on their Physics courses – so I also saw my entrance requirements fall away and had no problem getting in. Provided I could work the finances, there was a place for me. As it happened, I did well enough in the A-level exams that I would have been able to study Law in any case, but I did not know that at the time.

So, that is how I ended up reading Physics. My only other concern – that I dropped my best subject – turned out to be unfounded. One of my university’s main field of research was in solid-state electronics – semi-conductors. We did a first-year course in this area, during which I decided that I couldn’t stand it! (more wondeful foresight)

Fortunately for students who didn’t want to specialise in this field, the university offered a theoretical option, things like Quantum Physics and Astrophysics, which was far more to my taste and far more mathematical.

At that time, ironically, I didn’t really harbour any ambitions to work in IT. As it happened, the Physics degree got the first job (as a scientist). The experience I gained in that first job got me into IT, and from there I rose up the scale and worked for banks in both New York City and London as something called an architect – exactly the same as in buildings, but in software instead. And it is not over yet – I still develop products from the comfort of home, so I can’t complain.