Inspire day at Hangleton Primary

I’ve been asked, as a dad of one of the students, to talk about what I do to the pupils at Hangleton Primary School in Hove. Here are some thoughts on the message I’d like to get across.

Find a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.

Confucius (allegedly)

Whoever really said it first, the idea is sound. Another way I’ve seen this said is in the life-guidance writing, Desiderata:

Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Max Ehrmann ~ 1927

We’re lucky enough to live in a society that will look after those who can’t look after themselves. If you can’t work, you will be supported by the state. But a career path is much, much more than just putting food on the table. There are, of course times when we work to sustain ourselves but those lucky enough to work in the fields they enjoy will have a valuable (if abstract) possession in their skills that no misfortune can remove.


Like riding a bike, you never unlearn a skill that you’ve learned. It may be years from one use of the skill to the next but you’ll never forget it and may well be glad to have as many skills as possible.

Follow your interests

When I was at school and they asked the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” many of the girls in the class answered that they wanted to be a hairdresser, many of the boys answered that they wanted to be a stuntman. I think the reality is, no one really knew what they wanted to do for a living at that early stage.

I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up , perhaps I never will!

There will be some subjects that you enjoy more than others. It may be because you’re better at them but more likely that you’re better at them because they stimulate you. Our school and career systems channel us into specific areas of learning – they do this for good reason but the other skills that might fall along the way may be useful to you later in life. ~ We no longer live in a world where you can get a job at 16 and still be sure you’ll be working in the same industry when you’re ready to retire. Being prepared for more than one career path is going to be beneficial, adding more than an extra ‘string to your bow’ will reap dividends in the end.

My Journey

My favourite subjects at school were mostly the practical arts: CDT, Art, Pottery, Music… and I loved my sports and extra school clubs like canoeing and the CCF. They’re still my favourite subjects and they’ve plotted the course of my career for the most part but not everyone can make a living by painting or crafts.

It doesn’t matter what degree you get, but that you get a degree.

Mr Harwood, (chemistry teacher, careers adviser Reigate GS)

I didn’t rate Mr Harwood’s chemistry lessons – maybe because I never had much of an affinity for learning Chemistry – but this piece of advice has always stayed with me. I think, what Mr Harwood meant was that, provided you embrace the challenge, higher education is less about being taught a subject and more about learning to teach yourself – that’s why people say, “what are you reading?” when asking about others’ time at university. Being awarded a degree, shows the world that you are capable of teaching yourself to a level acceptable to a university. If you can learn one subject, you can learn another… and another – the only constraint is your time.

Study at university if you can – it will teach you far more than the subject you choose to study

I had to take the opportunity of going to university whilst in the right age window and the choices I made at school mapped out the pathway I would take in my late teens and early twenties. I took Geography at GCSE and enjoyed the ‘physical’ side of that enough to take an A-level in Geology. Geology class was taught by an inspirational teacher called Roger Birch at Collyer’s 6th form college in Horsham. Out of 13 class members in my yeargroup, 10 of them went on to do Geology degrees (was that all because of the field trips?).

I studied Geology at The University of Birmingham and loved it – even the early lectures and the late lab sessions but I knew I wasn’t interested in a job in the typical fields a geology graduate goes into. For one thing, I was really into my music at this stage, so after I graduated (no one can take my degree away now I’ve got it) I tried to make a go of things with my band. Spent a couple of years doing local jobs, like driving and a position with a local animal charity but these jobs were purely as a means to earn money to survive. I was living with my parents and needed very little in the way of money and my interests laid firmly in the musical realm.

The band never worked out but as chance would have it ( – and chance favours the prepared) I was successful with an open audition for a percussion show called STOMP.

What a life!

STOMP was a wonderful job for a young and single person, well paid for theatre and immensely enjoyable. After several years though, my body was well worn and the life of touring around the world from one hotel to another was wearing too. I longed for my own toaster, or to have a bowl of cereal when I became hungry at night, instead of having to go out and buy all my food from restaurants and takeaways.

My work in London had included a few different bands. Each of them required its own promotion which invariably meant its own website. Since I didn’t start work until 6pm every day, I took the opportunity to teach myself some web design, during the day, while everyone else was at work. Enter Macromedia Dreamweaver 2004.

Building in code – work with your hands

By the late 00’s I was married and had stopped touring with the show, opting instead to ‘sit down’ in the London production. I had my long, lost cereal and a toaster all of my own but I had climbed to the limit of my career path in the industry, by being rehearsal director and lead in the show. I was tired, ageing and frankly, getting bored. I knew it was time for a change.

Changing career path

I’m an extraordinarily lucky person. By marriage, I was entitled to emigrate to the USA and try my hand at a new career. We arrived in California in June 2008 and I was ‘forced’ to open a company with my wife as the registered owner, so I could work and start getting paid.

After some time freelancing with various web technologies, I was awarded an informal position at a local marketing agency. I gained experience in various projects until my wife got pregnant and wanted to be closer to her family in Louisiana.

Medical insurance then meant I had to get an employed position, instead of a self-employed one, and so began my second career as a web designer/developer.

I’ve worked for marketing agencies and advertising agencies and even returned to work for the company my wife had to start back in California all those years ago.

After 10 years in the USA, we returned home to the UK and I needed local employment here but the learning hasn’t stopped. I’ve gone from what I would describe as a web developer, to a back-end web developer. Meaning I get to do the things I enjoy most about building in code.

I now work for a local web development agency, building the functionality of websites and servers, without having to worry too much about making them look attractive – that’s the job of the front-end developers…

I see this job as having plenty of scope for growth. You’ll never learn all there is to learn, of course but you will need to keep growing your knowledge and experience in order to stay interested in your career. Back end development and sys-admin are subjects I can happily learn about for years to come and be paid to use my experience and detective skills to solve web problems. I’ll easily remain interested and employable for another decade or more, by which time, provided I make it that far, I’ll be thinking about the next life transition, the final career of retirement.

All the way along, I’ve been lucky enough to do things because I chose to.
– Of course there are days where you don’t want to go to work, and jobs at work that you don’t want to do, because you don’t enjoy them for whatever reason. And of course, those jobs still need to be done. Get through them and try to find something enjoyable about them. Even your dream career will have its weaknesses. If you follow your interests enthusiastically enough though, people will notice and likely, before too long, you too will be able to say you’re not ‘working’ for a living, because you’re doing something you love to do.

Maybe by then, I’ll know what I want to be!


In my talk to the school kids, I was able to suggest the scratch educational programming interface to the children and they seemed familiar with it already. Here’s a link to a similar technology by google called blockly – – this platform is particularly interesting because it shows the code behind the behaviours which are built in the graphical builder.

I’ve been asked if I would go back and do a workshop with the kids on coding. One day, with a little preparation, I think it could be a great idea.

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