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Working in London as a…

From my experience, most people I know are working in industries they wouldn’t have pictured themselves in years previously. And I’m not talking about childhood dreams, such as the ambition to own a bakery with your best friend, who coincidentally is highly skilled in the baking arena which therefore means your future would consist of spending the days relaxing in your bakery’s ‘special chocolate section’. Rather, I’m thinking along the lines of university or after school experience, because it’s usually during those years of early adulthood where vague notions will become concrete ideas and dream jobs will either become real jobs or remain firmly in dreamland. That’s not to say, of course, that jobs can’t change over time; we change as people and so too do our career paths and ambitions.

And then there are other people, although I rarely meet them, whose dream job in childhood is their actual job today. They knew exactly what they wanted to do and they studied and worked towards it, with the end goal always in sight. Ideas about studying are different depending on location. In South Africa, if you want to become a journalist, you study journalism and subjects like English and History are usually taken because you’ll need them for your future career, whether that’s teaching or something else.

It’s different with everyone and living in London brings you face to face with all kinds of people from all walks of life, who bring to the city a huge range of experience and skills. What follows is my interview with three people, living in London, who work in very different fields. Whether you are currently in your pre-university days, trying to figure out what studies to choose, looking to change career paths, or simply want to know what someone else’s work involves, perhaps today you’d like to step into the day-to-day life of one of these three people.

Elly (A) is a UX designer at a digital design agency, Ruth (B) is a paramedic at a central London ambulance station for the London Ambulance Service and Cindy (C) is a school health technician whose work is funded by the NHS.

How long have you been in your current role and how long have you been in the industry?

A: I’m a contractor, so only a few months. I tend to take shorter contracts because they’re more interesting. I’ve been in the IT industry for ages! 10 years, or thereabouts.

B: 3 years

C: 1 year

Why did you decide to get into the industry and how did you do so?

B: My mum thought it would be a good idea after advising me against being a nurse because she was a nurse and she said the role was changing for the worse. I looked into the role and I thought that my skills and attributes would be useful. I enjoy problem-solving and that’s basically what my job involves. I found out that it was preferable to go to university to study and so I applied in London.

C: I received a cochlear implant through the NHS years ago and I was impressed with the service and how it has improved my quality of life. I’m a Montessori teacher by background and I’ve done a BSc in Sports and Exercise. I was hired on the basis that I was a teacher and I had degree in sports science. They were interested in recruiting people for health promotion and because I had that degree, I was able to do it.

If you haven’t always been in the industry, where were you/what were you doing before?

A: Studying? School?

B: After school, I was a health care assistant in a hospital and a waitress in a hotel. Then I went to Argentina for four months before starting university.

C: Nanny, Montessori school teacher, administrator.

Things you like about your job and things you don’t (and why)

A: I love that I’m at the forefront of digital innovation. London’s really amazing for that kind of thing, there’s so much going on. I’m really lucky to have worked with some amazing clients, often people who are pushing the bounds in their niche, specifically in artificial intelligence, and how to use the user data they have to craft a better user experience. Apps (complex programs, web and mobile) have come a long way and the standards and technology are moving forward so quickly. I’m really lucky that a lot of it is in my field – that now apps are often designed with the user experience in mind (rather than just to achieve a goal).

B: I love the freedom of working outside, going to lots of different places and meeting a variety of people. I love my team, my current crewmate especially. I like the fact that I can sometimes have a positive impact on people’s lives. My favourite type of job is delivering babies. It’s gross but the outcome is beautiful. I like working in a fast-paced, adrenaline-fuelled environment. I don’t like the way the service is managed. I don’t like people who misuse the service. I don’t like it when things go wrong or when we’re unable to help people. We are overworked and underpaid.

C: I love working with children and liaising with different schools across the borough. I love working in education and health. It’s nice to have a role where we are working in preventative medicine, e.g. eating healthily, dental care. I don’t like disorganisation within my role.

What are your future plans/ambitions, if you know them?

A: As a contractor I’m just enjoying the ride right now. Eventually I’d like to perhaps open my own digital agency but that’s a very long way off.

B: Finishing my qualifications in tropical disease nursing and then using my paramedic skills abroad in disaster relief type work. Saving the world?!

C: I would like to pursue a career in paediatric nursing.

Looking back to where you are in your job right now, would you have done things differently?

A:I wish I’d taken the time to learn what resonated with me. I originally trained as a software developer and it took a long time to find the right path.

B: I don’t know if I would. I’m quite happy with how things have turned out.

C: I should have done a vocational degree first, such as nursing.

What are the best things your job has taught you?

B: Patience. It’s taught me to be even more open-minded than I was, with regard to different people and the way they choose to live. How to stay calm in emergency situations.

C: Teamwork, leadership, taking the initiative.

What tips do you have for people interested in your kind of job?

A: Keep producing work. Constantly, and all the time, and outside of your regular 9 – 5 if you can. Design things, solve problems, and iterate. Even if you think you’ve nailed the experience, try a few more variations just to make sure. Also, that everyone hates their work, and we’re all looking for validation. If you recognise that you’re evolving with each body of work then the next piece might be a little bit closer to the vision.

B: Be prepared to constantly learn and reflect on what you’ve done, be able to accept criticism. Read up on what the paramedic role really involves so you know what you’re getting into. Be comfortable with blood and other bodily fluids. Be aware that your idea of an emergency is not always the same as everyone else’s. Be a good team player as well as being able to work on your own.

C: If you’re not sure what you want to do but you have the opportunity for tertiary study, then do because it opens up more opportunities. From there, you can figure out what you want to do.


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