At school I achieved Higher qualifications in English, Maths, Chemistry, German, Geography, History and Modern Studies. I enjoyed all of these subjects but I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school. In my sixth year, however, I gave in to (well-meaning) pressure from teachers to apply for university.
I wasn’t convinced that university was right for me and thought, naively and a bit stubbornly, if I’m going to be forced to go I’ll go as far away from home as possible and study something that I’m really passionate about!
So, I went to the University of Sussex, over 500 miles away from home, to study African and Asian politics! Why? Because in the late 1970s I was involved in campaigning against the apartheid regime in South Africa to free Nelson Mandela!
However, I had neither the confidence nor the motivation to survive at university. I missed home and my stay at Brighton was a short one! I returned to Scotland and spent the next few years in and out of jobs during a period of economic recession and mass youth unemployment.
After these years of not getting very far, I went back to full-time education to study a degree in computer information systems. My motivation for choosing computing was purely financial – it was a growing industry sector and I knew I would get a good job with decent money when I graduated. And I did!
I started my career in manufacturing at Motorola where I did some programming and supported staff on a range of computer systems. Next, I worked at AVEX Electronics where I installed a new computer network of hundreds of personal computers (PCs) which were just becoming popular in industry.
Designing and delivering training courses for employees on these PCs and a major new manufacturing system sparked an interest in teaching that led to me applying for a lecturing post at the University of Paisley. Here, as well as teaching about computer networks, I became interested in delivering courses using technology and became an early pioneer in online learning.
I took this interest forward when I was director of learning and assistant chief executive at a couple of national organisations (Scottish Council for Educational Technology and Learning & Teaching Scotland) where I led departments responsible for educational software development and technology training courses for staff in schools, colleges and universities.
These roles led to an interest in the policies underpinning education in Scotland, and I took this further when I joined the Scottish Government as a policy analyst in 2003. In my ten years in government most of the roles I had related to skills and employment, for example advising ministers on initiatives to tackle rising youth employment resulting from the economic recession in 2008.
Six years ago I became vice principal at Ayrshire College where I had responsibility for a range of subject areas as well as departments like marketing, quality, business development and information systems.
A year ago today (6 August 2018) I started as principal and chief executive of West Lothian College. The skills and experience I’ve acquired in my long and varied career are being put to good use in this role, and I am very excited about the possibilities for the college in the years ahead.
When I left school I really had no idea what career I wanted. I made a few choices early on that led me down a path I didn’t want to follow. So I changed direction! Throughout my career I’ve chosen a different career path when it felt right for me – so far I’ve had seven major career changes and worked for eleven different employers!
Sometimes it wasn’t obvious – even to me – what the connection between one career and another was. People close to me often thought I was making risky decisions and advised me against them. But I always did what felt right for me and although there were some strange turns along the way none of the paths I chose led to a dead end.
When I look back over my career pathway, my route has been long and winding but there was no wrong path. Every twist and turn, even the occasional dead-end, led to new insights into what drove me and those insights led me to my next destination.
If I went back to the future and keyed my current destination into a career sat-nav when I left school, I’m sure it wouldn’t have suggested the route I’ve travelled. My route was fuelled by my passion for what I was interested in at the time and I wouldn’t change that for the world!