Thought Leadership

I am an ambassador

By Colin Walls

Many people, that I know, have careers, or did have and are now retired and look back on them. I think of a career as being a structured progress through the years of work, which may be planned out in detail right from the beginning. There is much talk about people having multiple careers in their lifetime, as we live longer and have extended working lives.

I do not think of myself as having had a career – I have just spent 40 years or so doing stuff that interested me …

I never set out to work in computer software – it was rather accidental. I went to university to study Materials Science and that is what my BSc was awarded for. But, during my time there, I discovered computers and thought software was interesting. So, on graduation, I looked for jobs in software and have never looked back. I have no qualifications for what I do. I am not a professional – I am a gifted amateur. Actually, programming is not a profession. A profession is a job [like medicine, teaching or law], where it is required to have certain qualifications to practice. Anyone can put “Software Engineer” on their business card …

I have reached the age when many of my contemporaries have retired or are contemplating the prospect of so doing. I am pondering the possibilities of that myself in due course. Although every ending in life is also a beginning – and retirement is no exception – such talk does make one take a retrospective view on life. Looking back on what I have done, I have reasons to be satisfied, but, equally, I do wonder what good I have done. I have never done a job that is positively harmful to other people, like making missiles. But I have not made our society better in any tangible way. I know that Mentor Embedded has customers who make medical devices, for example, which is very pleasing, but I do not feel particularly connected with their fine endeavors.

A while back I considered addressing my concern. I wondered whether I might make a career change [or get a career, depending on how you look at it] and become a school teacher. That seemed a good way to put something back into the world for a few years. I discovered that the UK government were keen to recruit teachers who had experience of the real world and my degree and experience would qualify me for a fast track, classroom-based training scheme. Although I did not feel very confident that I would be able to handle a room full of recalcitrant teenagers, I was attracted to primary school teaching and found that my gender was then a major asset. However, I ran into one difficult problem. Every month Mentor pay me a salary, which is always a pleasing event. If I became a teacher, they would pay me instead. Unfortunately, they would pay about 70% less that I make now. I find the idea of walking away from a secure salary rather hard. If Mentor fired me tomorrow [and, if my boss is reading this, please do not fire me tomorrow], I might pursue this route.

A friend and ex-colleague made me aware of a way that I could fulfill my goal of doing something useful/helpful. It seems that the UK government [like those of many western countries] is concerned by the lack of interest among young people in technical subjects. These are referred to as “STEM” – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. One of their initiatives to address is this problem is STEMNET. This is an organization which recruits volunteers, who have knowledge and experience in this area, to be available to visit schools and talk to the kids or get involved in relevant activities which support the teachers’ efforts.

So, I have signed up. After a slightly complex application process, much of which was to assure themselves that I am not, as I told them, an ax murderer or suchlike, I am in. I am now officially a “STEM Ambassador” and eagerly await my ID card that will enable me to commence activities. I am only committed to one activity per year, but hope to do better than that! I cannot wait to get started. I will keep you posted.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at