IT changed my life

'It's just not numbers, is it?' This was my colleague's response to the sheer look of horror on my face upon embarking on an Nvivo tutorial. You see, I like numbers, in fact I like making sense of numbers. But what I really like are probabilities. And that's great, because the other thing I really love are mobile robots. The best way for a robot to work out where it is, is through localization, and most methods deploy Bayesian estimators - back to probabilities again.

So why statistics and why robots? The robots bit is easy, I grew up watching Star Wars, Lost in Space and Knight Rider. Statistics? That came later.

Where I am and what I do now is not how I imagined things would be 10 or even 20 years ago. My career is a bit of a patchwork quilt.

At 17 I found myself working in a factory and desperately wanting to be an aircraft engineer in the Royal Navy, too much Top Gun and growing up near RAF bases me thinks. I did well in the maths section of aptitude tests but didn't have an engineering background, cue 3 years day-release at a local FE college plus 36hr working week.

What I found during my BTEC ONC was that I was ok at electronics but what I was really good at was microelectronics and digital techniques aka logic gates and programming microprocessors. To this day I still know that A9 meant load the accumulator and can still count in binary, octal and hex.

Alas the Royal Navy was not to be. When I first started floating the idea of going to university, some people thought it was 'pie in the sky'. So, at 20 off I trotted to Kingston, convinced I wasn't bright enough and that I'd struggle. In 2003 I graduated with a 2:1. This was followed by a PGCE in 2004 and 8.5 yrs. teaching Secondary ICT, as I always wanted to contribute to society and share my passion. Whilst teaching I studied for MA ICT in Education, unfortunately I struggled with the dissertation project and opted to take PGDip. Some may say stupidly, I took on a distance learning MSc a few years later. Only made possible by Web 2.0 technologies, yay IT!

In my mind Masters level study had beaten me, and that's not on. So 4.5yrs later I'm still working on that MSc. During this time I have had problems with stress and anxiety and changed career. For a while I did feel like I'd failed, but I'd also been given an opportunity to do something slightly different and learn new stuff. This is where statistics fits in.

In 2013 I became part of the IT Training team at UCL, in my first year I had the surreal experience of learning I knew more about something than a neurosurgeon! I came to specialise in statistical packages and computing training. To do that I thought I should learn statistics so took the OU module : Practical Modern Statistics.

So, where am I now? Currently on secondment as an Information Security Officer, this has given me an opportunity to learn new things and meet different people across the university and am finally working on my dissertation project for my MSc. I am also in the middle of helping plan a UCISA Digital Capabilities event and some landscaping work on IT staff professional development in higher education.

Why am I telling you this? My passion for IT has changed my life. It gave me a focus for study which has in turn given me choices about what I want to do in life. I could have stayed on that factory shop floor, but I wanted more than that and IT has made that possible. It has also enabled me to stay in contact with friends and family across the globe. So, to paraphrase Irvine Welsh: "Choose a life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose IT."


Samantha is an experienced IT Educator and Vice Chair of a UCISA sub-group focusing on the professional development of IT Staff in HE and FE Institutions.

After completing BTEC ONC Electrical / Electronic Engineering at Huntingdon Regional College, Samantha went on to graduate from Kingston University with Upper Second Class Honours in Computer Science and completed a placement year at Xerox in the Office Products Development Unit as a Software Engineer. This was followed by a PGCE in Secondary ICT Education and PGDip in ICT in Education read at the UCL Institute of Education.

Between 2004 and 2013 Samantha taught in a variety of Secondary schools in the Eastern Region at Key Stages 3, 4 and 5, during which time she implemented the Applied GCE in ICT and Level 2 OCR Nationals in ICT. Upon joining UCL as an IT Trainer she specialised in statistical packages and programming (MatLab and HTML/CSS) including supporting Software Carpentry workshops and is a strong advocate of the Open Science and Open Data agendas. She is currently on secondment with the Information Security Group.

Samantha is currently completing her Dissertation Project for MSc Intelligent Systems at De Montfort University, developing an Autonomous Robot Retrieval System and will be delivering a session titled the Joy of SLAM at /dev/summer 2015.

After completing the Award in Basic Expedition Leadership Samantha volunteered with the Duke of Edinburgh's Award before this was restricted by injury. Since 2009 she regularly volunteers with Kith and Kids, a North London based charity, and has recently become a StemNET Ambassador in addition to taking part in hacks and contributing to groups supporting women.