Each month we are introducing the wonderful mentors that support the Big Ideas programme, in a feature we call ‘Meet the Mentor’. The programme and the students on it simply would not be the same if we didn’t have this mentor support from our business and community partners, and the mentors themselves get an awful lot out of it too. Find out more about the range of interesting and diverse mentors we work with on our Meet the Mentors page on the website!
Allow me to introduce one of our IGEM mentors supporting in our West Midlands region – Neil Brammall.
Name: Neil Brammall
Position: Managing Director/CEO/Co-founder, Utility Survey Exchange / Utility Information Services / The Happy Crocodile (mentoring through involvement with IGEM)
· Please describe your role:
I’ve worked for myself for the last five years or so and run a few different businesses for different aspects of my work. My main focus area is in the location and safety of buried assets like pipes and cables. My main business provides advice and consultancy as well as software products aimed at avoiding accidental damage to these buried assets. I also have a start-up venture in this field which is focussed particularly on improving the quality of data held about buried assets.
I’ve got another non-profit start-up venture which is looking at active travel for children to and from school.
Most of what I do centres on spatial data and location, and I do a lot of work with Ordnance Survey.
· Please describe your route to this role:
I didn’t do all that great at school, and it took me quite a while to find my direction. To be honest if there had been any jobs around when I left school, I would have taken one, as I didn’t know anyone who had gone to university, so wasn’t sure it was right for someone “like me”. Anyway, there weren’t many jobs going at that time and in that place (late ’80s in Huddersfield), so I decided to carry on with my studies. I focussed on Computer Science, as I’d got a ZX Spectrum as a teenager and started writing programs for it, then I was greatly inspired by the work of Roger Penrose and particularly his book “The Emperor’s New Mind” about artificial intelligence. I studied Computer Science at university and began to specialise in Natural Language processing. When I got my degree, I didn’t feel like I’d finished with the subject, so I went on to do a PhD in computational linguistics – I really didn’t expect to do that when I was thinking about leaving school at 16.
I then got a job working in medical software, including some neat stuff extracting meaning from doctor’s notes, then I moved to a job in the gas industry, and that’s when I started working with Geographical Information Systems (GIS) which I’ve specialised in since.
I’ve never been very good at doing what I’m told, so I decided eventually to strike out on my own, and that’s what I did.
· What advice do you have for young people interested in either following a similar route to you or in working for your business/sector?
I’ve never had a big master plan, and my advice would be to find something that you love doing, learn everything you can about it, get a job doing it, and try to become very good at what you do – there’ll always be opportunities for people who really know what they’re talking about.
At the same time, if the thing that you love changes, it’s OK to change track and do that instead. You’ll spend a lot of time at work over your lifetime so it’s best to enjoy it, and enjoying your work helps you to become really good at it.
University turned out to be a great opportunity for me, and I would recommend that everyone considers a degree as an option, especially for technical subjects. It’s not the only way though, and I know plenty of people who have had great careers and become experts in their field without a university background.
I’d recommend working for other people earlier in your career and try to find good bosses who will help you to learn and progress. If you do want to work for yourself, there’ll never be a perfectly “right” time to do it. Sometimes you just have to have faith in yourself and make the leap – you’ll know when the time is right!
Finally, money isn’t the only motivation in life. Try to do your very best work on something that you love doing and which makes the world a better place, and you’ll find the money looks after itself.
· Why did you get involved in S4TP’s Big Ideas programme?
I love working on new ideas and in the “innovation” space in my day-to-day work, so this seemed like a good opportunity to do that more, and to pass on some of my experience.
· What involvement have you had so far?
I’ve been involved since December 2018. I’ve done one Big Ideas Day, and several development sessions at a school in Solihull.
· Has participating met your expectations?
I’ve loved being involved, and it has definitely met my expectations. I love working with young people, and their energy and lack of inhibition when creating and developing new ideas is an inspiration. I hope I’ve been able to contribute some practical advice and learning, but mainly it’s been about little “nudges” here and there keep the ideas on track.
· What has been the best part about participating in the programme?
As above – definitely the energy and enthusiasm of the young people when they are given the time and space to innovate.
· What has been the most challenging part about participating in the programme?
As a self-employed person, it can be difficult to set aside time for non-earning activities. Equally, I need to practice what I preach about money not being the only motivation in life!
· What have you learnt, through participating, about yourself, the company and sector you work for, young people, schools and skills development?
The people that I admire in my professional life are those who continue to learn throughout their career and who are not afraid to change their minds. I think a good mindset to have is that every encounter is a chance to learn something. If you think you know it all, then you’ll probably miss out on lots of new things. I’ve learned loads from being a S4TP mentor!
I’ve learnt that the young people at the school I’ve been involved with are an absolute pleasure to work with, full of ideas and respect for each other. It makes me very optimistic about the next generation.
· Have you been able to take the skills learned and developed on this programme back into the workplace?
I’ve picked up some great ideas and techniques for developing, testing and expanding new ideas.
· What would you say to others considering participating in the programme?
Just do it – you’ll get a lot out of it.
We are proud and grateful to have you on board Neil – thank you for all your help!
Answers written by: Neil Brammall, Managing Director/CEO/Co-founder, Utility Survey Exchange / Utility Information Services / The Happy Crocodile (mentoring through involvement with IGEM)
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solutions for the Planet Ltd.