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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Career Path: Keeping up with the changes

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    09 Feb

    Science fact

    Elephants rarely get cancer: less than 5% of captive elephants die of cancer, compared to 20% of humans. Elephant genomes have at least 20 copies of the tumour suppressor, p53, which may explain their low cancer rates relative to humans, who have only one copy. 

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    17a-donna-2There are two lectures that stick in my mind about career guidance while at Cambridge studying Computer Science.  One advised that the ONLY career path worth doing was to get a smart suit, join one of three specific consultancies, move onto one of four specific banks, make your money by age thirty and retire to do the ‘programming stuff’.  I remember bristling at how restrictive this felt and how much the lecturer’s attitude echoed of the ‘Old Boy Network’.  [Editor’s comment : we encourage students to consider a very wide range of roles in our advice now!] The second lecture was not specifically about careers, but the first of learning computer programming skills – using ‘BCP’, which is the forerunner to the more successful, yet still dated, ‘C’ language.  This seemed pointless initially – more historical footnote than of any practical use.  But key to these lectures was that this helped teach the basics of programming.

    We learn the techniques, the lecturer explained, and we can adapt to any programming language.

    This gave me confidence when applying to graduate schemes with a variety of technology companies.  Whatever I ended up doing, I could adapt if I didn’t enjoy it and try other things.  Initially, I joined a software company who did specialist software for pharmacies and finance companies, starting my future in software engineering.  My current role, now twenty years on, is a technical manager in charge of a team of 11 people who support a key fundraising system of Cancer Research UK, (CRUK).  What I have found over these 20 years is how much the technological businesses have to change to keep up technology itself and how those employed must adapt too.  My software company changed into a consultancy and branched out to provide technical expertise in a variety of business software.  Changing with my employers, I learned to become a technical specialist, often jumping and learning a new software package every few months.  As my own life changed and I had a family, I found returning to work after maternity leave easier, as I could pick up quickly what new direction the company had taken. CRUK’s ambition is to improve survival rates of those with cancer to be 3 out of 4.  While my role in CRUK is not to do with research, I am excited to be part of this effort.  To achieve this vision, the charity needs to keep its technology up to date and soon our key fundraising system is to be replaced – this is a large change for the charity, involving overhauling of business processes, data transformations and ensuring the right technologies and skilled people are in place to continue to support the great work the charity is doing.

    I am looking forward to this opportunity to use my own experience in learning changed technologies and work towards this goal in my role.

    Donna Askew
    Alumna