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Simon Challis

Simon Challis, BSc Business and Computer Networks

Alumni Profile: Simon ChallisBusiness Analyst, easyJet graduate scheme

BSc Information Technology and Networking

What made you choose Middlesex University?

Before I even considered university I was looking for a career elsewhere, but I found it really difficult to get in anywhere. I could get jobs, but not a career job, and the result was that I realised that going to university was the way forwards.

The reason I chose Middlesex was a combination of different factors. Originally I was looking at going into teaching, and Middlesex was local to me, but no so local, so I could commute in to London for university. I was also looking towards the future and had read that Middlesex had some fantastic postgraduate teaching courses which I was planning on looking at after I graduated.

What attracted you to your course and made you apply?

I had read that they were planning on changing the way IT was being taught in schools to include more computer science and my course was nicely rounded to include a lot of that. At the same time, I didn't want to lock myself into a teaching career so I wanted a course that left the door open to a corporate career, and this course offered that.

What aspects of your course did you enjoy most?

For me, I really enjoyed the physical networking side. It was a real challenge when I first started but I managed to learn quite quickly. That, and the fact that all the students got together a lot and we helped each other out. We really stuck together throughout the three years and helped each other through. Although some went on and did different things, some did sandwich courses or went part-time for personal reasons, we still all stuck together. Getting on with everyone else was the best bit for me.

What were the facilities like at your institution?

They were absolutely outstanding from day one and every year afterwards they just got better and better. On top of that, the actual facilities we had were easily and readily available all the time and we had everything from the latest routers and switches to historic things that were just fun to play with. The course was a Cisco-based course so a lot of it was Cisco certified networking.

What is your fondest memory of life at Middlesex?

My fondest memory probably is my graduation. I put in a lot of effort over the three years, to actually bring it to an end and looking back on it is like 'wow'. It is a proud moment and the last thing you do after a lot of effort over three years so it feels like a big weight off your shoulders.

What one piece of advice would you give to a prospective student interested in studying at Middlesex?

I would say to really consider your course. A lot of people seem to not look into it in too much detail and the result was that they weren't very happy. As long as you have got the right course for you and the one that you will enjoy, you will want to work and you will do well. If you don't enjoy it you won't work and you won't do well.

How did your course and time at Middlesex help you get to where you are professionally today?

There were thousands of applicants for the grad scheme and only 17 of us got accepted, and of those 17 only two of us are IT. The other guy has actually done a biomedical degree, so it is not necessarily about the qualification you have but the skills you have learned, though I think my IT background certainly helped me. In the interview I was able to mention things that the people interviewing me hadn't even heard of before.

From day one, in some of the lectures we had to do presentations every three weeks or so, and we had to mix with people who we probably never would have done otherwise. Once I started the job from day one we had to prepare presentations to give to the Airline Management Board, which could be quite daunting but because I have done it so many times I felt quite comfortable doing it.

What made you choose the industry you work in and what are its pros and cons?

I have always had a keen interest in aviation, ever since I was a young kid, so although I was looking at teaching the first thing I did was type 'airline industry jobs' into Google. I had also heard from friends who have worked for easyJet as pilots or cabin crew that it was a great company to work for so that made me look at them in particular.

The pros are that you get to travel a lot and see the world quite literally. It is fast paced and enthusiastic. And at the top of the company we concentrate on safety and customer focus and that means a lot to me.

I honestly can't think of any cons. I'm not just saying that either, I have just enjoyed every moment of it so far.

How did you get your first foot on the career ladder?

The grad scheme wasn't advertised through jobs sites or agencies so I had to go direct to the company's website and I found it there. After applying we had online filtering assessments the same as most graduates go through, and then there is an assessment centre. Most graduate schemes involve a visit to an assessment centre and they sort of give you a feeling of the company so you're assessing them while at the same time they're assessing you.

I had done a few of these applications in the past so I knew what it feels like. The first one was very daunting and I was terrified, but after a couple I was used to it and felt relaxed so when I went to easyJet I felt a lot more at home and that probably helped. I guess you build up an immunity to the process and end up quite enjoying them after you've done a few.

What has been your defining career break or highlight to date?

The best thing for me was my induction month. The idea of that is that it gives you a complete overview of the company and you go from experiencing the company and the financial side to their ethos. Then you start going down to the ground and look at what they actually do. Even though I do IT, it was not just focused on that side so I was looking at everything; operations, even piloting and the cabin side of things. It is such a large organisation that we have to think about everything everywhere and that was the fundamental from day one.

Can you talk us through a typical day?

The way my scheme works is that for six months at a time I work with a different team so that over my two years I will experience four different teams. My current role is as a business analyst for commercial systems, so I am taking the business needs and putting them forward to the developers. We're constantly updating the website, the mobile app, the mobile site, all of our business booking systems, and of course our backend system which is at the heart of everything we do.

Where do you see yourself in five years' time?

In five years time I certainly hope I'm still with this company, because I've just loved it. Because I've done a lot of stuff with networking it would be good to perhaps end up in a role that involved this, but the great thing is that I can kind of shape my graduate scheme by bidding on places I want to go so I'm trying to put down the grounding to go into networking. Then I will be able to build on what I did at Middlesex, but to be honest anything to do with IT would be fine because they're all interconnecting – it is just vast.

What are the top three tips you would give to current students and recent graduates who are looking for a similar career to yourself?

I know it is difficult, but try and start things early. I managed to secure this role four or five months before I ended university, so I went into my final exams without the pressure of knowing I needed to find a job.

Don't rely on just one place. I have so many friends who have tried to get jobs in different areas and have been rejected, but they've only put one or two applications in. The more applications you submit the better chance you will have of getting your dream job.

Make sure you do something you enjoy from day one. If you don't enjoy it there is no point in going forwards with it.

What one piece of advice would you give to the 17/18 year old you?

I didn't go to university straight away, I went when I was 22 and that was the right decision for me because I got to grow up before I went to university, so at 17 or 18 I would have said 'enjoy life now but put the work in a few years later'.

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