How a physics graduate and software engineer defines success

Alumni perspectives on success: Thomas Bowcutt, Physics graduate and software engineer
Throughout our journey discovering what success really means, we expect to hear a diverse range of perspectives on the central question – “how do you define success?” – and who better to ask than our own alumni? We caught up with Thomas Bowcutt, who studied an MSc in Physics between 1997 and 2001, and asked him how his education shaped his career, how he sees the nature of success evolving in the next few years, and his personal definition of success.

What did you study and where are you currently working?
I studied the four year MSc in physics at the University of Birmingham, which included a masters project developing medical imaging software. My studies led me to a career in software design within the energy industry. I have spent several years working in Dublin on the unification of the Northern and Republic of Ireland energy markets. I now work for Centrica, who owns British Gas, where I am leading the development of a system for managing gas, wind and nuclear power station operations near real time.

What role do you think further education plays in success?
It really depends on what success means to the individual. Clearly, further education is vital for some career paths. For some people, the process of learning itself is a success. For others, with different ambitions, further education may not be important at all.

How do you personally measure success?
Success is doing something you enjoy which makes you and those around you happy. So, for me, it is important to focus on what success means for you personally rather than chasing what you think society or others will value you for.

How did your education influence your career path?
Without some level of academic achievement it is unlikely I would ever have had a career in the energy industry. Whilst I don’t use my physics degree directly in my day to day role, the analytical thought process, numerical skills and structured approach to problem solving are all very useful.

Do you feel the meaning of success has changed over the last 30 years?
I think society in general values creativity and work life balance more than it used to – which I see as a good thing. On the downside, I do feel there is too much emphasis placed on celebrity and an instant fame culture.

How do you think the internet will change the way people learn over the next 30 years?
For me this is an exciting area. Within the IT industry I work in, the internet has already changed the way people learn beyond recognition. There are now very few technical challenges which can’t be solved quickly via reference to some online resource. As academia embraces online lectures and remote learning, the opportunities created for people who couldn’t previously access top class educational resources is really exciting for global development. Competition, which I think is a good thing, is also going to increase. I also feel examination and qualification systems will need to evolve. Traditional exam processes, which, I think, are overly focused on the ability to memorise and regurgitate information, are superseded in a world where most people will have access to most human knowledge within seconds. What has become important is the ability to quickly filter, analyse and apply information.

What does it take to be successful in today’s global economy?
With the growth of online networking, education and access to cloud resources, I think anyone can be successful in today’s global economy if they have a clear idea what they want to achieve and the persistence needed to work in a focused way towards that goal.

What attributes do you think are most valued by employers?
Honesty, a proven work ethic, the ability to process new information quickly, analytical thinking, communication skills and, most importantly, an interest in doing the job. If someone has these, they can be successful in most roles, given the right training and adequate time to learn.

We would like to thank Thomas for taking the time to answer our questions. Do you agree with his points? Tell us what you think about the meaning of success in the comments below and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

The University of Birmingham offers a range of online degrees. If you are interested in returning to study via distance learning, please fill out our request for information form or contact a member of our Admissions Team. 

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