Alumni profile - Paul Massey

MEng Computer Systems and Software Engineering

I graduated with an MEng in Computer Systems and Software Engineering in 2000. I had been sponsored as an undergraduate by GCHQ, the intelligence agency, and upon graduation I took up an offer to join their technical fast stream. I also began studying part-time for a PhD in Computer Science, using heuristic search techniques to evolve quantum algorithms. In 2002, after 2 years of graduate training, I chose to specialise in information security.

After finishing my PhD in 2006, I moved to the private sector, joining Vega Group PLC as an information security consultant. I then founded my own consultancy company in 2007, and worked as an independent consultant mainly serving the UK Ministry of Defence and intelligence agencies. Finally, in 2011 I co founded Stratia Consulting Ltd (www.stratiaconsulting.com), a medium-size (and rapidly growing) information assurance and risk management consultancy. 

My degrees helped me to develop the ability to absorb and assess large quantities of technical information quickly and come to sound conclusions. They also developed my ability to teach myself about new technologies and standards as the need arises. This is particularly important in a field like Computer Science, where much of the specific technical knowledge you learn will be obsolete within a few years and continuing professional development is essential until the day you retire.

With the graduate job market in a worse state than it was five or ten years ago, it is more important than ever to distinguish yourself from the crowd. Obviously your degree result matters a great deal, but high quality extra-curricular achievements (e.g. Grade 8 music, black belt martial arts, Duke of Edinburgh's Gold Award, private pilot's licence) will always make a potential employer take a bit more notice of you than an academically equal candidate without them.

My advice is to get some relevant work experience under your belt before you graduate – be that through sponsorship, sandwich courses, summer work or any other means. Job prospects for Computer Science graduates will remain relatively good compared to many other disciplines, but given the chance most companies will hire a candidate with relevant work experience over one without.

I am very aware that today's graduates leave university with much higher debts on average than myself and my colleagues from ten years ago. But bear in mind that after you have been in work for a few years and are earning a good salary (or running a successful company), those debts will look a lot less scary than they do today. Also, it always helps to know where you want to be in five years time.

Two thousand years ago, Seneca said “If a man does not know to what port he is sailing, no wind is favourable”. Today we might make the quote gender-neutral, but the sentiment hasn't changed.