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Beyond physics: digital consultancy

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Transformative tech Louise Adams i s an I T e x per t a t PA Consul t i ng , a g l obal i nnovat i on and t r ans f o r mat i on c onsul t ancy. She wor k s w i t h a r ange o f c l i en t s us i ng c l oud t echnolog y, au t omat i on and ag i l e ways o f wor k i ng

What sparked your initial interest in physics? I r emembe r a l way s h a v i n g b e e n f a s c i n a t e d b y astronomy and the vastness of the universe. I was especially interested in planetary science at a young age – after reading about Jupiter’s moon Io, I wrote a detailed (and a c c u r a t e) d e s c r i p t i o n o f i t s f e a t u r e s wh i l e my sister was having a swimming lesson. When I s h owe d i t t o my mum s h e t h o u g h t I had made it up, so when we got home I had to show her the book, which I had read it in, to prove it. At school I had brilliant physics teachers, including most notably Dr Bradley. She really called my at tent ion to t he var ie t y t hat s tudying physics could offer, from wave–particle dualit y to cosmology.

Did you ever consider a permanent academic career in physics? Going into academia was my original plan when I chose the MSci in physics at the University of Bristol, UK. I was fairly sure that pursuing a PhD and a career in academia was for me. Then towards the end of my second year, I started to properly think about my future options and realized that I might be better suited to something else. I went and worked in a secondary school in Bristol, supporting science lessons as part of an outreach programme with the university. While I really enjoyed it, my parents encouraged me to look at all my options.

I realized I wanted to get into business and try something new. I was concerned that if I chose to pursue a PhD I would be spending a l ar ge amount o f t ime on my own w r i t i n g a n d p r e p a r i n g my t h e s i s , w h i c h d i d n ’ t appeal. I think you must be 100% committ e d t o c o n s i d e r a P hD i n y o u r f i e l d , g i v e n t h e solitar y motivation you will need to get you t hr ough i t – i f not , i t would be wor t hwhile t o check out some other options, there are so many out there.

How did you get interested in digital technologies? I was always interested in computers, but gaming and coding were never really my interests growing up. I started a technology graduate scheme with Tesco straight after university. I thought this would be a good idea as I was interested to see how Tesco used technology systems to support its retail operations, and the scheme offered rotations around the IT department to get exposure to dif ferent areas of the business.

I worked on till systems; built a prototype dashboard for stores to better understand their energy usage; built infrastructure to support services running on for a Christmas peak; and mapped out the interactions for a set of legacy stock systems. I was fascinated to see how integrated and essential the systems were to the smooth running of the business, and how changes and new developments were handled, to ensure the company could be as reactive as possible.

I moved in to consult ancy to cont inue working on different IT systems and in new situat i o n s . I ’ v e b e e n l u c k y t o e x p e r i e n c e a v a r i e t y o f roles including project management, architecture and agile-coaching, all in environments using digital technologies. I have had some excellent career support and coaches along t h e way who ha v e e n c o u r a g e d me t o t a k e r i s k s in technology areas that I felt weak in, to help develop me into a bet ter consultant.

What were some of the challenges in moving from academia to working in the tech industry? You have to be prepared to continue learning – the tech industry is forever changing so you have to be ready for that. Working environments are different from academic ones, the most obvious being that you will be working in teams of people with a wider variety of ages and personalities than you would have experienced throughout school and university.

What does your current role as a management consultant in digital technologies entail? At PA we come up with enduring solutions that make an impact for a wide range of clients. Our clients need to tackle a variety of problems associated with digital technologies such as adopting and optimizing public cloud usage; ensuring consistent digital working environments; and meeting compliance and security concerns. The work we carry out is fairly hands on. We are often brought in to support a specific challenge, and expectations are high, but we believe in the power of ingenuity to build a positive human future in a technology-driven world.

Consulting has given me excellent variety in the work that I do, and I’ve supported clients in their transformations across a range of sectors including retail, financial services, energy and utili t ies, and the public sector.

Physics World  Careers 2020

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