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Paths to Success – Games Developer & Start Up Founder

In the seventh in the series of my Paths To Success blog series, I’ve been talking to John Dalziel who took the leap into games development after working in software development. For the last five years John has been working for an online gaming startup, firstly as a developer and more recently in a dev-ops role. They’re an entirely remote company with employees all over Europe.
For those of you who haven’t been following the blog series so far, this year I’ve been particularly interested in the paths that people take after education, especially following the increase across the UK in encouraging schools and colleges to embed employability into their lessons. The first time I tried this with students, I was met almost audible rolling of eyes – kids have genuine skills in detecting something that’s been “embedded”, much like a careers version of hiding vegetables in their spaghetti. They know.
So instead, with the new academic year upon us I decided to buck the trend of the many posts telling students that “results don’t matter” (they do, you worked hard), or “I didn’t need GCSEs” (no, but you had something else) and create a positive set of real careers stories to help motivate both my students and other teachers. I’ve been talking to an array of interesting people about how education shaped their own employability skills and their often irregular paths to success.
Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 15.23.00.pngHi John, could you tell me a little bit about your experience at school.
I adored school. I had a terrible home life and school felt like my ticket out (and it was)
With it being the start of the school year, I have to ask: do you have a particular teacher that you remember?
I have fond memories of Mr Pauline who ran the Maths department. That department had the only computers in the school (about a dozen BBC Micros and an Apple II) and my friend and I used to run the school computer club.
Could you tell me a little bit about your experience at college / university?
A lot of my friends studied computing at University and I would often hang out there with them, even though I wasn’t on the course. I was pretty good at drawing so in our group I became the graphics guy. I can remember working on a big Silicon Graphics machine to build a logo for a “roguelike” game they were making
Is there any other advice you would want to give to students receiving exam results this year?
The web is full of knowledge and opportunity. If you don’t get the results you’re hoping for, it’s not the end of the world.
Thank you so much to John for giving up his time to tell us about creating a gaming start up, and proving that it’s more than just an idle dream!
John can be found at https://www.computus.org where you can see his work.

Tools For Tutoring – The Lowdown on Headsets

One of the tools I cannot be without for tutoring is a decent headset. Whilst it’s possible to tutor online using the built in microphone & speakers on a laptop or desktop, the feedback and echo cause by them makes it difficult – let’s be honest, there’s a reason why online gamers buy decent headsets, and it’s not just to look good.

Basic Headphone / Mic Combo


A basic headset like the Mpow USB PC Headset allows you to just plug in your headset and away you go. Be careful selecting headsets that have dual microphone & speaker connections as many laptops and desktops no longer have these connections.
You may also want to check that your USB headset will be compatible with your operating system as later versions of Windows have had a number of reports of volume issues where USB connections have been used. So far, the only fix for this is to buy a headset that comes with its own drivers instead of relying on the built in sound card drivers (best to check this when you buy the headset).

Gaming Headsets

One of the ways to combat the issues of USB headsets, is to use a gaming headset. Headsets like these PS4 headsets also help with noise cancellation helping you concentrate on your lesson if there happens to be other people in the house.

Single Ear Headsets

My personal favourite is to use a single ear headset with noise cancelling. Many of these also use USB, so it’s worth doing some research to find one likethe Koss CS95. This one has been particularly useful as it has duel microphone / speaker cables (if you remember my last post about graphics tablets, my laptop is actually limited by having a single 3.5mm input for headsets, but this is easily solved using a splitter cable)

Other ideas

The only real restriction here is that you have a reasonably decent microphone, and can hear the student clearly. Another possibility if you don’t want the restriction of cables is to use a bluetooth headset.
*This blog contains affiliate links. I do not recommend any product that I don’t genuinely think is worth it, but the proceeds of these links help me to cover the costs of the website & blog. If you have any questions about the recommendations here, please contact me.
A Parent’s Guide To Surviving September

A Parent’s Guide To Surviving September

We’ve all seen the memes doing the rounds on social media about how tired parents are and how the kids dread September, but the parents will be waving them off gleefully. But I’m going to buck the trend here and say that I’m dreading it too – and not just because I’m heading back to the classroom myself!

Term time holds mixed feelings for us. With one child firmly on the autistic spectrum and another with a painful genetic condition, maintaining a busy routine during term term is not always a pleasant experience. We’ve learnt to put strategies in place to help everyone get through the weeks until the relative peace of the holidays returns. I’ve talked about some of those strategies below, and whilst they may not work for everyone, hopefully they will give someone some ideas from both a parent and a teacher perspective.

Maintain a Bedtime Routine

pexels-photo-1021051.jpegMy teenagers really don’t thank me for this, and according to them I am the only parent on the planet that insists on a bedtime for a child over the age of 10. My Occupational Therapist, the ever lovely Jo Southall calls this ‘Sleep Hygiene’ and it has incredible impacts for both mental and physical health.

Now they’re older, we no longer have the bath and story type routine that they had as tiny people. Instead, their optimum sleep hygiene routine includes handing over phones & laptops to be charged in our room (no wriggle room on this), tidying up their sleeping area (I can dream!), and lights down with books. Of course this means that the eldest reads horrific horror books until late, but the brain activity caused by reading is very different to screen time.

But this doesn’t just apply to the kids. How exhausted do you feel as a parent with the school runs and juggling kids and work and a million other activities? Having a wind down routine to help you get the best rest is just as important.

Have Set Homework Time

Yes, I know, I mentioned the ‘H’ word. But there is method in my madness here. As their homework load increased, we implemented set times and days where homework would be done. Having a regular time each week acts a little bit scheduling in a meeting at work – if it’s in the diary, you avoid booking in other things and pushing it down the to do list.

pexels-photo-515171.jpegSaturday mornings whilst I am tutoring, they address any outstanding homework for the next week. Two hours and no more is allocated. And they have three hours over the week in the evenings to get a head start on other things. With five hours set aside, that is enough. That’s not to say that it’s always enough time to complete everything to perfection, but we are also teaching them that work & life must balance and to achieve that you have to let go of some perfectionism. (of course we won’t let on that I haven’t mastered that whatsoever).

I fully subscribe to the ten minute rule. That is children should study at home for ten minutes in total for every year they have attended school. Using this calculation, our eldest who is entering UK year 9 this year will have been at school for ten years this year. 100 minutes should be just shy of two hours per week. Of course this doesn’t always work out, but allocating set time each weekend based on the ten minute rule has eased the stress of getting everything done.

Shop Online

If the back to school sale aisles are making you nervous, you’re not alone. I hate seeing my eldest flinch at the crowds and hours of walking will inevitably bring on a night of pain for the smallest. So instead, we have honed a routine of creating Amazon shopping lists to deliver the non-logo items that will make life easier at the start of term.

 One of the banes of my life is buying suitable school bags. Last year, we bought two of these bags which served the additional purpose of having straps that were soft enough not to hurt the youngest one’s shoulders, and sturdy enough to last a full year at high school. They were particularly pleased with the phone charger ports!


Another lifesaver over the past few years has been my constant supply of pen grips. These are great for kids (and adults!) who find that they grip pens too hard when writing and end up causing themselves pain. With both the youngest and me having exceptionally hypermobile hands, these go on most pens we own. They also had a surprise benefit of also improving her handwriting.

A few years ago I would have balked at spending £15 on a lunchbox. And yet here I am, genuinely recommending this as the best thing since sliced bread… Our eldest has some interesting food habits – her palette is very adult (jalapenos & olives are favourites), but like a culinary Ghostbuster, the food mustn’t touch! Bento boxes were the perfect solution for this and had the added benefit of being Japanese for my little shinnichi.

Don’t Dither On Subject Changes

If your child has just made their subject choices for GCSE or A Level, you may end up having the dreaded conversation of wanting to switch. If this does happen, it’s important to make sure that this isn’t just September nerves, however keep in mind that many schools and colleges have a swift cut off date for changing courses. These cut off dates are usually early October, if not earlier.

The first port of call for subject changes is always your child’s form tutor who will advise them on the possibility of subject changes (their new chosen subject may be full, or may clash with their timetable).

Of course if you are considering supporting a subject with tuition, the same advice applies. The earlier a student receives support when they start to struggle, the more positive the outcome. There is very little a tutor can do if a student commences tuition in April. The best time to search for a tutor is July before the academic year starts – doing this will allow you the pick of the best times as many of their tutees will be sitting exams and their books will begin to clear. Failing that, August to October will still see many excellent tutors with spaces available. Look for recommendations from previous students and parents, and ensure that any private tutor is able to provide a full DBS check to ensure the safety of your child.

Keep In Contact With School

fashion-person-woman-hand.jpgOne of the biggest changes that I noticed when my children moved from primary school to high school was the contact. We went from a class teacher in a village school who knew them like their own, to a huge high school with teachers for every subject and no daily parent contact. If anything, it was more of a shock for us than it was for them.

One thing we did discover though was email contact was a surefire way to keep in touch. As parents who were new to the high school experience, we quite often dropped a short email to teachers if we had concerns. Replies were reassuring and quite often allowed us to share information that teachers were very grateful for. Often your email will provide context for something that they’ve noticed in class – if it’s big enough to notice at home, you can guarantee the teacher has a clue that something is wrong.

On average, most teachers will receive between 5 to 10 parental emails each day, so if you don’t get a reply straight away please don’t feel that you’re being ignored. It’s quite likely that your email is on a to do list for a teacher with 200+ students to wrangle.

 

Do you have any top tips for surviving September as a parent? Let me know below. I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

*Note: Some of the links above contain affiliate links. I never recommend anything that I wouldn’t wholeheartedly recommend without payment. However you are supporting the continued running of the site & blog should you click / purchase.

I have linked to Jo Southall above without affiliation – she is a genuinely brilliant OT.

Paths To Success – Film Maker & Producer

In the third of my Paths To Success blog series, I’ve been talking to film maker & Producer, Jay Shurey who describes himself as a rather eccentric creature from Sussex.