Paths to Success – Programmer & Teacher

In the fifth of my Paths To Success blog series, I’ve been talking to Darren Barnett who, in a similar turn of events to me adjusted his career in software development into teaching. He’s now teaching A Level Computer Science at Sussex Downs College, but in his previous career he worked in video games development as a producer and programmer.
For those of you who have not been following the 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 exam results fast approaching 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.
To start this Paths To Success series I had to accept that as a teacher my previous employment and growing businesses likely means very little to my students (and rightly so, I am just one person in an industry that they know). Instead, 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 15.07.43.pngHi Darren, You’ve had quite a varied career. Could you tell me a little bit more about it?
I’ve worked all over the world with the video games job, America (often), Australia, Japan, Hungary, Denmark, Sweden, France & Italy. It was really interesting to work with people from other cultures, some seem very like home (Australia) and some are excitingly different (Japan). It’s been really interesting to go from programming with fairly small teams initially to working on huge video game projects with many people.
When I started programming we mainly programmed in MS-DOS and Windows was seen as a bit of a novelty. Most games programmers programmed in assembler at the time!
In my second job as a programmer I worked in the PC team which was two people alongside a CD-i team which was far bigger and now hardly anyone remembers CD-i (it was a kind of interactive video format from Philips that came on huge laser discs).
Working in education now is really interesting – I very much like teaching A Level & BTEC and I like the creativity of working in Computer Science. It’s also really cool when you get questions that stretch your own brain from students as well as when you help someone to make progress when they were really struggling.
Being a teacher gives us a new perspective on education, but could you tell me a little bit about your experience at school.
I failed my 11 plus which was a bit of a shock at the time as I assumed I would pass (my whole primary school failed the 11 plus!!!) and went to what we called a High school. This was still at the time when kids could leave at 14 and also if you went to the High school they assumed that lots of kids would leave without any exam passes at all!
I did OK at school – especially as the expectations were pretty low across the board and I had some very good teachers – especially for Maths & English which stuck with me. I had a lot of dreadful ones too – my Sociology teacher refused to teach me as I insisted on doing O level and he only wanted to teach CSE (as the exams were split then) – but contrary to my expectations I managed to get a U! I had assumed that Sociology was mostly about ranting about how unfair the world is / was!
I ended up with 9 O levels eventually (despite the Sociology blip) – partly helped by the fact that you could do Maths & Additional Maths then! After that I went on to the 6th form which I really liked – you make great friends in the 6th form and the atmosphere which much better. I even ended up as a senior prefect despite being a punk rocker with green or blue hair – as that was fairly new then you could have nose piercings etc as there were no rules about things like that…
With it coming up to the start of the school year, I have to ask: do you have a particular teacher that you remember?
It’s so long ago that I can’t remember the names well – I think Mrs Millington was my Maths teacher and she was very good – otherwise I just remember the nicknames of the teachers.
There was still corporal punishment then too, so teachers hitting kids sticks in the mind unfortunately – I never got caned but you were in danger of a board rubber being thrown at you – I assume they tried not to aim for your head!
Lots of our students are or will be in the process of applying to college or university right now. Could you tell me a little bit about your experience at college / university?
I really liked college and Uni a lot – when I left the 6th form I took a year out and worked for 6th months and also went to college in the evening – I don’t know how it was possible in those days but I did A level sociology in the evenings after work for about 6 months and got a C which is a decent step up from the U…
My first degree was a BA in Religion and Philosophy which I loved – also I liked Brighton so much I decided to live here – it was a great degree and very interesting.
Ironically all the way through school to the end of my degree I had hardly touched a computer apart from to play Space Invaders at the swimming pool! My IT skills were so poor I had to get my friend in the business studies department to help me to use a word processor for my dissertation (although to be fair word processors then were on a main frame and were pretty complex)!
Is there any advice you would want to give to students who recently received exam results?
Your life is probably going to change in a major way more than once in terms of your career – I would say make sure you take any opportunities you can and throw yourself into them. It’s amazing what you can succeed in and just because you can’t do something now doesn’t mean you won’t necessarily be amazing at it in the future!
Thank you so much to Darren for giving up his time to show my students that the path to success doesn’t always start from the easiest of foundations (and that our teachers are much nicer now!)
Darren can be found on LinkdIn where you can see more about his teaching career.

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