• Computing not Chemistry at Imperial College

    Computing not Chemistry at Imperial College

    My best subject was school was Chemistry. But I changed my mind during my ‘gap year’ at IBM and chose to study Computing Science at Imperial.

    I didn’t go to university straight after school. After taking my A levels in June 1975, I still wasn’t 17 years old. The original plan was that I’d continue into the 7th form in order to take the Oxbridge entrance exams.

    I’d not had any career’s advice in the sixth form. My dad had been at Oxford ( The Queen’s college) and my eldest sister Kate was at King’s College Cambridge. When asked which college I wanted to go to I had absolutely no idea. I knew nothing about the different colleges at either Oxford or Cambridge.

    Fortunately, since I’d somehow managed to fail an exam called Use of English, I decided I wasn’t going to continue with the Oxbridge entrance exams. I left school and got a vacation student job at IBM. Initially this was for 6 months.

    During that time I applied to a number of universities to study Chemistry, my best subject at ‘A’ and ‘S’ level. A couple of the unis accepted me immediately, based on my actual results. Some asked me if I wanted a look see. So, I visited Exeter. It was OK, but I had my heart set on London.

    Imperial College was the only university that wanted me to attend an interview. I don’t remember much about the interview, but I do remember the reasons I decided not to do Chemistry there.

    1. I had to wait for ages for the interview. Mine was the last in the afternoon; I had the shortest return travel journey to Portsmouth with flexible trains times. That irked me because I’d planned to go shopping in Harrods in the afternoon.
    2. While waiting for my interview I sat in a lab surrounded by a huge organic chemistry experiment and thought to myself…. I’m no good / don’t like organic chemistry.
    3. Apparently I would have had to have studied German to somewhere between O and A level. Really?
    4. I thought the lecture theatres were awful; cold, dark and uncomfortable.
    5. I’d been working at IBM and liked it very much. Even though I wasn’t programming I was now far more interested in Computing than Chemistry. And I could see myself continuing in the industry once I’d got my degree.

    I got offered the place to study Chemistry at Imperial, accepted it, then I asked if I could switch to study Computing Science, an Engineering Degree. IBM kept me on as a pre-university student until August 1976.

    I studied for two years of the three. In the end I found the college work too hard. I knew I wanted to write software, but lost interest in studying in the 3rd year and effectively dropped out.

    See also 43 years in IT.


    Last updated:

    October 16, 2021

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