Tell us a little bit about your background.
I’m originally from Wolverhampton – it’s an industrious and diverse city in the Midlands famous for its locks and tyres. My grandparents were part of a large wave of Jamaicans who migrated to the Midlands for work in the 50s. Almost my entire family lives in Wolverhampton and we’re all proud to call it home. When I was younger, I moved around the Midlands a lot – living between my mum, who was a care worker for people with disabilities, and my dad, a ceramics teacher. My journey through the education system was not straightforward, and I had been to four different schools before I started my GCSEs.
What was your experience like on the Sutton Trust Summer School?
My teachers thought I might be the type of pupil who would really benefit from a Sutton Trust Summer School, and I jumped at the chance. I had always been really analytical, and I applied to join the Mathematics Summer School at Durham University. Looking back, I think that first week of Summer School was one of the most pivotal weeks of my life.
Before the trip, I had struggled to build a cohesive set of aspirations and goals for myself. Coming from an under-resourced school in a relatively deprived area, it wasn’t easy for me to imagine the doors that education might enable me to open. I believe that during the Summer School I was set upon the path toward realising my full potential; my tutors saw promise and really convinced me that studying at Durham was well within my reach. The programme was a brilliant, eye-opening experience, and I enjoyed it immensely. It left me feeling a real sense of forward momentum, and turning points like this can be quite rare in the understandably rigid structure of secondary education.
How did your career develop after the programme?
I pulled myself out of sixth form and committed to self-teaching my A-levels after I returned from the Summer School. I was lucky to have a lot of support from my family at the time, and got into Durham to study Mathematics and Economics. During my first year at university, I focused on expanding my horizons and went to various networking events. I was hoping to build professional links and meet people who could help me to learn about my next steps. That’s when I met my mentor, Abraham Douek. He works at Citigroup in London, but is also from the Midlands and had been to the same university. It was really inspiring to see someone from the same background who had built such an incredible career, and his guidance was invaluable. I did two internships with Citi whilst I was studying, and eventually went on to work at the bank for two years after I’d graduated.
Working at Citi was an exceptionally steep learning curve, but it was also incredibly formative. I learned so much about finance, global politics, business, and sustainability, whilst also learning about how to carry myself in the professional world and build a personal brand. I had built a strong foundation in capital raising and corporate finance, and in my next role I wanted to learn about how a smaller company gets off the ground.
After Citi I moved to Berlin to join a startup called CrossLend. I was initially responsible for designing and building the financial models we shared with our investors, but after a few months I realised that we could offer clients more intelligent insights through the use of machine learning and data science. I pitched the idea to the company and they funded me to train in applied artificial intelligence and machine learning, and I am now helping them to build more intelligent modelling systems. It has been an incredible learning experience and I’m really excited by the work I’m doing.
What are your ambitions for the future?
Long-term, I want to build sustainable companies that help us to reduce waste and our destructive impact on the planet. I think people are increasingly keen to live more sustainable lives, and there is a huge amount of room for entrepreneurs to help make that a reality. I’d also like to give back to Wolverhampton, whether that’s though targeting social mobility or by helping to bring some industry back to the city. I have a way to go before I’m able to achieve my larger goals, so in the short-term I’m focusing on learning as much as I can.
Any advice for future Sutton Trust students?
If you’re from a privileged background, it is more likely that people around you will be helping you to plot the traditional steps to success: make sure to get involved in lots of extra-curriculars, apply to a great university, aspire to be incredible. If you’re a less advantaged, you may lack this kind of guidance, which is why seeking mentorship can be excellent for self-improvement. If you can’t find a mentor, it is even more crucial that you strive to be bold and make mistakes independently. Find what you’re interested in and pursue it systematically – the mistakes that you make are the most valuable part of the journey.
It is important that you learn how to network. This is especially relevant for those trying to build careers in finance, but is also incredibly useful across other industries. Make connections however you can: at events, on LinkedIn, or by asking for introductions. By building a network you’ll be able to learn from the mistakes of others and open doors to opportunities you didn’t know existed. You will also have a helping hand during those more difficult stages of your career where sage advice can be a boon.
Finally, if you’re interested in programming, you just have to start creating! Find a tiny problem in your life and start learning how to write code that can help you to solve it. Try not to overwhelm yourself, and appreciate that you don’t need to start with the hardest concepts or heaviest algorithm book.