I was told a few times by people in my past catering jobs “I wish i could do something like you are doing”, and my answer was “why don’t you?”…… they never had an answer to my question or it was a very weak answer.
This is my first written Blog piece, and is only meant to be read by anyone in a “dead-end job”, not going anywhere, and who wants inspiration to move out of their existing job and make something of themselves in the world of Information Technology.
If you do not need this incentive then just click on another one of my Blog pieces or links to learn something else.
It takes a lot of courage to move out of something you already know into a new industry you do not know and sometimes you have to give up things or even move location.
My Story starts……
June 1988 – July 2000
I had been working in catering since I was 16. I left school and went to West Kent College of Further Education to study and become a Chef. I spent 2 years working on a City & Guilds then B-Tech certification in Cooking and Baking, Waiter skills, Bar work, Housekeeping + Hotel. I left college, after completing my qualifications and went to work for a small family run Pub/Restaurant called “The Plough at Ivy Hatch” nr. Sevenoaks, Kent, UK. They specialised with Game, Fish and Poultry dishes and had a “michelin star” award. It was very good experience, but very bad pay and long hours (66 hours, split shifts over 6 days a week). I was earning £1.25 per hour and around £50.00 in tips per week. They always came up with an excuse to keep my wage low.
After working there 10 months I had enough and got a job in Croydon, Surrey, UK, working in a hotel called “The Wellsley Centre”. I started on not bad money for my age as a “Commis Chef” £4.65 per hour and working Monday to Friday 9am till 5pm straight shifts. Then I started to work up the ranks to “Second Chef” and then to “Head Chef”. I was working long hours now and as I had a 6am start till 6pm finish straight shifts. Pay was a bit more but I knew there was more for me in the world than this. During my time as Head Chef it was a UK recession and many companies were having financial problems. The Hotel was having bad times at this point and started to get rid of the higher paid managers in the hotel which added more work to myself. I felt I needed to move and find a company which was doing well. My move was to JSainburys, one of the biggest supermarket chains in the UK. I thought i would try for a position working in their staff restaurant, but instead my qualifications gave me a better route….. I was to become a Baker.
Working for J Sainsburys was so much more of a different way of life. The work was local (1 mile away), I was paid more money per hour £5.50 for a start, i had other benefits like £1,000-£2,000 shares per year, plus I had a more sociable life. I worked mainly 4am till 12pm or 6am till 2pm straight shifts, then go home, sleep, then go out with friends at night to clubs or their houses and then go straight on to work with maybe 2 hours sleep between. But I was in my early 20s so this kind of life was not tiring….. and i had money in my pocket.
After 5 years of working for J Sainburys I started to get itchy feet again and felt there was something more i wanted to do. I then had an invite to visited my cousin at Cambridge University. I enjoyed my time with him saw the life he lead while being educated to become a Doctor. I came away thinking “this is something i would like to do, to progress my working career”. I could see I was not going up the ladder at J Sainburys very quickly, so I decided to research into putting myself through university as a mature student. My friends and ex-girlfriend’s family helped me research and answer questions in doing this as they had all done university themselves. I was 25 years old and decided that I would like to do a evening after work A-level course in “Marketing” at a nightschool as i was interested in the subject. I attended the school for the year, but found it hard work, tiring and not much time for homework while doing a full time job. I had 2 unversity places open to me, one at Luton University and the other was Cheltenham, UK, which i had chosen due from my university options, but I had to get a A-Level grade “D” at night school. At the end of the A-Level course in Marketing, I did the exam and failed badly. I was devastated at the result but found out I still had a chance at getting a place at university through the “UK clearing scheme” of courses not filled up with students. I found and was accepted into a Higher National Diploma course in “Hotel, Catering and Insitutional Management” Cheltenham & Gloucester College of Higher Education. I was over the moon with happiness after all my planning. I sold my car as i did not want to have one while i was at university and got £5,000 for it. I spent 1/3 on a DELL Windows 95 PC with Printer which I needed for my studies and the rest of the money was across equipment and clothing and money to live on while i was away from home living near to the university. The rent was paid for by the UK Government Grant that was awarded by the party in power at the time. This grant was to change just as I was leaving university, because the government was voted out and a new one was elected who would soon charge UK students £3,000 per year to go to university. I am glad i did the studying when i did.
My time at Cheltenham & Gloucester University was hard work but was fun also with the interesting people I met and the great friends I made. Even now I am still in contact with some of these friends through Facebook and telephone. University even gave me a great job experience for 6 months working at The Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham as Assistant Catering Manager. At university I was a mature student at 26 and the oldest of my 36 classmates, who ranged from 18 to 24 of age. We all had some experience within the catering industry so our HND course was reduced from 3 years to 2 years. I was glad as by the end of the second year i wanted to get back to work and the real world. While I was at university i studied all aspects of Catering Management, plus included into my studies:
- Business Law
- Advanced Food Hygiene
- Craft & Group Trainer Techniques
- Information Technology
All of these courses helped me grasp fantastic knowledge and ideas how to run a business, and at the same time scared me into doing so, especially studying business law.
The IT course introduced me to the front end of Windows products Word, Excel, PowerPoint, including some additional software Kitchen Design AutoCAD and Hotel Room Booking Systems. These were all very simple versions of software that you see today, but were interesting to me at the time. The Internet and CD Writers were very new at the time in 1996 with internet browsers like Netscape, and download speeds where a picture might take 5 minutes to load very slowly. Nowadays children are being taught windows products in school and are familiar how they work, and even teach their parents how to use them. However in 1996 it was not a normal thing that everyone touched or even had a computer, tablet or smart phone with Microsoft products in them.
During my time at Cheltenham and Gloucester University I had been working at J Sainburys as a student for 2 years full time during holidays to make money to pay for my education.
After i graduated university in 1998 I started to look around to see what to do with my new qualifications. I was still very interested in IT and sent out applications and CVs to companies with some kind of Catering and IT technology links, but no company ever responded to me. Because of my J Sainburys job I had the idea to apply to their head office to become one of their “Environmental Health Officers” to monitor their supermarkets, but they had no vacancies for me to join. I had another idea to apply for a General Manager position with a contract catering company called “Gardner Merchant” (now bought out by Sodexo). It was a day of interviewing and examination to see if i could do the job. Unfortunately they were looking for someone with more General Manager knowledge.
But straight after this disappointment I was offered a job with Gardner Merchant as Duty Manager for Canon Inc. Training Centre in Oxted, UK., looking after the Hotel, restaurant, conference rooms and facilities under 2 other managers. I could not believe it that I had done 2 years at university, got more qualifications and come out into a new job on £3,000 less per year than when i was working full-time at J Sainburys. I was now working for £12,000 per year at the age of 28. After a year there was a tragedy, Canon was moving it’s training facilities and no one was being relocated there from my team. 30 staff were going to loose their jobs. Gardner Merchant decided to relocate me, so I was perfectly OK and I was able to take a few of my staff with me to the new job. The new job was a promotion to Assistant Manager (second in-charge) for a sports club in Beckenham, London, UK called Cuaco.
Cuaco was boring to me. The place was small and quiet alot of the time. I just seem to do repetitive chores in the bar, kitchen, cellar and paperwork most of the time, but i was glad i still had a job. I was now 29, Money from job was £14,000 per year, but still not as much as i had earned from J Sainburys. I could not wait to leave this job, and was desperately searching for a new one.
I then made a change to my circumstances when I had a friend over to my house visiting me, who worked for IBM. I told him that I was interested in going into an IT job. He suggested to me that I should do a home learning course and got me a number of a company who organised these courses. The company was called Computeach. I got the information of courses of what they did, and my friend and I looked through at what I could be interested in. He gave me some advice on maybe starting with a programming course in Pascal and Visual Basic if I was interested. I contacted Computeach and started to pay monthly for the course with a deposit of a third of the value of the course which was £1,000.
I was only 1 month into my course when finally an IT company was interested in me. They were one of the world leaders in EPoS systems for the catering industry. The company name was Micros-Fidelio, Slough, UK.
Micros wanted me to run their Enterprise Management System from their head office across some of their contracted customer like Posthouse, Browns, Marriotts, Pizza Hut. This was my first experience with SQL Databases, backup devices and computer configurations. The systems were Microsoft Windows PC and EPoS terminals.
Finally I was starting to work in the world of IT.
You can read more of my experiences in each IT Company I worked for in the links at the bottom of the page.
My Blogs will focus on helping you to choose where you want to go within IT, weather it is areas for example programming, networking, database work, internet + Cloud, Application or customer support. Please feel free to add suggestions or your experiences to this blog for us all to share.