Meet Blair Barwell, Network and Communications Specialist from our London office
It’s exciting times here at GPS, as we continue to scale sensibly, expanding into new markets and adding new members to our hugely diverse team. However, with over 200 employees based in major fintech hubs around the world - including London, Newcastle, Singapore, Sydney, and Dubai - working tirelessly to give our customers a competitive edge, we know not everyone gets a chance to be in the spotlight.
So, we have created our ‘Employee Spotlight’ series as a way of introducing our fintech enthusiasts, to uncover a little bit more about who they are and what a typical day looks like for them at GPS.
GPS Network & Communications specialist, Blair Barwell, took a less than conventional path into IT that all started with a summer job at a local high school. Fast forward 12 years and he’s held a variety of network security, support and communications positions in range of industries from travel to music. We sit down with him to discover his GPS journey, and find out what advice he’d give to new starters looking for a career in IT.
Tell us a little bit more about yourself?
I joined GPS in March 2018 as a Network & Communications Specialist. Prior to this, I held roles such as Senior Network Engineer, Network Security Engineer, Senior Support Analyst, and Service Desk Administrator for companies in the financial services, travel, manufacturing, music licensing and education industries.
I am married and have three children under the age of five. I grew up in Witham, Essex, and did fairly well in my GCSE’s and A-Levels, but I didn’t exactly take a conventional path into technology. I studied Psychology, PE, Human Biology and Sociology at A-Levels and didn’t attend university. I have now been working in IT for just over 12 years. During this time, I have achieved several technology-specific certifications such as Palo Alto PCNSE, Cisco CCNP, Cisco Certified Specialist - Enterprise Core, CCNA R&S, CCNA Security, Microsoft MCSA and AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate.
How did you get involved in technology?
If you had asked me when I was young, what I would like to be when I grew up, a Network Engineer would have been the last thing I would have said.
Throughout school, I wanted to be involved in sport. Like most boys, I wanted to be a footballer but when I realised I wasn’t good enough, I wanted to work in sports science instead, so a career in technology was never on the radar for me until I left college. A friend mentioned a summer job at a local school helping the IT department with an equipment overhaul, which was originally meant to be over the six-week holiday period only. However, I really enjoyed it and learnt a lot during this time. After the six weeks, I was offered a permanent role as an IT Technician which gave me a good entry point into the world of IT.
What does an average day at GPS look like for you?
It’s difficult to say what an average day looks like as it always changes. At a high level, an average day involves business as usual tasks, such as troubleshooting potential network issues, assisting team members and clients with technical issues, maintaining the network infrastructure such as the firewalls, routers and switches.
What do you like most about your job?
No two days are the same - it keeps changing and every day presents new challenges. I enjoy problem solving, designing networks and working with the latest technology.
How do you spend your free time?
I have three young kids so most of my free time is spent chasing them around and trying to keep them entertained. I’m also a big football fan - I support Manchester United and watch as many matches as possible. The rest of my free time is spent either in the gym, studying, attempting DIY or watching a Netflix series.
What is the last book you read or movie you watched?
The last book I read was ‘Learn Python in One Day and Learn It Well’ by Jamie Chan. I don’t get much time to read anymore, so I can’t remember the last book I read before this one. I tend to watch more TV series, but the last film I watched was a kids’ film – Inside Out. It was surprisingly good!
If you could take three things with you to a deserted island, what would you choose?
I would bring chickens, a bottle of rum, and my family and friends.
Best advice you’ve received?
Make sure you learn from your mistakes. We are all human and none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes - a setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve.
What advice would you give to someone who is starting a career in IT?
There are many different paths to take into IT. Stay committed, ask lots of questions, thoroughly learn the technology fundamentals as it is so important. There are lots of free resources available for learning so use them. YouTube, for example, is a great source.
If you are planning to gain path-specific certifications, join a study group. I’m a member of Router Gods and it’s so useful as there are lots of people willing to offer advice and assistance. There are plenty of other similar groups, but ultimately it helps to build relationships with others in the industry and it can be useful when it comes to finding a job.
Thanks Blair! Make sure to look out for our next Employee Spotlight instalment.