Joe Fallon, Government Operational Research Service

Joe Fallon, HMRC – G7 (former OR fast streamer)

I had always been interested in how government works, so when I was finishing up my physics PhD I looked into roles in the civil service. I was fully expecting that there wouldn’t be anything that would really use my maths and computer skills developed over all those years at university, but then I stumbled across the Operational Research (OR) fast stream. I had never heard of OR but it looked interesting; a combination of logically thinking through problems, mathematical modelling, data work, computing—in fact a lot like what I had been doing on the PhD! So a chance to use my skills but apply them to issues that more directly affect people.

On entering the fast stream I was assigned to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), a department that I had heard of but did not know too much about. I soon found out that Defra has a huge range of responsibilities, which meant that the different posts I had during my time were really varied. I worked on everything from simulating the impact of poor harvests on agricultural commodity markets to looking at how best to capture the risks of plant and animal diseases in order to effectively present them to Ministers.

The fast stream pushed me, placing me in a variety of different roles and encouraging me to take on additional responsibilities. There was also a great community amongst OR fast streamers from across government, which was a good way of getting ideas and a feel for what other departments were like.

Fast forward a couple of years and I have left the fast stream on promotion, moving over to HMRC.  Moving from agriculture to tax is a bit of a change (and there are a lot of new acronyms to learn) but I’m still using all the skills I built up on the fast stream. Here I am a data exploitation lead where my work centres around exploring innovative new ways HMRC data can be used, which at the moment involves looking at customer contact and separately at offshore data. This is a really interesting role, working with big data and exploring how the latest data science tools and techniques can be best used within the department. Day to day (as well as analysing the data myself) I also create and develop new projects for the team, manage others on these projects, and help to set the strategic vision for the team.

Read more about The Government Operational Research Service and about fast stream entry.