Job Title: Defence Analyst / Consultant
Organisation: CORDA, a BAE Systems company
Qualifications: PhD Operational Research, Construction-based Metaheuristics for Personnel Scheduling Problems, Cardiff University BSc Mathematics (1st Class Hons), Cardiff University
Briefly describe the organization you work for.
CORDA is a decision-support consultancy working primarily in defence, but also in health and for other government departments. We use a wide range of analytical tools and modelling techniques to support decision-makers and help them understand the future impact of their choices.
CORDA is a relatively small team of around 50 people, sitting within the BAE Systems Strategy Group. We have a friendly, small-team working environment, with all the benefits associated with belonging to a bigger organisation.
How did you get your current job & what were the steps you took from graduation?
After graduation from my BSc I went on to do a PhD. The university organised a trip to the OR Society Careers Open Day in Birmingham and CORDA were recruiting. After talking to them about what they did, I realised it was a place I wanted to work and gave them a CV. I was called to an interview shortly afterwards and got the job!
How relevant was your subject of study in securing your current job?
My subject of study was very relevant. My work involves interpreting complex data and my degree and PhD put me in a good position. That being said, CORDA doesn’t only hire Mathematicians and I have several colleagues with Physics, Chemistry and other backgrounds.
As well as doing analysis, I also work closely with customers so good presentation and relationship-building skills are important too. I had some experience of giving presentations during my PhD, but these skills were developed further on the job.
Describe a typical working day in your current job.
There’s no such thing as a typical day! Most days would include both technical and non-technical activities and I have travelled to customers in the UK and the US.
A typical day would usually include one or more of the following: modelling, analysis, writing technical documentation, building or giving presentations, training, project management, gathering customer requirements… as well as taking a few minutes for a coffee break and a chat with others in the team.
How do you use your degree in your current job?
The logical approaches used in my degree are useful for expressing customers’ problems in a way which can be modelled. Doing Operational Research has helped me understand what solution approaches are available and when they might be appropriate.
One of the main parts of my job is to take complex ideas and explain them to non-technical people. Studying and tutoring Mathematics to a high level has definitely helped me with this.
What do you enjoy/like most about your job?
One of the main things I love about my job is the variety. Our projects are quite short (8 weeks to 6 months) and are all very different – and I learn something new from every project. At the moment I’m working on three projects, so what I do on a daily basis changes all the time.
I also really like the people I work with. Corda is has a very friendly team and everyone gets on well. The atmosphere in the office is relaxed and the team often socialise after work or at weekends.
What are the most challenging parts of your job?
When I have several projects on the go and deadlines coming up in quick succession it certainly requires an amount of careful planning to keep on top of everything. That said, I like to be busy so I do enjoy this aspect too.
It’s often the case with my job that the challenging bits are the most interesting, such as working with a client who doesn’t have a firm requirement. Helping someone to understand where their problems are and planning an approach to solve these with them can be technically challenging, but is always rewarding.
Which skills do you consider to be essential for your job?
You would need numeracy, logical thinking and computer literacy to do the technical work and excellent communication, interpretation and presentation skills to enthuse the customer. It’s important to make sure the customers get what they need, rather than what they think they need.
What stimulated your interest in maths, and when?
In school, I always liked that the answers to maths questions were right or wrong and not subjective, as in other subjects. I always found the logical thinking and problem-solving required appealing.
I now look into real-world problems with lots of soft, qualitative variables and “right or wrong” has been replaced by “good or better”, all based on the same logical principles.
What influenced your career choice?
At school we were told that a Maths degree allowed you to go into any career you wanted. It turned out that this was true – as long as you wanted a career in finance or as a teacher. Neither of these appealed to me, so I went for one of the few careers where I could apply my mathematical background to areas I find interesting, such as people, training and aircraft.
Any advice you may have for other individuals considering your career path.
I recommend thoroughly researching your chosen career and getting work experience if you can. Several people I know have benefitted from their year in industry as it means they come in with some experience already.
I would also take opportunities to do presentations and to talk to people about what you’re studying and the real-world applications. If you can interest your friends, family and peers in your subject, the chances are you would be able to brief customers successfully too!
Your future career plans.
There are several options available. Within Corda, I have the option to specialise in consultancy, technical expertise, project management, business development or a mixture of these. I plan to take the consultancy route as I particularly enjoy the customer-focused part of my job.
In the future, I will gain experience in other parts of BAE Systems – this will allow me to understand other areas of the business and become a more fully rounded consultant. Although I have the option to take my skills externally, the rewarding working environment at BAE Systems makes it a good place to build my career.