Why I always remember exam results day

It’s the time of year when people receive their exam results. Parenthood is one hell of a journey, and moments like these are markers on your journey through life. You should enjoy them, good or bad. As you have no idea where they will lead.

Here is my story of bad exam results and where it led me!

My early passions

Before yours truly, none of my family showed much interest academically. So it surprised my Dad when I told him I wanted to get a computer. This was when home computing was not a “thing”.

It was more surprising as Sport was the thing that I was good at and that I wanted to pursue. I showed a real competitive spirit and passion and therefore did well in any sport I turned my hand to. I wasn’t exceptional but put in 110%. I didn’t really care much for the academic side of things.

That all changed one day when a friend of mine who lived near my school got a Commodore PET. This was something completely new that I’d never seen before. I’ll never forget putting my name on a screen, making it loop and seeing a screen fill up with my name and various other things.

Trying to convince my dad that a home computer would be a good investment when he didn’t have two pennies to rub together was a little bit of a tough task. So I had to beg, borrow and steal and eventually could afford one of my own. I took to it, for some reason, like a duck to water. Though my Dad got concerned about how much time I spent ‘playing’ computer games. I wasn’t, I was writing them!

I progressed quickly from coding in BASIC to writing Z80 and 6502 assembly code.

My first attempt at sports modelling

One of the very first things that I did was cataloguing football matches. I’ve no idea why I did this, probably because of my interest in sport and football at that particular moment. But I collected thousands of football matches in an attempt to understand them a bit better, and I started to model football matches.

I’ll never forget the sense of power that I felt by having all of this data available and being able to interrogate it, and I found it absolutely fascinating.  However, it was a slightly lonely existence. So I eventually found a friend who lived about four miles away and who also shared the same interests.

We got together, and our ability progressed dramatically as we learnt to write assembly language code and started pushing the boundaries of what was possible on those primitive early computers. Suddenly this was the thing that I wanted to do!

My first hurdle

There were few facilities at the school I was attending, though; they didn’t even have a proper teacher. I would have to send punched paper cards to the local Polytechnic, and they would accept my very simple instructions. About a week later, back in the post, I would receive the output of that particular bit of code. I wasn’t allowed to submit any Z80 or 6502 code as there was nobody to mark it!

That was my I.T. education when I was at school. But regardless of that, I did actually get an O level at ‘computer studies’ as it was then called. That would allow me to progress upwards into the next stage, which would, of course, be an A level at college.

A much bigger hurdle

But, to my shock, when I went to college, they declined to allow me to do an A level because my Maths wasn’t considered good enough. This was a bit bizarre because I was writing assembly language code and doing all sorts of weird and wonderful and clever things without having to achieve a higher level of maths. Learning more about computing and logic problems taught and allowed me to improve my maths capability rather than the other way around. My desire to problem solve forced me back to basics to relearn all those things.

I should have paid more attention when I first had the chance. But my ability had now leapt forward, but because my path was unconventional, my passage was blocked.

I did go to college, but to be honest, my time at college wasn’t fun. This was simply because I couldn’t do the thing I had a real passion for. I resented that, despite pushing the boundaries of what was possible on these early computing devices, I wasn’t considered good enough! I really kicked back at things during this period. Lost my desire to progress. Was this how things really worked?

 This wasn’t a problem for my friend, who would code with me. He had much more support, was much brighter than me, and it was very simple for him to be able to pursue that career path. He ended up going for a career in the city and did very well working in financial markets. We’ve remained good friends since those early days stuck in his bedroom, tapping away till the early hours.

A non-academic life

What’s the difference between a PhD and a Pizza? You can feed a family with Pizza!

I decided not to go to university, though my Dad often reminded me he wouldn’t fund it anyway. So it’s not as though it was really an option.

As soon as I left college, I got a short-term job before landing a role with a software distributor. At this job, I started to fulfil my desire to progress and started a software house and a direct-to-consumer mail order division. When I settled into my role, to stick up two fingers to the establishment, I went back to do my A-level in computer science via an adult education course. I passed without hardly lifting a finger and without attending many classes.

So, even though I wasn’t “qualified” to be able to do my chosen role, it was only a matter of months after stepping out from an academic path that I actually managed to get into that particular role anyhow. It was an important life lesson.

Things went onwards and upwards from there. But to cut a long story short, my career blossomed for several years. Curiously, though, I was not an out-and-out coder because I had acquired other skill sets by that time. I ended up more on the commercial side of the business, but my skill set could span a broad sweep of the industry, and that’s probably why I did well.

I had many happy years progressing up the career ladder into more and more senior roles and across a range of different companies.

I lived the dream of working for international businesses and living the ‘jet set’ lifestyle of flying all over the place to coordinate and manage various deals. When I reflect on that, it was the most fascinating but most stressful part of my career.

Trading is nothing compared to the pressure and workload I face at this part of my career.

Going full circle

Eventually, I was at my highest earning job when I packed it all in. Now with three children and a wife, I decided to become a professional Betfair trader and complete the loop and fulfil my long-term desire to do something original that nobody had done before.

The first thing I did was revisit all my football stats from all those years before and start pricing up markets. The rest, as they say, is history.

It turns out that this would be the last major decision I would make, as everything is a choice now.

What I learnt about exam results

Given my life so far, I feel that if you don’t get dealt the cards you want or don’t get the academic results you require, your path is blocked. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t progress. Regardless of whether you have the qualifications, the path is often ambiguous.

Those bits of paper just show that you should be able to do something, not that you can. The reverse is also true. A lack of paper doesn’t mean you can’t do something.

The Intelligence trap

I actually think a ‘good’ education can often be counterproductive. It can give you a false sense of superiority, meaning you miss obvious things and dismiss many things that could have helped you achieve something. Specialising also doesn’t teach you to be creative or be able to think through problems. So if you have a logical discipline, it’s often counterproductive to what is a very illogical world!

Given my start point, I understand the logic. Still, in the biggest leap of knowledge of my career, the thing that finally pulled everything together was getting a deep understanding of why the world isn’t a logical place. Once you understand exactly how the world works, it makes it easier to come to terms with, and a whole new world of opportunity will open up for you.

Ultimately, there are two types of intelligence. Intellectual and emotional intelligence. To get on in life, you shouldn’t be at either end of that spectrum; you need to have a mixture of the two.

My message to you

My main message is to make sure that you don’t let anybody block your way and that you should use your time to pursue your passion regardless of what obstacles are put in front of you. The sense of satisfaction you will when you win out far exceeds a bit of paper.

A bit of paper will help, of course, but most of the really interesting people you will meet will have some of the most unconventional routes to success.

On the flip side, I’ve met many very intelligent people who fall into the intelligence trap. So it’s not a definitive path to fulfilment. You also learn that everything else will sort itself out if you are good at something, are passionate and pursue it.

In life, it’s almost inevitable that you will get problems, people will selfishly try and halt you, and unexpected things will happen. But I learned, quite slowly initially, that if you have a positive mindset, pursue your passion and show a bit of belligerence, you will eventually reach your desired place.

I had all these dreams of what I wanted to achieve in my life. I never dreamt of half the things I have actually managed to achieve, and it all hinged around not looking at the negative in things.

So whatever you choose to do, get started on that road today!

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