Leighton Rolley, Lead Marine Technician, Schmidt Ocean Institute

Leighton Rolley - 400pixProof that your degree subject may not lead you down a typical career path can be found in graduate Leighton Rolley (BSc (Hons) Computer Science 2005), who has taken his IT skills and gone on to become a successful Lead Marine Technician. We caught up with Leighton to find out more about what he's been up to since leaving USW.

Leighton is employed by Schmidt Ocean Institute, a not-for-proft organisation that supports oceanographic expeditions to explore the worlds oceans and advance our understanding of the deep oceans.  As Lead Marine Technician he is responsible for the embarked technical team and looking after any visiting scientists who use the ship. No two days are the same whilst on expeditions, as he explains, one day you might be finding new species unknown to science and other days you could be stranded out in 10 metre high waves.

He ensures all technical systems – sonars, data loggers, metro logical sensors, super computers, high precision GPS etc are operational and working correctly, stating: "Operating a research vessel in remote locations is incredibly expensive so everything needs to be working correctly – it’s not easy or cheap to put a ship out to sea to collect data we missed."

Outside of making sure the ship’s science sensors are operational, Leighton also works closely with the visiting scientists. He explains: "Generally we have 15-20 scientists on board for a science cruise. I help them maximize their time on board the vessel by using the systems to get as much high quality science as possible. 

It really is a dynamic, fluid and fast paced environment that is changing rapidly with technology."

So how did he manage to go from a Computer Science degree, to supporting over 100 expeditions from Antarctica to the Arctic and all oceans in between? 

"After graduating I went to work for a software house in Cardiff that specialized in developing booking software for tour operators. This was primarily using VB.NET, SQL, C++. One of my first jobs was to develop a method for identifying tourists who may have been affected by a natural disaster/terrorist incident in a geographic area.

 In 2005 I was offered a job back at the organization where my industrial work placement occurred (Southampton Oceanography Center). I became a Science Systems Technician supporting Royal Research Ship James Cook and Royal Research Ship Discovery.  As a technician I supported dozens of expeditions from the tropics to the edge of the polar ice sheets using a whole suite of high-tech systems.

 In 2011 I was asked to apply for a position with Schmidt Ocean Institute. This was a newly conceived oceanographic institute that was being created by Eric Schmidt (CEO of Google) and his wife Wendy. Schmidt Ocean Institute mission is to explore the ocean using innovative technology and making the data open to the global community."

Alongside the work placement, Leighton credits USW with providing him with the necessary IT skills to write and develop software solutions for processing science data at sea, as well as administrating computing infrastructure and hardware on board research vessels. 

We asked Leighton what tactics he would share with others who may be considering a route similar to his. He stated:

 "Qualifications go a very long way to getting a dream job – but at the same time you need to be proactive. There’s a lot of graduates in this world and you need to be enthusiastic, stand out and really want your dream job – sell yourself and your skills to any prospective employer. Don’t expect the dream job to just land in your lap. Research your desired career – know what questions to ask the people interviewing you. Never stop trying to better yourself and learn skills new skills.  There will be thousands of graduates with 1sts, 2.1, 2.2 degrees – your personality and drive will be one of the defining characteristics that get you a job."

Leighton also holds the record for the deepest Welsh Flag and has named a few parts of the ocean including one after the Welsh mountain that features in The Englishman who went up a hill and came down a Mountain. Incredibly, he was also part of the team that discovered Captain Scott's ship the SS Terra Nova, which left Cardiff a century ago on a quest to reach the South Pole.

Would you like to find out more about how work placements can help you find your dream job, post-graduation? Contact us to find out more.