Degree plus experience puts graduates in a great place

James Walton is studying BSc (Hons) Lighting Design and Technology.

What attracted you to this business?
From a young age I wanted to be an electrical engineer and/or programmer for computer systems. I stumbled across lighting when I was 14; I was asked to cover for someone at school to operate a Jands S1 for a battle of the bands. This was my first time behind a console and looking back, it must have looked shocking. But I realised there was something satisfying about the visual endpoint and being a part of something greater that got me hooked. Nothing says job well done after two days of hardly any sleep, than looking over a sea of excited fans loving what you’ve been a part of. Personally, I think that that beats a nicely formatted database!

What do you think of the course you’re studying?
I feel the course is aimed at producing the next generation of technicians, rather than designers. The BSc is more academic and technical than many other courses out there, with modules in optics, power systems, control and special effects, business, health and safety - as well as elements of architainment. I feel that this qualification, paired with real industry experience, puts graduates in a great place to slot into a wide variety of roles, from product design and technical sales through to console operation. 

What work experience have you had so far?
I’ve been fortunate enough to work both nationally and internationally. I’ve found myself working in TV studios, theatres arenas and more. I’ve also had experience directly through manufacturers; I’ve worked in client-facing roles as technical support and at trade shows, including with Robe at PLASA, Wireless Solution at Pro Light & Build and Enttec Europe at Prolight+Sound.

I also co-own a company, ON LX Ltd, with another student at university. We carry out technical services and design bespoke systems and software for small-to-medium-sized events, alongside sales. We recently hired networking and control equipment to Greenpeace for the second year in a row at the Glastonbury Festival. Although we’re still small, the mixture of experience gained at university alongside real world work has been incredibly helpful and I’m really appreciative of it. I’m also fortunate enough to be taking a year out from my studies to spend six months in Australia working in R&D for Enttec

What’s the best career advice you’ve received so far?
Grades are nowhere near as important in this industry as your attitude, experience and ability to get the job done. It’s nice to have a piece of paper to prove your achievement - it’ll definitely open doors.

What do you want your job title to be in 10 years’ time?
Ideally I want to continue to build our company, and grow our manufacture and R&D arm - ‘Technical Director’ is my goal, but I’ve got a long way to go before I get there. Additionally, I still aim to freelance as a FOH system/network tech and system designer to fulfil my passion of all things geeky and ensure the products we produce will remain useful to those on the front line of production. I have started putting in the legwork now to learn as many different products’ protocols and the way they interact in order to construct robust systems for a wide range of scenarios. 

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Be humble when you’re starting out, and get the job done to the best of your ability; equally, if you don’t know something, ask! There are always people who will be willing to help you who were once in the same position. Experience is key: university courses provide a great foundation of technical knowledge and supply you with a number of contacts, but the majority of jobs in this industry are practical, and that’s something that can’t be learnt in a text book or user manual. Be prepared for years of practice to come.