Interviews – Telecoms – Matthew Lawson

What’s your official title?
Head of the Radical Multimedia Lab, BT.

What do you do all day?
I lead a small research lab looking at virtual reality and multimedia graphics.

Did you always plan to be where you are now?
I didn’t specifically, although I always saw myself doing something in science and technology, something that was both a problem solving and a creative role.

How long have you been at BT?
I’ve had this role for a year but I’ve worked at BT for five years now. I got the job straight out of University.

What did you do at University?
I was at University in Durham and I did a four-year masters degree in physics and astrophysics. I didn’t have any big ambitions at University, I just wanted a job, preferably in research.

What made you think of working in R&D?
There was a lot of research and practical problem solving in my degree, which I really enjoyed, and I thought it would be great instead of just having any old job to have a career in something I found fun.

How did you find out about the job?
I did a search on companies that had research departments, and I came up with a number of names like British Steel and Defence ? Research Agency.

How did you get the job?
Well, I had an interview but I didn’t think I was going to get the job at all! I completely fluffed the interview; some of my preparation had been quite last minute because I had been applying for another job at the same time.

What is the atmosphere like where you work?
It depends on what area of the research department you end up working in. Mine is very much a ‘blue sky’ area, it’s all about developing cutting edge technology and having radical ideas. So we’re positively encouraged to be wacky – off-the-wall concepts aren’t stamped out, they are applauded. And that’s the kind of environment I find stimulating and challenging.

Where do you see your career going?
I think I will stick with this for the foreseeable future – as long as BT continue to provide me with an exciting, challenging job and opportunity to grow there’s no need to move anywhere. I’ve had other offers, but I won’t be going until I start waking up in the morning and thinking ‘Oh no, I don’t want to go into work today’.

What’s your next ambition?
I’d quite like to become head of research at some point!

How have your job been affected by the downturn in the technology business?
The climate has changed at BT during its recent problems. The company has had to redefine its priorities to a certain extent and it is now a commercially driven place. Gone are the days when the research department was told, ‘Here is your pot of money, now go and play’. There’s not so much playing in the sandpit now; the things we do have to have a business justification.

What’s your advice to people wanting a research career at BT?
Don’t expect that you can come and work in an ivory tower. You need to be always commercially minded and have some understanding of marketing. And if that’s something you don’t know much about yet, be prepared to learn!

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