'Be sure to keep moving'

Mandy Chessell is a master inventor and engineer at IBM Hursley, Europe's largest software development lab, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

What did you want to be as a child?

I just liked building things and solving problems.

What did you realistically think you'd end up doing?

I had a very limited view; I thought I'd work in an office, factory or shop. Then I discovered computer science and realised it combined creativity and problem-solving, and was a way to connect people.

You did a BSc in computing with informatics at the former Plymouth Polytechnic; was it worth it?

It was brilliant. I've used my degree in all my work since. It was a four-year course, with a year in industry. I worked with IBM in Portsmouth and was then sponsored for a Masters in software engineering at Brighton University , which gave me the confidence I could do anything.

How did you work your way up to master inventor?

Curiosity and the desire to make things better. You need to know your subject well and have the courage to step into new areas.

Do you consider yourself successful?

Yes, in terms of what I've achieved compared to what I expected to achieve.

What's the best decision you've made?

My first job move. It was an internal move I didn't need to make. Taking that step out of a comfortable role is quite scary.

Any regrets?

Probably that it took me so long to get confidence in myself. I had strange expectations of the way a leader behaves, that they should be firm and strong, and I didn't think I was a good leader. Then I realised there are different ways to lead.

What are your interview tips?

You need to articulate what you're proud of and enjoy, and show you can work in a team.

And your CV tips?

Think of it as an advert for yourself; you have the qualifications, but what's special about you?

What motivates you?

I still get a buzz out of solving problems. To take an idea and encourage people to follow you takes a lot of energy.

Who are your heroes?

I'm reading Isaac Asimov's robot stories; I'm very taken by those. I admire James Dyson; the struggle he had getting his work recognised is very inspiring. And Victorian engineers like Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

How do I get to be where you are?

University is very useful, it helps you to understand yourself. At school, you follow a set programme; at university, you have time to grow up a bit more. Keep moving, and expect change.

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