Looking Back on 11 Months with Catalyst

Time flies. It’s a common phrase, but it really does feel like yesterday that I arrived at SInC in early September 2016 without much of a clue what I’d be doing for the next 11 months. Having just recently graduated with a first-class BSc in Mathematics and Computer Science, I had a strong understanding of a lot of theoretical things, but not enough practical knowledge. I accepted a position here because it offered me a variety of businesses areas to dive into – perfect for the indecisive graduate – and for the ability to apply my theoretical knowledge and computing proficiency in a realistic setting whilst learning about the operations of actual businesses. For someone who needed a nice big dose of real-world applications, Catalyst seemed perfect.

Paul's first day

Our Catalyst profile photos are taken on the day we join the team. I barely remember this being taken - things were so busy right from the start.

My introduction to Sussex Innovation Centre was pretty hectic. I joined at an interesting time, with people rushing around to deal with important matters, and myself a little bit stuck in the middle. Despite the bustling atmosphere, though, my first few weeks were light on projects. I had a bit of web design here and a piece of research there, but I spent a while simply familiarising myself with the people and operations at SInC. Having expected to start from the word “Go”, this was surprising, but I think it was good for someone like me to sit and get familiar with all the ins and outs of SInC processes and IT systems. It made me the de facto tech support for intake 3 of Catalyst, which was always fun – even in my last week, I’ve been called away from my desk at random times to give IT advice. It was good to have a chance to get up to speed, because when things started, it all came at me very fast.

Paul in SiNC office

This photo was taken during my second week at SInC. I was probably laughing at my own joke.

My first few significant projects were notably different from each other. One was a web design project for a manufacturing company. Another was a research piece to help a social enterprise apply for funding. Another still was a full brand development project for a reading device for the blind.

I came to realise quickly that individual research projects are the backbone of SInC's support, providing companies with valuable information to validate their innovative ideas. I worked on a lot of research and found it equal parts challenging and rewarding to investigate the pain points our businesses work to solve. Despite this, it was surprising just how much variety I had to balance in my days. When I was told, repeatedly, that Catalyst provided unique experience, I think this was what they were talking about – it requires you to balance your time effectively between multiple different companies wanting entirely disparate skills from you. It’s dynamic, demanding and always interesting.

Throughout my 11 months working in the Catalyst Team I worked for over 40 businesses, but there were a few projects I would regard as real highlights. Typically, these were those where I got to be creative, to adapt my established skills and to develop new ones. One of my favourite projects was working with Broker Compare, a comparison website for investment accounts. This project required me to analyse data, perform programming-based queries in MySQL, and to adapt my knowledge to other areas quickly and effectively. I enjoyed having such a strong insight into a business and having an equally strong impact on their operations – I’m glad to be able to hand it over to someone in the fourth Catalyst team, and I hope they get as much out of it as I did.

Broker Compare launch event

I attended a press event hosted by Broker Compare at Somerset House. Here, Croydon South MP Chris Philp is speaking. Pretty impressive.

Projects where I got to use my existing knowledge came up more than I expected – from a task of building a complex Excel document to analyse and modify University REF scores to one that came up in my last fortnight at Catalyst focused on statistically analysing a factor-based ranking model. It’s a testament to Catalyst that I felt my abilities were used, adapted and extended throughout – I was always assigned to projects that I would not just enjoy, but also learn from.

Looking back on things, even to my prior blogs, it’s remarkable to think how much I learned from Catalyst and SInC in just 11 months. From growing my skill-set to learning terminology to coming to understand how businesses and brands are developed, I like to think I have become a person who can hold their own in a business atmosphere – a far cry from the graduate I was when I joined back in September last year.

Catalyst team playing volleyball

One of my favourite parts of Catalyst was bonding with our team. Everyone is really fantastic, but we aren't very good at volleyball.

Working with the Catalyst Team has been a great opportunity, encouraging me to push my boundaries, develop my skills and think about my future whilst also getting to be myself. In one sense, I’m sad to be leaving. In another, I’m glad to open this opportunity to another intake of the team. I’ve met some of them over the past few weeks and they are just as adaptable, intelligent and committed as our third intake has been for the past year. I’m sure our members and clients will welcome them with open arms and benefit greatly from their attitudes and expertise. I wish them the very best - but for now, I’m off to relax on a beach for a few weeks. Aloha!

"That dog has somebody's ham! This I gotta see!"

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