Home > education, Engineering, Kenya > Careers Advice Isn’t What It Used To Be

Careers Advice Isn’t What It Used To Be

I went to a good school, a state-aided grammar-style, guild school. OK, so it was in east London, the Cray brothers were just around the corner, but all that meant to a schoolboy was that he was pretty safe on the streets. For all their brutality, the Crays did not tolerate anyone who harmed kids, or so I was told.

But that is not what this blog is about. As I said, I went to a good school – and I managed to make the very least of it, escaping with just three passes at G.C.E. ‘O’ level, English, French and Maths.

In that last term of school, we were all paraded before the Careers Advisor, who just happened to be our geography teacher.

It went something like this:

Ah, BabaMzungu. You father is in banking, is he not?

He was, Sir. he died in January.

Well, I suggest you get in touch with his colleagues and play on their sympathy to follow your father’s footsteps. There is little hope for you anywhere else.

Thank you, Sir.


That was really helpful. I was not asked if I had any aspirations, interests, ambition. It was assumed that, because I had not done well in my exams, I had none of the above. But he was wrong.

Since I was a small boy, I had always been fascinated by Africa. Initially, I wanted to be an explorer, like Livingstone (as well as being a policeman, like most little boys). My fascination with Africa is still with me.

In the event, upon leaving school, I went into an engineering apprenticeship and I found that I had an aptitude for it. I actually enjoyed college, and became a tool-using thing-maker as well as a half-decent draftsman. Mr Careers Advisor didn’t foresee that, did he?

After the apprenticeship, I fulfilled my boyhood dream – no, not becoming an explorer – I joined the police. I was helping society, serving a community. I liked this. But I didn’t like the reams of paperwork. I wanted to be out on the streets, not pushing a pen in an office. So, after six years, I left, totally disillusioned.

But, I did learn something in the police. I learned observation – and I haven’t forgotten it. Even now, 30 years later, I observe, and  then I study.

My first real opportunity to observe something different was during an extended visit to South Africa. It was during the apartheid era when Africans were herded into townships, existing, not living. And I observed. Then I noted. I brought my notes home and with the advent of the Internet, I researched. I wrote a book.

So, I have been a school drop-out, apprentice engineer, policeman, engineer (again) and IT consultant. But, all this time, I should have been a social anthropologist. It’s too late now.

Too late to be a “proper” social anthropologist, but … when I conceive, research, design and build a system to do something useful in Kenya, I have some idea of what is acceptable to the people I am designing it for, and what is not.

And another thing … I met up with three pals from school a few years back. Two of us were considered no-hopers. We have both lived and worked in several countries. We have travelled (and I am not talking about 2 weeks in Majorca, although I have done that as well), we have seen the world.

The other two got good exam results and have never lived more than 20 miles from the school we all attended.

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