In school, I never really knew what I wanted to be when I was a ‘grown up’, but my formative years were very much at a time when the ideal path followed school, college, university, then work.
It was good in theory, but even when I was working through my GCSEs, I still had no clear vision of what I wanted to do as a career.
According to the school’s careers advisor, I would have been perfect as a supervisor at a waste treatment plant!
As you can imagine, it wasn’t exactly the career 15-year-old Ian was envisioning – so I ignored all that and signed up for maths, physics, computing, and French A-levels, because I found them interesting.
Although the latter was swiftly dropped, it was the first time I truly learnt to follow my gut rather than follow the path (or sewage pipe) laid out.
As the time drew closer to leave college and think about my next step I ended up flicking through a university prospectus and spotted a mechanical and automotive engineering course which piqued my interest.
My Dad had worked as an electrical engineer before moving into software and coding, so I’d always had an interest in how things worked.
My passion for cars and motorsport did mean this course sounded like the perfect way to turn something I was interested in, into a fully paying career.
While studying, I had the opportunity to join the Formula Student series, organised by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers – something I knew I wanted to do from the moment I heard about the competition.
A lack of all the knowledge needed to join a competitive race team might put some 18-year-olds off, but not me.
The prospect of building and racing a single seater race car – around Silverstone no less – was too good to miss. I really threw myself into it, and learnt the meaning of ‘work-hard, play-hard’!
That project lit a fire inside me – one that still burns brightly today.
Life threw me a curveball in my third year though. I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and it had a real impact on my studies – as I spent less time focused on my coursework, and more time on looking after my health.
Things like that alter your perspective on life, and it made me even more determined to pursue adventure before entering the world of full-time employment.
Having known someone who spent a ski season working abroad, I managed to get myself a job as a supervisor in a café on the side of a Canadian mountain before landing back in the UK right in the middle of a recession.
Looking back, I was lucky that I had a safety net and could move back home with my parents and start looking for a job at my own pace, at a time when many organisations were making people redundant.
I ended up being offered a job at Lotus and my eyes were opened wide by the breadth of projects I was able to work across.
A few years later, a chance encounter in a pub presented an opportunity to join an automotive technology startup which built driver-in-the-loop (DiL) simulators – Ansible Motion.
At the time, this idea of being able to facilitate virtual testing and development of future road and racing technologies sounded cool.
I’d be working on the bit of technology that sits between the real human driver and the imagined system – allowing for all sorts of development, from F1 teams testing different setups to tyre brands testing new compounds.
Yet, it presented another ‘head vs heart’ decision. Stay in a safe role with very little stress, or take a leap of faith and do something completely new?
Having met with Ansible Motion founder, Kia Cammaerts, the idea of small-team camaraderie beckoned even though Kia couldn’t promise me a long-term role, should the company not flourish.
Despite some questions from friends and family, I again trusted my instincts and soon I was back as part of a small team that resonated with my Formula Student days – switching from test engineering to a solutions architect.
While I didn’t know everything, I was keen to learn, and everyone rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in.
Over time, the team grew organically, and in 2020 we got to the point where we had a new product and so many enquiries that I ended up helping with technical sales.
I was already responsible for the customer experience after the point of sale, so it made sense in a way.
Then, someone within the commercial team left, and within a year I was working as Ansible Motion’s sales team lead.
Again, did I aspire to become a sales engineer? No. Would I have chosen this path if I’d seen it mapped out? Probably not. But, I’ve come to embrace the journey.
If I could give my younger self some advice it would: Embrace risk, follow your instincts, and surround yourself with people who are just as passionate as you are.
Of course, it’s impossible to know how things will turn out, but I’ve become a big believer in trusting the journey – it will always lead somewhere you never imagined!