It’s probably about time I told you this, but I’m employed, and not as an OT.

Hi there.

It’s been a while. I’ve been keeping something from you all.

I have a job!

A permanent job, no less. I didn’t want to say anything until I’d passed the one month trial that they asked me to do, as they were taking a very big risk hiring me. I passed, if you haven’t guessed, and I’ve been there now for six weeks.

Now, I didn’t get an occupational therapy job. In fact, my job title is Technical Customer Support Agent, and I spend most of the day answering phone calls and helping people with ‘electronic point of sale’ software. It’s a customer support role that requires a lot of technical know-how in hardware, software and web development, none of which I had too much professional experience in when I applied. In my first month, I had to show them that I had the capacity and willingness to learn, and apparently I did really well! Being a small company, I also had to fit in with the team, and I’m so happy to find that I get on really well with my team, and I feel like I’m contributing something worthwhile to them and to our customers.

The job is intense; it can get both busy and sometimes emotionally draining, but I love it. I want to learn more, fix more on my own, improve the existing systems so that customers don’t have to call in about everything. I guess it’s my OT training talking, but I want to help our customers become as self-sufficient as possible, and that means creating a support network for them, including the existing customer support staff, as well as help videos and guides, better initial training and so on.

It’s strange, though, thinking I’ve got HCPC-registration and a degree in occupational therapy, and yet I’m not even in a health or social care job. I’m definitely using the skills I learned during my studies, but I didn’t go to university thinking I was going to end up working with computers. It makes sense now, as I learned during my studies that I enjoy working with technology and figuring out ways to make situations more enjoyable and/or efficient. I still want to eventually study for a Masters in something like human-computer interaction or user experience, but I don’t know where that’s going to lead me considering how my idea of the future has changed so dramatically since I was in high school.

Tuesday’s #OTalk on Twitter is about the transition from OT student to OT practitioner, but I feel I have something to contribute despite not following that path. In today’s climate, not everyone who graduates with a degree in OT will end up working as an OT. At least not initially. I bet most of those who don’t get an OT job get a related position as a carer, mental health worker, OT assistant, etc. However, I want all those graduating in the next few months to realise that you don’t have to limit yourself to OT. You’ve developed brilliant skills in analysis and can understand people and occupations in ways that many others can’t. These skills are so, so useful to employers in other fields. My desire to help others be independent, which grew as an OT student, is now appreciated in a technical customer support role. Customer service is just one path to try, though. Figure out what you enjoy and what your personal strengths are, add in those many skills you developed at university, and try new avenues.

My final piece of advice is to not give up. I couldn’t find an OT job. In fact, I was struggling to get any job that was mildly of interest while I worked part-time at a customer service desk in a retail chain. After four months there, I handed in my notice without a job lined up because it simply wasn’t right for me. I took a chance because being unemployed for a short while made me happier than the job I only spent 27 hours at a week. Around the same time, I’d gone to a few interviews, with positive results, and despite having a job offer, I took yet another chance. I held out for the role I have now, having three interviews in total. And I got it. You see, it all worked out, and all I had to do was wait a little while, take a few chances and be open-minded.

Do movies imprint the right ideas on children?

Flan and I recently watched a TED talk that actually made us think a lot more than we thought from the title. The talk was by Colin Stokes and titled ‘How Movies Teach Manhood’.

Colin mentions the Bechdel Test, a tool that rates movies on the following criteria:

1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

Here’s the Wikipedia article. The Feminist Frequency also wrote a piece about it.

How many of your favourite movies pass this? When I heard about the test, I realised I’d become so used to watching movies in which the main characters are either men or women discussing men. A lot of the time, you’ll find there will be a woman in a group of main characters, but only one – the token female. Alternatively, you’ll have a few women, but they’ll be either plotting to get men or complaining about them. The common roles of women seem to be mothers, wives, girlfriends or wannabe girlfriends. Meanwhile, the men are racing around in cars/helicopters/planes/trains/etc., hitting/shooting people and getting the girls in the end. Colin was worried about what these stereotypical roles were teaching his young children, and it definitely made me pause to think. Are girls learning to take charge of the situation, to be brave, to learn, to take care of others? Are boys learning to trust girls and let them lead as well?

Flan actually brought up the topic the next day after realising his daily work life doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. Out of the seven people in his department at a technology company, none are female. In his physical office room (open-plan), there are sixteen people, and only one is female. Why is that? (I’ll leave that thought there so we can all have a think.)

Could I have a future in Human Computer Interaction?

Looking back over my experience studying occupational therapy, I’m coming to accept that I am not going to be a standard practicing OT. What I found most interesting were things like assistive technology and educational technology, and I had two placements that encouraged these interests. I also really enjoyed learning and developing new skills in the academic (but ‘practical’) setting. In school, I enjoyed conducting experiments and writing up reports. So it seems fitting for me to combine these interests and work with technology, potentially in a research and development role. It is something I’m repeatedly drawn to, so why fight it?

Something else that comes naturally to me is my ability to spot things that could be better. In my current job, I’m always suggesting improvements to the way my team works and how our environment is set up. In my final placement, I watched a presentation in which one of the OTs demonstrated a new programme to help the students (with dyslexia) construct sentences, and I felt almost disturbed towards the end, as the software was not in any way intuitive. I sat there just thinking about how this or that could be improved, and I even talked to the OT afterwards about her experience trialling it. She had to spend hours exchanging emails and phone calls with their support team just to learn how to use it in the most basic sense! (Apparently, once you know how it works, it’s great.)

I’ve been thinking about where I want to go in life, particularly what to do a Masters in. I know that I’m going to one day get a PhD – this is one of my life goals – but I just don’t know what exactly to focus on, as my interests range from education to AT to virtual reality to anthropology and so on.

And I think I’ve found my Masters area: Human Computer Interaction. The name is pretty self-explanatory – it involves studying how humans interact with technology and designing technology so that it better meets the needs of the intended users. It combines behavioural psychology with computer science, among many other fields. This is where I hope you all go, “But wait, this is totally relevant to occupational therapy!” Don’t occupational therapists also try to match technology (low and high-tech) with the needs and abilities of the user, just on a smaller scale with one person at a time or a very specific population?

I think occupational therapists are entirely qualified to study human computer interaction. We understand people, both psychologically and physically. We have the skills necessary to observe and analyse the behaviour of people in an environment completing a task, and we can modify the task or environment to improve the success rate of the activity. So it seems perfectly natural, if I want to work with technology, to study human computer interaction and apply it to creating and/or improving technologies for education and/or disabilities.

My next step is to continue reading and learning about HCI, as well as looking into the differences of the various universities that offer it as a MSc. I found out that I have two weeks worth of holidays to use before the new fiscal year, as does Flan, so we might take a few day trips to Bath, UCL, Brighton and so on over the coming months. It’s not a cheap venture, so I’ll also be seeing what funding options I have; there may be a companies or organisations out there willing to sponsor a potential HCI expert! Who knows?