Joe Williams – BSc (Hons) Computing Informatics graduate

Current employer: Zen Optimise

Current job title: Managing Director

Current location: London

“My main advice is to be proactive and give yourself a ‘unique selling point.’ This may mean getting a qualification in Google Analytics or writing a covering letter that shows why you really want to work in the industry and why the company you are applying to is important to you (hint: do your research).”

Tell us about your career path since graduation.

Initially I started off on a technical path and got a technical government job coding and maintaining very large databases.

How has your degree helped/influenced your career path?

My degree was a lot of fun and involved aspects that were creative, technical, and business oriented. This gave me a lot of freedom and the confidence to try different types of jobs to see what fitted best.

Has your career path changed since graduation?

It has, as I found that I was drawn more to business and marketing. I moved from a database administrator to a digital marketer. I now specialise in search engine optimisation (SEO) which is all about getting organic “free” traffic from search engines like Google. What’s great is that it involves technical, creative, and marketing skills which I developed in Plymouth University.

What is the most difficult thing which you have faced in your career?

After around five years’ experience in digital marketing, I set up my own digital marketing training company which is now called Zen Optimise. Even now I find it challenging running a business, being a trainer, and staying up-to-date with the latest Google algorithm changes!

What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?

Aside from setting up the company, I really enjoy helping small businesses better understand digital marketing and how they can use it to develop their businesses and get their message out there. Also, I particularly enjoyed teaming up with both the Guardian and Cosmopolitan in offering blogging training to their followers.

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could?

I would have got outside help earlier and also started to build a team earlier, rather than to try and do all the work and manage the business myself.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get in to the same line of work?

At Zen Optimise we’ve setup a guide with tips for graduates, including an in-depth interview with five top agencies about breaking into the digital marketing industry which is definitely worth a read. My main advice is to be proactive and give yourself a ‘unique selling point.’ This may mean getting a qualification in Google Analytics or writing a covering letter that shows why you really want to work in the industry and why the company you are applying to is important to you (hint: do your research). It may even mean starting your own digital marketing blog where you can showcase your passion for the subject and it may help promote you as a potential future star in the industry. The latter worked for me!

How did studying at Plymouth help you?

This might sound strange but it wasn’t until university that I felt I really understood how to learn properly. Sure you learn at school, but in my degree I could apply the theory in real world projects and that’s something I haven’t stopped doing. If you want to be an expert in something you can never stop learning, especially in the information age.

What lessons/skills did you gain from your course?

The biggest lesson I learnt was to fully understand what is being asked of me and what the tutor expected from me. Most tutors have a marking scheme and you can predict what things they are looking for. Similarly, in the workplace, your boss will be looking for specific things that they want you to succeed in and it’s your job to work those things out and to focus on the most important things, rather than to try and do everything.

Did you undertake a placement during your degree and if so, how did this benefit you?

I spent a year in Essex working for GlaxoSmithKline as a desktop support consultant. While the professional experience was invaluable, I discovered that I didn’t have a passion for computers. I learnt that you need to be passionate about what you do if you’re going to enjoy it and really succeed.

What is your favourite memory of studying at Plymouth?

I loved going down to the Barbican, the Hoe, and trips to the beaches in Devon and Cornwall.  

Do you stay in touch with other Plymouth University alumni or lecturers?

I stay in touch with quite a few university friends. It started off with around ten friends meeting up once or twice a year, and now we are down to around six once a year, so that’s pretty good.

Would you recommend undertaking a course with Plymouth University, and why?

Definitely. It’s a good sized university and city, small enough that it still feels intimate but large enough for you to explore new things and have fun. My degree had a really good balance of theory and practical work.

Is there anything else which you would like to share with our current students?

It took me a while to work out that you can be professional and be yourself in the workplace. I started off being super professional and hiding my personality, but then decided to be more open and be my quirky self. I found it much easier to relate to colleagues, have more fun, and further my career more quickly.