How this graduate went from Glastonbury Festival to engineering the future of TV

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When James Williams started at university, his ambition was to enter the music industry. But he soon realised a highly competitive job in a recording studio wouldn’t provide the challenging lifelong career he was looking for, and so he switched to a media technology degree and set his sights on broadcast engineering.

Today he works as a graduate systems developer for Arqiva, the company that provides the transmission infrastructure to the UK’s broadcasters. And as TV is at the start of a new era of viewing over the internet, that means he’s helping to create the technology that allows us to watch on any device wherever we are.

“What attracted me most to this job is the fact that’s it’s all fairly new and it’s constantly changing,” James told The Student Engineer.

“The whole industry is changing so quickly that by a couple of months after you’ve started a project the requirements have changed. You’re constantly on your toes dealing with the next change or next move.”

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The job itself involves developing the ways in which internet streams of different broadcasters are encoded and delivered to our devices, he explained.

“For example, streaming standards for TVs can be interpreted differently by different manufacturers, meaning you can build something that works on a Samsung TV but not a Sony, so you’ve got to work out what’s making that happen and what you can change to make it work on both. I like the challenge of solving that problem.

“It’s nice being able to work with a big customer and get streaming up and running for them and to have a say in how things are built and the technology they should use. It’s nice to have that freedom and responsibility so early on – I’ve only been at Arqiva for six months.”

He might still be new to the company, but James’s career in broadcasting really stretches back several years thanks to the various work experience opportunities he undertook while still at uni and that helped give him the practical skills he needed to convince Arqiva to take him on.

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With the help of the placement team at Southampton Solent University, he was able to spend time with telecoms firm Ericsson and even working on the X-Factor.

He also took advantage of opportunities within his university, managing a £6,000 refit of his student radio station and joining a team helping record footage at Glastonbury Festival. Two years later he was back managing a crew of 20 people recording footage of artists including Fat Boy Slim and Rudimental.

James’s experience setting up web streams for festivals and his student radio station played a big part in turning him onto the job at Arqiva. “We got taught the basics at uni but by getting hands-on experience you realise what you don’t know.

“My advice is to just go for it and try to do anything that comes your way,” he said. “I never said no to anything, and it can open your eyes to things you’d not thought about before. Try different things and eventually something will click.”

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