How I Was Able to Build A Tech Career While Pursuing My Passion For Music

They say you can’t have your cake and eat it too, but Francis was able to follow his goal of building his career in tech while pursuing his passion for singing. At IBM, people have the opportunity to manage challenging and dynamic job opportunities, whilst being motivated to follow their passions.

   By Francis Powlesland


My name is Francis and I work as a Consultant for the Global Business Services unit of IBM UK. Apart from working as a Consultant, I am also a professional singer, working as part of Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace in London.

Ever since I was a child, my parents always thought I would end up as a full time professional musician. I started singing at the age of eight at the Westminster Abbey Choir School where I took part in numerous state services, countless royal occasions (sadly, I’m a little too old to have taken part in the Royal Wedding!), and trips abroad to the US, Europe, and the Far East. At 13, I was appointed as the choir’s Head Chorister and was awarded a music scholarship to secondary school, where I then got invited to start singing professionally at Hampton Court Palace three years later. I’ve been singing on and off for the last 11 years, but more recently, after starting work at IBM, I became a regular performer.

After I left university, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do and I dotted around from job to job while I figured out my next move. One evening it finally dawned on me: I wanted a job that was focused on technology, but gave me the freedom to move between different projects, build up my skills, and challenge me whilst letting me travel and pursue my passion. As all of these things mattered to me and I knew I should look into consultancy. A quick search on the web for ‘technology consultancy’ brought up the IBM Consulting by Degrees programme as the first result. What I saw was an ambitious graduate scheme that aimed to challenge and enable its grads by rotating them through a series of projects so they could build up their skills. I decided to challenge myself and apply.

Having a chance to work as a consultant while pursuing my passion for singing is incredibly rewarding. When you’re working within groups and in a large organisation, it’s easy to lose track of what’s happening elsewhere, which is why I feel very fortunate to have a musical network to tap into to get different perspectives, and even just do something completely unrelated to my work. That isn’t to say I don’t bring my experiences from singing into work – because I do every day.

In my role at IBM, I frequently work with a whole range of people, some of whom I have never met before, so teamwork is essential. Performing in a choir, it’s imperative that I listen, watch and adjust accordingly – whether it’s to the conductor or those around me. This same principle of listening, having to change focus and quickly adapting also applies to my work at IBM. But perhaps most significantly, being a performer, I don’t get stage fright – an essential part of presenting to clients!

Committing to something six days a week (five days with IBM and one day with the choir) can be quite demanding. But because I am able to bring variety into my life, it is a challenge I definitely welcome.

The past two years at IBM have been life changing – no two days have been the same. I have traveled, worked in sectors I wouldn’t have dreamed of, and I have gone from not being able to write a single line of code, to becoming a competent developer in 13 months – all while pursuing my passion for singing. I believe the best experiences in life are those that significantly change your perspective of the world around you, and the last 24 months have done exactly that.

Francis moved into IBM having completed a degree in Chemistry, where he specialised in Theoretical and High Performance Computational Chemistry in his final year. He has co-authored two publications, one in battery storage and one in simulated drug discovery. Over the next two years he will go on assignment from IBM UK to IBM Germany, where he will work as a Cloud IoT Architect in the Watson IoT Lab in Munich.

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