Benji's burning with ambition
Here at University Technical College Reading, we’re used to turning out remarkable young men and women, but every so often we meet someone who really stands out…
Benji Lewis, 17, has just finished his studies with us this summer, but already he has landed a full-time job, runs his own IT solutions company, has launched the college’s radio show, won a Pride of Britain award and held a funeral for a toy duck involving a chemistry experiment…
His remarkable drive has led him to land a great first job as a junior test engineer at WARP Technologies, a job, by his own admission, he got using his gift for making connections.
“I met one of WARP’s recruiters through a family friend, then a couple of weeks later I heard through that friend that they had a job opening and wondered if I wanted to apply for it. And I got it.
“WARP is a medical software companies. My job is to take the software that’s been developed, cross-reference it against the user stories and the acceptance criteria from the customer and make sure that everything matches.”
Benji has been working in his role at WARP at the same time as completing his college work – he came to an agreement with the college that he would do all his final year coursework from home. Which would be a lot for anyone, but of course Benji has also been running his own IT solutions company, XFour from which he employs six other people from the UTC.
So when did this incredible entrepreneurial drive begin?
“My mum used to say when I was small if a toy didn’t have flashing lights and buttons on it, I wouldn’t be interested.
“When I was 11 I set up a website to raise money for my brother, who has all sorts of medical conditions, but he didn’t quite meet the NHS criteria for a wheelchair. Doing this I raised £4,000, meaning we could buy him a wheelchair and a specialist car seat.
“I then went on to win the Pride of Britain awards in the young volunteer category and that led me to realise people need websites. So I built up my skills and built sites for family and friends. In 2019 I thought I could turn this into a proper business, so I set up XFour and I’m glad to say we’ve just turned a profit this year!
“I’ve always been results-driven – I see things that people I look up to have done and do what I can to achieve my own goals,” he says.
“I have two key ideologies that I live by – one is that you should never be afraid to waste the Big Man’s time. The amount of opportunities that I’ve got by just going to someone in industry and saying: ‘Hey, could I do this thing?’ I’ve got access to exclusive events with Microsoft and had meetings with chief operating officers for example.
“Alongside that I will often have an idea and if I like that idea, there is very little anyone can do to dissuade me. If I want to do something and I have the facility to do it, there’s no point umming and ahhing about it.”
A good example of Benji’s persuasiveness is the live TV production he made with a team of UTC buddies. He explains how a conversation with Principal Jon Nicholls went from being him helping to produce an online Zoom open evening event, to full-on live TV production.
“When were in lockdown the UTC obviously couldn’t have its normal open evening. Jon gave me a call asking if I could help on Zoom with a smaller idea – I said how about you give us some money and we produce a full-on live TV production to showcase what the college is about? So we hired in the equipment and had a roaming camera and I produced the whole thing with a team from my control room.
“It was a brilliant experience for me, in that it’s something tangible I can show to people in the future and it gave me experience of organising people with very strict deadlines - we all had to be perfectly timed, communicate well, with the right technical knowledge.”
Benji was also instrumental in setting up UTCR.live - the college’s popular online radio station, for which he’s now handed over the reins to a new team of students.
How does Benji rate his time at UTC Reading?
“I loved the freedom of being treated more like an adult,” he says. “You can tell the teachers don’t feel they need to make decisions for you – so nobody says what you have to wear or when you can use phones – it’s all left to common sense.
“The thing the UTC offers - like the Pipeline days, the industry engagement, the willingness to let students have days off to visit places like Microsoft – that was the stuff that added the real value for me.
“It’s so easy to take for granted a lot of the stuff that the UTC does that other schools don’t – there’s so much going on. For example, I spoke to senior employers at Cisco, I’ve worked on a project for the Royal Navy, I’ve got connections on LinkedIn to Microsoft’s biggest partners. I’m making connections all the time.
“And the beauty of UTCR is that because it is a relatively small college everyone knows everyone, teachers included, and it creates a nice community and allows people to study and have fun.”
Going forward Benji plans to study Film and TV production at The University of York.
“After that it will either be a job at the BBC - ideally I’d like to be executive producer on Eurovision - or back to XFour, turning it into a multi-billion pound business,” he says, deadly serious.
And the toy duck funeral? Let’s just say it involved a headless toy, half the school, some science teachers and a Thermite demonstration…