“Life is too short not to do what you enjoy”

“Life is too short not to do what you enjoy”

Connor Sandford has overcome low self-confidence, serious illness and a dramatic change of degree course before finding satisfaction in life.

Now a senior consultant at Deloitte, he spends his days helping major companies in the battle against hackers and IT fraudsters.

“I suppose the role has worked out perfectly for me,” Connor (OE 2007-2014) says, adding that, because of companies’ increased reliance on remote IT during the pandemic, he has probably been busier over the past year than over the previous two combined.

Connor’s is a story of triumph over adversity, which started early: “I initially found it very hard to adapt to school life at QE and I remember very clearly my parents coming in one evening to discuss behavioural issues with teachers when I was only a couple of months in to Year 7. It was strange because, knowing my mum and our family values, I was expecting her to be very angry and disappointed with me, but instead she had sympathy for me and asked me if I wanted to go to a new school.

“This was a different environment to what our family was used to, but I now realise my resilience in saying ‘no, I want to stay here’ made this perhaps the best decision I have ever made – and certainly the best for my future career prospects.”

In time, Connor found his feet at School and soon he was no longer in the bottom sets. “I gained the confidence that I wasn’t actually ‘lucky to be here’ with all these clever boys around me, but I actually deserved to be there. It took me until about Year 11 before I realised just how unique an environment this School was and how well it was set up to help us succeed.”

One area in which he thrived was rugby. “Like almost all the other boys, football was what I grew up playing, but I learned to love rugby and continued to play all through university. I remember my rugby coach Mr [Tim] Bennett and my other PE teachers, all of whom were a great support not only in rugby but in life. I certainly had my moments of misbehaviour in School, but the PE department helped to encourage me to get back on track. Maybe it was their words of wisdom about life, or maybe it was the prospect of missing out on captaining the School on a Saturday morning on the rugby field that got me back on track time and time again. It’s hard to say which helped more!”

Before his GCSEs, he had to face the trauma of catching meningitis, which led to him missing three months, including half his examinations. “I had lost weight and forgotten many things, including spelling the simplest of words – not the best thing when I was due to start English Literature A-level at the end of the summer. I also had migraines frequently that continue until today – but not as badly or frequently as when I was in Year 11 and 12.

“QE was fantastic at providing me all the home support I needed to complete my exams from home initially.” Despite the difficulties, he went on to do even better than his predicted grades.

“This gave me the confidence to keep going and achieve great grades in my A-levels as well. I have to thank all my teachers in those last two years, where I really think the level of education reached a new height.” He remembers boys “passionate about their chosen A-level subjects” making for “an incredible learning environment.” Connor adds: “I suppose I also have to thank my fellow classmates for encouraging new ways of thinking and essentially making me enjoy learning.”

“Having overachieved at A-level, I was excited to go to my first-choice option, CASS Business School, and start my Business Studies degree.”

A few months in, however, he realised that he was not enjoying his education as he had at QE, and, moreover, he was regretting not having the opportunity to follow his interest in fashion.

“I remember my Art A-level classes being the best escapes from other stresses during the week and I thrived with the guidance of Mr [Ashley] West and Mr [Stephen] Buckeridge.

“I got back in contact with Mr [David] Ryan at the School who dedicated time to helping me complete my new university application and offered kind words of support about my decision to change my career path. I always knew I wanted to do something more creative, and fashion management was the perfect option, ensuring that I got a worthwhile degree while also enjoying what I was studying.”

Connor went to Manchester, loving the change of scene from London. “I found that by doing something you are passionate about, it will always give you a better chance of succeeding. I completed my course, gaining a first-class degree and enjoyed the amazing university experiences I had, including continuing my rugby career for the University of Manchester team.”

Using what he was learning on his course, Connor started a bamboo sock business, intent on giving proceeds at the end of his time at university to a local homeless charity, coffee4craig, that had supported the fledgling company.

“The business was fun and relatively successful, but while I liked the business element, I had lost some passion for the product,” he says. And so, after graduating in 2018, his career path took another sharp turn, as Connor joined Deloitte and went into the technology sector. “Every cloud has a silver lining, and without the sock business, I wouldn’t have had to create a website and maintain the IT elements of the business – and that is where my interest in technology and risk was sparked.

“Essentially, I have always found it best to follow my instinct: if I like something, I say to myself ‘Go for it’, and if I don’t, ‘Stop’. Yes, there may be risks, but life is far too short not to do what you enjoy, so I firmly believe you should not continue to do something just because you had chosen to do it in the past, but instead you should adapt to what you want to do in the future.”

“I loved the change into the corporate world and I have especially loved the nature of the company that has supported me and taught me more about IT than I ever could have imagined back when I handed in my GCSE IT coursework in Year 10 – the last time I had studied the subject before I started my role here at 23, says Connor, now a Technology and Digital Risk Consultant with Deloitte, having recently had a promotion. “Unexpected things happen and it’s not wise to say ‘Never again’. You never know what opportunities will arise and how things in your life or your perspective and interests can change. I suppose the role has worked out perfectly for me.

“There is a growing need to ensure that businesses are reacting appropriately to new risks around fraud and security created by the online storage of data. That’s what my job involves on a daily basis. I perform testing and report on the risks for our clients due to their IT vulnerabilities or weaknesses. They can then use our findings to drive or shape improvements in their systems and minimise any security breaches in the future that could damage their reputation of earnings.”

The hacking of Microsoft’s servers by Chinese hackers in recent weeks is a high-profile example of the sort of incidents that Connor works to prevent among his clients, and he pointed to the damaging subsequent fall in Microsoft’s share price as one sign of how important good cyber security is.

“Not only have I learned a lot in a great environment since joining Deloitte, I have also had the opportunity to travel across Europe to see our clients, and I am look forward with some excitement to resuming that when COVID allows.

“I am now so comfortable and satisfied in life with my own home and a meaningful job. I live with my girlfriend, and at weekends, I spend time with my friends and with family – those who supported me through my time at QE.

“Before COVID, I still saw many other Old Elizabethans at weekly football sessions, but due to the virus and a combination of injuries and work, I have not had the opportunity to recommence these yet. I look forward to doing so in the near future, however.”