Michael Dinata

Country: United Kingdom
Sector: Natural Resources
Job title: Full Stack Engineer
Subject of study: Politics and International Relations
Year of graduation: 2022
Type/Level of study: Undergraduate

Current Employer/Organisation Name

De Beers Group

What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now?

After completing my BA in Politics and International Relations, I continued on at Cornwall and studied an MSc in Mining Environmental Management at the Camborne School of Mines. For my dissertation, I wanted to do something relating to AI so I was given the opportunity to go to London to the Alan Turing AI conference. After the conference, I was invited by the Managing Director of GemFair to come visit their office (De Beers Group/AngloAmerican HQ). They gave me a tour, asked what I was interested in, told me their issues, and I helped identify how they could solve them. This resulted in me working on a project with De Beers (GemFair) to build a system to identify illicit semi-mechanised artisanal diamond mining in Sierra Leone using satellite imagery (initially was going to use machine learning but I deemed it unnecessary). This project was completed via a paid 6-month part-time internship with De Beers which concluded in December. In that time, I completed the project and presented my work to the De Beers R&D colloquium. Following this, I was offered a permanent position at GemFair as a Full Stack Engineer which I accepted and have been working as since my internship ended.

Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?

My job title is a software engineer. However, I’ve been given the trust and freedom to do a wide range of tasks that interest me. One week might focus on writing scripts to improve our database system, while another involves me writing content for our website. I’ve helped out with policy analysis, advised on, developed, and implemented AI tools in the workplace, and I’m also continuing my work with satellite imagery. I get to use some of the most cutting-edge technology in a way that’s never been done before – something that’s both extremely exciting and interesting. Recently, I’ve focused on improving our social media presence and digital communications, teaching me new skills I never thought I would be able to do. The high level of trust and autonomy and the small size of the team means I’m able to have an impact on our operations that many of my peers in larger departments can’t. As a result, I learn quickly and get wide exposure to all aspects of the business. Last but not least, the work I do is fulfilling. We operated across over 200 mine sites in Sierra Leone and have a real impact on improving the lives of artisanal miners. From seeing wages go up to the farms we have built by reclaiming old mine sites, it is easy to enjoy your job when the work you do is truly good. Overall, I love my work because I am able to use all the skills I’ve learnt in education (programming, policy, and mining), in creative and ground-breaking ways, to create real positive impact on the world.

Please tell us if you were a member of any societies, groups or sports clubs?

President of Debating Society, Member of Ultimate Frisbee, Member of Asian Society, Member of Poker Society, Fought in Golden Gloves (white-collar boxing, not official society)

Were you part of the Exeter Student Ambassador Scheme at any point during your studies?

Yes

What did you enjoy most about your programme and what was the biggest highlight?

With Politics, I liked the variety in assessments. I feel like courseworks like writing speeches, policy notes, reports, etc, have been useful in prepping me for my work – none more so than Resource Politics with Deborah McFarlane (I actually wrote a paper on Artisanal mining which I think referenced GemFair). The more open nature of the questions and broad module options also allowed me to flex my creativity and explore my own interests more than the masters did which is something I appreciate now that I can use my learned knowledge in different subject areas to solve different problems. With the masters, it has given me a knowledge of mining in one year that is unparalleled to anywhere else I could have gone. CSM is well known in the industry and for good reason, the course was hard (especially as someone who didn’t do a STEM undergrad!) but it has given me skills that are extremely sought after and made me very employable. I can guarantee I would not be in the position I am in today if it wasn’t for studying at Exeter/CSM. Experience-wise, there were many times I struggled at university for a number of personal and health-related reasons. The support I have had from my personal, academic, and welfare tutors throughout my time really helped me and I cannot thank them enough, especially Joanie Willet, David Benson, and Fiona Williams.

What did you enjoy most about studying here?

Cornwall is beautiful, it really felt like home and I was devastated when I had to leave. The campus was friendly and safe and you were really able to get to know everyone. I have made life-long friendships and will forever have great memories of my time at university.

Why did you choose to study at Exeter?

To be frank and honestly: clearing. Exeter was the best rated Russell Group university that accepted me so I came. I never did an open-day, and I didn’t put it on my UCAS application. Why? I never knew Penryn Campus existed and, hilariously considering I ended up in Cornwall, I never looked at Streatham because my family said it was “too far south”! Looking back, I feel incredibly lucky to have ended up at UoE Cornwall, and had I visited beforehand, I’m pretty sure I would have chosen it on my own. And if I had the chance to pick any university all over again, I can honestly say I would not. While that’s not at all what you were looking for, I believe that the truth means a lot more than any elaborate lie I could come up with for why I chose Exeter.

What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?

Public speaking and negotiation – Great for conveying ideas, confidence, and in work. Mining knowledge and GIS – Got me my internship which got me my job. Academic Referencing – Thought I wouldn’t use it but use it frequently. Policy/textural analysis – reading dense texts, understanding it, and conveying those ideas simply is a key skill. IT knowledge – worked at the Digital Hub and still use the skills I learnt daily.

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?

Don’t be afraid to reach out to people. Whether it’s on LinkedIn or in your own life, most people are more open to helping and supporting you than you would think. Also, do as much as you can and stretch your boundaries! You’re capable of more than you think, be brave and try something new or apply for oppertunities that you think are beyond you. I can’t promise you it will work out but I can promise you will regret not trying.

What are your plans for the future?

Career-wise, I want to stay at De Beers Group. Working at GemFair has been nothing short of a dream job and I am excited at what lies ahead for our program. Personally, I want to travel more. I hope to have the opportunity to visit Sierra Leone later on this year with work but I also have many places to visit that I promised myself I would during lockdown.

 

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