A PASSION FOR LIFE If you’d have told 16 year-old Stephen Walker that, in 12 years’ time, he would be studying for a masters in Advanced Computer Studies he simply wouldn’t have believed you. Undergoing tests for a brain tumour, the bookish teenager found it a struggle to walk from one side of a room to another, let alone attend school full-time.
During the last year of his studies, Stephen’s condition took a turn for the worse and, although he wanted to undertake a masters course, he realised the timing simply wasn’t right. “I worked for two years at a dental surgery doing some reception work,” Stephen explains. “Once I felt that my condition was back under control I applied for the masters in Advanced Computer Studies at LJMU.”
Stephen’s story is one of passion for learning and utter determination, he has constantly set himself goals and planned his future in detail. “I’ve always liked learning and I picked up computing very early,” he says. “I am passionate about how the applications of computing can help people.”
Stephen is enjoying his studies and is keener than ever to go into computer forensics. “It is an area which is increasingly important in today’s society,” he says. “There is an explosion of companies that work for the Police, providing the evidence they need to build cases and charge suspects. It is the ideal sector for me as it is the perfect example of computing being used to help and protect people. It also puts me where I want to be: at the cutting edge of digital forensics.”
Stephen’s education was progressing well until, in his midteens, he was struck down with a mystery illness. Leaving him unable to do anything more than focus on the day-today, the condition baffled medics. Tests for a brain tumour came back negative but it took years to identify the correct medication and start to control the pain.
So how do Stephen’s family feel about his inspirational journey? “I owe everything to my mum as I simply wouldn’t have survived without her fighting for me,” he smiles. “She has always been proud that I have made an effort to keep working and fighting the illness.”
“I was house bound for over two years and it drove me crazy,” reflects Stephen. “I wanted to do something with my life but all I could do was try to get through each day. My condition robbed me of years of my life and made me determined to make up for lost time.”
In many ways Stephen’s illness has made him what he is today. “I spent so much time doing nothing and missing opportunities that I developed the drive to go as far as I possibly could,” he says. “As soon as I was able to function I just took on whatever I could, ignoring the possibility that I may get tired or feel pressure. I think going into education later meant that I knew exactly what I wanted from the outset and took the whole experience more seriously. I want to use my knowledge in industry initially and much longer term I want to teach in higher education. At the end of the day it’s all about making a difference.”
At the age of 21, Stephen was able to return to study, undertaking a BTEC in Computer Networks. Two years later he enrolled on a Computing degree at Edge Hill University. Aiming to teach his subject in higher education, he chose modules covering a wide range of areas. It was at this point he developed an interest in and an aptitude for digital forensics. Stephen threw himself into university life, taking on four or five campus-based jobs during his studies and even developing a student budgeting app. “I wanted to make the most of every minute,” he says. “I love working with people and spending so much time on my own during my illness made me want to get involved wherever I could.”