From City to Rio (Ferdinand): Sulthan Ahmed’s journey

Sulthan Ahmed (BSc Computer Science 2006) knew from a young age he wanted to work with computers. Sulthan also knows it can take some time to find a sense of confidence and fulfilment. As a Senior Developer for the Government and a musician, Sulthan believes he can finally be himself and make a difference. 

Sulthan AhmedWhen Sulthan Ahmed’s brother bought a Commodore 64 in the 1980s, a 5-year-old Sulthan fell in love with computers, and an unfortunate incident solidified his interest.
“I cheekily played with my brother’s computer when he wasn’t home. Unfortunately, I broke it. He still goes on about it until this day. Funnily enough, that made me want to work with computers even more.”
Fast forward and Sulthan embarked on his undergraduate degree in Computer Science at City.
“It offered something called a sandwich course, so you could study and then take a year out and actually get a job,” Sulthan explains.
“I wasn’t a very good student,” he says, reflecting on his first few years at City.
Things changed when City helped Sulthan get a job at HM Treasury and he spent a year working before returning to his studies.
“I got to the Treasury and they treated me so well and I did pretty well. And once I did well there, I applied that attitude to my final year.”
Having struggled for the first three years of his course, Sulthan had a lot to catch up on, but with his newfound drive and the support of his lecturers, he finished his degree with a first.
“I think it makes a difference when you have people who believe in you and they know that you’re trying hard.”

When Sulthan looks back at his studies and his career, he sees a pattern. It took him several years to find his way in higher education. As a professional, it also took him time to find a role and workplace where he felt he could be himself and use his skills in a positive way.
“It took me a while to get to where I am now,” he says. “The first 12 years of work were really difficult. I was a web developer, project manager, business analyst. I worked in commercial and legal, and I just felt very quiet. I felt like I was pretending in my job. I think I’m a good example of people who feel like a ghost, or they feel they’re not good enough, or they feel like they’re not talented.”
Today, Sulthan describes himself as a confident and a bit of a “whacky” person who can speak his mind. He dedicates the change to the opportunities he received when he started to work at the Home Office. He was initially employed as a business analyst but worked in close proximity to the developers.
“I came into work with my suit and I was surrounded by people without suits, in T-shirts and jeans. It seemed like people were more themselves, making cool things while having fun,” Sulthan says.
“I said: I want to be a developer. I want to be able to wear a t-shirt, and the main dude said: Okay, tomorrow, you are a developer.”
Sulthan found it strange to suddenly be given this opportunity but grabbed it with both hands.
“I burned my suit and came in the following day in a T-shirt and jeans and everyone was laughing, what happened to the old Sulthan?”
As part of the team, Sulthan began to feel more confident both in himself and his skills.
“They were very helpful and nurturing and nice to me.”
Sulthan started out as a junior but now works as a Senior Web Developer for the Home Office and has been the Technical Lead for several important developments. Developing an online form that makes it easier to help victims of modern slavery was especially important to Sulthan.
“I think what is fantastic about working in the Home Office and working in Government compared to a lot of other places, is that we have something called the Service Standard. The first and the most important item is to understand users and their needs,” Sulthan says. “It’s really nice to work on something like this, where you’re making a difference and it’s something really worthwhile.”

Sulthan has been dedicated to helping others for a long time. He’s run charity campaigns, volunteered, and now hopes his music can make a difference as well.
“I might sound crazy, but I want to change the world. I really do,” Sulthan says with a big smile. “If I can send a message through my music, that’d be great.”
Sulthan was 14 when he realised he wasn’t cut out to be a gangsta rapper, but kept his dream of creating music alive. Having worked with teachers for several years, Sulthan recently released his first song “Momento”.
“After thirteen years, I think my voice is now in the right place. It’s been a similar journey as with my work, you know, I had to find myself.”
According to Sulthan, the response to his song and music video has been very positive so far. Even Rio Ferdinand provided feedback when Sulthan played it for him.
“Rio Ferdinand really liked my song. He says my song is ideal for cooking,” Sulthan says.
Asked what other successes Sulthan has experienced, he mentions one that might be less obvious.
“I try to be positive and encouraging when I deal with people. I manage people in my job, and I believe in creating a cool and fun environment so people look forward to coming to work. Whenever I see new people, or whenever I see people that have had it tough, I try to comfort them and help them out. To me, my greatest success is seeing them blossom and grow. I kind of smile to myself like a proud father or older brother.”
On the flip side, what are some of the challenges he’s experienced? 
“How to give myself fully as the best husband, father, web developer and also a musician.”  

What is Sulthan’s advice to anyone who might want to pursue a similar career?
“My advice might not work for everybody, but I’d say embrace the difference in you, the weirdness in you.
“Find an environment where people nurture your talents. I was searching, and it took a while, but I’m grateful that I did keep trying. It’s so easy to just stay in a job where you’re not getting treated the best. I would say, if you don’t feel comfortable in that place, there are lots of places in computing, especially in web development, where people nurture talent, and they help you out.”

A big thank you to Sulthan Ahmed for sharing his journey and his music! You can watch Sulthan’s music video here and connect with him on for example TikTok and Instagram