From bottom of the class to CEO

I was a big fan of the Arts & Social Science subjects at school, especially Modern Studies and Business Management. However, there was always one demon that would overshadow that enjoyment: exams.

I was rubbish at them. I just kept missing the pass mark – and I mean one to two marks – every single time! I was revising several hours a day, tried adjusting strategies to see if I was over-revising. Nope. Still kept missing the mark. This plagued most of my school days, and eventually started worrying me since I had my eyes on going to university.

The school knew something wasn’t right. I knew something wasn’t right, so it was time to turn on troubleshooting mode. The strategy: bring in a reader and scribe for all tests and exams and oh boy did it made a difference! Remember, I hadn’t even been tested for dyslexia, yet my marks went from marginal fails to comfortable passes. Not astronomic – but comfortable – so we were onto something, and my aim of going to university was one step nearer.

Rather than be plagued by this mystery issue, I decided to get tested for dyslexia and shortly after my years of questioning poor exam marks came to end: I was dyslexic. In a way, I was relieved, but shocked. I didn’t know what to think. I wasn’t however going to let this stop me, so onto university I went to read Mathematics.

Balancing university with dyslexia was anything but easy: it was awful at times, especially with the sustained workload that increased year on year. I tried working with readers and scribes, but in a mathematics based subject it was much harder to find someone who knew and understood the symbols. In other words, imagine explaining Calculus symbols in a 2-hour exam – it was anything but fun! Instead I resorted to technology – buying software to turn my screen a more comfortable colour and using the dictation feature. It wasn’t always plain sailing – especially with dictation – as most dictation platforms back then didn’t understand these symbols. I just had to work five times harder in amongst these challenges to get to where I wanted to be. Despite the shortcomings, I graduated. Phew!

Entering the world of work after graduation was worrying. Was my employer going to see dyslexia as a problem? Thankfully no, it was the complete opposite. They embraced it, saw my strengths, moved me into an area where I’ve been able to shine and I couldn’t be happier. Technology was again my best friend here, and I was amazed as time moved on to see most of the accessibility features offered in the computers software as standard instead of having to download all these additional (super expensive) paid packages. Today technology is still my best friend when it comes to dyslexia – and I’m sure it will be for many years to come.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this: dyslexia shouldn’t be thought of as a disability. It gives you the ability to do things differently, and seeing things differently is one of the greatest gifts dyslexia gave me. I’d not be a CEO today without having to battle through it over the years. To those of you struggling out there, be fearless and fight on. Don’t give up, and most importantly, don’t let it define your future.

Ana Simion
About me: CEO & Director of Machine Learning at INRO London & the Centre for Data, Innovation & Technology. Lover of all things tech, amateur baker, public speaker and climber.