Jamie Atallah, Accounts Assistant
Jamie was with DPAG from May 2020 - August 2021, joining us from the Geography department. As an Accounts Assistant in the busy Finance team, he handles the crucial day-to-day of managing the money that comes in and out of the department in support of the department’s financial strategy. Interview on Wednesday 21 April 2021.
Why did you pursue a career in Finance?
I’ve always had a maths background, but I never considered finance and accountancy. I did a Masters in Engineering, but I didn’t enjoy it, so I became a primary school teacher for many years, which I really enjoyed. However, teaching takes over your evenings and weekends, so after getting married and having a child, I decided it wasn’t for me anymore. With no idea what I wanted to do, I started going to careers fairs. Overwhelmed at one careers fair, I decided I had to look at three jobs before I was allowed to leave! One of them was a Finance position at the Oxford John Lewis in the new Westgate, and I got the job! I did financial administration there for a few years and I fell in love with finance. While I was there, I started studying the Association of Accounting Technicians qualification, which is the first step to becoming an accountant. My job at John Lewis came to an end when they centralised all their finance.
How did you end up at DPAG?
I joined the University as an accounts assistant in the geography department on maternity cover. This gave me an introduction to the software and processes we have at DPAG – while there are differences, it’s very much the same infrastructure, so it was easy for me to move sideways after the maternity cover ended.
What were your first impressions of the Department?
DPAG seemed like a really busy department. Geography is smaller, more laid back and feels more travel orientated, whereas DPAG is a lot more internally focused, with plenty of requisitions and invoices and stuff being bought for research all the time. What’s strange is because I moved to DPAG during the first lockdown, I haven’t actually ever worked in the office! I’ve only been in for the interview and a couple of times since to pick something up or drop something off! The main thing that stuck with me is the view from the Finance office over the University Parks, it’s incredible!
What does your job here entail?
There are three Accounts Assistants, myself, Shana and Sam. We handle a wide variety of day-to-day tasks, including processing requisitions, invoices, expense claims, the departmental credit cards for items that can’t be bought via a purchase order, and animal orders for research. A very large part of our job is customer facing and communication; each week we take it in turns to answer queries from academics, talk to suppliers and colleagues in other departments, we’re here to help however we can!
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I love it all! job is very task oriented, and I enjoy the satisfaction of ticking off tasks. I also enjoy working with people and solving problems – that gives me an incredible feeling of satisfaction. Eventually I’d like to progress, continue with my studies, and advance up the accountancy ladder. I would love to become a management accountant, helping a company to work well and run efficiently, and this job is giving me a little taste of that.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
When I first started, learning the ropes was a challenge, but now I’m in the swing of things, I honestly just find everything really enjoyable, rather than challenging! I know working from home has been challenging for many people during the pandemic, but I’ve benefitted from spending more time with my family, and I’ve learned I can work very effectively from home.
What do you wish people understood about your job?
We get many requests each day, and there are many other things that impacts our work, so we have to prioritise. Sometimes people will come to us with something that’s required really quickly, and while sometimes it’s possible, sometimes unfortunately it isn’t.
Another thing to bear in mind that often we ask for a justification for a purchase or expense. If we ask you why you are spending that money it isn’t just to be awkward. Rather, it’s for your benefit, and for the benefit of the finance of the department and the University. If we spend money accurately and exactly on what it was meant for, we won’t go over budget, we won’t have to explain ourselves in audit, and we avoid perhaps having money taken away. It will help your project, not hinder it, because if we do it right first time, we avoid trouble later on.
Finally, since Wanda arrived as Senior Research and Finance Manager, there’s been a lot of work to make two teams into one, with Finance and Research Administration working closely together. It’s working very well because they need us and we need them. They need to know how much money we have left and we need to know whether we’re allowed to spend it! So if people have queries about projects and money, it may be that they need to talk to both Finance and Research Administration. You might find the answer in a different place than you thought!
What is a highlight of your career so far?
I feel very grateful that I’ve had such a variety of jobs and for the people I’ve worked with – I’ve moved around a lot and dealt with all kinds of stakeholders. When I was working at John Lewis, I was one of 10 people chosen to represent financial administrators across the country, and we met with financial controllers several times to discuss the future of financial administration. I found that fascinating, because not only was I talking at a very high level about very big issues, I was also representing financial assistants in the various branches, who were often very anxious about their future. I loved dealing with the nitty gritty and fitting into the big picture. It’s great to have had the variety of doing that in a commercial setting where it’s all about the cash and making money, to moving to academia where it’s not so much about how much money comes in, but more altruistic reasons in the sense it’s more about how much you’re spending on projects that benefit lives. I love seeing the big picture of finance. When I am studying for the AAT qualification, it opens my eyes to what I’m doing in my work, and when I work, it helps me with what I’m studying, so there’s this nice back and forth, and I’m enjoying seeing how it all fits together.
What do you get up to outside of work?
The Covid pandemic has altered this one! I have been able to spend loads of family time with my wife and three small children. Due to the lack of a commute I am able to have lunch with them, drop the kids off at school, and have gotten to know them all really well. I would not have bonded so well with my one-year-old without this time at home. Alongside this, I spend my evenings studying. Before Covid, I used to enjoy 5-a-side football and racket sports. I also illustrate as a hobby and have been published here and there. At University, I was the newspaper cartoonist and illustrated the university guide that was handed out to the freshers. I’ve kept that going ever since - I’ve illustrated wedding invites, children’s plays for use in school, and I’m currently working on one for a children’s Bible. I’m also a Christian and belong to my local church.