Law leads Nick to his dream role: helping bridge digital divide

If you’d told a teenage Nick Dowse he’d one day be working for a global tech giant, dealing with contracts for large-scale international communications infrastructure projects, he’d have said ‘no way’.

But that’s exactly where the 33-year old QUT Bachelor of Laws (Honours) graduate is now.

As part of Facebook’s specialist network infrastructure legal team, Nick deals with contracts for the company’s involvement in a range of worldwide initiatives to provide high-capacity communications networks and increase digital connectivity.

His major focus is the 2Africa subsea cable project. Facebook is partnering with leading African and global operators to build a 37,000 km subsea cable to serve the African continent and Middle East region. It is one of the largest subsea cable projects in the world, with the cable nearly equal to Earth’s circumference, and it will interconnect 23 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

Normally Nick would be working in Facebook’s London office. But since March he’s been back in his hometown of Brisbane, getting the job done remotely and, due to time differences, burning the midnight oil.

“I’ve become nocturnal because my clients and collaborators are in Europe and the time zone is the polar opposite from Australia,” he said.

“I’d organised a long time ago to come to Brisbane for the wedding of one of my best friends – we met at QUT. I only planned to be here a week.

“But the pandemic travel bans came into effect a few hours after I landed, and my flight back to London was cancelled. So I have been back here ever since.”

The enforced relocation has allowed Nick to spend quality time with his mum, Queensland magistrate Pamela Dowse.

Sitting in the back of her courtroom when he was growing up, watching and absorbing proceedings, it’s not surprising that he chose to pursue a career in law.

“There was a brief period when I thought I wanted to be a payphone repair technician,” he laughs at that memory. “Maybe that was a weird early inkling that I may end up ultimately working in the telecommunications field.

“But seriously, I don’t think I ever really considered anything other than a career in law.

“I always tried to keep an open mind when I was studying at QUT about what field of law I wanted to pursue. Contract law rather than criminal law is what appealed to me more.

“The analytical and problem-solving nature of it, coming up with potential arguments and counter arguments, and looking into the nuance of the case law that’s been developed over hundreds of years.”

In his final year of study, Nick and a fellow QUT law student spent time on a work-integrated placement in Shanghai, China.

“It was an intellectual property (IP) law firm and we assisted with general day-to-day legal tasks.

“People in the firm spoke English so they were able to translate things for us. It was an interesting experience because their system of IP law is implemented quite differently to Australia’s.

“The firm’s focus was on patent infringement, the manufacture of counterfeit goods, so we were involved in some dawn raids of factories producing counterfeit goods and advising on the law in China surrounding that.”

After graduating at the end of 2010, Nick began full time with then Brisbane firm Blake Dawson. In 2012 it became part of the Australian arm of the global commercial law firm Ashurst.

In late 2016 he was offered a chance to help establish a digital economy practice in Ashurst’s London office – and jumped at it.

“I’ve always thought there are amazing opportunities out there if you work hard, push the envelope and are willing to go outside your comfort zone,” he said. “This was one of those opportunities – the chance to try something new and work in a different hemisphere.”

Nick enjoying London life in 2018.

While at Ashurst Nick featured in QUT videos, sharing his study and career journey from Brisbane to Britain – and also sharing his love of Vegemite!

In June 2018, he made the move from private practice to an in-house legal role at Facebook.

“I feel so lucky to have landed my dream job. Being on the specialist network infrastructure legal team, every single day I have the opportunity to work on the types of transactions I am passionate about.

“And because international telecommunications obviously touch many different countries, I also work closely with colleagues who have other specialisations so that we can give multijurisdictional advice on all the issues.”

Finding himself working remotely because of COVID-19 has brought into sharper focus just how critical reliable telecommunications infrastructure is.

“A lot of my focus has been on connectivity to unconnected and under-connected countries, but the same issues apply in countries like Australia where remote areas might not be well served.

“Countries like Australia need high-capacity international communications to the rest of the world not just to stay in touch, but to be able to compete on an international stage.

“Building new communications infrastructure around the world means being able to support people to not just work from home, but for a range of other important reasons like running small businesses from home and for telehealth.

“That’s why I love what I do. I get to be part of the process of connecting the unconnected and bridging the digital divide. In places where connectivity is lacking, once you have the ability to communicate at scale with the rest of the world, it represents a total step-change for an economy and its people.”

For school students considering studying law, Nick has this advice: “Be committed to your studies, work hard from the get-go, study smart and make friends at uni so you can talk through lectures, tutorials and assessments and share your ups and downs.

“And don’t be afraid to seize any opportunities that come your way.”

** Explore QUT’s Bachelor of Laws (Honours) degree here.

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