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Behind the Headlines

Ada Lovelace Day

To mark Ada Lovelace day, a celebration of women in science, technology, engineering and maths, we asked colleagues in the Guardian's product and engineering team about their career paths, roles and achievements. They’ve got some amazing tips and advice for young people interested in this exciting and dynamic industry!

Rebecca Thompson

Rebecca Thompson tells us how she changed career to become a software engineer.

My role involves...

My team manages part of the Guardian website and backend systems. My role involves maintaining those systems and building new features, as well as being involved in planning and departmental activities.

My route into this role was...

I grew up in New Zealand and moved to the UK in my 20s. Software development wasn't really on the radar as an option when I was in school, so I came to it later in life as a second career.

I enjoy my job because...

I like the variety. I get to work on different frontend and backend systems using a range of technologies, so I get to try my hand at a lot of different things. Also, the people. There's a great collaborative and social culture at the Guardian, which is really important to me.

The most important qualities for my role are...

The ability to problem solve, grasp complex concepts and think creatively. Also, good communication skills (but that's true of almost any role)!

Ways to get started or relevant experience are...

Boot camps are one way of getting quickly up-to-speed. Also things like participating in hackathons and volunteering for charities. Working on your own coding projects and putting them on github is a great way to build a portfolio. Look for graduate or associate programmes (such as the one offered at the Guardian!), as they offer more support and training. Start applying for jobs before you think you're ready. Even if you don't get an offer, the experience will give you insight into what employers are looking for and give you some direction on areas to focus and improve on.

Lucy McCormick

We spoke to Lucy about what working in analytics entails and how she came to work at the Guardian.

What is an analytics manager?

"An analytics manager works to support journalists, editors and web designers (the people who make the website and app) by using web traffic data to understand how our readers journey around our website, what they like to read, and how they find the Guardian in the first place (Google, Facebook, or by coming directly to us). By analysing the numbers, we can better inform decisions like which times of day to publish content, and what types of content to produce e.g. podcasts versus long-length articles or explainers versus picture galleries."

Case study: Lucy McCormick

"I love working directly with editors to help them understand their audience, and to develop ways to improve the Guardian website for our readers. Beyond this, I manage a wonderful team of analysts, and we enjoy working together to solve statistical problems, and produce exciting new analysis to help guide editorial strategy.

I grew up in a small town in the Midlands, and never thought I'd move to a big city, let alone work for an international newspaper.  At school, my career aspirations ranged as widely as veterinary science to dentistry. Working in data and analytics definitely never even occurred to me (not least because I wasn't even aware of it as a field).  I graduated from university with a Masters in Psychology, but I knew that I didn't want to go into clinical work. After applying for absolutely every job advert I could find in broadly ethical/charitable fields, by chance I found a role in analytics at the Guardian and enjoyed it so much that I'm still here 7 years later.

Although an understanding of numbers and statistics is needed in my role, it's also really important that we are able to communicate well and build good relationships with people around the business. While a lot of people in my team have maths degrees, I actually didn't study maths beyond GCSE. Personally, I think that this helps me to put myself in the shoes of busy editors or people who perhaps didn't enjoy maths at school, and therefore think about how best to build a compelling story about our audience that isn't just a huge spreadsheet!"

Ara Cho

On changing her career

Listen to Ara Cho talk about her career move to become a Software Engineer, and why it might not be as daunting as you think.

Was this the path you saw yourself taking when you were at school or university?

Data science didn't exist as a term when I was a university. I started coding games for fun when very young - I didn't associate programming with actual jobs.
Amy Sinclair
Head of Analytics
Not the one I am currently on. I thought I will have my studio and have a stab at Turner prize.
Aisha Riaz
Assistant production editor
In sixth form, I thought I was going to be an architect! I had to change my mind because I was terrible at physics. I ended up studying advertising in uni and I thought I'd spend all my career working in that industry.
Ana Pradas
Digital designer

Ana Pradas

On working as a digital designer

My role involves...

Working with the Digital Tools team, which means that I work on the design of the tools that our journalists and newsroom use to publish stories. We have tools for writing stories, uploading videos, checking grammar and spelling, deciding what goes on the homepage, a picture database, etc. I'm helping the team design new tools but also think about how we can make the ones we have more accessible, for example for colourblind people. 

My route to this role...

I studied advertising in university and worked as an account executive in ad agencies in Spain until I was able to change careers and work as a designer. 

I enjoy my job because...

I really enjoy working with a team of very smart people. I'm the only designer in the team and work with a lot of software engineers, a "user experience" designer and a product manager.  I am very curious about how everything works, so I also enjoy that I get to ask lots of questions to the journalists, editors and other people in the newsroom.

Good ways to start or get relevant experience for your role are...

Being able to collaborate with other people and work as a team is really important. You have to talk to the editors to see what is most important about the content and with the engineers to see what is possible to build.  Looking for inspiration in different places also helps, from TikTok to museums.

One piece of advice would be...

Look for people that are doing what you want to do. Instagram is a great place to start when looking at designers and design studios. Working on projects just for fun is always a good idea as well. If you have never designed a magazine and want to do one, choose a topic you're passionate about and design a zine.

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