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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 at the Guardian works to support journalists, editors and web designers by helping them to understand how our readers consume the news on our website. By analysing web traffic trends, we can better inform decisions about which times of day to publish content, or which types of content best help readers to access and fully understand the news (e.g. podcasts versus long-form articles; explainers versus picture galleries). Beyond this, we can also use statistical modelling to answer more complex questions like “to what extent is our traffic driven by the news agenda?” or “how often should we update our homepage?".

Case study: Lucy McCormick

I joined the Guardian in 2015 as an analyst, but I now lead a team of 4, working to produce insights about our audience across both the website and app. My university degrees focused heavily on statistics, but a career in data does not always require a university maths background - if you’re a logical thinker and enjoy numbers, then you can learn to code.

Although programming languages and spreadsheets are an important part of our day, we ultimately need to be able to translate that data into meaningful stories about how Guardian readers consume the news. To do so effectively, we need creative presentation skills so that editors can easily understand our key traffic trends, without wading through tables of raw figures. As data specialists, we're happiest when we can then see these insights being utilised in the newsroom.

What’s particularly special about working for the Guardian is that we don’t strive merely to maximise clicks; rather, we try and use data to understand how to present the news in the most effective and engaging format. Ultimately, we want people to read to the end of an article and leave feeling informed – and for us in the data team, being a part of this work is incredibly rewarding.

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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