Future Leaders: Chris Dunham, Junior Cloud Engineer

‘Future Leaders’ is a series of blog posts by the Financial Times in which we interview our team members and ask them how they got into technology, what they are working on and what they want to do in the future. Everyone has a different perspective, story and experience to share. This series will feature colleagues working in our Product & Technology teams. You can also connect with us on Twitter at @lifeatFT.

Chris Dunham

Hi Chris, what is your current role at the FT and what do you spend most of your time doing at work?
My current role is Junior Cloud Platform Engineer. I work within the Cloud Enablement team, which I guess you could call the FT’s ‘cloud police’. We spend most of our time looking at all of the cloud infrastructure that we have within the FT, including all the FT products. We oversee all the FT’s AWS (Amazon Web Services) accounts and anything contained within them to make sure that they are following all of our governance rules and also make sure we stay within budget!

Is that just for the London team or globally?
That’s globally, all of the infrastructure that we have here at the FT. Only within AWS at the moment but we are looking to expand to include other cloud providers as well.

How did you get into the technology industry?
I used to be a secondary science teacher at a school in Manchester. I left teaching back in 2016 and relocated to London realising at that point that I didn’t want to be a teacher anymore. I had been teaching myself to code in my spare time and applied to join Makers Academy in 2017. At the end of that course I applied for a job at the Financial Times and.. here I am!

A sketch note I did for the Customer Products Team’s Heroku Deployment Process.

What was it that made you want to start learning to code in your spare time?
It was back when I was teaching, I knew I wasn’t happy in that career but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I happened to volunteer to help at a ‘code club’ for any of the kids at the school. It was great because there were actually quite a few girls who were interested. The kids were learning basic coding using tools like Scratch and I got into it from doing that. I then found a couple of online tutorials and got stuck into it. I realised I enjoyed it more than my day job and now I’m here.

What is the project you’ve worked on at the FT that you are most proud of?
I think the project I’m most proud of is the one I’m working on at the moment. One of the biggest things the team looks after is security within AWS. For every user within AWS, each of them has to have an AWS ‘key’, which is like a complicated password and to keep it secure we have to rotate those keys every three months. Some teams have up to 90–100 users or even more, so going through and rotating all of those keys can take a long time. So we are working on a system that will automatically rotate keys for people to take that whole workload out and give back teams some time that they can put to better use.

That sounds very efficient, how long would a project like that take? It sounds quite big?
It is quite a big project! So far, it’s been a month or two. We’ve built most of what we can automate so now we need to work with individual teams to work out how they can best tie it into all the services they have, to ensure all those keys automatically rotate. This next part is going to be especially interesting as it means we’ll be working with lots of different teams across the FT. Showing them what we’ve built so far and working with them to finish the project.

You’re going to make a lot of people very happy.
I hope so!

Me engineering some clouds. Drawn by Emily Griffin — @emilywithcurls

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in recent years?
The biggest thing I’ve learned is not to let anything get in the way of your dreams. So, it was a difficult process for me to leave my previous career. I thought it was going to be a career for life. I got into teaching thinking I would do it forever, but slowly over time I unfortunately realised it wasn’t something I loved and felt there was very little keeping me there. I kept putting up all these barriers stopping me from moving out of it, from getting into a career that I enjoyed. It was finally pushing through that and realising this is what I want to do, this is my dream career that made me realise how important it is to do something you love. All of the stuff I’ve done so far has been important, but this is what I’m meant to do and now I’m in a place where I love my job, I love coming into work and I can finally see myself being in this career for the rest of my life.

What would you say to someone who might want to make a career change but may be putting up those barriers you mentioned?
You only live one life and work takes up quite a large portion of that. You have to do something you love otherwise you’re going to end up regretting it. You have to do what is best for you, whatever your dreams and goals are, put those first.

What would you like to do in the future?
I really enjoy cloud and infrastructure, but one of the things I did at Maker’s and really enjoyed, is working in software engineering, I’d really like to get some more experience working hands on with software development, maybe on FT.com or the Apps team. My long term goal is to work on that, I’d definitely like to stay at the FT and do that.

Me with the Integration Engineer Guild at our social event last year.

What kind of projects would you like to work on?
I’m really interested in learning functional programming at the moment, so something in that area would be perfect, but in reality I’m quite flexible and happy to go with anything in that area.

Follow your dream!
Yeah, I always like taking on a new challenge, doing something new and I think working in the tech industry has definitely shown me that there’s so many challenges out there. It makes every day exciting.