As part of the Deaf Awareness Week (4th to 10th May 2020), we at the FT would like to share a few things to raise awareness, share some work tips on how we work with deaf people. We also positively encourage an inclusive culture at work. We’ll also share a career journey written by one of the deaf people that work here at the FT.
Hi James, what is your current role at the FT and what do you spend most of your time doing at work?
My current role is as an Engineer in Internal Products. I am a deaf person and my preferred language is British Sign Language. I am currently part of a team called People Tech which collaborates with the HR department. One of the key objectives of the team is to continually improve the processes, and automating where we can with the HR systems.
So, how did you get into the technology industry?
This is an interesting journey that I have found myself on. To start with, at school I was pretty good with computers and found it enjoyable. Upon leaving school and going to college, and being the only deaf person at college at the time, which was different than being in a deaf school, was a big cultural shock. I learned to adapt to not having deaf peers, but rather hearing peers. I continued to attend college doing Information Technology, and at the end of completing my courses there, I decided I would try and get a job doing computer systems maintenance.
I did not have much luck with getting anything despite applying to quite a few jobs at the time, so I decided to go to university to study web development. Fast forward a few years to graduation in 2008 (Yes, that year… when the recession hit). Job opportunities were very limited at the time so I decided to go to America volunteering at Sylvan Heights Bird Park in North Carolina for a few months. I found it to be a life changing experience, because I was continually out of my comfort zone and would be learning new things that did not revolve around computers, but rather birds!
This however gave me a lot of questions to answer as to what I wanted to do for a living as I was undecided at the time. I had a stint trying out carpentry for a while in Lyme Regis, Dorset. This was really useful and I have some skills that I will use continually for the rest of my life. During this time, I was freelancing as a web developer while having the freedom and opportunities to try new things that weren’t related to web development. I also volunteered with Hearing Dogs for Deaf People for a little while, helping them out with social media.
In 2013, I decided to go back to America again, to volunteer at Sylvan Heights Bird Park for the second time for a few months. It was there where I decided that I would go back to university again and study for a Master’s in Web Design & Content Planning. One of the things that’s encouraged on the Masters’ course is to follow other web developers on Twitter. It was a retweet from Stu Robson (sorry for the name dropping) that alerted me to an internship vacancy that the Origami team at the FT was looking to fill for a few months. I instantly applied, and went along with the internship where I learnt a lot from the Origami team and is something I’m still grateful for.
After the internship ended, I went to work at a London based web agency for a few years, specialising in WordPress sites, and learnt a lot from the lovely people there. When there was an opportunity to come back and work at the FT again I without hesitation applied for the job as a Junior Engineer, and was successful in the process.
Every day I work with the FT I am always grateful for the opportunity to do so. My recent promotion to Engineer during the Coronavirus pandemic further reinforces my belief that I am at the right place, helping the company achieve their objectives during these challenging times.
Since you’ve been at the FT, what’s the project you’ve worked on that you’re most proud of?
One of the very first projects I was involved in was a Junior Squad project, which is an initiative that allows all Junior Engineers to work together on a 10% time project. This gives Junior Engineers opportunities to build an app from scratch.
People Finder was designed to provide all staff with the means to find out who would be the right person to contact if there was something that needed to be done. It also helps other people build up awareness of who they could work with in the company.
To this day, I am very proud of all Junior Engineers that worked on this project, and when I check periodically to see the usage of the app, I’m continually happy that it’s being used at least 6,000 times a month by staff inside the company.
What’s the biggest lesson you have learned in recent years?
To get something that you want to aspire to in either life or career takes hard work but it pays off every time. Don’t expect the journey to be like A to B. It could potentially be A to G to C to T to B. One step back, then two steps forward is something I keep in mind all the time. Relish the opportunities as they come up and look to venture outside of your comfort zone all the time!
Always try to quickly adapt to whatever situation comes up, as recently demonstrated by the Coronavirus pandemic. All FT staff were sent to work from home pretty early on. Internal Products thought it’d be a great idea to have a ‘Guess Who’ WFH edition for the monthly All Hands meeting which would be done over Google Hangouts. I found this game to be fun and interactive, and I posted my working environment at home so that people could guess who it is, by voting. Unfortunately I did not win the game!
Looking ahead to the future, is there anything else you would like to do, what’s next for you?
I’d like to continually improve my technical skills, by putting myself outside of my comfort zone. Continue to learn from other people, from all different aspects of the company. Take on more responsibility and challenges. I’d particularly like to help others build upon their knowledge on whatever they need to learn.
This is part one of a three posts series for Deaf Awareness Week, the next one is about how the FT is trying to encourage a positive inclusive culture at work. Keep an eye out for this!