‘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.
Hi Jennifer, what is your current role at the FT and what do you spend most of your time doing at work?
I currently work in the Customer Products team, which is responsible for FT.com. I’m in a team called the ‘Enabling Technologies Group’, or ETG, and we work building tools that other developers can use to make things easier and more efficient for them.
How big is that team?
There are five of us. In Customer Products we have nearly 300 repositories on Github, so maintaining them and keeping them healthy is quite a big task. That’s what we try to do so that the other developers can get on with delivering the website. I also get to help out with lots of other bits, because we have a rotation for support work. Every six weeks we fix anything that goes wrong: last week I made two visible changes that appeared on the website, which was cool!
Nice! What were they?
One was correcting a font that had reverted to the browser default, and the other one was removing links to a service that had been decommissioned from the footer, so you can’t try to access it anymore. Simple changes but important all the same, I can see them and I can go “look, there’s a change!” It gives me a chance to use more tools and familiarise myself with more of the codebase.
That’s cool. So, stepping back for a moment, how did you get into the technology industry?
I used to work as a maths teacher in London and was particularly interested in how people learn and how best to support that so I had extra responsibility for research, training and innovation. I was very curious about the way people think.
Then, to cut a long story short, nearly three years ago, my best friend died of sudden adult death syndrome (SADs), out of the blue. Following that I had a mental health crisis. As a teacher you’re responsible for hundreds of children which is basically mutually exclusive with coping with a sudden bereavement! I was really anxious and left teaching to recover. I was thinking about what to do next and when I was teaching there’d been a really shy boy who was interested in coding and that was the only time he would get animated, so I learned a bit about it so that I could ask him about in class. I realised I actually really liked it! I got a place on the Maker’s Academy Fellowship, retrained in coding and got my first tech job here at the FT.
Wow, that’s a really interesting journey! Since you’ve been at the FT what is the project you’ve worked on that you’re most proud of?
One of the things I’m most proud of is getting my AWS certification, because I hadn’t done an exam in about ten years! When I started in the Cloud Enablement team, which was my first team when I joined, there was so much new knowledge and a lot of jargon to learn so it was a real confidence boost to see that I could pick it up, learn how everything fits together and then pass an exam about it.
In terms of projects, when I first moved to ETG I worked on a tool called ‘Ebi’, I found that really fun because it was the first thing I did in the team and it has been used so much since; it’s nice to know I could jump in and help build something straight away.
That’s great you got stuck in! What’s the biggest lesson you have learned in recent years?
Anyone can learn anything with good support and a plan. Two years ago I would never have thought I’d be working at the FT coding, because I really had no idea what coding even was. It’s given me the confidence to pick up new skills and move into a new team. I don’t feel as overwhelmed by the distance between where I am now and where I might want to get to, because I know I can get there, which makes things feel exciting!
Final question.. What would you like to do in the future?
I would definitely like to see myself gaining more technical skills because I’m very much in the early stage of my career — I only graduated from Maker’s last March. I want to get stronger and more confident technically. I like being in the technology sector at the FT because there is a clear commitment to a safe and inclusive culture. We can make real progress with diversity and (most importantly) inclusion in ways I’d not have the opportunity to elsewhere. I’m really looking forward to 4th July, when FT Embrace (the FT’s BAME/POC network) are going to host a film screening of the ‘White Fragility’ lecture by Dr Robin DiAngelo, which I think will be a great way for people of all races to come together, watch something and then have a really interesting discussion about how we as colleagues, as friends, and as the FT, can address some of these issues.
Interviewee: Jennifer Shepherd
Interviewer: Georgina Murray