‘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 Lily, what is your current role at the FT and what do you spend most of your time doing at work?
I am a Senior Developer in the FT Labs team and my day job is an eclectic mix of coding and researching and staying informed about new technologies.
So, how did you get into the technology industry?
I did a fairly ‘artsy’ degree which was called ‘hypermedia and communications’ and as part of that degree there were a few hours of coding each semester and that’s what I really picked up and enjoyed. When I got my first internship, it was with a code-focus in mind and I took it from there. I learned a lot from the internet because 20 hours per semester was not enough to learn how to code properly, but once you get into it, and you know what terms to search for online, the sky’s the limit.
What do you think inspired you to first look at technology as more than just a hobby or a side interest?
I think what appealed was the logical side of things. I like to think I’ve got a fairly mathematical brain and, although the artistic side of my degree was also appealing, the logic of programming was what attracted me to it in the first place. Also, it’s quite magical to write some words and then there’s a pretty picture that appears on your screen. It kind of blew my mind the first time we wrote an HTML table in class. There’s that ‘click’ in your mind that says, “Yep, I like this!”.
What is the project you’ve worked on that you are most proud of at the FT?
There are so many! So, there’s the FT Interactive Crossword we worked on which was really interesting and very complicated because mapping letters to cells in a grid is more complex than it looks. We also had a big focus on accessibility for that project and that was really important and interesting to make sure that the print layout was working fine and screen readers would work properly without taking too long to read all the letters and all the blanks one by one.
Another thing I’m really proud of is that I did a bootcamp with the Interactive Graphics team during my first few months at the FT and I worked on a piece that was published on FT.com. So now if you search my name on the website I appear in the results. My mother was really proud!
The last thing I’m really proud of, because I can only pick a few right now, is Janet Bot, which came out of one of the internal FT hackathons. It was created as a way to quickly look at the representation of genders, on the FT homepage by using computer vision to do analysis on the images and try and report on those numbers and ‘nudge’ for a fairer balance from our Editorial team.
Are Editorial using that now?
They are using that now. I built the MVP (minimum viable product) and then Janet Bot moved to another team who are looking after it so I’m not quite as involved with it now.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in recent years?
Always double your time estimates! That’s one of the first lessons I learned on the job, when you’re asked how long it’ll take… double it.
Is that to manage expectations or just because things take longer than predicted?
Yes, it’s likely that something unexpected might happen, either on the current project or an another project will come up whilst you’re trying to deliver something and so it’s always good to double it, even if you make it on time. It’s not so much a problem in the FT Labs team because we don’t have as many hard deadlines as other teams at the FT. We’re always exploring.
What would you like to do in the future?
More coding! More interesting things… Hopefully more public speaking. My talks about ‘Yarn & programming’, and ‘Emoji & cave paintings’ have had a great reception; and I always enjoy researching new subjects. Apart from that, I don’t know what the future holds… We’ll see!
I guess that’s the whole premise of your team?
Yes, exactly… We make the future!
Great, thank you, Lily!
Interviewee: Lily Madar
Interviewer: Georgina Murray