Future Leaders: Samuel Parkinson, Senior 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.
Hi Sam, what is your current role at the FT and what do you spend most of your time doing at work? I am a Senior Engineer within Customer Products, I’ve been at the FT for about two and a half years now. I’m actually leading a team at the moment, so I’m the tech lead for a team called ‘the Enabling Technologies Group’, which in essence is the tooling team for FT.com and the Apps. I spent a lot of time making sure we know what we’re working on and that we’re doing the right thing.
Is that more management-focussed than engineering then? Yeah, it’s a nice mix, I think it’s about 50–50 at the moment. It’s definitely a lot more management than I have done before but it’s been quite an interesting jump into the deep end and there’s a lot to learn there. I really like the human side of all of that.
So, how did you get into the technology industry? I have always been fascinated by technology, since I was very young. I remember I got asked this question once in an interview, I think it was my FT interview actually. I always used to tinker around and when I was young I was very lucky to have the support from my mum to go out and build a computer, I don’t know where that came from! I think I was a teenager and it was for gaming. My mum said yes, she trusted me when I had no idea what I was doing… but we went out, got the parts for this computer, and I managed to put it together and lo and behold, it actually worked. I surprised myself and it all went on from there. I didn’t study computing at school, it was a pretty terrible department when I was at school so it didn’t seem worth it. I didn’t do very well in my A-levels either and went through clearing for university, managed to get a place at Brunel University for their foundation course doing IT. So I spent five years at Brunel, doing the foundation of IT and then computer science with a year in industry. I think I learned more in that foundation year than the rest of the four years I spent at uni but it was really good, and that was the gateway. Then I went straight into the tech industry.
What was your first job after uni? I was an engineer at graze.com. They do snacks through the post and when I first joined the office was in a house, they had a kitchen and it was pretty cool. That was a great time.
That sounds fun! Since you’ve been at the FT, what is the project you’ve worked on that you are most proud of? My most recent favourite, there’s quite a lot actually, was whilst I was on secondment with the Operations & Reliability team. There were two main projects going on at the time and I was tasked with helping out with their monitoring. We have hundreds of systems running at the FT, all of which we need to know if they’re working or not. The system and dashboard that we were using to do the monitoring on was very old and on its last legs. So, the O&R team were looking to refresh the monitoring and make it more reliable, and so I did the discovery work for what system might replace it. We built a tool called, ‘Heimdall’. I didn’t pick that name! Heimdall is the watchman of Asgard in Norse mythology. I think he’s part of the Avenger Marvel comics as well. I think he’s the guy in the movies with the big sword that overlooks everything. Under the hood it uses a tool called Prometheus to go out and check each one of our systems across the FT.
Like that connection, cool, so that’s been your favourite project to date Yeah, it worked really well, I spent three months on it, heads down, with a great team. It’s currently looking after all of our systems and working really well.
Sounds useful! With that in mind, what is the biggest lesson you have learned in recent years? The thing that keeps coming up, again and again, and something that is not always easy for me, is how difficult communication is and [the importance of] getting it right. Going back to the Heimdall project, that was good, it was communicated well and it was handed over to the team, it was a great success because of that, more than anything else. There’s been a lot of hard work in some cases because communication wasn’t good and getting that right is really hard. I think the biggest part of that is communication and collaboration with all the different disciplines, that is the crux of the problem.
Looking at different types of communication, do you think communication within a team is more important or communication from a team is more important? Both are important. I think in our team we have got the internal communication down now. It wasn’t always perfect but it’s definitely getting better. For us it’s about communicating as a team outwards and that’s where we’ll hopefully improve.
Ok, final question! What would you like to do in the future? That is a great question. So, the next step up for me would be the ‘Principal Engineer’ role and I really like the sound of what it involves, working across teams, across departments and across disciplines, definitely playing into that communication aspect too. I think it would be a really interesting role.
Are there any projects or developments in particular you’re interested in? I think it comes down to what we can improve within our department. We have a lot of work to do and I think the theme would be to do ‘more with less’. We spend a fair bit of time on toil at the moment, a lot of time rotating AWS keys or deleting entries from databases and it’s expensive for engineers to be spending their time on this kind of stuff. So, doing more with less, that would be a really good focus.
Ok, food for thought.. Thanks, Sam!
Interviewee: Samuel Parkinson Interviewer: Georgina Murray