Starting at the FT during lockdown

Emma Lewis
Jun 4, 2020 · 4 min read

When I accepted a role at the FT in January I never thought I’d be wearing pyjama bottoms to work. I wanted to write about my experience of starting a new job during the pandemic and share a few tips for people who find themselves in a similar position.

Feet up on a desk, wearing pyjama bottoms, keyboard on lap and Slack on screen.
Feet up on a desk, wearing pyjama bottoms, keyboard on lap and Slack on screen.

Starting a role from home definitely has its benefits: being in your own kitchen, surrounded by familiar comforts, helps to take the edge off first day nerves; and being able to take a lunchtime nap when overwhelmed with information is a luxury not many have been afforded in the ever-exhausting first few weeks of a new job. Personally I work part-time as I suffer from ME/CFS and so not having to commute and socialise in the office has meant that I’ve had more energy to spend on reading / learning / coding and getting to grips with a new organisation.

But there are definitely some challenges too: when you start a new job in an office there’s so much information that you pick up without even realising; you get introduced to loads of people and you get an idea for different teams based on who is sitting where or with who. Starting remotely I met my line manager and my immediate team on day one, but knew little about the rest of Customer Products and the wider organisation.

These are some of the things that have helped me to feel more settled and start to feel like I’m contributing to the success of the organisation.

Create a network

I was really lucky that within my first few days at the FT I discovered that there were a couple of people I knew — a friend of a friend, an ex-colleague — plus I had a really positive interview experience and remembered all four interviewers (and our Talent Partner Christine) fondly. All of these people (along with the universally lovely Principal Engineers within Customer Products with whom I had introductory calls) became anchors who enabled me to start forming a clearer picture of the organisation.

I also noticed that there were a number of other new starters and decided to start a slack channel for us to share tips / feelings / concerns. That’s been a great way of getting to know a number of people outside of my team and talk about our shared experiences as we find our sea legs together.

Beyond that, it’s good to join in, especially with social activities, even if that means short term discomfort. I felt awkward turning up to virtual drinks and not knowing who anyone was, but now I have a few more friendly faces and a “Crafts” Slack channel in my life.

Find someone outside of work who you can talk to about your new role

Speaking of networks… it can be helpful to lean on your personal network a bit too. From the excitement of “I just did my first release”, to the “I don’t know what I’m doing” despair, starting a new job is a lot and if you’re anything like me you’re likely to have thoughts and feelings about it all. Being trapped in your own little London flat with all those emotions can be intense — schedule in time with friends or family and vent!

Accept that you’re going to be asking lots of questions and try to get comfortable with that.

I hate feeling like I’m bothering people. When you’re in the office you get a sense of who is really busy at any particular moment in time versus who might have 2 minutes to tell you where to find an API key. You lose most of that vibes-intel working remotely, and those really simple questions you’re a bit embarrassed to ask have to be written down for all to see. Try to get comfortable with that. I can say with zero hesitation that everybody at the FT has been so open to (and encouraging of) questions and the only problem here is within my own head. So I’ve been trying to follow some self-written guidelines to make that easier:

1) where possible ask in channels rather than putting all of the onus/work on one person

2) think about which questions are simple enough to be written down and get an easy response, compared with those that uncover more questions or reveal a lack of understanding that would be more helpful to talk through on a call

3) one of Customer Products engineers’ principles is to “Treat unblocking others as your priority” — my colleagues follow this when answering my questions promptly and in return I prioritise Pull Request reviews and questions from others that I’m able to answer.

Overall my experience of starting at the FT has been incredibly positive. I’m four weeks in and feel like I’m very much in the swing of things. The work is interesting and challenging, communication around lockdown from an organisational level has been excellent, and people have been genuinely lovely — I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone in person whenever that may happen.

FT Product & Technology

A blog by the Financial Times Product & Technology…

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