The Guardian Digital Fellowship: six months in

The digital fellows, keen to learn.

September saw the next group of fellows join the Guardian Fellowship Programme. The programme is designed with new developers in mind and aims to hire people who would not normally meet the Guardian’s hiring criteria due to lack of industry inexperience but who show potential. This year’s cohort is made up of Maria, Jonny, Susie and Emma. Six months in, they share their thoughts on their experiences of working at the Guardian so far.

The Job

I’m Maria and I joined the Guardian from more than 1,500 miles away. I studied Computer Science at the University of Bucharest. In my free time I love taking photographs, walking around the city to find nice cafes, buying books and reading about art and traveling. Moving to London has challenged me to get out of my comfort zone and to discover all the things I can do with just a little bit of courage and ambition.

I had high expectations before coming here, not only from the job, but also from the city. I was coming from a country where a lot of people haven’t even heard of the Guardian. I was hoping to learn new technologies and to build amazing tools that would help the company. When telling friends about accepting the Guardian’s offer the reaction I would get was extremely positive, which gave me confidence that I had made the right decision. Three months later on a sunny September morning my adventure started.

I started my first rotation in the Content API team. There are so many opportunities to learn and improve your skills. The process can get so natural that soon you become the one helping others. Being a new starter developer at the Guardian is an amazing experience. On a day-to-day basis improving your coding skills is done mostly by peer review and the team use GitHub intensively because it offers an easy feedback workflow. We write code for new features, we test it, we create a pull request, wait for our colleagues’ review and ship it as soon as it has been approved.

There are no stupid questions – as a general practice it’s always better to ask when unsure than to break something. Colleagues are there for you. After all you are all working towards a common goal and a happy and informed team means a successful product. My first interaction with the team was before arriving in the UK. I was trying to find accommodation in London and after being unsuccessful for a few weeks I decided it was best to contact my future manager. The response was quick and helpful, people started sending me emails trying to help. This never changed: as a team we are always there for each other.

Most of the time you will be doing tasks that you are not comfortable with. At first you might not like it, but you’ll soon realise this is how you learn. Being pushed outside of your comfort zone is your colleagues’ way to say ‘we care about you’. And after a while you’ll choose the challenging tasks by yourself.

Lack of experience does not mean you should be silent and only listen to others. On the contrary, your opinion is valued just as much. Whether it’s during stand up, planning, or a more important meeting, you are encouraged to say what you think. Your opinion matters, and if you are not confident about something your colleagues will take that into consideration when making the final decision.

We also have a way of learning while having fun: hack days. This means everybody gets together and starts working individually or in small teams at an idea or a ‘nice to have’ feature. Events like this allow us to work with people from other teams and learn how they are developing their products. You can win a prize or just make a few new friends. Either way, it’s a win for you.

If you are interested in a certain technology, you can attend conferences and talks anytime. My first conference was Scala Exchange and it was an amazing experience. I had little knowledge about Scala at the time and I was feeling a little overwhelmed by all the information that I had absorbed in such a short time, but it was still worth it. If you are feeling brave enough, you should join conferences as a speaker. You have plenty of time to practice at our weekly tech times and the feedback you get from your colleagues is always useful.

You can always show interest in teams that are working on very different things than the one you are in at the moment. For example, in my next rotation I’ll be joining the Apps team to learn iOS development. The choice is all yours. As long as you are keen on learning new technologies you can fit anywhere.

The Guardian

I’m Jonny and I have been working on the Android app team for the first six months of the Fellowship programme. One of the main reasons I applied was because I figured that a newspaper would a pretty exciting place to work. One of the benefits of choosing software development as a career is that you can pretty much pick your industry, so it’s not too difficult to align your interests with your job. As someone who spends a scarily high proportion of my free time mindlessly consuming articles on my smartphone and religiously checking the news just in case anything mildly interesting has happened somewhere in the world, the Guardian was a natural choice for me. I also had a lot of respect for the Guardian with it being a news organisation that doesn’t exist to maximise profit, but rather to defend a set of values it considers important.

In the office, digital development sits on the third floor, one floor above the main news floor. Most of the time you could never leave the DigiDev bubble and quite easily forget that you work for a newspaper, but when something monumental happens in the world it’s impossible to escape.

The aftermath of the Paris attacks, for example, was an incredible time to be in the office. Like it or not, the mainstream media is a massive part of how these things play out, and you could feel sense of responsibility to report on the matters in the right way hanging delicately in the air. Whilst obviously not on the same scale of seriousness, the untimely death of David Bowie felt like a big deal; it seemed that the whole building was mourning for about 3 days in the wake of the news.

As I said before, you can usually avoid the news if you really want to. But if, like me, feeling part of the second most read english-language online news source in the world is one of the main reasons you look forward to coming to work each day, then it’s easy to get involved. Every morning at 9.30am, Katharine Viner, the editor in chief, hosts a meeting that anyone can attend called the Morning Conference (or MoCo as my team fondly refers to it, although I must stress this is an unofficial nickname; it’s use is a sign of our affection, rather than an attempt to trivialise what is a pretty important daily event). The first 15 minutes is usually a round-up of what went well and what didn’t from the previous days news. After that (and this is the exciting bit) the news of the day is debated. Being in a room with some of the top analytical minds in the country locking horns over the freshest current affairs is fascinating, and if you are feeling really brave you can weigh in with your own opinion, which must be said is an altogether terrifying experience. After 4 months I built up the courage to say something in MoCo, after which I turned so red I was almost indistinguishable from a ripe tomato, but it was 100% worth it. Every now and then MoCo is hosted by a special guest, and when this happens it is advisable to get down early as most of the payroll usually tries to get a seat. Since I’ve been here we have had acclaimed actor John Lithgow, Green MP Caroline Lucas and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell who were all really interesting.

The Logistics

I’m Susie and I was a Guardian reader long before I became a Guardian employee. I’m a computer science graduate and when I was looking for jobs I was keen to find somewhere where I was able to learn a lot and work on projects that interest me. My first few months have exceeded my expectations and I’ve been amazed how much I’ve learnt in such a short time and the diversity of the work that I have done in my time on the identity team. When I’m not at the Guardian I enjoy exploring London as I am still very new to the city. I have real soft spot for Kew Gardens and the Science Museum but I’m always finding new things to see, do and eat. My main disappointment was discovering that the Rookery signposted near my flat is not a home for rooks.

When I started working at the Guardian I had been to Kings Cross a grand total of once, and that was just for the on-site interview. I didn’t know anything about the area I was about to start working in. When I started looking into where I was going to live in London, as it may be a while before I can afford one of the new flats next to Kings Place, I realised just how well connected the area is. This has made the transfer from student to commuter considerably less painful. It’s also great for taking advantage of evening events happening in London as meetups, museums and a host of other activities never seem too far away. The Guardian’s flexi-time policies means that you can also work around the commuter rush. The direct train to work combined with a seat on a train has been great for getting some reading done and I’ve been able to make good progress through my ever growing collection of books.

However, working in Kings Cross is not always great for saving money as there are so many good places to eat near by. I was introduced to Kerb in my first week. This is a collection of street food vendors who set up camp every day in the summer months in Granary square, a short walk from the office. It’s very hard to resist a stroll out at lunchtime to see which street food vendors are there, especially when it’s sunny. The office is also well placed for when you just want a break from the office and to get outside. We are based on the banks of the canal so a lunchtime walk, run or bike ride away from the busy roads of central London is always possible, you just have to decide whether you want to head towards Hackney or Camden. If you’re not keen to brave the elements in winter you can head to the local gym and take advantage of the employee discount offered there. If you’d prefer a less active lunchtime, but you still want to get away from your desk, there are also lots of places to sit, watch the world go by and spend some time offline (don’t worry there’s 4G so you can instagram, tweet and snapchat the fact you’re offline…).

The Extras

I’m Emma and currently work on the Grid team which is part of Editorial Tools. Soon I’ll be starting my second rotation with the CAPI team where I’ll use the Scala I’ve learnt since joining. I was late to the programming party and only started writing code several years after graduating from university with a Social Science degree. First I worked through various online coding courses and followed open university CS programmes, then I attended a free coding bootcamp called Founders and Coders.

It’s amazing to work with such intelligent people every day on challenging projects. But the good news doesn’t stop there; working at the Guardian gives you the opportunity to do an incredibly amount of extras.

Lunch times can be used to pursue your hobbies, learn a new skill, or just relax (and read the paper). Flexible working hours gives you plenty of time to play board games in the pub, practice singing, knit and natter, play table tennis, kick-box or jog along the canal. I’ve been learning German on Fridays and practicing yoga on Mondays. Many classes are organised especially for Guardian staff and are very reasonably priced.

DigDev is committed to promoting diversity within the department. You’ll have the opportunity to join one of the self-organising groups set up to plan and run initiatives improving diversity. You can participate as much as you like, from helping with logistics for hosting events to giving lightning talks at them. A particular highlight for me was celebrating Ada Lovelace day by helping at a coding workshop for girls from a local school.

Each summer the Guardian organises a volunteering week and on top of that you have two days a year to spend on a charity project of your choice.


[SOURCE :-theguardian]