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Love Your Job Guest Blog #6: The 15Gifts: Machine Learning

I’ve been asking member employees how they got into & why they love their jobs, so they can share their wisdom & inspire you. This is the sixth in a series of guest blogs from members this time from 15Gifts:

James Heywood – Head of Development

How did you get into your line of work?

I studied Computer Science at College and University. After University I worked in several roles including Database & Desktop App Development, Project Management, Web Development, Technical Consultancy and most recently Head of Development.

Tell us about the projects you have worked on that you’re most proud of and why?

I'm extremely proud of the way I have helped to shape and organise the structure of 15gifts to allow us to work more effectively and efficiently. I lead the identification of key areas for recruitment and since then I've driven the restructuring and hiring in these areas, most notably Testers, Developers, our Scrum Master and Project Manager.

What are your three favourite things about your job?

My three favourite things are the team I work with, the products we deliver and the office we work in. I am extremely lucky to work with a friendly and open team of smart individuals who share a real passion for what they do. On top of this the software we produce is unrivalled in our industry and makes a measurable difference to the amazing companies that we work with. Finally our office is both lovely and in a great location in the heart of Brighton, have a look here if you don't believe me!

What advice would you give to your younger self, knowing what you know now, about your career path?

I would advise my younger self to think about what kind of company I want to work for more than what specific job title I want, job title's mean nothing, it's what you do and what you can achieve that counts. Do you want to have a well defined and perhaps restrictive role in a large company or have more flexibility to contribute and learn somewhere smaller?

Also only stay in a job for as long as you are learning and improving, the minute you start to slow down you should have the next opportunity lined up, and that should be something challenging so that you are forced to improve your skills, it also has the added bonus of keeping things interesting!

Sarah McCausland – Partner Experience Manager

How did you get into account management?

I studied Graphic Design at university, and after I graduated I moved to London, and then on to Brighton. I spent 5 years working in retail and administration roles, working my way up to management in both sectors. I was eventually recommended by a friend, who worked for a tech company, and was offered a support role. During my time with that company I was given the opportunity to coordinate their release testing process and became the Team Leader. I also project managed implementations and ran training sessions for the clients. This allowed me to establish a relationship with them, which I found very rewarding. When I came across the role of Partner Experience Manager at 15gifts, it was the first time that I knew with certainty that this was the career path for me.

Tell us about the projects you have worked on that you’re most proud of and why?

I'm the account manager for all of our telco partners, such as O2, EE, Virgin Media Mobile and TalkTalk. It's a market that we have a real prominence in, which has given me the opportunity to work with very well established brands on a daily basis. We develop decision engines, that feature on their websites and help customers to choose the product that's right for them. Launching our first mobile device compatible engine, for our existing clients Three and EE, was a huge accomplishment for the company, so it was very rewarding to be a part of that project, especially in my initial months in the role. Since then I've gained new clients in Carphone Warehouse and O2, who I'm proud to say that I work with.

What are your three favourite things about your job?

The clients - despite the fact that my clients all work in the same market, they're quite considerably different to work with, and I enjoy that variation. I find it really interesting getting to know the quirks that make each of them different, as businesses, as well as the people themselves! It's part of the role to establish a relationship with my contacts, which often involves taking them for a beer or two..

The team - I feel very lucky to work with such a great group of people. Being a start up, we all work incredibly hard, but at the end of a long working day we still want to spend time with each other socially, which I think is quite an accomplishment! The whole team even allowed me to teach them how to knit, and we're all going on holiday together later in the year.

Everyday is a challenge - I can't think of even a moment that I've been bored whilst at work at 15gifts! It's incredibly fast-paced and ever-changing, and has enabled me to develop as a person. I used to be a meticulous planner with time on my hands, and I've had to learn to take things as they come, improvise, and be OK with that.

What advice would you give to your younger self, knowing what you know now, about your career path? 

Don't allow yourself to feel restricted by the field that you chose for your degree. Success is not determined by whether you establish a career in that sector, as simply having a degree will open other doors for you. In fact, building a career in a different field shows personal growth and strength of character. It's OK to have changed your mind about something that you chose when you were 18!

Peter Fine – Head of Data Science

How did you get into data science?

I first got into data science when I heard that a friend’s employer was suffering from online fraud, and needed someone to analyse their data and write machine learning algorithms to detect it. At the time I was studying for a PhD in computational neuroscience, but wanted to do something more practical, so I took a job with the company. Data scientists tend to have very varied backgrounds, because it requires both maths and storytelling in equal parts.

Tell us about the projects you have worked on that you’re most proud of and why?

I’m most proud of our new recommendation system, which I’ve recently rebuilt to power our product on a number of e-commerce sites. It asks visitors questions, and uses their answers to recommend mobile phone packages. It’s one of the most complex things I’ve ever built, since it has to integrate information from user behaviour, pricing data and sales in order to choose the right set of products for each individual user. But watching it in action across the web, and seeing the reaction from our clients, makes the effort feel very worthwhile.

What are your three favourite things about your job?

I love the variety, both at 15gifts and over my career. Because data science is a relatively new field, we’re always discovering new business problems that could benefit from our techniques. This has led to me working in the last few years on fraud detection, sales forecasting and behavioural analytics, amongst other topics. At 15gifts, I'm drawn in to different areas of the business to add a scientific opinion, and to find the hidden story in a new set of data.

That said, I also appreciate the chance to build something concrete. It’s satisfying to find something that can be improved, design an algorithm, and then write the software to deliver the system into production, reaching thousands of users every day. I particularly like the flexibility of working for a very small company, while still having the large enterprise customers that gives us access to some massive and complex data sets.

What advice would you give to younger self, knowing what you know now, about your career path?

Take the weird option if you think it will be more fun. I’ve often been faced with taking an apparently safer, sensible route, or one that looks more interesting. At university I was deciding between studying computer science, or a strange new degree (cognitive science) with only 6 people on it that combined AI, philosophy and psychology. My school recommended the former, but I’m certain that the extra enjoyment and variety from taking the interesting option has paid off.

On a more specific level, I would have told myself to concentrate on the fundamental mathematics first, before diving in to more exotic new artificial intelligence techniques that I couldn’t really appreciate without properly understanding the underlying techniques.

Some great advice & insights, thanks guys!

I’ve been running a series of Love Your Job Guest Blogs in 2016 by members. Take a peek:

I’ve got a full schedule of Love Your Job blogs for the next 12 months – so watch this space for more inspiration!  If there is a specific area of work you’d like to hear about then let me know

15 Gifts have created a decision engine platform.  Learning from millions of customers to increase conversion, gain invaluable insights and improve experience. For more information visit their website.

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