25th October 2014

A small update

So its been a colossal 8 weeks since my last blog post. That means that any of my SEO efforts have gone down the drain, with Google thinking that I have no interest in updating the site further (and thats just not true).

So whats been going on? Why has it taken me so long to get another blog post out?

Well quite simply I’ve gone and landed a proper job. And not just any job. I now work for one of the biggest music labels in the world, Universal Music UK in London. The last 8 weeks have been a bit crazy. Heres the story.

The Beginning

So it all started around the start of August, where one of my (favourite) clients decided to let an ‘agency'(basically 3 men in an office) run a project to update their website. Although not what I usually get involved in, I was initially up for collaborating with other people on a medium sized project. This would give me the experience I craved and give me an idea of what it might be like on the bigger projects that I read about in my magazines.

But it all went sour quite quickly, with the ‘agency’ asking me to sacrifice my high standards and attention to detail for a quick turn around and a low price. In the end I decided to back out of the project, ending on good terms. I was gutted. I had been invited to get involved with the company through a friend and I could see the great things they were doing and I had big plans to help them reach a large audience. It would have been a big part of my small (but growing) portfolio. That all evaporated.

At this point I was somewhat deflated (and abit low on money) and got speaking to my dad about it all. He suggested that I put my CV up on Jobsite saying “you never know where it could take you”. So I dusted off my CV and re arranged it to be more techie focused then uploaded it before forgetting about it.

Two weeks of Craziness

The following day was a bank holiday so nothing happened but the day after that I was (almost) awoken by a phone call from a recruiter claiming they had seen my CV on Jobsite and might have a job I would be interested in. This was the first call of Seven (!!) that I received that day. This shear amount of people interested in my skill set continued for 2 weeks and I could not believe it. Coming from a place where I had been applying for a large number of Geography and Geological hazards based jobs at fairly well known companies and hearing nothing back, the shear number of people interested in my new web development skill set was amazing.

“They are quite a well known brand. You might have heard of them”

One of the recruiters that called was from Handle Recruitment (apparently they are the leading recruiters if you want to get into the music industry but I didn’t know this at the time) from a lady called Tania. She too had seen my CV on Jobsite and was looking for someone to fill a position. I will always remember the moment in the conversation where she was introducing the role – “They are a quite well known brand. You might have heard of them. They are Universal Music in London”. At this point my mind went completely blank. Tania continued talking while I racked my brain to figure out if I knew of Universal Music. Then I Googled it…

Google search result page for 'Universal Music'. it shows Universal Globe branding.

To make sure I was right for the role, Tania wanted to have a face to face interview. We ended up doing it via Skype, she told me more about the job and what might be expected of me and I told her about the kind of things I enjoy doing and what I’m looking for in a job. Later we optimised my CV and I prepared some background information on my portfolio. It would be almost a week before I’d know if they wanted me to interview.

In the mean time…

Another small agency (A real agency) called Mad River were vieing for my attention (yeah, that sounds slightly strange but hey). The company is based Bournemouth and are a dynamic creative agency that focuses on much more than digital creativity, offering various other creative products. The recruiter said that I may not have enough experience for the position but to go along to the interview as they were interested in my CV.

So I went along to the interview dressed to impress (smart casual) with an open mind. The interview wasn’t really an interview at all, or at least not one that I had been taught to expect (shirt and ties, tough questions and awkward moments). It was a casual but frank chat outlining what they as a company did, what they were looking for and what skills I had. Gareth (Head of Digital) was brutally honest with me and I tried to be the same with him. They really blew me away if I’m honest. I was very impressed with what they do and what they stand for and apparently I did or said something that impressed him too. At the end of the interview Gareth said he had interviewed more than 20 people today and I had been one the the best he had seen. I couldn’t believe it. This was amazing.

The next step was a challenge to test my skill set. He gave me a mockup of a website the I should be able to build from scratch with a strict deadline of no later than Wednesday 9am (bare in mind this was Friday afternoon). It had to be integrated with WordPress, responsive, have space for a newsletter form and be amazingly coded. A tall order considering my normal workflow until now was start to finish in 4-6 weeks. The design wasn’t simple either, littered with background textures, rounded corners, social integration and banners. But I wanted to do it just to see if I could pull it off, and it might get me the job too.

I left with a massive smile on my face, assured that they would get the artwork to me that evening. But that didn’t happen. I got an email the next day saying they’d get the assets to me on Monday. The challenge just got tougher. So I got the assets at 11am on Monday, having only 36 hours to build the site was a challenge and a half but I did it. Yes it stressed me out and I didn’t get much sleep on the Tuesday night,  submitting it at 5am on Wednesday but it got done. It was an achievement (albeit a minor one) but I wasn’t massively happy with the final product as it had some rough edges that I didn’t have enough time to fix.

Apparently I was the first to submit (I don’t know how) and they were impressed with what I could create in 36 hours and I was invited back to interview. This time the interview involved the Mad River founders (Simon and Cia), Gareth and the guy who had ruthlessly gone through my code. It was another brutally honest interview where I was told I look like James Van Der Beek (from Dawsons creek) and I went off on a tangent talking about how infuriated I get when people don’t die after getting involved with pyroclastic flows in movies (2012 and The Croods). They also asked questions relating to how I would fit into their company culture and their values. The interview went ok but towards the end I felt like I might have been too brutally honest and almost talked myself out of the job but I could only wait to see the outcome of it all.

The interview that would change everything

It was almost a week before I would hear back from Universal but when they did reply  it was good news. They wanted me to interview. This was a massive opportunity and thankfully Tania gave me some pointers on what I should be expecting on the big day and what I should be doing to make sure I was at my best. I delved into the history of Universal Music, tracing it right back to its roots, and made plenty of notes on its history, achievements and the artists they represent. I looked over some of the current Universal websites and stores and looked into who the people interviewing me were. I was well prepared.

The interview itself was incredible. I couldn’t quite believe that I was in one of the buildings for the biggest music label in the world, trying to get a job at Universal Music. It was a little surreal. The walls were all brightly painted with a row mounted TVs showing the latest music videos. David Hawkes, the head of Island Records and the guy who was interviewing me, is such a great bloke.

He introduced himself, saying how he came from a business background and had risen up though Universal and talked about his new role as head of the ecommerce team. I then introduced myself, telling him my life story (my background in Geography and Geology and my transition into web development through night courses and online learning). David doesn’t have a tech background, so when I started talking about the various languages I work with it was clear he had no idea what I was saying. To help with this he brought in two of the creatives from his Island team. I introduced myself again and I talked them through my portfolio, highlighting some of the technologies I had used to overcome problems. There were especially impressed by my use of svg banners and animations in the top of this blog. We then talked about what it would be like to work for Universal, outlining some of the benefits of the job which include international relocate on request, a live music allowance and some crazy parties. The whole thing was pretty ridiculous in the most amazing way and there were a number of WOW moments during the interview. A few weeks before the interview they had hired out the Shepherds Bush Empire for UMusic autumn – a day where the labels showcase their acts and all staff are invited to watch, and apparently Tayler Swift ‘dropped in’.

I came out of the interview absolutely buzzing. I was so grateful to be give the opportunity regardless of what happened next. Tania had suggested that I should expect 2 or 3 interviews (which would have been fine) but David suggested that the one would be enough and that he would be in touch on Monday. This could either have meant I had done amazingly well or terribly. I would have to wait and see.

Decisions decisions

The afternoon after my second interview at Mad River I got the phone call to say that the job was mine if I wanted it. They made a really good offer that included training me up to be a fully fledged digital design and development guru, giving me the knowledge and experience that I could only gain as part of an agency. If I pulled my weight, taking on board all of their knowledge and expertise, I could expect a raise within a year. The only snag, the offer expired Monday afternoon 5pm. They didn’t want to play second fiddle to Universal (I had been completely open and honest with both companies so they knew about my other prospects) which was fair enough.

I immediately got on Skype to Tania and told her about the situation that I was now in. That I had to hear from Universal Music by 3pm on Monday, whether it was good news or not. I could not afford to turn down an opportunity without a definitive offer from Universal.

I spent the weekend plotting one up against the other (literally with charts)  and asking other people of their opinions on the matter. I think most people knew exactly which job I would chose given the choice but they didn’t want to say so as not to influence my decision. This decision I had to make on my own. My brother knew exactly which one I should choose.

Monday was abit of a blur. I knew that by the end of the day I would have a job (and a career path) but I didn’t know which direction I would be going. Tania expected (quite rightly) that I would know at around 1-2pm ish but her initial phone call wasn’t a result but more of a query relating to what I wanted salary wise. A few minutes later she called back and put the second offer on the table. Now I was in the ridiculous position of having 2 jobs to choose from. Either at the small agency in Bournemouth when I would be trained to be a digital guru, which ultimately would give me the skills and experience that if I wanted to move on, I could go pretty much anywhere. Or join the Biggest music label in the world and live life like a rockstar where the career prospects are endless (and the parties are fairly epic too). It came down to working as a big cog in a small company or a small cog in a big company and I chose the latter (much to my brothers delight).

Since this moment its been a whirlwind. I accepted the job at Universal Music and phoned up Gareth at MadRiver to give him my decision. He sounded disappointed but wished me luck. Within 2 weeks I would have a deposit on a flatshare in south west London after trawling through plenty of adverts on the internet. Being impulsive made the whole process quicker. And within 4 weeks of the interview (and 6 weeks from putting my cv on Jobsite) I was moving in, starting my new job the next day.

Wrapping it all up

In 6 weeks I had gone from being a Freelance web design & developer working with a few small clients in and around Bournemouth to working for one of the biggest music labels in the world. I have moved to London meeting a whole load of new people and met up with some of the people I hadn’t spoken to in a while.

I’ve now been working for Universal Music for almost 4 weeks and still get a real buzz when I walk through the front door. This is a job that is beyond my wildest dreams and it hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I still consider myself a geographer with a bit of Geological hazards knowledge. I thought I would end up in an outdoorsy job where I’m standing in the middle of a wet field taking soil cores or something.  I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in the building who is a Fellow to the Geological Society.

I do really love telling people this story and it validates all of the hard work I have put in to revamping my skillset, proving that if you’ve got the will power (and a tiny bit of luck) you can work anywhere.