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Working for the BBC: how you can get the job you want

In our series of interviews with various disabled BBC employees across the business, we delve into what it’s really like working there.

You can find the right job for you by visiting the BBC’s careers site, but here, web enginer Matthew Wood about talks about how his passions got him his ideal job, and shares his tips to help you get the job you want.  

Name: Matthew Wood

Role: Head of Engineering, BBC Online Technology Group

Nature of Impairment: Visually impaired

Can you tell us about the journey that has led you to your current role at the BBC?

My current role is to do with engineering for the Internet, something I’ve been interested in since childhood – like so many children of the early 80s my interest were sparked by a misspent youth playing computer games and on home computers.

I went on to do a degree in English literature, but managed to combine these two threads together in my first job at Dorling Kindersley, where I wrote for CD-ROM encyclopedias.

Crossing over into digital media production, I started to build my technical skills. With the rise of the web in the 90s, I moved to the BBC to lead the web engineering team that launched BBC News Online.

What do you do for the BBC now, and what’s a typical day look like for you?

I run a team of about 25 engineers for the BBC’s Online Technology Group.  We provide the software foundations on which other BBC teams build products like iPlayer or News Online.  At the moment we’re getting to grips with public platforms and thinking about ways to improve media distribution over the Internet.

My days start with short stand up meetings with individual project teams.  We review progress, identify blockers to this, and lay out tasks for the day ahead.  Then there will be sessions with small groups of architects and engineers to review design or implementation detail.  I’ll meet with my peers from across the BBC to understand what’s working well and what could be improved about the tools my team is producing. Throughout the day I’ll duck into a quiet corner and keep my inbox under control.

If it’s a Friday, there will be one-to-one catch ups with my direct reports. This is time to exchange views and work through specific problems together, and to continue a dialogue about professional and personal development.

What is the secret to personal success?

The theory and practice of working with computers is at the heart of what I do. This intellectual challenge brings me deep joy, which is a great motivator, the key to any success. I have a strong sense of play, which predisposes me towards collaboration. I strongly believe success is a team game.

What do you like about the BBC and working for it?

Engineering at the BBC is world-class in complexity and scale. This makes it easy for my colleagues and I to challenge and support each other to deepen our skills and knowledge every day.  My skills are growing and developing day in and day out.

How does your impairment affect your ability to perform well in your job, and how have you overcome barriers?

I have some sight for getting around, but print and screens are beyond me. When I’m confronted with material that I can’t read, I’ll just ask colleagues to start talking me through their ideas.

Active questioning helps me build up my understanding of the material under discussion. This not only helps my colleagues feel like I’m engaged with them, but can really open up discussion and avoid ‘death by PowerPoint.’

Being open and up front about your needs can make a positive contribution to a working relationship.  I’ve found that a good way to build trust is to show others that you are willing to place trust in them.

Which of the BBC services, such as the Access Unit and BBC Ability Forum, have you used to help you at work, and how did they help you?

Access to Work provides me with a support worker and help with transport. Practical assistance like this allows me to focus more of my energy on the demands of my job, rather than overcoming mundane obstacles.

What are your career ambitions for the next five years?

I want to get better at leading engineering teams on big scales.  For me, this is about balancing vision and delivery discipline, while staying mindful of the needs of those I am working with. Success in developing the leadership skills of others will be key to getting this right. I wasn’t ready for formal computer science training in my 20s, but I’m looking forward to some focused self-development in this area over the next couple of years.

From personal experience, what do you think are the main false perceptions around disability and employment, especially in the media and technology, and how can someone circumvent these perceptions?

I recruit extensively in my role, and when ‘the spark’ in someone is in front of me in an interview situation, it is clear and easy to spot, and speaks volumes louder than any disability. If you are passionate about what you do, my advice would be to allow yourself to shine, rather than worrying about the reasons you might struggle to convince others of your value.

Finally, what advice would you give to individuals with disabilities wishing to come and work at the BBC or in media?

Candidates catch my eye by showing a deep, self-motivated interest in software engineering for the Internet.  Whatever it is you’re interested in getting involved in, consider setting aside some of your energy to put into a side project to show off your interests and skills. Nurture your profile and make contacts – social media is a good way to do this, or sites like Linkedin. Show your ‘spark’ so that your ingenuity and flair are all your interviewer wants to discuss.

Visit the BBC careers website to find your ideal job.

By Disability Horizons

Check out…

Working for the BBC: challenging perceptions of disability and employment
Working for the BBC: making accessible technology better
Working for the BBC: could you be the next employee?

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