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The world of work

31 Oct

Ah, ergonomics at university…the leisurely days, the whirling hygrometers… when the time rolled around to choose a project for the MSc grand finale, I was lucky enough to be offered one with Unilever‘s Global Portal team, based in the ancestral home of soap and hanging baskets, Port Sunlight.  For anyone who is interested in benign dictatorships, Post Sunlight followed the same mould as New Lanark in Scotland – create a utopian village for your workers to live in, which means happy workers, as long as they go to church, stay sober, and work hard til they die.  These days, Unilever is a collossus of consumer products; in fact you have probably used or eaten something from their factories today already.  I joined a team creating the company’s first global intranet, and so I was able to try out some of the principles I had learned from the MSc course on a web-based system, in a large and very diverse organisation.

Also, Unilever owns Walls, so there was a lot of free icecream.  I won’t lie, this was probably a contributing factor in my deciding to take a job there once I graduated.

Being a member of a global company has its perks: I was able to test with visually impaired employees in Hamburg, and to interview employees in New York about how they work with the many and varied systems.  I spent some time in Singapore, although to this day I can’t remember what crucial task I was supposed to be doing.  Another thing about large organisations is that people can be quite relaxed about travel budgets.  It had its frustrations too, a major one being the amount of influence you have on the systems you work with, and the ecosystem outwith those systems – perhaps more than most workplaces, the denizens of a large organisation have a LOT of IT to contend with.  They are punch-drunk with initiatives and new systems, each one hailed as the new saviour of productivity or convenience.  I stayed with Unilever for 5 years, and then moved to MoneySupermarket to tackle usability on a site which had grown incredibly quickly, in quite an ad-hoc fashion, to become the UK’s biggest price comparison site…there was less bureacracy, less structure, more speed and passion, and LOTS more for me to do.  In the time I have been here, usability has evolved into user experience, and I have learned a lot about the web, e-commerce, marketing, and SEO.  I have learned that in the top trumps of delivery, Agile beats waterfall, and that a confident collaborative nimble team beats a PRINCE2 project process, hands down.  I have also learned a lot (probably more than I might have wanted to) about financial products…