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Selina Mahar: from History to Content Designer

Social media handle(s): LinkedIn


A few words about me:

I'm currently working as a Content Designer at dxw, helping to build digital services that help people working in probation do their jobs. Using accessible, plain language that humanises people is really important in the work I do.


Outside of work I'm an amateur aerialist, learning the art of looking graceful whilst hanging upside down. I also taught myself to sew a few years ago and have become pretty obsessed with trying to make everything I wear. Working in content you can very easily get lost in thought, so it's nice to do things outside of your own head.


Are there any professional experiences you've had that are quite unexpected compared to what you do nowadays?


I worked in academic publishing before becoming a Content Designer. I commissioned articles in subjects such as fashion studies and anthropology. And worked with academics and librarians to create new digital resources to help students with their studies.


One of the digital resources I worked on was a fashion photography archive of catwalk photos from the 1980s and 1990s. I never thought I'd have such extensive knowledge of famous supermodels and which designers they walked for. Eva Herzigova wore some particularly memorable Thierry Mugler looks ...


Is your background more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) or non-STEM related?


Definitely non-STEM related. I studied History for my undergraduate degree and then went on to do a Masters.


Where did your professional journey start?


The first full time job I had after finishing university was a temporary role as a Production Assistant at a medical publishers. It was something I took out of necessity rather than interest, but it turned into a career in publishing.


I learnt how to proof articles, manage budgets and chase down permissions. It wasn’t exactly thrilling, but it felt like publishing was a worthwhile industry.


I started to think that getting closer to the editorial side of the business would be more fulfilling. Editors are more closely connected to the content: commissioning, editing and organising peer-reviews.


I changed jobs a few times, each time getting more involved in and closer to content I was interested in. But I started to question whether academic content should be kept behind a paywall. I felt like I wanted to a new challenge so I began looking for jobs in content design.


How did you get into tech and what motivated you?


I was interested in tech partly because as an industry it isn't afraid of change. It felt like publishing lacked the innovation that I saw happening elsewhere.


I also liked the idea of agile project management, that failing fast is a good thing.


What appealed to me about content design in particular was that you don't have to create the perfect piece of content from the start. It's not even something that exists. Instead you work iteratively, researching and learning what works and what doesn't.


"There are so many different roles, it's not all about coding. It's never too late to change your career. Just because you've only had experience in one industry doesn't mean to can't move to another."

Have you experienced any 'career in tech' challenges / stereotypes?


Honestly I still struggle to think that I work in tech because I don't do any software development.


I think the biggest challenge was getting over my own assumptions about what you needed to be to work in tech. There are some companies that put in their job adverts that you 'must have Government Digital Service (GDS) experience' which immediately discounts so many applicants.


But there are other employers who understand that having varied experience can be beneficial. I'm still getting used to it being acceptable to say that you don't know the answer to a particular question.


What you wish you knew before getting started in tech...


There are so many different roles, it's not all about coding.


It's never too late to change your career. Just because you've only had experience in one industry doesn't mean to can't move to another. It's about understanding which skills are transferrable, and where you might need to spend time learning new skills.


What has been your biggest 'wow!' moment related to working in tech so far?


That what I'd previously thought of as government digital services (for example, getting a driving licence or renewing a passport) are just a teeny tiny fraction of the services the government is responsible for.


Also the sheer amount of work and thoughtful consideration that goes into such essential public services.


What do you like / not like about working in tech?


Likes:

  • That age does not necessarily equal seniority and experience

  • Designing and building solutions that are accessible and inclusive

  • Working iteratively

  • You don't have to have the perfect solution straight away

  • Collaborating with other disciplines

  • User centred design

Dislikes:

  • Sometimes focussing on delivering MVP means that you can't solve problems straight away, you might even make things a bit more difficult temporarily

  • Not everyone appreciates the importance of content.


"... I still struggle to think that I work in tech because I don't do any software development."

What's been your favourite / most memorable / funniest 'career in tech' moment so far?


I haven't been working in tech very long so don't know that I have a funniest moment - yet!


But one thing I do occasionally think about is that I almost didn't apply for my current job because I thought wasn't qualified enough. I'm so glad I didn't let doubt get the better of me.


And to wrap up, is there any advice you'd like to give to others interested in a career in tech?


From my experience it's not enough to simply be interested in the product or service you're delivering. It's also about how it's delivered, and why.

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