Aaron Omotosho shares what it’s like being a Digital Apprentice

(Transcript) Aaron Omotosho: I’m Aaron, I’m an 18-year old student. I’ve just finished college, I was planning to go to university this year but unfortunately due to being an international student and the international student fees at UK universities I’m unable to afford to go this year and I’ve decided to take a gap year to work at the Co-op.

When I first started I was with the Data Services team and then I went to the Digital Data Services team and from there I had a chance to look at what the platform team were up to. After that I got some time to spend with Membership specifically the more members team. I’ve just been moving around a lot. I’ve had the opportunity to see several job roles that I didn’t even know existed. But I think the first one I encountered was business analyst.

The Co-op works in a multi skilled team, with different people, different skills, working together and the business analysts just sort of ties that together and I would never have imagined that that’s what they do.

I’ve also gotten a chance to experience other roles like designer, I didn’t know much about what a designer did but now it’s something that I’m even looking to maybe go into in the future.

I expected a generic workplace of everyone wearing suits, being really serious, but my mind has definitely been blown ever since I started working here.

Through the Co-op I’ve organised to take a course with the Northcoders to learn a bit more about the basics of programming. So after the 3 month course when I do come back to the Co-op for the rest of the year, I have a bit more knowledge and some sort of qualification to work better with the different teams and be able to understand more in depth about what they do.

After I left college I had no idea what would come next I had just no focus or anywhere to go, but I think after starting here the Co-op it’s given me a focus, a direction.

I’ve gotten the opportunity to work in things that are like actual real problems that are being solved, actual solutions that will go out there to help people and it’s just such a fantastic feeling to know you’re working on things that actually matter.

Aaron Omotosho
Digital Apprentice

Number crunching in an agile environment

A picture of Head of Finance Karen Lindop

In November last year I moved across from Co-op Group Finance to Co-op Digital to set up a finance function. I’m now looking for a digital finance manager to support me. I’ve written this post to talk about how we work in finance at Co-op Digital and to show the difference between accountancy in a traditional environment and in a digital one. For anyone who has accountancy skills but hasn’t worked with digital teams before, I’d like to give you an idea of the challenge we face when we’re juggling (limited) pots of cash in an ‘agile’ environment.

Long term versus short term planning

When I moved over to Co-op Digital I knew I’d have to adapt the way I worked because digital teams work in a different way to other areas I’d looked after before. During the budget process, I was used to understanding everything an area of the business wanted to do that year, discussing all the costs and working up a detailed, line by line budget. Then we’d track progress against that budget.

But instead of having a detailed plan for the next year, digital teams work to much shorter timescales. They prioritise what they’ll be working on based on user needs and they reassess their priorities every 2 weeks. It’s all part of working in an agile way. A team’s budget needs to be flexible because the digital service or product changes direction as the team learns more about what the user needs.

Juggling pots

We have around 8 digital product or service teams as well as all the Data, Membership, Brand and Social Media teams. Obviously, whenever we give one team an extra slice of the budget, it has an effect on what’s left for the other teams. This means you’ve got to be super proactive. You need to be really plugged in to the teams so you can find out how their plans are changing and what’s coming next so we can account for, report on and forecast costs as we go.

The good news is that Co-op Digital is full of great people to work with. Everyone understands the challenges we face in the finance team and we work together to overcome them.

Adapting to agile

One of the interesting areas I’ve been involved in is making sure we’ve got the right financial controls in place. This means giving teams the freedom they need to deliver while making sure they stay within the allocated budget. Because the Co-op has traditionally used a longer term planning approach, a lot of the controls aren’t suited to an agile way of working. Obviously we need to maintain the same level of control, so we’ve been working with other support and governance functions within the Co-op to come up with something that works.

I’ve been working this way with Co-op Digital for pretty much a year now, and so far things are going well. At the beginning of 2016 we committed to meeting the existing budget, and by the end of the year, that’s what we’ve done. In fact, we’ve also delivered an awful lot more than we originally set out to do which is pretty satisfying.

What the job ad doesn’t tell you

Being able to balance the books for a group of teams who work in this way is really rewarding. It’s also a skill that’s likely to become more sought after as more traditional organisations start looking to digital to see how it can help make their businesses more efficient.

You can find the Digital Finance Manager job advert over on our jobs page. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Karen Lindop
Head of Finance

Kevin Humphries joins CoopDigital

Hi, I’m Catherine and I’ve been at CoopDigital since July, learning more about how our Co-op understands its data. As Mike said at the AGM earlier this year, our ambition is to be trusted with our members’ data, by only using their data for good. But, we need to earn that trust.

We’ll say more about our vision in future blog posts as our work develops. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Kevin Humphries to the team, who joins us to help shape our approach to data.

Kevin Humphries joins CoopDigital

Kevin was the first chief architect for HM Government where he established a central Government architecture function and has previously been a lead technologist in retail, financial services and utilities sectors. As part of his work here at the Co-op, Kevin will design our overall data architecture as well as setting the standards that we will use to manage our data.

His initial objectives are to:

  • Create a clear vision for how we manage our data across the Co-op
  • Outline a clear plan for how to achieve our vision

Kevin will start by speaking with colleagues across the business to understand where we are today, in terms of how our data is used and managed. We’ll keep you updated through this blog.

Catherine Brien
Data Science Director

User Research at CoopDigital

Hello, my name’s Simon and I’ve just joined the team at CoopDigital as a user researcher.  I’m really excited to be here and help the team build some world class digital services.

Picture of Simon Hurst - user researcher
Simon Hurst – user researcher

What does a user researcher do?

User researchers fulfil several roles for a team, we’re there to help them understand:

1) Who the users of our services are and understand what they need from the service. To build great services you need to truly empathise with your users.

2) What’s the problem the user is trying to solve, what goal are they trying to achieve? How can we support them to achieve their goal?

3) Whether the solution we’re looking to provide works well and how can it be better?

Meeting real people

We do this by getting out of the building and meeting real people, talking to them and trying to understand their lives, watching them trying to complete their goals or use things we’re building.

We work with a huge variety of people, this includes those who are just learning the ropes, people who have maybe been bought a tablet by their children, or people who use a screenreader to interact with their device because of a visual impairment.

Bringing the team along

It’s even better when you bring members of the team with you, getting people who are building the service and writing the code to see users actually using the thing they’ve built and to see them struggling can have a tremendous impact on how they tackle problems. The result is a team who care about what they’re building and are absolutely committed to making it the best it can be.

User researchers are interested in if people can use things to complete a task, user research isn’t about asking people if they ‘like’ what we’ve built, or what they think of the colours.

It can be frustrating for people to see something they’ve designed and built not working, to see people struggling to understand the words they’ve used, or to interact with the clever little interface they’ve made. However, the sooner we can recognise the issues, the sooner we can fix them, it’s better to find this out before you release the thing.

It’s even more important to understand why we are building something in the first place, is it needed by people? Is it helping them to achieve a goal or to solve a problem? If it isn’t we end up building something that could be the most beautiful designed and usable product or service, but if it’s not needed then no one will ever use it.

We’ll be looking at how we get involved with users more and more in the near future and we’ll be sure to blog about how we’re doing it and what we’re learning along the way. We’ll also be working hard to try and understand how user research applies in an organisation as diverse and varied as Co-op. There’ll be plenty more blogs to come from us on that.

Simon Hurst
User Researcher

Work Experience at CoopDigital

Hello my name is Caitlin. I’m 15 and have spent a week with CoopDigital on work experience.

Picture of Caitlin
Caitlin Graham

I’m doing computing at school as one of my GCSEs where I’m the only girl in my computing class. So far I’ve learnt the basics of Python and MySQL using Codeacademy and Grok Learning.

I chose Co-op for my work experience because my mum, who works in IT at Co-op forwarded an email she had received about the CodeGirl event that was held at 1 Angel Square by Ladies of Code and arranged by Danielle. I emailed Danielle and got an almost instant response, it was that easy. 

I expected the people that I was going to work with in the week would have tunnel vision on their own projects. But I was wrong, the people on every team are very involved with each other, and a lot more relaxed than I expected, but they still got their jobs done very well.

On my first day I spent time with the social media team, doing Boolean searches to analyse things people had said about retailers on Fathers Day on social media, the conversations were really interesting.

My second morning was spent with the Paperfree team, which was brilliant because instead of listening and being passive, I felt like they wanted me involved with their team, and valued what I had to say.

I think my favourite day was my third. It was spent coding with Thoughtworks and BJSS. I learned to code in JavaScript, which I’d never done before.

I also learnt to code in HTML on my fourth day, which was different but interesting. Becky who is working on the Wills Alpha helped me build a website for French Bulldogs, which was brilliant.

I’ve had a great week here and felt very welcomed by everyone. Thank you.

Caitlin Graham.