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Culture

Starting a Career in Tech

By João Cachada
João Cachada
Passionate about stories, code and pushing the limits in quality. Often dressing up in Tom Ford shirts.
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Starting a Career in Tech
In 2019, I decided I wanted to change careers. It was a hard decision to make after going through five years of University to get my Master’s degree in American Literature, but I wanted something different: a better chance for career growth, a more risk-taking daily environment where I got to push my skills and limitations on the regular, and an employment culture that consistently valued and rewarded quality. 

I decided to learn how to code. I looked up videos, enrolled in classes, and attended a Bootcamp. I worked harder during that year than I had in my whole life, because I was aware I’d be competing in the job market with people who had several more years of training than I did, and I was scared companies would get stuck on my lack of formal education instead of judging me on my hard skills. I was at a disadvantage to begin with, so I had to bring more to the table than other applicants. 

Fortunately, during a Bootcamp I attended, I met a Farfetch employee. She was a member of the People Team who had decided to make a career switch as well, and was learning how to code in order to apply for a role of Software Developer at Farfetch. Immediately I was interested. She had nothing but praise for the company, and I thought it was a good sign that she wanted to remain within Farfetch, even if she had decided to look for a different challenge. But I was still wary and I voiced my concerns to her: would Farfetch even look at my résumé considering I had a degree in another field altogether? How could I improve my chances of getting a foot in the door? And how could I be sure Farfetch would even be the right fit for me?

The Plug-In Programme

When that same colleague told me about the Plug-In programme, I thought it was handmade for me. It specifically targeted people who were just getting started with their careers in tech, it allowed for me to interact in advance with people already working at Farfetch --  and ask them all my questions -- and, if I ended up getting hired, I would have a specific mentorship and onboarding experience, tailored to make sure everything went smoothly. I applied as soon as I could.

My first experience with the Plug-In came in the form of a hackathon as part of the interview process.  We spent a full day developing a business idea and detailing its execution strategy. This included the tech side - writing code or designing the solution - but it also meant figuring out the logistics, the overall business plan, and how our idea would add value to the existing operations within the company. It meant I had to interact with people who had wildly different skills, life stories and expectations -  from developers to product managers and everything in between. The working environment at Farfetch is very diverse, which made this a very valuable experience. 

During the hackathon, I was put into a team and directly mentored by a senior employee working at the company. He had a determining role in guiding us just enough that we wouldn’t feel lost, without just giving us all the answers. He’d point out potential problems we might be missing with our solution that came from his experience within the company, but allowed us to decide if and how to solve those problems for ourselves. I also got to interact with senior members of every major domain that exists within the company. They freely walked around and talked to the applicants, answered our questions and asked questions of their own. It was a much more relaxed environment than a formal job interview, although challenging nonetheless, and we got to have a small taste of what it actually was like to work at Farfetch. Plus, the hackathon took place within Farfetch offices, so I got to actually watch people work together and get a feel for the office environment. 

After my experience at the Hackathon, I was sure Farfetch would be a good fit for me professionally, so I was thrilled when I got called back to continue with the interview process. 

The interview confirmed my initial positive first impression. Although I was still somewhat wary of potentially being at a disadvantage because of my formal education, I was made fully comfortable during the interview. It became clear to me that the company was willing to help me grow into someone with the technical capabilities they needed. Even better, it became clear that they deeply valued a cultural match - they wanted someone who could live the Farfetch values and care about what the company as a whole cared about, even if that meant taking a chance on having to mentor someone to their full potential. I was never made to feel like I was at a disadvantage, and in fact, my training in other areas was seen as something that could potentially enrich the company’s perspective with new knowledge. My background in the humanities was seen as an opportunity instead of a hindrance. The interview went really well, and soon enough I was driving to the office for my first day as a Plug-In Trainee. 

Onboarding at a new home

From the start, I never felt lost. I went through a thorough induction plan that quickly brought me up to speed on the company’s culture, teams, and activities. I was assigned a mentor with whom I’d have regular meetings to see how everything was going, and who I could reach out to at any time if I needed help with anything. I went through several social activities designed specifically to allow me to get to know more people within the company, to make me feel more at home, and to always have a broad array of people I could comfortably talk to if I needed help. 

Once the induction was over, I was assigned to a team. On the very first day, they took me out to lunch and spent the better part of two hours attempting to get to know me, answering my questions and building an initial sense of camaraderie. This was particularly important to me, and I soon realized my team was a lot like me in terms of personality, of what we valued in the code we delivered, and in what we expected of each other. 

This is a point I want to highlight because I feel like it was a central part of why my integration within the company worked so well: I was carefully matched to a team that suited my ways of working, which wouldn’t have been possible if the company hadn’t taken the time to understand exactly what my profile and expectations were. Personally, I enjoy having the opportunity to make mistakes and learn by doing, and my team encouraged me to do just that. They only stepped in when I asked them for help - which was often. They offered suggestions and reviewed my work regularly to ensure quality, but never told me to do things a specific way, nor did they shoehorn me in a particular direction. In short, I never felt like an intern - I felt like a member of the team from the get go and was included very quickly in the team’s processes and daily workflow. But what’s important is that this approach worked for me. In conversations with other Plug-In trainees,  I learned that a lot of them preferred having more strict guidance as they acclimated to their new environment, and their teams provided them with the support they needed. I believe that this personalised approach was a major reason why the Plug-In programme was such a success and positive experience.  

What you can do to help things go smoothly

 
There were, of course, challenges. Farfetch is a large company that moves incredibly quickly while striving to stay at the forefront of the luxury fashion industry. That means that the day to day rhythm is super fast-paced, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of different teams and projects,  and the knowledge required to do your job the best way you can. But this is mitigated by how open and welcoming everyone is, and by the culture brought to life by the Farfetch values. 

From very early on, I requested meetings with several very senior members of both my domain and other domains within the company.  All of them were available and willing to sit down with me and explain exactly what they did, what their role in the company was, and answer any questions I might have. I asked several other teams if I could sit in on their meetings and watch how they worked, what they were working on, and discover the challenges they were facing, and not a single one of them denied my request. 

And throughout all of this, I had a network of Plug-In colleagues placed in several teams in different domains who I could routinely meet with to share experiences and ask questions. Often, when my team had a question about another service within the company, I could even provide value by tapping into that network of Plug-In trainees and asking someone who was working on that service to clear up our doubts. To top it all off, I had regular check-ins with my mentor, who also sat close to me and was permanently available to answer any of my questions. Her direct care was a major reason behind why my integration went so well, and I owe her plentiful thanks.

Looking back

All in all, I was extremely pleased by my experience with the Plug-In programme. Not only did I manage to get my foot in the door in the tech industry, which was my original goal; but I also managed to do it with a company that realizes what I can bring to the table, that looks at my past experiences and training in other areas as opportunities rather than problems, and that is clearly available and interested in creating the conditions for me to grow as fast and as much as possible in my career. 

Farfetch seems to understand that the better I do, the more I can offer the company, and that translates into genuine care for its employees. The Plug-In programme specifically offered several safety nets to make sure I never felt lost, and to ensure guidance as needed every step of the way, until I was fully integrated into the company. I’m forever grateful for the care and work put in by all the people involved in making it happen. 
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