Creative Lives — Software engineer Vivian Galinari on how she landed her dream job at the BBC
After transitioning from a ‘cold call’ sales job to a membership manager role at D&AD, to then spending the past two years religiously teaching herself code, that’s when London-based software engineer Vivian Galinari landed her dream job. Now, she’s working full-time at the BBC creating custom web apps that can be used by its 35,000 employees worldwide. As a “great believer of self-teaching”, Vivian explains how her degree in International Business wasn’t the least bit helpful and that she learnt everything she needed from the internet. Whether educating herself on Blockchain or developing AR, Vivian’s hard work and ability to keep up with the ever-changing trends in technology is admirable. We caught up with Vivian to find out more about working flexibly and how moving to Bali aided her career change.
Software Engineer, BBC (February 2019 – present)
Membership Manager, D&AD (2010-2017)
MSc Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management, Birkbeck, University of London
International Business, State University of Maringa, Brazil (2000–2003)
How would you describe your role, department and the types of projects you work on?
I am software engineer, part of the Internal Software Engineering team at the BBC in London. My job is to help to develop custom web apps that can be used by the BBC’s 35,000 employees worldwide.
What does a typical working day look like?
I am a flexible worker that works remotely three times a week and twice in-house at the BBC Broadcast Centre in White City. My usual routine involves continuing to develop web apps I started from scratch, or implementing new features and fixing bugs on already existing apps. I usually work on two or three big projects at once, and juggle between them throughout the week.
How did you land your current job?
This is my first proper job in tech and I became a software engineer by teaching myself coding religiously for the past two years. I didn’t have many professional projects to show in my portfolio before this job, so I believe what gave me an edge over other candidates is perhaps the fact that I’m self-taught – it showed my commitment, capacity to learn autonomously and resilience required for this career. I also think coming from a creative background – with includes passion projects such as the games, arts and music made with creative coding that I do with different languages – might have appealed to them too. They weren’t fully polished projects, but I think that, when you are first starting, what an employer wants to see is your interest in the field and the ability to experiment with and learn new technologies.
“I love being able to read and write code – it makes me feel like a modern magician.”
Inside the BBC
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
There are two things I love the most about being a coder and the reasons why I trained myself to become one. Firstly, I love being able to read and write code that doesn’t make much sense to other people, especially the cool interactive stuff that pops out on the screen – it makes me feel like a modern magician. Secondly, I love the flexibility it grants me. After ten years working in various nine-to-five jobs inside offices, I knew that wasn’t for me anymore. I made the move to be fully remote even before I had a job – when I was teaching myself these skills. I feel very fulfilled now that I have achieved flexible working in a supportive company that nurtures it.
The least enjoyable aspects of being a coder is the technical knowledge limitations faced from time-to-time, as well as the bugs you spend six hours trying to find and fix. Coding is very rewarding but it can be very challenging too.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
The most exciting project in the last year has been my personal Instagram filters. I started experimenting with Augmented Reality (AR) a couple of months ago and teaching myself reactive coding – it has opened my eyes to an array of new visual skills, such as computer graphics and visual programming. It has also facilitated some very exciting collaborations with artists and other creatives.
Some of Viv’s work with face filters
What skills are essential to your job?
The technical skills are essential for sure, and you wouldn’t go far in programming without the technical stack. Interestingly, because I have made the transition from a management role where I dealt with people on a daily basis, my communication skills were transferable and I was surprised to see how valuable they actually are for this job.
Do you run any self-initiated or side projects alongside your job?
Yes, all the time. Technology is forever evolving and the only way to keep up-to-date with it is by getting your hands dirty and experimenting with it. There is an overwhelming amount of knowledge on the internet and I am a great believer of self-teaching; I am always expanding my boundaries. For example, last year I read everything that there was to read about Blockchain, and I followed some online courses so that I could get up to speed with it. This year I am investing heavily on developing AR in my spare time, and I am sure this will lead the way to new and exciting opportunities.
Some of Vivian’s work with filters
How I Got Here
Where did you grow up and what did you want to be when you were younger?
I grew up in rural Brazil in a village that is smaller than the BBC organisation I work for. My mum became a widow at the age of 20 with two toddlers to bring up – so we were left with my grandmother most of the time, while she worked herself up from a seamstress to running her own clothing shop.
Formal education didn’t mean much to me, as no one in my immediate family had a degree. Right up to my teens, I didn’t know I could become anything else other than a person that works in a shop. And that was enough to know at that time, as I had the best example of a self-made person at home. I knew that whatever happened, I would have to be at least half of the woman my mother was. Later in life, it crossed my mind to study computer science – I have always been obsessed with computers. But back then, it wasn’t very accessible for girls and I didn’t fit in with the IT guys.
“Right up to my teens, I didn’t know I could become anything else other than a person that works in a shop.”
Did you do a degree? And if so, has it been helpful to your work? And if not, have you had to do specific training for your work?
I did a BA in International Business and a Master of Science degree in Innovation. I suppose they helped me to get through the door in my previous jobs, and surely any type of knowledge helps to inform your ways. But these degrees weren’t helpful for my current profession. The Internet has been my master for the past couple of years and I taught myself coding solely by watching videos, reading articles, coding without any physical interactions – mostly for free. Overall, I only invested about £1000 on premium courses from an online school called SuperHi [check out our interview with founder Rik Lomas here] – it was totally worth paying for, as opposed to the thousands of pounds I spent on my MSc that I still owe the bank for.
After graduating, what were your initial jobs and steps?
I figured that by doing the broadest degree at the time would be beneficial – so I studied international business with languages for four years and moved to Europe shortly after graduating. I worked my way up from a ‘cold call’ sales job to a membership manager position at D&AD. I was lucky enough to work there for seven years. I made lots of friends, I had a lot of fun and got exposed to the best creative work in the world. It made the mundane job I didn’t fully identify with bearable!
When you look back, was there a project or person that helped in your early career development?
My closest friends Nina and Sorch helped me to hold everything together when I was unemployed and transitioning through careers. I slept on their sofas for a bit – for that I will be forever grateful.
Another break through was after doing a couple of SuperHi online courses – especially the foundational one – when I realised I could put together some slick websites in a few weeks. The code and design wasn’t mine, but I knew I could start calling myself a web developer; I was on my way to mastering these skills and making equally beautiful work. A little bit of ‘fake it until you make it.’
Some of Vivian’s work for the BBC
Some of Vivian’s work for the BBC
Some of Vivian’s work for the BBC
Can you tell us a bit more about this career change and what made you want to make the switch?
I’ve always loved computers. However, I had this limiting belief that coding wasn’t for me, that it was too hard, that it was a male profession or that I would be working solely on databases – so I spent many years avoiding it. It was only when I graduated from my MSc, trying to bridge from the creative into the tech sector, that I realised I would have to code to innovate. I knew a few people that had done coding bootcamps, but I had already invested the £10,000 needed on the MA – so with no money, nor time, I only had the discipline and ambition to turn myself into one of them through teaching myself.
I looked up what I needed to get started and made a list of the coding languages I’d have to learn – there was about 10 of them and progress seemed so far away! I’d Google everything, from ‘What’s the difference between front-end and back-end’ to ‘What is an array’ and everyday I made an effort to show up and study till this routine became second nature. I would gather a list of free resources and dig in on them each day (code academy and Udemy courses, for example). I would listen to audio lectures while cycling to work, watch online videos on my lunch break and code more in the evenings and weekends.
“I had this belief that coding wasn’t for me, that it was too hard [or] that it was a male profession, so I spent many years avoiding it.”
I did this while still working full-time for about a year, and in December 2018 I quit my job and moved to Bali in Indonesia where I would pay a fraction of the rent I paid in London – this meant I could focus solely on my personal development and career transition. I was adamant to create the lifestyle I would want to live in, so I rented a work space there near the beach and would study programming everyday, between surfing, Muay Thai and yoga. I went fully remote even before I had a job – being a digital nomad is a beautiful dream, unless you have zero clients nor a flexible paying job, which was my case. I just held it together by creating endless ‘to-do’ lists and curating my day with things I wanted to accomplish so that the learning curve would be more tamed and manageable [...] I just knew I had to keep doing it and battling through the motions.
One of Vivian's filters
Is your job what you thought it would be?
Now that I work for a nurturing and supportive company like the BBC, my job is what I thought it would be. Here, we are given time and opportunities to grow and on Fridays, for example, we get to spend the day learning new skills of our choice. But my first experience as a professional developer was in a very different and stressful environment. I spent a couple of months working on a crazy demanding start-up and I knew pretty soon that I had to get out of there for my own sanity. There is so much demand out there for developers, and I hadn’t invested all these years to land on a job I would hate.
What would you like to do next?
I want to become a creative technologist next. I see myself coding on more experimental and creative projects with innovative technology like AR, VR and AI, working in research and development as well as doing public speaking.
Could you do this job forever?
Yes! The internet is my medium and as long I get to express myself creatively through it, I can do it forever.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same kind of work?
Coding is a bumpy ride, but it’s worth every second invested. Build resilience. Keep your eyes on the prize and hold on tight until you get through some of the learning curves. You will never stop learning as technology is forever growing, but it gets easier and much more fun the more you do.