Data, Conferences, Charities and Chips - A chat with Helena

Helena, our Data Insights and Analytics Lead, chats about what she does at Farewill.

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Helena and I sat in the local park for a chat.

What follows is our conversation. Data, conferences, charities, games and the most important topic: food.

What do you do at Farewill?

I'm a data person. When I started at Farewill I was hired as a performance marketer. I think the reasoning behind this was that Dan, who is the CEO of Farewill, was advised to find someone with a data science background to run their marketing, and that was me.

But it turns out I didn’t really like it...

Although pretty much all the decisions I made in marketing were grounded in data, I didn’t find the data analysis that interesting. I was looking at metrics like 'Cost Per Click', 'Registration Conversion Rate', 'Cost Per Registration', 'Cost Per Purchase' in order to decide which ads we should keep running and experiment on which audiences worked best

But I didn’t find the work challenging in the right way. I wanted to be able to predict and refine exactly what types of ads we should show to different audience segments in order to maximise conversion. It turns out, Facebook’s own algorithm, that has access to a much larger dataset than I could, does a lot of the work for you.

I've since moved to the Product team and my job title then became "Data Insights and Analytics Lead" which just happens to be DIAL for short. ☎️

I think actually i'm more interested in the data engineering side than analysis so it might become more like that.

Zac: What makes engineering more appealing?

I guess I quite enjoy programming so that is a huge factor of it. Particularly in terms of optimising code for speed is something that quite interests me.

I think access to data and to facilitate company growth and excellence is really important. To be the person that actually can pipeline the data to be usable in the first place is a fun a role to be in.

You did a data audit. Tell me more about it

I'm currently in the process of doing a data audit - it's not finished.

I thought about how we use data as a company and being able to move towards a culture of thinking of it as an asset rather than what we tend to do at the moment. I don't think we're using the data we have in the best way possible, it’s not always at the forefront of our minds when we make decisions.

There's no point me changing our data infrastructure or making data accessible if it's not going to be used in the first place, so I thought I'd address that in the beginning.

You've been to a conference about web analytics this week. What was that like?

I'd never been to a conference on my own before so that was quite nerve wracking. I had to push myself to go just more in terms of building the confidence to go on my own more than the interest in the conference itself.

I went and it was quite strange, I was probably the youngest person there. People were generally 15 years older than me it seemed, so that was a bit surreal. It was quite a awkward first experience.

I had to get by by approaching people in drinks area with lines like: "Oh I see you're drinking orange juice - same as me! What's your name?"

I spoke to a guy who had a fairly similar tech stack to ours so MongoDB database, they also used Node as well like a fully JavaScript back and front end.

I talked to him about what he did in terms of moving the data from MongoDB to a SQL-like database so it can be analysed more easily. So that was useful.

Zac: Is that where you see the future. having a seperate database?

I think so. Probably the best way to go. We'd still use MongoDB as our production database but having a seperate analytics database would be really useful.

Every two weeks we have 2-3 hours to learn. What do you end up doing?

(sarcasm) I think it's a great use of time that we have at Farewill. It was a good idea from Zac to implement.

Zac: This isn't supposed to be the sales pitch for the two weekly learning time

Isn't this question like: "Ahh yeah - this is a great idea! Who thought of this idea?"

~Laughing~

One time Zac taught me how to use HTML and CSS in Glitch to build a plants of Farewill website.

That was quite fun cause I hadn't really used those tools or been into web development before.

I think generally it's a really great use of time. You can develop skills outside your normal remit. Just in terms of satiating your curiosity it's useful but also it's fun as well.

Zac: We've done a bit of "mobbing". What do you think? As you're learning more JavaScript?

Yeah I've enjoyed the times I've "mobbed" - although you say you prefer the term "group programming" cause -

Zac: Here on this interview we're changing it from mobbing to group programming

I think that's fair, mobbing just makes me think of MMOPRGS.

Zac: Yeah like World of Warcraft, like gremlins or something... (For anyone who doesn't understand 'mobs' are what monsters are called in these games)

~Laughing~

Group programming has been fun so far.

We did one recently where we trying to implement Harry's designs on the new documents flow.

Most of the time we just trying to get the data into the front-end so we could use it and style it. I didn't realise how much of it took place in the front-end. I hadn't really seen what the front-end looked like before so that was quite interesting.

Tell me about the the charity dashboards you've made

We partner with a lot of charities. And the reasoning behind that is for the charities legacy fundraising, which is getting money from people who leave gifts in a will, is really important for them.

We want to be a great resource for them. Because of the fact that we're an online company we have access to data in the way that offline companies such as solictors find harder.

So one of the things we offer are dashboards to each charity which is a mini-product in of itself that shows them: How many wills they've sold, What type of people have left gifts, what the expected income is, all of that stuff.

The feedback is that that's been the most useful things for the charities because it impacts their reporting of: Expected income, managing how they plan for the future and also in terms of who they should market, how successful the campaign has been.

Yeah, it's one of the more interesting things i've worked on I'd say because it's using the data we have as a product in of itself.

Initially implementing that was quite enjoyable, because you're not only creating the logic behind getting the data in the dashboard in the first place but managing it as a product as well in terms of: How accessible the data is, how each chart should be laid or designed so it's easy to use, talking to charities and getting feedback on what are the things they'd like to see, what's not useful about the dashboard stuff like that.

Outside of Farewill, what are you interested in?

If you asked me a month or two ago i'd of said i'm an avid gamer and I spend a lot of my free time gaming. But thats actually a lie. The first time I gamed in a few months was last night to play a new game I bought called Planet Coaster.

I think either i'm just being slow to pick it up or it's my distance away from gaming, but when I played it I was like: "There's no tutorials! How do I understand what's going on!?" So now what I get up to nowadays is I just see people a lot. I guess that's a common answer. I think that happens a bit too much. I see people too much. I'm trying to cut down.

Zac: You said you were trying to make a game in Python?

Oh yeah I was making a game. It wasn't very creative or interesting in game the front. I was interesting to create it as someone who is new to game development.

It was one of those games you control a ship and shoot falling asteroids and if you get hit too many times you die.

Zac: Just like all AAA blockbuster games

There's a few restaurants and eating establishments around the Haggerston area, where our office is based. But there's a couple you'd rate highly... I'm hinting at something

A couple? Just the single one. I think what you're alluding to here Zac is the renowned Chief Chef.

Chief Chef is an incredibly well valued Turkish restaurant and take-away.

I've refined my order over several visits: beef burger, chips and chilli sauce on both - don't forget the chilli sauce cause I think that's probably the best thing they have.

The chips are incredibly well done. Well done not in the sense that they're burnt, that would be badly done. Well done in the sense that they're nice and golden and crispy on the outside and quite soft in the middle, I think that's the perfect way to do chips in my opinion. They're very nice as well, sometimes they give you tea when you're waiting.

And all of this for £3.25.

Zac: What!?

3.25

Zac: Say that again

~gets very close~ Three pound. Twenty. Five.

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