In my last post, I ran through the jobs I applied to from Fall 2015 to Spring 2017. The only job not on that list is the one I’m in now, back in Victoria.
With Brexit looming and knowing that we wanted to get out of the UK when my European Union-funded fellowship finished in June 2017, I noticed an opening for a Digital Systems & Data Strategist at Dogwood. Dogwood is a non-partisan, non-profit activist organisation, based in Victoria, British Columbia, that works to combat climate change by a focus on returning decision-making power to British Columbians in politics and around environmental issues.
The job ad featured a great lede: “We currently have an opportunity for a tech savvy innovator to oversee and implement aspects of Dogwood’s digital and data infrastructure, inform digital and data strategy and champion our testing and analytics program. As a member of the digital team, this role provides support to our field, and communications teams in identifying, implementing, and adopting our digital tools.”
Although I’d put out applications for a few nonacademic positions before this position came open, those were usually at think tanks, research centres, etc. This application was pretty different than those in that my PhD was incidental. In fact, it became a single line on my resume at the very bottom of the first page: “PhD in English. University of Victoria, BC, 2016.” Of course I’d read up on how to translate a CV into a resume, the #altac job search, and so on. Still it was a bit strange to go from 18 representing my academic record since my undergraduate days to 2 pages, one of which was a table listing and classifying all of the various & varied technical skills I’d picked up doing digital humanities for the last few years.
Luckily, such a grab bag was part of what Dogwood was looking for, which makes sense once I got deeper into the interview process. Nonprofits, even successful ones, tend not to have full digital departments, so it’s a near certainly that staff will be faced with troubleshooting unfamiliar systems, picking up random bits of knowledge here and there, and generally called on to do something slightly different every day depending on what needs to get done.
After three rounds of interviews — which included both technical questions and queries about my current favourite television show — I was offered the job in late March 2017. The director of Human Resources apologised to me for taking two weeks to actually make a decision, which I found hilarious given the absurdly long time scales that academic hiring usually sees. My parter & I cancelled some travel we had planned and headed back to British Columbia on 4 May, and my first day was 15 May.
Dogwood has around 25 employees or so, concentrated in two offices in Burnaby (Metro Vancouver) and Victoria, with an organiser in Courtenay on Vancouver Island. I am one of two permanent staff who manage all the digital systems we use every day, including Salesforce, NationBuilder, Marketo, WordPress, and a host of single-purpose tools and platforms. Overall, I am responsible for our website, a sprawling, customised WordPress installation with a whole whack of plugins, integrations, media, and sections. Troubleshooting website issues, coordinating a monthly retainer with our offsite developers, and undertaking long-term planning/roadmapping of the website are what I do for around 70% of my time. The other 30% are one-off special projects for particular tools, domain management, meetings, etc. I am, more or less, a systems administrator, which is why my title has actually shifted to Digital Systems Strategist.
I just passed three months in the role, and things are going well. It’s intensely rewarding to feel like I’m making a difference on a daily basis, a feeling that I was struggling to capture in my academic work. Other than a few ongoing publication projects I’m involved in, I’ve pretty much disengaged from academia, and don’t have many regrets about doing so (except for missing out on the exciting work many of my colleagues in DH are up to). As a result, I’m starting to shift my online presence from an academic and a digital humanist towards my new reality and identity as a tech/digital person in the nonprofit & activism space. This website will probably be redesigned shortly
A few random observations:
- Having an 8-hour workday is a bit of an adjustment after six years of managing my own schedule as an academic.
- Weekends are great, as are holidays where no one actually expects you to be working. Dogwood provides four weeks per year of holiday. Also, if you don’t take a jet airplane during a year you get an additional week (jet travel is hideously carbon intensive and a major contributor to man made climate change).
- I use the skills I learned during my PhD every single day, but almost never use specific knowledge from English or digital humanities.
- Nonprofits strike me as a great way to step sideways out of academia, as they seem to value skill sets and temperaments more than private sector companies.
- Choosing to be where you want to live rather than chasing an academic career to god knows where was certainly the right call for me. I see the Olympic Mountains every day, and the air is a lot cleaner in Victoria than it was in central London.