Anne McCarthy recently landed her dream job as “happiness engineer” at San Francisco WordPress.com manager Automattic Inc. after graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She finished school in just three years despite also working and volunteering on a variety of IT-related projects for nonprofits and campus departments, including ITS Web Services. McCarthy attributes her hands-on experiences as a student worker at ITS Web Services to helping her score that dream job in San Francisco.
The story below showcases how McCarthy maximized her IT work and volunteer experiences to reach her goals and shares her advice to other Carolina students.
Collaborating with ITS Web Services: Anne McCarthy
When she enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2011, Anne McCarthy sought a degree in psychology—not computer science. She quickly learned, however, that her passion for and a degree in psychology could complement her information technology abilities.
McCarthy began working and volunteering on IT-related projects for multiple departments on campus. Her first student worker job was as an instructional technologist in the College of Arts & Sciences with the OASIS unit. She was in charge of writing support documentation and helped departments migrate their websites and answer basic support questions. She quickly advanced to Senior Support Staff member, overseeing five other UNC-Chapel Hill students.
McCarthy also took her IT skills outside of the University. She maintained websites for two nonprofits. While working for the organizations, her former Carolina manager told her about a job opening at Information Technology Services for a new project called web.unc.edu, which is a Web-publishing service that enables people with an Onyen to create their own website for free.
Developed, launched Be Safe website
McCarthy joined the project team in July 2013 as Web Support Specialist. Her supervisor Billy Hylton, ITS Web Services manager, said Anne was an essential part of the team. “I asked Anne to work closely with Student Government to develop and launch a new site (besafe.unc.edu) in a very short time frame. I was mostly hands-off and trusted Anne to manage the project, communicate as necessary with the students, and configure the mobile-friendly website. She nailed it,” Hylton said.
Be Safe was “most interesting” IT project
McCarthy said one of her most interesting IT assignments at the University was the ITS Web Services besafe.unc.edu project. “The Be Safe project was such a relevant issue on campus during my time there,” she said.
From a single website, Be Safe provides students with information on personal safety, transportation, resources for sexual assault and a link to sign up for Alert Carolina notifications, among other resources.
When McCarthy was not working on the Be Safe project, she trained professors to create their own websites. From that experience, she gained perspective on user experience and learned how to re-write and weed through documentation while being creative and sensitive to user functionalities.
In all these experiences, McCarthy used her knowledge of psychology to improve her use of technology and vice versa. “To be able to have such a high-level impact at such a young age to improve how the University communicated with students was incredible,” she said.
ITS Web Services encourages and values student workers
Hylton allows his student workers to grow in their own space of creativity, and he values their ideas. “I was repeatedly impressed by Anne’s creativity, technical skills, energy and strong advocacy of great customer experiences. She supported our Web Services office in several key roles, including website development, customer support, social media and UX stuff,” Hylton said. “Our students are involved in communications, graphic design/creative, coding, customer support and much more. They are included in the conversation and their input directly influences the decisions we make.”
As a result of the support and encouragement she received from ITS Web Services team members, McCarthy said she “was able to both use my own creativity and improve it all within the work I did and the feedback I received…the team never ceased to trust my creativity as well as guide me to improve it.”
Work experience at ITS Web Services was key
She said her hands-on experiences at ITS Web Services enabled her to land her dream job. Upon graduation, she was hired as an engineer at Automattic Inc. in San Francisco. Automattic manages WordPress.com and contributes to WordPress.org. At Automattic, McCarthy supports a plugin called VaultPress, which backs up, secures and restores the site. She also writes materials to help VaultPress users understand the plugin’s features.
While working for ITS Web Services, McCarthy said she learned exactly what she needed to know to snag that job. “I learned how to use the WordPress platform including understanding how themes and plugins work, how to problem solve and communicate solutions in laymen’s terms,” she said. “I learned HTML and CSS and began to learn PHP. I learned how to run meetings with faculty members. I was given access to Adobe Creative Suite and learned how to use Photoshop extensively and I learned how to prepare for upgrades and gained an understanding about how databases work.”
“I would not be where I am today and in the role I am in today if it were not for the Web Services team,” McCarthy said.
Advice to students: Collaborate and volunteer
As a student employee, McCarthy said she gave and then gave some more. “I helped a ton of people completely for free. I took on projects that were outside of my job description and gave my time to help others succeed,” McCarthy said. She advises students to collaborate and volunteer. “There are so many incredible opportunities at UNC. … learn how to merge your interests and use that as an advantage.”
Nonprofits desperately need help with websites
Although McCarthy works in what she considers a dream job, she still has additional career aspirations. “I eventually would love to run a website development team that works with nonprofits to revamp their websites and Internet presence,” she said. “It makes me sad to see how many nonprofits are in desperate need for new websites but can’t afford to pay to have them done.” McCarthy also wants to “own a coffee shop designed for facilitating connections between people over coffee.”
If you want to inquire about a student-employee job at ITS Web Services, contact ITS at firstname.lastname@example.org.