Magda Piatkowska

Head of Data Science Solutions - BBC

What motivates you on a daily basis – what gets you up in the morning?

There’s something really beautiful about working for the BBC. It’s not commercial; it’s a public service so the problems that we’re solving are slightly different from those in other organisations. We want to bring better and more journalism to under-served audiences – so we’re asking questions such as: “how do we encourage more young women to read political news?” Those are really exciting problems for a data scientist and for a technologist to be solving.

How has a setback or obstacle shaped you?

Obstacles are opportunities to find strength. In the newsroom we’re trying to transform everything into the digital era so I’m continuingly explaining why we’re doing this and what it’s going to look like. And in my role we’re also dealing with people’s fear a lot – so we’re explaining that they’re not going to be replaced with robots. Instead, we’ll be building robots to help them!  

How important is it to have other passions in your life?

It’s important to have things outside of work because it’s a source of confidence and pride that no one can judge you on. I do running because it clears my head, it’s good for health and there’s a sense of achievement when you run an ultra marathon or climb a big mountain.

What advice would you give your teenage self?

I’d tell her that it’s ok to ask for help, to admit that you don’t know how to do something and that it’s ok to say to your lecturer, your manager, or your friends that, “I’m stuck and I don’t know how to do it.” I would probably have got further and be better at my job right now had I known that earlier.

You reach a peak and feel empowered, but you might fall off it again. I’m constantly on the journey to gain confidence.
How do you gain confidence?

You’ll reach a peak and feel empowered but then you might fall off it again. I’m constantly on the journey to gain confidence.

How do you lean on others to gain strength?

I think I’ve been very lucky to interact with people who have helped me learn and have facilitated my learning. Whether that was a business leader who clearly explained what my role was in terms of how the business worked, or someone technically strong who helped me brush up my skill set. Or even someone who helped me to ask for help. I’ve always had these people around me and that‘s a lucky situation to be in.  

What is the toughest lesson that you’ve had to learn?

I try not to think about things as failures, instead, they’re experiments that didn’t work out the way we wanted them to!. In my bank of experiences, I have deleted databases that were important to the business. It happens! Those are very tough lessons because you have to stand up and say: “hey, I deleted all your data,” and that’s hard. First of all, you learn very fast about back-ups and security settings, but you also learn about how to manage those situations and protect yourself from them in the future.

Can you tell us about the significant object that you’ve chosen?

I’ve chosen a robot because it symbolises something that seems so complicated on the outside, but is actually quite simple on the inside. I love breaking problems into pieces to make them as small as possible and then to put them back together and a robot represents this.