Information Professional Spotlight:
By Dyan Chandler
An Interview with Angela Culbert
Angela Culbert graduated from the iSchool MLIS program in June 2001, and is now working as a Browse Developer at Amazon.com. We recently chatted with her about her job, her iSchool experiences, and her advice for fitting those two things together. Here's what Angela had to say:
Silverfish: What exactly does a Browse Developer at Amazon do?
Angela: As a browse developer, I am one of a team that maintains and develops the online browsing taxonomies for the website. This involves a variety of activities including categorizing products, constructing thesauri, and working with internal groups to improve retrieval results by category. Researching products sold on the website is a natural part of the work that we do. Additionally, troubleshooting classification is an ongoing task. To do this well, we are continually learning new information about the complex processes that go into putting the website online.
Silverfish: Researching products, that must be interesting! What types
of products are you categorizing, besides books?
Angela: Amazon sells a large variety of products besides books. Music,
videos, DVDs, electronics, and apparel are just a few of the areas that
we deal with while working on the browse team.
Silverfish: Could you briefly describe your path to your current position?
Angela: I started working at Amazon with the Browse team as a directed
fieldwork student during my last two quarters at the Information school.
After graduation in June of 2001, I continued on as a contract employee
on a temporary basis. Based upon this previous experience, I was asked
to do a second contract months later. After several extensions on my temp
status, a permanent position opened up in the Browse department. I applied,
went through the interview process, and was hired.
Silverfish: So is it safe to say you would recommend the directed fieldwork
experience for MLIS students?
Angela: Definitely. I really enjoyed my directed fieldwork experience
and think it is an important part of the curriculum. Among other benefits,
I found it to be a very good way to get experience and it was useful to
me in determining what type of position I might be interested in after
Silverfish: What are the biggest challenges in your job?
Angela: Striking a balance between doing the job quickly and doing
it well is always a great challenge. Setting priorities while working
in a fast-paced environment can be a demanding task in and of itself.
Silverfish: What are the biggest rewards in your job?
Angela: I'm really lucky to work with a great group of smart, fun,
interesting people. Working in an environment that thrives on innovation
is very rewarding because it creates an atmosphere that pushes
me to constantly learn more and improve upon my skills.
Silverfish: Sounds exciting! Do you work with other librarians?
Angela: Yes, there are several librarians currently on the browse team.
As a group we also work with software engineers and others across the company.
Silverfish: What class/skill from the iSchool has been the most useful
to you in your career?
Angela: The iSchool's emphasis on teamwork has proven beneficial,
as the work we do at Amazon can at times be highly collaborative.
Additionally, courses in thesaurus construction, database design,
and cataloging have been very useful as they emphasize the importance
of quality data in good information retrieval systems.
Silverfish: What do you know now that you wish you would have known
Angela: While I was in school, I was always concerned that I was
choosing the right classes I would need most to help me in my career.
In hindsight, I'm happy to say that all of the classes I have had
have come in handy in some way either professionally or personally.
Learning doesn't end when school is over as there are plenty of
opportunities for continuing education and further development
of professional skills.