What I learned... as a teacher in Uganda, with Space & Time’s Alex Moran
Our series What I Learned... takes a look at those who have pivoted from unusual job roles before settling on a life in adland. This week, we caught up with Alex Moran from Space & Time, who shares his lessons from life as a teacher in Uganda – and the lessons for his current position as an SEO lead.
Space & Time's SEO lead on the lessons learnt during his time working as a Ugandan teacher / Kelli Tungay via Unsplash
Hi Alex! Tell us a little about who you are and what you do now.
I’m the search engine optimization (SEO) lead at growth marketing agency Space & Time. I lead and grow the team by boosting brand visibility and demonstrating to brands the value of SEO across mediums they may not have considered to be part of search. In the past, I’ve held roles at Jellyfish, Dentsu and WPP.
And before all that – Uganda?
I previously worked as a primary school teacher, with my first role teaching IT in Uganda for a year. I was 23 when I packed my bags and left behind a role in agency sales to move to the Ugandan capital Kampala. While I was there, I also helped market a local home-care charity, taught the basics of business studies, and even coached a local team.
How did you adjust to the role?
Teaching IT certainly started as a challenge... initially we didn’t have any computers. So I had to focus on the things that had become part of our natural language that we haven’t had to learn. If you’ve never been around a computer mouse before, you only know ‘mouse’ as one thing. We later found a scheme online called ‘Computers 4 Africa,’ which provided laptops for the school.
The other challenge was organizing too many projects at once. It meant I was spread thinly at a young age, at a time when I experienced many changes in my life. On reflection, it might have been more impactful to focus on one or two projects rather than take on too much at once.
What impact did that time in Uganda have on you?
I loved teaching so I went on to do a PGCE afterward. [British educational standards and tests] Ofsted and SATs didn’t quite leave me with the same feeling, so with my new skills and life experience of working abroad, I re-discovered agency life with a fresh perspective. I knew from working across digital channels that my passion lay in SEO, and I decided to do what I enjoy the most first and foremost.
I’m incredibly lucky to be able to run SEO training courses in my current role, so I can bring my teaching skills to the world of digital. It’s a part of my job that I take a lot of enjoyment from. I try to ensure those in my sessions do too.
Do your lessons as a teacher still sit with you?
Sometimes, you need a wide lens to find out what you want to zoom in on. The experience helped me understand the value of picking a specialism. Within that, I initially focused on the technical part. While it’s important to have a broad understanding across channels and capabilities, I’d recommend to those starting out to find and develop a specialism.
I was lucky at [previous agency] iProspect to initially work in a technical role, and then move on to local SEO. However, if your company can’t offer such varied roles, there is still scope to ‘champion’ a particular service and become the expert on the Amazon SEO product, for example. You’ll soon realize: no matter how niche you go, you aren’t the only expert out there and there’s lots to learn.
Would you recommend working as an international teacher to someone else?
I’m not the first or the last person to spend a year working abroad; in fact, my mother and grandmother both worked in Africa in their twenties for a year. I’m also not the first or last person to make the move from teaching into the corporate world.
I think a lot of people leave university without a defined job in mind, or the job market doesn’t initially facilitate their dreams. Take the time to do something positive and uplifting; it will help you find out what you want to do on a permanent basis. Don’t feel like a year out is too much time to give up searching for a career. If you plan to work for another 40+ years, it’s important to take the time to find the right path for you.
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Space & Time
Space & Time is a growth marketing agency, enabling clients to secure optimal value from every part of the customer experience and their marketing investment. We form long-term partnerships with clients through our business empathy and commercial alignment, working within fully managed, hybrid or in-house models to deliver best-in-class expertise across media, technology, performance creative and training, driving market-beating long-term growth outcomes.Find out more