Taking a chance: Sky senior technical supervisor Sarah Adams on never being afraid to ask questions

Adams: ‘Teams are richer when they are diverse’

By Sarah Adams, senior technical supervisor, Sky

I think you have to never be afraid to ask questions of anyone. There is not one person who knows everything, so there is no need to feel like you are asking stupid questions. The more you ask the more you will know! This also means applying for jobs that look out of your skill set, as you can always learn. There is never a person who fits a job description 100% so put yourself out there and try it.

I would also say go to industry events such as those run by the likes of SVG Europe and SMPTE. You will end up meeting so many like-minded people who can introduce you to others who are happy to talk about what they know and love. Reach out to people you meet on LinkedIn with a personalised introduction. This helps to build a rapport and you can start to build your own network.

Lastly, be more confident in your own abilities. Chances are you are underselling yourself and being overlooked more than you should be. Don’t be afraid about not knowing something, just know that there are only things that you don’t know… yet! Teams are richer when they are diverse (in any regard) and my team is certainly better as a result of it.

Lack of junior roles

When first starting out in the industry I did find there was a lack of roles for people with little or no experience. This is still the case now. It’s the transition from education (at any level) to a role where you can continue to learn that is the most challenging. It takes a lot of resources for a company to train people with little or no experience, but if you don’t then there isn’t the next generation coming through.

I had to apply for lots of different roles to see if companies were willing to take on someone with little or no experience. It meant many applications for all sorts or roles with many rejections, but ultimately it was worth it.

Also, getting people to trust me with their production is sometimes challenging. My job is to make sure that from a vision point of view everything just works. I found that getting to know people really helps. It puts people at ease as they feel you are approachable and can work together to make a great production. They will then see that you are just as good as any of your colleagues.

I think the work-life balance can be quite hard. I think you go into it knowing that you will end up working weekends and evenings but adapting that to fit it with the reality of life is hard. You end up working when family and friends are off enjoying themselves. They always seem to forget that I work most weekends. Come on guys, I have been doing this for nearly 20 years! You can make it work but it takes a lot of continued time and effort to achieve a balance.

But the buzz of live production is what draws me to this role. You have a small window to fix and make sure things work. You will only be on air for a few hours and production are counting on you to get it all working. I love that you can put so much hard work into a few hours TV, and then it’s over. You can move on to the next thing. You don’t have to take things over into the next day if you don’t want to.

Finding broadcast

It was in my final year at university when we had to complete research into where we could see our degree taking us and where we would go next, that I found broadcast. Up until this point I had no idea of any careers in broadcast or what was on offer other than the normal cameras, directors and producers that everyone knows of. Because of the fact that I had to complete my own research I found areas and roles that even the university hadn’t heard of.

The one that sounded perfect for me was broadcast engineer. Luckily for me our university had a placement scheme with Sky which meant I knew someone in the industry already who could give me an insight into the roles. When I described what I was interested in they said, “that’s what I did during my placement!”. They described the buzz of live sport broadcast, the pace, the challenges, and when I heard it I was hooked. The world of sport was opened up with the opportunity to work in OBs and travel the country or world.

After school I didn’t really know what I wanted to do next, but ended up picking subjects I loved and wanted to learn about: A-level Maths, Chemistry, Media and Communication Studies. I always knew I wanted to go to uni (as I wasn’t ready for work!) but without much inspiration as to what I wanted to do career-wise, I ended up applying for courses that sounded fun.

This led me to study Media Technology and Production at the University of Glamorgan (now University of South Wales), as the course sounded varied and technical but gave me the opportunity to see many aspects of the media.

My first job in broadcast was with an outside broadcast company working as a technical assistant. My role involved loading and unloading the tenders for jobs, helping while out on the road, rigging cameras and camera assisting. When I wasn’t required as a technical assistant, I ended up spending a lot of time in the vision department to keep warm!

I quickly realised that the roles were incredibly similar to the ones I had researched while at uni. I think it was the best start I could have had into my career in broadcast, as the role involved multiple areas. I learnt about sound, cameras and vision. It allowed me to see all aspects of the industry in all areas of the country and world.

“I am always looking for ways to improve our productions and provide the best possible experience, not only for our clients, but also for other people in the department”

After the role of technical assistant, I moved on to be junior vision engineer at the same company. It took me all over the world racking cameras for F1 races, as well as filling the time in the off season with other jobs that came in. Wanting to further expand my horizons, I applied for the job of technical supervisor at Sky. This gave me the opportunity to see a mainly studio-based offering of sports broadcasting and see how this differed from the OB world.

After a few years I was promoted within department to the position of senior technical supervisor; I had recently completed a project for a relaunch of one of Sky’s football shows. The project had allowed me to demonstrate not only to others, but also myself, what I could achieve. I could see that a senior role would provide for more opportunities like this and the chance to learn more about the wider industry.

However, it was hard to know when I felt I was ready for a more senior job. I think I tend to undersell myself, something which I am guilty of, so knowing that I was ready was hard. Because you have to learn on the job, I found it hard to know what was in my remit and what was achievable.

Never be afraid to seek out roles that you may think you are not ready for yet, you may surprise yourself, but at the very least it is good practise for when you are ready.

I think the same is true for keeping the role. I am always looking for ways to improve our productions and provide the best possible experience, not only for our clients, but also for other people in the department.

Keeping up with the challenges

Keeping up with technology is the most challenging part of this job. It appears there is something new on the horizon all the time. I love this aspect, but it is also the thing that makes the role most challenging.

I love the pace and variety. I love that you go in to do a show such as football which can be only a couple of hours on air and then the next day you are doing something very different like cricket or NFL. The fact that you don’t have to take your work home with you allows you to switch off. Once the derig is done, that’s it for that particular show! Its like having multiple jobs. Days are never the same as each sport has different requirements.

The coolest thing I’ve worked on would be being part of the team for return to sport for Premier League football after COVID. We had to get the Premier League back on people’s TVs in a safe way after it had been paused due to the pandemic.

It was great to have my ideas and technical knowledge listened to. It was such a great sense of achievement to see it back on air remotely at the galleries in West London after creating multiple new workspaces that allowed people to work safely. The team managed to achieve so much in such a short space of time.

At its peak we were doing four games a day, two remote and two traditional OB, but all presented through the facilities at Sky Studios. We had to build two temporary match galleries and a replay hub for all games under COVID measures. It was great fun but long hard days! And I learnt so much in such a short space of time!

HDR remote production cricket is a really cutting-edge development at Sky. We had launched remote production cricket the year before but last year the decision was taken to produce all domestic English cricket in HDR. This came with its own challenges for the OB and on the remote gallery side of things; directors learning what it looked like, providing third parties with the correct formats and the team in the gallery looking out to see when elements were delivered in the wrong formats.

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