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Ashley Chang

Internet anthropologist

Ashley Chang’s skills in maths and data analytics and his nose for cultural trends is the perfect fit at YouTube.

As the culture and trends manager at YouTube, Ashley Chang gets to watch videos at work – yep, it’s a job requirement. For the past year, he’s been building a team to dig into the data and gain an understanding of pop culture through trends in the videos people are watching and making.

“You gain a greater insight into who we are as people,” he says, adding that this is useful to determine how YouTube shapes and reflects culture.

Ashley describes himself as an “internet anthropologist” – sifting through information to find clues about how people interact and what they value.

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Dream ride

Maths and data are central to Ashley’s role, but his journey started with a double degree in journalism and business at Queensland University of Technology, before eventually landing a role at the then-newly established media outlet Pedestrian TV.

Ashley was the third employee hired, and says his role grew as the business did. He was eventually headhunted by the ABC to work as an editor for their iview platform, and moved on to become the social media lead at ABC TV. Another round of headhunting led him into his role at YouTube, which he says has turned out to be his dream job.

Ashley recommends that people aspiring to work in social media shouldn’t undervalue what they can bring to an organisation. “Be willing to evolve and up-skill, do things that will be hard for you,” he says.

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What’s the story?

Ashley explains that most social media roles are around understanding data analytics – separating signals from noise to see which trends are important. “It’s amazing what you can see in data, and data doesn’t lie. It’s up to you to draw the right insights,” he says.

Around 50 per cent of Ashley’s role is managing trends and culture for the Australian part of the YouTube platform, and the other half is helping other countries in the Pacific region identify significant viewing patterns.

“It’s dividing the forest from the trees – which trends tell a story? How do we use these stories to achieve business goals and understand how YouTube is perceived?” he says.

Maths adds value

Although Ashley didn’t go on to do a maths or science degree, he studied three-unit maths at high school. For careers in the social and digital media space, Ashley says a good grounding in maths can help you interpret data to find stories about how people are using information, what those stories mean for society and how they affect organisations.

While a knack for numbers is a huge value-add, Ashley recommends that people looking to follow a similar career path also build skills in weaving them into stories that mean something to their audience.

“The volume of data is increasing exponentially. The value that current students will provide is being able to manage the systems that collect the data and interpret it in a way that machines never could,” he says.

Ashley’s study and career pathway

This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Maths 2020.

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