From Intern to Manager: Caroline Sperry's Story

Caroline Sperry first met Island Press in 2009. Eight years later, she shares the story of how she went from Production Intern to IT & Web Manager.

Automating what I could as the Island Press Production Intern led directly to me becoming the IT & Web Manager.

In 2009 – a recent college graduate with a BA in 18th Century British Literature – I unsurprisingly found myself working at Borders (RIP) and interning wherever I could. One day, while helping a customer, I overheard her speaking with her friend about the publishing company she worked for. As someone who had decided she wanted to be in publishing at age 14 (I knew I didn’t have the skills to make it as an author), I immediately asked if I could have her contact information so I could submit a resume. Maureen Gately, the Director of Production & Design, graciously waited for me to grab a pen and paper. 

Happily, I was hired for the Production Intern position. The first thing my supervisor, Sharis Simonian, taught me how to do was a castoff. The castoff is the first thing that happens when a book transmits from editorial to production. It is done in an Excel spreadsheet, using all of the elements in a book (text, art, figures, etc.) to yield an estimated final page count. As you might guess, all the formulas and calculations that needed to be input made my English major self a bit nervous. Since there were  some formulas already in the spreadsheet, I wondered if I could add a few more to cut down on my chances of making a “math” mistake on such an important document.


Six months after I was hired as the Production Intern, a full-time Production Assistant position opened up. After being hired as Production Assistant, I learned to never manually do a thing that a computer can do for you. One of the first things I did was revisit that castoff document. Sharis and I worked together to update the spreadsheet so that the calculations would no longer need to be manually input which ended up greatly improving the accuracy of the estimated final page counts.

After a couple of months on the job, Island Press decided it was time to start converting our backlist of books into e-books. Keeping track of some 600 books with about 200 bits of metadata each was certainly not something I could do myself. So, over Christmas my dad (yes, my dad) taught me how to use the V-Lookup formula in Excel. When my spreadsheets got so big they started crashing my computer I had to give in and learn how to write Excel Macros since they run once, unlike formulas which update every time you change something on the sheet. But even the Excel Macros were only a work around for what I really needed. I was trying to piece together information from about three different sources, when all along everything I needed was in our database, TMM. So I started exploring our database and our workflows to make sure all the metadata I needed was being input into that database. But I still couldn’t get the information out of the database. So then I learned SQL, a programing language, so that I could look around a bit.

Knowing so much about our database had the interesting side effect of causing me to learn PHP, another programing language. Island Press was redoing the website and our developers didn’t know anything about TMM, so the current IT Manager asked me for a breakdown of where the information was located. Publishing and IT use a lot of the same terminology, but they have completely different meanings.  For various reasons, I ended up taking over writing the code for the export to the website which led to me attending website planning sessions. Since I knew both Publishing and IT terminology I became the primary point of contact. 

Six years after I was hired as the Production Assistant I was hired to become the new IT & Web Manager. I’ve been at this for six months now – good things happen in 6s, don’t believe what you hear about 3s – and I've learned so much on the job already that if I listed them all here this post would never end. 

To sum up: If Island Press hadn’t been as open to letting me learn new skills as it was (and still is) I would have never have become an IT Manager. And more than that, I would never have realize how much fun it is to write a successful piece of code.