How Bumble’s Director of Engineering Learned to Be Herself at Work—and Encourages Team Members to Do the Same
Rose Hitchcock found out she was pregnant with her third child halfway through the process of interviewing to be Director of Engineering at Bumble.
She told the team at the social media and dating app and that didn't change their plans to hire her. "They were completely fine with it, really supportive," says Rose.
She started her new role while pregnant and plans to take six months off when she gives birth.
"They were like, 'Oh, take what time you need,'" she says. "That was another reason for me to come and work for the company, there was just no issue there."
We sat down with Rose to discuss her path to Director of Engineering, how she has found professional success by being herself (including as a working mother), what companies can do to create pathways to leadership for as many women and underrepresented people as possible, and why that matters.
Finding what energizes her in environments where she can be herself
Though Rose's role is in engineering, she doesn't have a formal background in computer science or engineering. She studied management science during university, and her first true exposure to programming came just after undergrad when she took a job as a business analyst at an IT consulting firm, which included five weeks of coding training.
Working as an analyst, she served as the liaison between the tech and business sides of various companies before transitioning into a technical project manager. That role was when she really "started to learn more about leading teams," and discovered that leadership and people management challenges were what she most loved solving.
"I really enjoyed helping people progress, promoting them and...working with people who were struggling to improve," she says. As her capabilities grew, Rose progressed into a more strategic role, coming back from her second maternity leave as a manager of other delivery managers. That's where she confirmed that management was where her passion lies.
"I have lots of colleagues and friends who are in management and they probably spend half their day doing coding stuff that they're not supposed to be doing, just because that's what energizes them and that's what they enjoy," she says. "For me, I get to enjoy my job and actually do the things that motivate me and that I'm really passionate about without feeling like I'm missing out on getting my hands dirty."
Throughout her career, Rose realized that she could only really enjoy her job if she was in an environment where she felt comfortable being herself. When she worked in consulting, that wasn't quite the case. "It felt like you had to behave in a certain way," she says. "To have the same attitude in order to get ahead, like being very self confident and self-promoting. You couldn't just do a good job—you then had to go and tell everybody what a good job you were doing."
That isn't who Rose is, so she ended up leaving consulting and going into industry, where she found the career growth she was looking for. "When you're in a smaller company, it's a lot easier to be recognized for your work, because people can see what you're doing," she says. "If you want extra responsibility or challenges, you always hear about them and can put your hand up."
But company size isn't the only important metric Rose considers. In a past job, she'd worked for an inspirational woman founder and wanted the chance to do that again, which is why the Bumble opportunity appealed to her so much.
"Obviously Whitney [Wolfe Herd, Bumble's CEO] is a strong woman founder. The passion she brought into the mission and what the company was trying to do, [with] this mission to support women to make healthy and equitable relationships really appealed to me," she says.
From the tech side, the fact that Bumble is still building most of its tech internally was another plus. "Teams that are building their own products are so much more motivated and engaged," adds Rose.
Encouraging others to grow and creating space for them
As a Director of Engineering, a big part of Rose's focus is creating a culture of growth for the teams she oversees. This starts with remembering the things that helped her to grow.
- Giving praise in public. "I tell people that I've noticed when they're doing a good job and praise them or thank them," she says.
- Giving pass-through praise. Rose doesn't stop by telling individuals when they're doing well—she also talks them up to other members of the leadership team, including the CTO. "I advocate for them," says Rose.
- Providing opportunities to shine. "It's important to communicate the talent within your team to folks outside of your immediate department. This allows room for a cross-functional awareness of your team's incredible work and how other departments can tap into a member of your team for future projects," says Rose. "I look for opportunities for my team members to showcase their unique set of skills and expertise, whether that's giving a presentation or attending a meeting."
She also works to create a healthy attitude towards work that avoids the self-aggrandizing and presenteeism that she found exclusionary in previous roles by:
- Focusing on output rather than time. Instead of worrying whether people are getting to work late or leaving early, Rose just asks one question: "Are they delivering?"
- Modeling behavior. Rose says that she started to work more flexibly after she became a parent, coming in early and leaving early to see her kids before bedtime, and working only four days each week. She encourages other people to set the schedules that work for their lives. "I try to consciously make an effort not to apologize [about my schedule] so that other people don't feel it's something to feel guilty about," she says.
- Planning with outside commitments in mind. "When we're talking about project delivery, I work really hard to consider things about people's home lives," says Rose. An example: if she has a project launch date in mind, she won't assume that everyone is okay with working overtime to make it. Rose also asks the managers on her team to consider things like school breaks and holidays when planning. "It's actually trying to put the people side of things first, rather than always the delivery side of things," she says.
Why a diverse team matters at work
Rose thinks about diversity in everything she does, from recruiting to promoting to retaining talent. Here's what that looks like:
- Finding diverse talent: "If you say, 'Oh, it's really hard to find woman developers,' well, let's train some, then," says Rose, who works with recruiters to bring in strong junior technical candidates and trains them up in-house.
- Making diverse talent feel welcome: As a working parent, Rose knows the importance of a flexible schedule. While recruiting for open roles on her team, she saw that some candidates didn't want to change jobs because they didn't want to lose the existing flexible working arrangements they had with their current employers. So she made sure to let them know that the roles she was hiring for would come with flexible scheduling, including it in job postings as well as bringing it up in interviews. "I've had people, especially women, say to me that flexible schedules were a big driver in their decision to come and work for us," says Rose. "They knew they could have [flexibility] from day one and they didn't feel penalized asking for it."
- Promoting diverse talent: As soon as someone new joins her team, Rose sits down with them and helps to identify personal and professional goals. "I make a conscious effort to set objectives around where the individual's gaps are and what skills they would need to build on if they are interested in leadership positions in the future," she says. From that point, Rose starts giving them tailored stretch opportunities and exposure. Some examples include: asking a direct report to prepare a presentation for a small audience of 20 team members, having them represent a project at a tech-wide meeting, having them host a lunchtime session for an external audience, or sponsoring them to talk at a tech conference.
Building and retaining diverse team members isn't a priority of Rose's just because it feels right—it also makes for better work products and procedures, she says.
For Bumble, the perspectives of people with different gender identities and sexualities are especially relevant. "If you have a diverse team, their ideas and their expectation of what they want in our products is moving at the same speed as what our customers are expecting because they are representative of our community," she says. "How do we make sure that we're actually meeting the needs and wants of our community and bringing them new things that they actually want? [Well,] if you get people with more diverse experiences and different ways of thinking, you'll get innovation."