A NY Times Head Engineer On His Steps To Not Only Hire, But Retain More Women
At PowerToFly our mission is simple: connect companies with women in tech so they can diversify their teams faster. Hiring well balanced teams is hard, despite numerous studies showing how diverse companies perform better. That’s why we focus on connecting with hiring managers who are trying to make a difference. By showcasing their goals, practices and the environments they’ve created, we want to shed light on the initiatives hiring managers like Brian Hamman, the VP of Engineering for News Products at The New York Times, are doing at major companies to bring in more women to change the makeup of their teams.
Hamman’s team is responsible for the core news experience across the web and native apps for the storied media brand. PowerToFly spoke with Hamman about how he is trying to hire a diverse team, how coding and journalism intersect and how he got his start in tech.
Is your tech group diverse?
We are looking to become a more diverse group and we are focused on bringing more women to the team. We have created an excellent parental leave policy. We have 10 weeks for partners and adoptive parents and 16 weeks for birth mothers. It can be used anytime within a year of birth and takes effect immediately upon employment. And we are getting out into the community more through organizations like Grace Hopper. We also have a culture and diversity task force where we have done both unconscious bias training and training in career management.
What are your top tips for hiring a diverse engineering team and for hiring more women?
I struggle with hiring a diverse team as much as everybody else. The things that I find most successful beyond networking at places like meetups and events are:
- When we hire a new developer at The Times I ask them as soon as possible about who we should try to recruit right away from their previous company or network. I ask them to look for people or give me names of people who I can go after myself. I tend to see more diverse candidates that way because I can ask for those types of referrals.
- I also am the “LinkedIn Stalker.” I am always emailing a bunch of people, inviting them to coffee and getting them to interviews, etc. I’ve had really great success meeting people that way.
- We are also experimenting with tools like Textio to analyze job descriptions to make sure that we are not using words that push women away from the NY Times.
- The harder challenge is getting engineers to consider working at The Times if they would never consider media. To address that problem we are working on growing the network of female engineers and engineers outside of the newsroom. Our women in tech task force is building out an excellent network of female engineers which helps in the hiring process
To me, the challenge is not only hiring women but retaining them once they are on board. We are working on:
- Promoting a better work/life balance. We have a much better parental leave policy and I want to see that promoted more so candidates are aware of it.
- Focusing on career development — I’ve seen women who are really good leave The Times for opportunities elsewhere. I want to make sure that everyone is growing in an engineering role at our media company. When you are in media the path forward in tech is not as clear as when you are at a company based in tech. For example, I was pretty much the first person to have every role I’ve had at the times. In media there can be a lot of uncertainty in your career as a developer. We just released a career ladder for engineers that gives a clear path for advancement to very senior levels without having to go into management, which is important for many engineers.
- We are also starting to talk about a remote work policy. We are setting up things like video conferencing and Slack to help with this process. We are not going to be a remote company but we are trying to figure out how to make it an option at times when people need to work from where they are. We are setting up best practices for remote work so that when someone might need this as part of their package to work at the Times, we can consider it as an option and make sure it is a productive experience.
Why do you think it is important to attract more women?
I’ve been on teams that were all men and teams that were balanced. The more balanced teams are better. You get to better decisions faster. You cut corners where needed faster. And you back out of dark corners faster. You get different ideas from a diverse team. When we launched NYT Cooking it was very helpful to have a mixed team. If you have more perspective, then you will have a better chance that you do not ignore an entire area of your audience, and overall your product will be more successful.
Is speed important in the hiring process?
It varies on the team and the role. We are slow on hiring. We would like to get faster. However, we want to hire the best person not the first person. We don’t just try to hire to fill a slot. We prefer to bring in many candidates and hire the person who is the right fit for the job. We like to hire people who believe in the mission of The Times and will spend time looking for mission-driven candidates.
How did you get your start in tech? And what is your role now at The Times?
I became the VP of Engineering for News Products six months ago. I oversee the website, mobile apps including iOS and Android, the video team, and the front end teams.
I had a roundabout way of getting into tech. I was a computer science major in undergrad but I actually got to the New York Times through Journalism school. I did database reporting at Journalism school at the University at Missouri. The New York Times created an internal role after the Jayson Blair case. I was hired onto a team that kept track of corrections, travel, and making sure standards are being met. We created a database of corrections to see if there were trends on errors.
A year later I was on the interactive news team programming for journalism election results and social interactives. I was the Deputy Editor for about 6 years. I was at the intersection of coding and journalism as I was building tools for reporters and telling stories. I built an internal search engine for the reporters to use that tracked things from Guantanamo Detainees to puppy photos. From there I went to the NYT Now, Cooking, and Opinion sections. I was in the lead engineering role for these apps. I managed an engineering team for new products. It was the first time I considered myself an engineer as before that I was journalist who also coded.
What are the coding languages most in demand right now?
We are hiring for iOS and Android developers. We are also eager for Node and React. On the backend we need Java, Scala and Go. On the data end we are looking for people who know python. And we are looking to move to Google hub provider so people with that experience are highly sought after.
It's been six years since Sarah Cooper graced us with her 10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings. But how on earth can we appear smart in our new virtual world, in which for many of us, going to work is just sitting in one long series of probably-not-necessary Zoom meetings?
1. Dial in.<p>Dialing in rather than joining via the link instantly boosts your credibility. Who calls into Zoom meetings? People who are still busy and important enough to be leaving their houses! But you needn't actually be one of those people, or even more than a foot away from your computer to pull off this maneuver. (Remember, this article is called *seeming* smart, not being smart.)</p><p><strong></strong><em>Bonus: </em>If it's a large meeting at which attendance will be taken, the person running the meeting will inevitably ask, "Who's calling in from 443-322-2121?" That's when you raise your metaphorical hand, jump off mute, and say "[Your name] here. Really looking forward to hearing your perspective on [meeting topic]." And voila! You've stolen the meeting spotlight.</p>
2. Don't come on camera—ever.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODU5OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjMwNjI3OX0.4fLyq2CvkZAJ7n_03esZepY37mOdyGdDdTEUYt5XEU0/img.png?width=980" id="bc7e6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fbbf21cc5d8c863b30654ae6993b04f5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>Much like the "dial in," this technique works because it makes you appear aloof. If <em>The Crown has </em>taught me anything, it's that the key to maintaining a sense of mystique and prestige is to keep people at arm's length—and if you absolutely <em>must</em> touch them, wear a glove.</p>
3. Only communicate via chat.<p>Once you've mastered the art of staying off camera, you can level up by communicating exclusively via the chat box. Don't come off mute at all, even if the speaker asks your opinion. You are the elusive chatter and you will not be forced into actually participating in said meeting.</p>
4. Ask to share your screen.<p>Being aloof is great, but it's all about balance. Sprinkling in some active participation will really shock and impress your colleagues if you catch them off guard, so save this technique for when you've strategically <em>not </em>participated in a string of meetings.</p><p>Spend a few minutes prior to the meeting prepping a few inspirational slides with words like "synergy," "optimization," and "redefining 'culture'", or spend a few minutes poking around in Google Analytics. </p><p>Then wait for the opportune moment to say, "Can I just share my screen for a moment? I have some really interesting data I'd like to share...." and BAM — brilliance established.</p>
5. Show off your Zoom-saviness.<p>Try saying, "You know you can mute people, right?" to the host when they beg whoever's got the lawn mower and crying baby in the background to put themselves on mute for the nth time.<br></p>
6. Create an alter ego.<p>This tactic requires commitment, but the pay off is certainly worth it. Join the Zoom meeting from your normal account + name, and then join it again on a second device from an alias. Have your alter-ego ask some probing or stat-based questions in the chat and have the answers ready ahead of time. It should work something like this:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Your alter ego Charlene</strong><strong>:</strong> "Does anyone know what percentage conversion rates increased by in Q2?"</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Real you</strong>: *doesn't miss a beat* "It looks like Charlene has a question in the chat. That would be 36%."</p><div>Never mind that no one on your team knows who Charlene is or why she's at this meeting, they'll be too blown away by your brilliance to notice. (Bonus points if you use this strategy in conjunction with techniques 1, 2, 3 or 4!)</div>
7. Place an obscure object in your background that exudes intelligence.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODYxOC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzk5Njg2Mn0.V9_-3Ij3v_QndseqlrXRt5Nn39EJ97-itjls5zzYPf8/img.png?width=980" id="a369d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="604a2f04b53c2e3bc801bfa5256f367b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>We're talking a telescope, or perhaps a hardcover copy of <em>War & Peace </em>(no one need know that its only purpose in your life is as a makeshift yoga block).</p><p>If you don't have any suitable props at your disposal, do not despair: download some screenshots of Sheldon's apartment from <em>Big Bang Theory </em>or the chalkboard in <em>Good Will Hunting </em>and use those as a virtual background.</p>
8. Ask "Is this really the best course of action given the current climate?"<p>Economic collapse, COVID, racism… No need to specify whether you're referring to one or all of the above; just sit back and watch your boss squirm amidst the ambiguity.</p><p>This strategy pairs very well with techniques 2 and 3. You can prep additional vague-but-probing questions ahead of time and pepper them into the chat box throughout the meeting:</p><ul><li>How will this scale?</li><li>Do we really have the bandwidth for this right now?</li><li>What's the value-add here?</li></ul>
9. Remind everyone that you have a paid Zoom account.<p>"Oh, it looks like we're getting the 40-minute warning. I have a paid account, do you want to switch to my room?" It's helpful, with just a touch of condescension. Everyone knows condescending people are smart. And everyone knows that people with paid Zoom accounts are super important.</p>
10. Tell everyone you have a hard stop.<p>When pressed for details, share your philosophy on "work-from-home" balance and how committed you are to getting up once an hour to walk to your refrigerator.</p>
11. Ask the screensharer/host to "pull something up" for everyone.<p>Ask the presenter to navigate to a screen that only you know how to navigate well. Laugh maniacally while they suffer from crippling performance anxiety. Let them struggle for as long as is tolerable before saying, "Oh you know what? I can just share my screen if you want. That would probably be easier." BAM you're the hero. Don't worry, no one will even pause to consider that you could have proposed this course of action from the start.</p>
12. Say Zoom fatigue as many times as possible.<p>If you're too tired to employ any of the other strategies, just say "I know everyone is experiencing a lot of Zoom fatigue, so we can keep this meeting short." Then hang up as quickly as possible. Meeting averted! </p><p>After all, there's no better way to demonstrate your intelligence in a virtual meeting than to demonstrate why it wasn't really necessary in the first place. </p>
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