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."
Kate Jhaveri does one thing every day that she suggests you try: belly laughs.
The EVP and Chief Marketing Officer at the NBA credits her two kids with much of that levity—"They're very silly and they, at least once a day, make me laugh out loud," she says—though she seeks to make those lighter connections with her team at work, too.
"Especially at this time, it's so incredibly important to have that perspective with everything that's going on," she says.
We sat down with Kate to hear about her career journey, why she left tech to work in sports, how she led her team through the pandemic, and what advice she has (beyond laughing often) for other women seeking to build fulfilling careers—and communities.
Solving creative problems for different consumers
Growing up, Kate always had a book in her hands. "The ability to tell stories and move people with words and images is something that started with me very young," she says. She thought about parlaying that love of stories into becoming a college professor, but her father encouraged her to try something new before committing to that path.
So she took a job in consulting and immediately loved it. "I really, really loved the problem solving and the ability to see opportunities for different businesses and consumers," she says. Those skills translated well to a job at Dell, where she got to go deep on one set of problems and enjoyed the energy of her fast-paced team of coworkers. "I fell in love with the velocity that was happening in the tech industry and...really getting to know who you are interacting with."
But having focused on English and Spanish literature in college, Kate wanted a chance to shore up her business skill set, so she got her MBA at Tuck, Dartmouth's business school. "It was a good way to refine all of the different ways I could think about business problems and solve them," she says. It also helped her define the kind of job she wanted post-graduation: one as a marketing leader.
"Marketing is where the two halves of me come together: this ability to really think about and problem solve combined with this love of art and creativity and storytelling," says Kate. "I wanted to run a marketing team for a brand that I cared about," she says.
Finding her community with the NBA
When an opportunity to be the NBA's CMO popped up, Kate knew it was the kind of job and the kind of company that aligned with her values. "It's a brand that really seeks to unite people," says Kate of the NBA. "Whether that's through the sport of basketball, or the values we hold around diversity, equity, and inclusion, it's about how can we bring people together and do so with something that makes people feel really joyful."
Her role as CMO includes every aspect of marketing, and Kate likes that challenge. "Marketing is really changing; it's super exciting now, this amazing blend of art and science that gets me excited and gets me out of bed in the morning, thinking through how to talk to consumers in ways that matter to them."
And even though she switched industries from tech to sports, and picked up new lingo to go along with it, Kate has found the transition to be a smooth one. "The organization has been super open to a lot of the ideas that I bring from a different industry and is already super innovative, [so] it wasn't that big of a change," she says.
Kate's approach to marketing, whether for a tech product or for professional basketball, is focused on communities. She's long been fascinated by how communities are created and how they develop, and in her current CMO role, she draws on her own experience feeling part of sports communities, from rooting for the Celtics as a kid in Baltimore to living in Chicago during Michael Jordan's heyday with the Bulls.
"There is no better community than the community of NBA fans," says Kate. "The NBA has done such a great job of building that community and bringing fans in to feel close, not just to the players or the game, but to what the NBA stands for."
Pandemic pivot: standing up with the NBA community
Kate joined the NBA in August of 2019. Seven months later, the world was put on pause—and so was basketball.
The whole NBA found themselves reimagining how a season of professional basketball could look. Kate felt like they had a unique opportunity to bring people together, and that figuring out how to do that in new ways would serve their audience now and in the future, especially since she says that less than 1% of basketball fans ever make it to an arena to see a live game. "One of the most interesting things about [this last year] is that we're all craving community in some way, and whether that's in person or online, we all want human connection," she says.
That community was especially important last summer, when the Black Lives Matter movement took off after a string of extrajudicial police killings of Black Americans. "The absolute tragedy and horrific loss of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor was a moment where we really could stand with players …[and] our fans," says Kate. As NBA players chose to wear jerseys with social justice messages and the league painted Black Lives Matter on the court, Kate saw it as " incredibly powerful and values-driven."
The NBA's transition to a bubble with games played without live fans meant new opportunities for the marketing team to share content and interact with their communities. "[I'm proud of our] ability in that time to tell a really compelling story about how we had changed the game and how fans could interact with the game specifically to bring them closer," says Kate.
Those new ways of telling stories included professional games of H-O-R-S-E, The Last Dance documentary in partnership with ESPN, trivia games, reruns and new commentary of classic match-ups, and the first-ever 2K Players tournament, not to mention tons of social engagement with the NBA's community of super-engaged fans.
"We really tried to meet what fans needed and wanted, and we learned a lot about what content is super interesting and what platforms are particularly great for individual pieces of content," she says.
So far, her favorite innovation—and one that she plans to bring into the post-pandemic world—has been the digital fans. The NBA created a virtual fan experience where more than 300 fans each game were invited to appear live on the "Michelob ULTRA Courtside" 17-foot-tall video boards surrounding the court, allowing for an atmosphere of cheering (and occasional jeering) even with otherwise empty seats. "It's such a great way to bring people closer," says Kate.
Paying it forward: tips for building your career
Kate has four key tips for other women looking to build careers—and communities—that work for them:
- Remember that your dream role might "hire on hustle." Kate is a builder: "I like to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty," she says. Leaning on her ability to get things done, even with a scrappy team or a limited budget, has been how she's gotten several roles, she says. Focus less on what degree you have or who you know and more on a track record of making things happen.
- Before accepting an offer, ask "Do I want to have a beer with these people?" That's the question Kate makes sure she'd say "yes" to before starting a new role. "You're spending a good portion of your life, whether on Zoom or sitting in the office, with these people. If you aren't really enjoying [them], it makes the job less fun. It's about the passion and the people," she says.
- Once you're in a new role, make sure to speak up and share the ideas that got you there. "For women especially, it is deeply important to not lose your voice. There are times when you may be the only woman in the room, and there are times when that room could be fairly large. It's still really important that you know that you belong there," she says. "Everyone has a little bit of doubt about what they're doing, but don't lose your voice. Have every confidence that you belong at that table. And your ideas are welcome and needed. Otherwise you wouldn't be there."
- As you take on new roles and responsibilities at different companies, be kind to everyone you come across. "Marketing is a small world," says Kate. "You will have the opportunity to cross paths with people again." She says that now, her community of peers is her biggest source of inspiration and continuous learning. "I see where they've gone, they see where I've gone, and we have a connection," she says. "Focus on relationships and individuals, because they will stay with you far longer than you think."
JW Player Senior Software Development Engineer Neha Khan Talks Company Culture and Collaborative Problem-Solving
When Neha Khan moved to Seattle from India for her first software engineering job in the United States, she didn't know where the grocery store was—or how she'd get there.
Luckily, her work friends helped her out. "They took me for lunch, and somebody even helped me buy groceries because they had a car," she says, smiling.
Neha has moved industries and jobs several times since then, but she's still a huge believer in the importance of having work friends. In fact, it's become part of how she evaluates a company's culture: is it a place she could make a life-changing friendship?
From her first interview at JW Player, Neha knew the video platform was that kind of place.
We sat down with the senior software development engineer to hear about why work friendships matter, how JW Player's culture fosters those kinds of relationships, and how the combination of interpersonal connection and a thoughtful culture creates better outcomes for everyone involved.
Why friendships matter at work
Neha says that her first good work friend in the U.S. taught her about three things: football, eggnog, and Christmas. That vital knowledge was conveyed on a cross-country trip where Neha visited Boston to explore Harvard and spend Christmas with her friend's family.
But a work friendship can bring more than just personal joy and the satisfaction of a well-spiced cup of holiday cheer.
"Human beings want to work with other people, and to have some fun, so that's the first aspect," says Neha of friendships at work. "The second is in terms of learning."
Neha shares the story of a new hire at work who felt too scared and shy to ask her team questions about work. Neha's advice to her was to warm up to her new teammates as friends first, whether to talk about their backgrounds or learn about their hobbies, and start to see them as approachable peers versus people she had to impress. "If you develop a relationship, it's easier to ask questions, which has to happen a lot in technology, because no one knows everything!" says Neha.
How JW Player's culture is set up to encourage connection and collaboration
Although Neha found her way into engineering because it was a reliable, well-paying career path that her parents approved of, she's spent 11 years in the field because she loves solving the complex problems that come across her desk as a software development engineer.
She also loves the chance to learn from experts, no matter the industry she's working in. When she was at Amazon's HR department, she learned a lot about U.S. workforce laws, and when she worked at Bank of America, she went deep on how Wall Street works.
But for her to enjoy the process of solving problems and learning about something new, the people around her have to be empathetic, collaborative, and open, and that's not the case everywhere.
"I have interviewed enough to know how they work," says Neha. "A lot of times the interviewer is not collaborative. They don't solve the problem with you. But that's how technology has to be—eventually you have to do teamwork."
She knew JW Player was the kind of workplace she'd like when her first interviewer there collaborated on a solution with her. This was reaffirmed when the company's CTO treated her like a peer in their interview and really valued her ideas. "The company is very, very engineering driven—an engineer has as much of a say as a sales or a product person," she says.
A bonus was realizing how non-hierarchical the engineering team at JW Player is. "As a software engineer, I can share an idea, it doesn't have to come from a principal engineer," she says. "That's helped me grow a lot, because that pushes me to come up with ideas."
It's also given her the opportunity to learn about the media industry and how JW Player lets companies host their own videos, versus relying on big tech to host and distribute them, and thus have more control over their revenue and viewership through their software.
That focus on inclusion and growth is the "best approach" to a friendship-enabling work culture that she's come across, says Neha. Specifically, she thinks the fact that they don't force-rank employees during their review process and that engineers can work on any project irrespective of their place in the hierarchy (which gives them a chance to showcase their architectural and management skills, especially with cross-functional projects) sets JW Player apart.
Neha also loves that the company hosts events to encourage relationship-building, and is down to try just about all of them—from knitting circles (she'd never knit before but can now!) to a gourmet foods club to a lunch-and-learn with senior members of the company.
"I participated in a volunteer program with a senior account manager. Our jobs don't require us to interact on a daily basis, but that day we discovered that we had so many shared interests. And now we're friends!" says Neha.
Paying it forward
Having friends at work makes learning, asking questions, and collaborating easier and more efficient.
But it's also a way to be not just a better employee, but a better world citizen, says Neha.
"Work is the best place to find diversity," she says. "Any other place you go, it'll be mostly people similar to you, but work is a place where you will find people with different interests, different backgrounds, and different nationalities."
For her, that's meant working with people from all over the world and learning about their cultures (and cuisines, since she really is a big fan of adventurous eating). "It's made me more empathetic towards different groups of people," she says. "Maybe I used to have certain stereotypes in mind, but when I interacted with them, it changed."
Now, Neha approaches new colleagues with a deep sense of empathy. "It's important that you develop a more human relationship with people so they can communicate their problems," she says. "Most people would rather work with someone who is easy to work with than someone who is brilliant but has a bad attitude."
Want to find your people at JW Player? Check out their open roles.