How Work Friendships Can Make You a Better Engineer—and Person
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.