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.