I just wrote a piece for AlleyWatch about the difficulty I’ve experienced in hiring female engineers at Chartbeat. We’re hoping to source some great ideas from people like you – so please share ideas and opinions in the Comments below. You can read the whole piece here, but enjoy this snippet below.Like a number of growing startups in New York City, the Chartbeat engineering roster is impressive – and getting larger by the day. Since our second round of funding in April 2012, Chartbeat has more than doubled in size, hiring 39 new employees, including 16 engineers. Hiring developers in general is no easy task, as FastCompany explained in Why Your Startup Can’t Find Developers. So we’re incredibly proud of our growth, but there is one huge, glaring gap: we don’t have a single female engineer – and we never have in our four years of existence. And that simply must, no questions asked, change.As Head of Talent at Chartbeat, this responsibility rests with me, and I will tell you that since I joined about a year ago, we’ve tried everything, from traditional job postings to leveraging our seemingly cool company brand at every opportunity, but we’ve continued to fail at hiring female technical talent.The bad and good news is: we are not alone in this problem.Hiring female engineers isn’t a novel issue. The New York City Economic Development Corp says that only 9.8% of the female workforce is employed in a tech-related industry in the city, even though 39% of women with a bachelor’s degree majored in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. So why aren’t they joining us? There’s no simple or one answer, so I won’t even try to break it all down. It’s pretty obvious that the stories hitting the front page of ValleyWag every day about the latest Pax Dickinson or the latest rage-inducing brogrammer culture example aren’t helping to solve the problem.. But the division starts long before the workplace. According to a 2010 study conducted by Women in Computer Science (WiCS) at Stanford, only 15% of all computer science undergrads were female. A gap in education this severe no doubt directly influences the genetic makeup of the tech scene.But we know all this stuff. We’ve heard about it ad nauseam. So why are we bringing it up? To be honest, we need your help.While “changing the ratio” is discussed constantly by smart folks like Rachel Sklar who are leading the charge, both on and off social media, on conference panels, in blog posts, and in the tech pressbecause it’s such a far-reaching issue (much farther than just the male-to-female ratio). And the tactical challenge of hiring female talent isn’t addressed all that often.Like many problems in the tech industry, the issue of available female engineers might best be addressed through open sourcing, so that’s what we’re doing. We’re doing this publicly and transparently to address this issue head-on in a personal way, rather than as a theoretical discussion. I’m sharing what we know right now, what we need to learn, and how we plan to get the knowledge we need in order to create actionable plans going forward, so you can tell us what we’re doing wrong and how we can do a better job.Keep reading here. And please let me know what you think in the Comments!
A quick recap of Part I of this post…
- We knew Chartbeat Publishing was strained by UX debt
- We were psyched to introduce some major new functionality into the product
- We knew that we had to consolidate all our research and fill in knowledge gaps before the full design and dev process
- We were working out of a glorified bomb shelter next to a demolition site, an atmosphere of adversity which likely hastened our eagerness to redesign
The research effort culminated in the construction of a massive affinity diagram or mental model, which neatly organized all of the chaos of a newsroom into a taxonomy of actions and behaviours. The top level of the mental model consisted of four main categories:
- Developing content – actions associated with actually creating content
- Assessing content – actions associated with measuring traffic to content
- Assessing audience – actions associated with measuring identity and quality of traffic
- Developing audience – actions associated with systematically building audience
Taking a look at the mental model, the “developing content” and “assessing content” categories were fairly concise. We had a pretty thorough understanding of the workflows, processes, and product opportunities. But for “assessing audience” and “developing audience,” things were a little murkier. There were a myriad of complex activities that seemed disorganized and in need of rationalization — we had unearthed all kinds of social media tricks and hacks, experiments in link partnerships, attempts to infiltrate Reddit, newsletter optimizations, Outbrain gambits, and a whole slew of other tactics.
And the survey data backed up our feeling that there were more people working on audience development and using Chartbeat than we had originally thought.
We reached two conclusions:
- We needed to sit down again with the publishers doing the most progressive work in the area of audience development and try to figure out what we’d missed, if anything, the first time.
- And, in parallel, we needed to prototype some ideas that came out of our own hypotheses about how to measure audience quality in a simple way.
Last fall, the Chartbeat product team was hunkered down in an office space that could’ve made an excellent interrogation room. We temporarily obtained this 500 square-foot room to augment our main office, a sardine can of developers, designers, analysts, scientists, and a growing sales and marketing team.
It was… austere: four brick walls and a cement floor. There was a glass-topped table in the middle, a whiteboard, and a phone. Two windows separated us from the round-the-clock demolition going on in the adjacent lot, and you almost always had to shout to be heard. We even called it the murder room.
We were examining the roadmap for the Chartbeat Publishing dashboard. There was a lot on the table—all kinds of ideas for functionality that we wanted to add to a product that was starting to look like it had too much going on. There was no way we were fitting it all in to the current UI. The bulldozers were looking like a good idea. It was time to start from scratch.
But in reality, prep work for a top-to-bottom overhaul was already well underway. We had initiated a massive effort at capturing the state of the newsroom and the publishing industry, and were already thinking about how to align Chartbeat’s services with those conclusions.
Our Research Effort
Research is an ongoing practice at Chartbeat. We’re constantly talking to our clients, figuring out how they work and why they do what they do – even sketching out ideas together and evaluating concepts. Nevertheless, heading into the project, we wanted to consolidate of all our meeting notes and interviews, and confidently answer the following questions…
Who’s using our product?
What are their motivations, needs, and philosophies?
Where’s the industry going?
What will the newsroom look like in a year or two?
How will editorial roles evolve?
If we started by simply answering these questions, we knew good things would happen.
To approach our research challenge systematically, we used ethnographic methodologies:
Interviews and Field Studies
If we weren’t on the phone firing away at our customers with non-leading questions, Mona Chaudhuri and I were hitting our clients’ offices on a semi-daily basis throughout most of 2012—picking brains, hearing war stories, watching them work, and bouncing ideas around.
Copious interview notes came from these many many meetings at places like The Blaze, NBC News, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN Money, Fast Company, Slate, Financial Times, and dozens more. If you had an office in New York, one of us was knocking on your door. And if your offices were outside of New York, we were there too: Washington, London, Toronto, Berlin, San Francisco.
We asked a diverse group of Chartbeat customers to keep journals of their day to day activities. The journals were written over the course of three weeks into Posterous (R.I.P) blogs. Some of the participants were given, i.e. gifted, iPads to more easily facilitate the entry of notes and ideas. Yes they were great as a lightweight field tool for entering notes, but more so the iPads were a great incentive to keep participants motivated.
We had some very prolific contributors… for example this guy: Jonathan Tesser at New York Magazine (at the time). Reading what his day was like in his own words was a fantastic window into newsroom issues. The ups and downs were so much more tangible—you could really feel the personal challenges in a way that other research methods just couldn’t uncover.
To get a quantitative perspective on newsroom ethnography, we conducted a survey, which asked people about their role, three day-to-day responsibilities, and the three long-term objectives that they are evaluated on.
Processing the Data
We dug into the survey data and immediately got to some interesting information. For example, 64% of respondents reported themselves as some type of “content creator.” And 36% identified their role as being at least partially on the business side. In our fieldwork, we were still talking primarily to editors and writers, so it was somewhat of a surprise to see that one in three people had some involvement in other aspects of the business, too.
We took the diaries and interview notes and boiled them down, then reduced them, and then reduced them some more into a mental model diagram (shout out to Indi Young and her fantastic book on the subject). The mental model represented everything we knew about newsroom behavior—it contained every discrete action or behavior taken by people in the front lines of a newsroom. There were a lot and they were extremely varied, for example:
“curate third-party content on Tumblr”
“harass writers to meet their deadlines”
“look for dead spots on the homepage”
above: a couple branches of the mental model
above: a grouping of activities within the branch: “Understanding referrer sources”
We consolidated the individual actions—several hundred—into larger groups. For example “curate third-party content on Tumblr” was put into a group called “build off-site brand presence.” And finally, all the groups were assembled into four high-level categories:
Everything that we observed and captured fit into one of those four categories. That gave us a way to maintain a broad perspective on the publishing business as a whole, with the means to narrow our focus down to specific workflows and actions through a highly organized affinity diagram.
At this point our ‘forensics’ work was done. Well, it’s never done, but we’d just completed a very thorough and immersive look at newsroom culture, workflow and the state of the publishing industry.
The output of this work – the mental model – gave us something to measure our product against as well. What actions were we supporting and not supporting? We brainstormed all the realistic and totally unrealistic things we could do to help our customers across the many facets of their work.Tomorrow, in part two of this post we’ll focus on some specific findings of the research and how we used it to roadmap the next incarnation of Chartbeat Publishing.
Tomorrow, the Chartbeat bus is packing up, rolling out, and traveling all the way….uptown. Tony, our favorite CEO, and Josh, the best lead data scientist around, are going to be hitting NYC stages at two events and would love to see you there.
Columbia’s Tow Center is hosting The Future of Digital Longform from 8:30a-7:30p tomorrow. Tickets are totally free and it looks like a stellar lineup. If you can take a bit of time away from the ol’ newsroom, you should swing by.
Josh will be sharing data he’s found while researching longform and interactive pieces — pieces like The New York Times “Snowfall” and CNN “Taken” with substantially higher production cost and substantially more time required of readers are becoming more and more prevalent online. These heavy-investment pieces mean analytics are even more critical than usual. Josh will be talking specifically about how we define longform content, what consumption of longform content looks like, and how longform stories affect audience growth over time.
Tony at the Chief Strategy Office Summit
Today and tomorrow’s Chief Strategy Officer Summit looks like a pretty action-packed day with folks from NASA, National Geographic, GE, Refinery 29 and everyone’s favorite startup/CEO Chartbeat’s Tony Haile closing out day two. He’ll be speaking on how your company can and should adapt to the right metrics — not simply traditional metrics we’ve long relied on.He’ll specifically be helping you industry execs at the summit to understand the metrics that matter to your business — and those that don’t, how to set up your organization and teams up to adapt autonomously (and in real time, of course!), and how to democratize data throughout your organization so your front-line teams can make smart, instant decisions. They’re some of the core tenets of successfully living and working in a real time world, and we’d love to hear your take on them if you’re attending or following along at #CSONY.Hope to catch you tomorrow, but if not, do let us know other events you’ll be at soon, and we’ll be sure to pop by.
Hack Weeks at Chartbeat are always a time of joy. A time of joy for trying and learning new things. It’s a great opportunity for everyone at the company to stretch their minds and tackle new challenges they wouldn’t otherwise experience. We get to pair up with people we don’t usually get a chance to work with, and we get to play around, creating things that sometimes become indispensable for our clients.
Two Hack Weeks ago I worked on a project called Chartbeat Notifier. It was started by our former CTO Allan, and he had already completed a large chunk of it. However it wasn’t completely finished, nor was it in a state that we could share. So I finished the Notifier, polishing the parts of the project that needed a little more TLC.
This most recent Hack Week, I pruned off the remaining rough edges and it is with great joy and pride that we are releasing the Chartbeat Notifier project as an open source project!
Chartbeat Notifier is a native Mac application that lives in your menu bar. For your domain it can show one of two metrics in an always visible location:
1. the number of concurrent visitors on your domain
2. the average Engaged Time of all the users on the domain
Either number will be always visible in your menu bar, and is continuously updated as the day goes on.
Chartbeat Notifier also serves as a handy way to quickly jump into your dashboard. Simply click on the Chartbeat menu bar icon and the ‘Open Dashboard’ link and you’ll be taken directly to your dashboard. Quick and easy, just the way we like to keep things.
There’s only one thing that I love more than Hack Week, and that’s when we are able to share our hacks back to the community. Click on over to the Chartbeat Notifier project page and click the download link to get started!PS- To see more of our great hacks in action, visit Chartbeat Labs.