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What it takes to support and grow Vox Product

The Product Team at Vax 2014 in Philadelphia
The Product Team at Vax 2014 in Philadelphia
Trei Brundrett

As a candidate for a new job, my favorite questions to ask an interviewer are usually something like: "What was the person who previously filled this role like? What did they do day to day?" So, in support of this new job posting and to provide some insight into how we organize Vox Product, I thought I'd try to share some preemptive answers.

Vox Product is a team of over 80 designers, engineers, product managers, and QA and support staff breathing digital life into Vox Media's brands. We build and maintain Chorus, design features across all our verticals, develop ad products, run the data centers that keep content flowing during major events, analyze data, and much more. And all that work goes on within the context of Vox Media as a growing player in the ~the modern media landscape~, all of us tackling the associated excitements, terrors, and opportunities associated with the industry. It's a lot to shoulder while also trying to get fingers to keyboard to write code, refine layouts, or keep up on Trello. That's where the Product Team Coordinator comes in.

I joined the product team a year and a half ago to build and standardize some processes, help manage the organization of a growing staff, and to generally tear down all obstacles that stood between our team and their project work. As time went on, we started organizing most of my work into three main pillars, which you see laid out in the responsibilities section of the job description. Instead of repeating some necessarily broad categories of responsibilities here, I'll highlight a few things that I've worked on in the last year so potential candidates know just what we mean.

Make sure we hire the best people

Recruiting, conducting interviews, and onboarding new staff are all pretty clear-cut tasks. But they take up a massive amount of time and require a lot of thoughtfulness to be done well. When we have open positions, these tasks will be the Coordinator's foremost concern every day.

To date, it has all been about scheduling and effective use of time. Interview scheduling may not seem like the most exhilarating use of anyone's time, but seriously, this is a big deal. We talk to a lot of wonderful candidates for all our openings, and connect them with many potential teammates across the product team. It's a serious time investment for our team and the candidates, and it is the Coordinator's responsibility to make sure that time is used respectfully and effectively. Done well, it's a huge relief to everyone involved in the hiring process.

There's lots more than good time management going on here, too. We are working hard to make sure our job postings are shared on many sites and with many communities, and that we put in the necessary effort to access and talk with a wide diversity of candidates for every position. Transparency is also important to us, and making sure our candidates are comfortable and well-informed about our interview process is something we care a lot about.

Keep our team happy and focused

Once we have all these amazing people, we need to help them focus and be happy in their work. That means simple things like making tedious tasks (requesting time off, procuring new equipment) run smoothly and quickly. It also means anticipating less obvious needs, like how to better integrate remote teammates into both work and social events or entirely rethinking our yearly performance review process.

An essential part of this for me has been to build relationships across the company, beyond the product team. Being up to speed with what's going on in our editorial teams, HR and IT groups, and with company leadership has made it possible for me to both prepare our team for changes and new initiatives, and to also advocate on their behalf. Of course, the most important relationships are with product team leadership—sitting in on planning meetings, helping with documentation and collecting feedback from the team, and generally grabbing hold of tasks that each manager is doing independently and centralizing them when it makes sense.

This is maybe the most amorphous and squishy of the responsibilities, but also the area with the most room for new ideas and creativity. The Coordinator has a broad mandate to make things better, so to some extent they'll set the limits to their own dreams here.

Vox Product hacking

The Product Team hackin' away

Trei Brundrett

Design company and community events

We have lots of people on the team who are deeply involved in various communities across the country: design, code, media, and more. As a product team we have opinions and lessons learned, and are working to start conversations important to the whole industry. To do these things, we've started hosting events of our own—so far some panels and a design battle—but we need our Coordinator to help expand our efforts.

We're also growing partnerships with other companies an organizations, like the Society of News Design, OpenNews, Femsplain, and others, to help one another and to plan joint events.

And finally, we host numerous events and activities within the product team itself, and the Coordinator runs point on all of these. We have monthly all-hands jamborees to share lightening talks and important team and company updates. We run skillshares and internal team meetups. And, once a year, we host our all-hands hackweek: Vax. This is one of the most exciting projects of every year, pulling together 80 people from across three countries to spend a week in Philadelphia building, mingling, and learning from each other. It takes a lot of planning and negotiating, and confidence to manage a sizable budget, but it's one of the highlights of the team's year and a joy to pull off.

Most of what we've done so far as a product team has been through the combined effort of awesome and energetic folks who are passionate about events and the topics they cover. This will always be the case, but these entrepreneurial spirits need logistical, coordination, and planning support. I've done my best, but we're all hoping our next Coordinator is an awesome event organizer.

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The Product Team Coordinator is a role that runs the gamut of responsibilities—ordering lunch in support of a frenzied hackweek to advising strategic plans for the coming year. I spend as much time in spreadsheets and Slack as I do in meetings and Hangouts, and my team is the whole team. That means a few things. I get to know a lot about every person, every team, and every part of the company. I get to do different things every day while balancing longterm projects with short term needs. And it means there's an unquantifiable amount of challenges to meet, but also a tremendous amount of opportunity for creativity, innovation, and improvement.

As for me, I'll soon be joining Vox Media's People and Culture team to help develop some of these same practices for the whole company. But I'll be around and still working closely with the new Coordinator, so I'll be happy to expand on any of this in talking with candidates. And for more on what it's like to work at Vox Media, check out the rest of the Vox Product blog.

Apply to join our team as Product Team Coordinator