The Washington Post is no doubt an iconic fixture in the world of journalism. For over a century, it has been breaking news, setting journalistic standards and even sharing the silver screen with movie stars Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep.
One might ask oneself, “Where, oh, where might a technologist like me fit in?” The answer would be right smack dab in the middle of the newsroom.
To be on the tech team at The Post is to work at the pulse of breaking news directly alongside journalists and editors. Engineers have the unique opportunity to collaborate with content creators and invent new ways to captivate readers, whether it’s powering important election updates or finding clever, simple ways to help amateur chefs master a featured recipe.
Owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and led by one of AdWeek’s “Most Indispensible Executives,” CIO Shailesh Prakash, The Post has undergone a masterful transformation from formidable print newspaper to innovative media technology company. In fact, it landed eighth on Fast Company’s 2018 “The World’s Most Innovative Companies” list.
With a “build not buy” philosophy, Prakash has empowered engineers to invent industry-changing software that does everything from delivering breaking news alerts faster to telling stories through augmented reality. This has led The Post to pursue an entirely new line of business: selling its in-house content management system, Arc, as a service to companies across the globe.
The ongoing emphasis on innovation means that engineers get to dip their toes in a variety of projects. Every couple of weeks ushers in a new development opportunity, feature or update, eliminating the risk of the team’s motivation growing stale.
Though many employees enjoy the buzz of newsroom energy emanating throughout the office, most find The Post has a surprisingly flexible work style. Employees within the software engineering department are first and foremost motivated by the needs of The Post and its readers, but are trusted to work remotely or get their work done off-hours, if needed.
The culture is decidedly down to earth. Described as an ‘inspiring and transparent environment,’ even the conference rooms are filled with light and surrounded by glass. Additionally, it has been noted numerous times that one of the most active Slack channels around the organization is affectionately labeled ‘Leftovers,’ where people post whatever leftover food they have from meetings or events.
Whether you’re a junior software engineer or top political reporter, everyone is a part of the team. And, really, what’s a better way to get acquainted and produce some killer news content than sharing ideas over a cold dish of half-eaten mac and cheese?
Tell us about your core software product, Arc Publishing.
Arc is a CMS platform that The Washington Post created for its newsroom and now Arc is sold to other companies, including brands in the media and publishing space. It’s a suite of programs developed to write and schedule articles, run testing for headlines, and manage web templates. We also have video and photo digital asset management systems, including support for livestreaming. At The Washington Post the entire website runs on top of the Arc platform, just like companies use Amazon Web Services for cloud hosting.
After we perfected the software internally, we started selling it to other publishing companies across five continents. It’s growing constantly. Almost every week we announce a new partner or publisher. The Arc software development team is now run independently, and The Post is just one of many clients running hundreds of sites, including many of the best-known brands in the world, and more than 600 million monthly unique visitors.
How has The Post tackled moving to a more digital medium?
We approach everything with a digital-first mindset, leading us to build new teams that didn’t exist a few years ago.
At The Post, we’re constantly thinking of new ways to tell stories and the engineering team is an integral part of that process. Whether it’s building completely new tools or improving readership engagement on different forms of media, like Snapchat stories and interactive newsletters, we never rely on staying the same. We are constantly adapting.
What kind of people work at The Post?
Our people are curious, interesting and multi-faceted. They ask really good questions and look for ways to bring their whole selves to work.
This often comes to life on our Slack channels. There’s a running group, a knitting group, a comic group, a ‘Survivor’ group of people who still love the show ‘Survivor.’ They may come in and work at a desk, but they’re so much more than that. They have these fascinating lives and because of that, everyone’s just interested in grabbing coffee and hearing each other’s stories.
What kind of tech skills do you expect candidates to have?
Our goal is to bring in diverse slate of talent. When it comes to tech requirements, we say we’re “language-agnostic.” If you come in knowing certain languages and we need you to know different ones, we’ll teach you.
Ultimately, we’re looking to hire incredible people that want to learn.
How do you encourage growth and learning?
There’s a lot of freedom to chart your own path here. If you have a great idea you’d like to pursue or would like to gain experience in a new area, leadership is behind you and gives you autonomy to tackle it on your own. If you hit a speedbump and need guidance, management is there to support you and answer questions.
We also offer career mentorship through our “Growth Project,” where employees are given the opportunity to connect with members of leadership and ask questions from how to manage up to how to improve their annual review.
How does The Post engage in community outreach efforts?
The technology teams are very active in the D.C. tech community. Between hosting and attending meetups, as well as hackathons, a lot of our engineers are leaders or heavily involved in the community.
We host meetups that include organizations not only focused on technology, but also diversity. For example, we hosted a hackathon that encourages people from underrepresented communities to get involved in tech, and also hosted the Women in Tech summit last year and in years past. Other engineers are involved in community tech groups such as Coffee and Code, Women Who Code, the Code (Her) Conference, Women In Technology, Girls Who Code.
At the Corporate Social Responsibility level, our organization runs the Post Helping Hand Initiative. Every three years, we choose three non-profits in the D.C. area that are working to fight homelessness or to promote educational services for low-income residents. We raise awareness of the nonprofits by giving them coverage on The Washington Post through a special column. We also ask our readers to either give to those three non-profits for get involved through volunteering.