How a 142-year-old newspaper became one of the most innovative media companies in the U.S. - Technical.ly DC

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Feb. 28, 2019 11:02 am

How a 142-year-old newspaper became one of the most innovative media companies in the U.S.

Radha De shares what it’s like to be a developer at The Washington Post: "A lot has changed and we really embrace that."
Going up at The Post.

Going up at The Post.

(Photo by Kristin Dudley)

As software engineer Radha De can attest, the path to finding one’s passion is often winding.

De began her career as a chemistry student in North Carolina. After graduating college, she worked in HIV research for five years before life in the lab took its toll on her enthusiasm for clinical research.

“I started exploring other options, including taking a bunch of classes on Coursera,” said De. “I just happened to take a programming class and really liked the aspect of solving puzzles, so I invested further in that.”

That flicker of interest in coding would ultimately redirect her path to D.C., where she eventually landed at the front steps of The Washington Post.

Though some technologists might not immediately think of the organization known for traditional journalism as a hotbed of engineering opportunities, they’d be wildly surprised. Inching out Spotify, The Post took eighth place on Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Companies” list in 2018.

The transformation began in 2011, under the leadership of CIO, Shailesh Prakash. Rather than outsourcing publishing technology, Prakash challenged the engineering team to build everything internally. That “build, don’t buy” philosophy ultimately fueled the creation of Arc Publishing, The Post’s in-house CRM product now used by media companies across the globe.

After it was purchased by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, The Post continued its metamorphosis from legacy newspaper to technology-first media company, finding inventive ways to enhance the functionality of the newsroom and the way readers interact with the news.

Today, devs like De relish the opportunity to work alongside reporters and editors, building new tools and features for The Post’s newsroom. We sat down with De, who now works as a product owner, to get a glimpse of her life on the engineering team at The Washington Post.

Tell us about your role.

I’ve actually had a lot of opportunities to do multiple things, on a couple of different development teams, during my time at The Washington Post so far.

Currently, as a project owner, a day in the life for me involves interacting closely with the developers on our team and clients outside The Washington Post. We collaborate to deliver the Arc platform tools to clients, customized to their specifications, within a timely manner.

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It’s a really exciting role. It’s very high touch, which I absolutely love about it. I get to work with people all day long and that’s one of the things that I’ve always enjoyed about working here.

What is the internal culture like?

We work hard and move fast here. One thing I like is that we don’t really have any slow days. Pretty much every day you can expect to come in and move quickly.

That said, I think we are a pretty laid-back workplace. I love the flexibility that we have. We’re able to work from home whenever needed, but I come into the office because I love our office environment.

Our HR team holds company events on an almost monthly, maybe quarterly basis, which are always really fun. We’ve done everything from health fairs to an event over the summer where vendors came and provided us with ice cream and cold brew. It’s always fun to have events that are scheduled for an hour or two during the day where we can come and go as we please, enjoy some good food and hang out with our coworkers.

Talk to us about how collaboration and communication works on your team.

I feel like we’re really well connected as a team. We’ve got a beautiful office that facilitates collaboration. We recently expanded our engineering floor and so we’ve got a lot more space to either spread out or work together when we need to, but I would say that we do a good job of scheduling meetings only when needed. We don’t overdo it.

I’ve worked in previous places where you’re sitting in meetings all day and you can’t really get work done. So, I think we’re really good at optimizing time in that way so we can accomplish everything that we want to.

I know a lot of people don’t love open floor plans, but I really like ours. For me, it’s been great to easily turn to my coworkers and run things by them or get some help when I need it. People are always willing to put time on their calendars to mentor and to help you out when you need it.

I recently spent a lot of time getting mentorship from my fellow project owners, since I’m going to Hong Kong next week and will be taking on tasks that haven’t done yet. So, I’ve been working really closely with them to figure out what things I need to know before the trip.

What are you excited about for the future?

Personally, this year I’ve gotten to be on bigger projects and work with more people, and I’m excited to expand my skill set.

In general, it’s a really exciting time for the company. With Arc Publishing in particular, things have been growing super fast. We’re bringing on new clients, doing a lot of interesting work as a team and putting an emphasis on optimizing our workflow, so I’m excited to see where that ends up.

I’ve seen a lot of growth in the three years that I’ve been here. A lot has changed and we really embrace that. I feel like technology in general is changing and we’re doing a really good job in moving along with that.

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