Pen is mightier than the sword.

Culture & Code On Engineering Teams: Panelist Perspectives

At Dev Bootcamp, our commitment to diversity in the tech industry informs how we conduct business. As community advocates, we hope to foster an environment where productive conversations about diversity can lead to innovation. That's why on June 22, Dev Bootcamp will host Culture + Code II: How Diverse Teams Lead to Transformational Products in Brooklyn, NY. The event, planned in partnership with Digital Dumbo, will feature team leads and engineering managers from Viacom, BuzzFeed, Pixod, Prolific Interactive, and Haute Hijab.

We believe most problems in software happen because of interpersonal conflict rather than a lack of technical expertise. Good problem solving - in software or other areas of business - rely on people collaborating and giving and receiving honest feedback with one another. The most successful products are built by engaged and creative teams that can integrate a diverse set of voices throughout the development process — we call the interpersonal skills used to thrive in this way Engineering Empathy.

Through this event, we aim to spotlight and recognize the progress companies have made in working towards developing diversity initiatives and evaluating alternative talent pipelines like bootcamps.  However, we also aim to take pulse on how companies are thinking about team diversity and if that impact the products they build. This event allows us to illuminate ways companies may be able to improve their practices so that the teams they manage more accurately reflect the diverse backgrounds of the customers these companies serve.  

At the event, attendees will hear how these select brands consistently put diverse perspectives into practice during their work and how this discipline represents a new form of competitive advantage. The panelists will dive deep into how the diversity of thought, perspective, and life experiences can influence teams, and those who lead them to create the products, experiences, and businesses that make a difference by welcoming differences into the workplace.

Our panelists include:

  • Mali M. Partner & Creative Director at Pixod & Partner at The Bklyn Combine
  • John Pavley SVP, Engineering at Viacom
  • Swati Vauthrin, Director of Engineering at BuzzFeed
  • Jeremy Browning, Product Manager at Prolific Interactive
  • Melanie Elturk, CEO at Haute Hijab

What is one surprising way your team celebrates diversity? 

Mali from Pixod & The Bklyn Combine: Since 2010, we have mentored with the Smack Mellon Arts Organization helping students from around the city to produce a cross-cultural magazine called MELT, that focuses on New York life and culture. The publication is print based and features photography, illustrations, and other original content.

So, although we are known for our digital media and video work, it may be surprising - that we often rely on our traditional print and illustration skills to help celebrate diversity in our community.

John from Viacom: We have a very diverse and global audience. Many of our brands, like BET, VH1, and Logo are focused on audiences that are historically underserved or marginalized by general media. So in some ways, it’s not at all surprising that we celebrate diversity almost every month of the year. This month (June) is Pride Month, and for the employees, we've had several inspirational leaders give talks, lunch-and-learns about important institutions that support the LBGT community, and meetings of employee-based groups looking to support each other in a world that often ignores and misunderstands diversity. And all this is just for Pride Month. Previously we have celebrated Black History Month, International Women’s Day, and many more.

Swati at Buzzfeed: There are no surprises. Diversity is not only celebrated by the engineering team, but across all of BuzzFeed. You can see this in the type of content created all the way to the ERGs our employees are a part of. We've embraced a "you do you" philosophy we live by every day.

Melanie at Haute Hijab: Our team is still relatively small — we're made up of five individuals — four women and one man. Four of the five people on our team are considered minorities and four out of five are Muslim. That being said, diversity is what we do. As a retail brand for the Muslim community here in the U.S. and abroad, one of our main goals is to normalize the hijab in the mainstream in order for Muslim women all around the world to feel comfortable and confident in their skin.

Jeremy at Prolific Interactive: An example of Prolific's celebration of diversity is the breadth of underrepresented, or minority employees with a formal committee, programming budget, and/or executive sponsorship to influence virtually any part of our company's operations and culture. These groups--LGBTQ, Women@Prolific, People of Color, among others-- sit under a broader pseudonym known as Thrive and have their own mission statements and roadmaps to enhance Prolific's D&I efforts. Collectively, Thrive truly defines what it means for people to thrive at Prolific on both a personal and professional level. Our company's leadership not only participates in these subcommittees but they welcome the byproduct of their assembly. A few examples include a gender-neutral parental leave policy and onsite breast-feeding room, Pride month festivities, and a targeted business development initiative with minority-owned businesses incepted by the People of Color committee. Ultimately, through greater cultural diversity amongst product teams, leadership and partners, we believe the richness of minority perspectives can be unlocked to the ultimate benefit of our business and our customers.


As a seasoned leader in the tech industry, what advice do you have for beginners? 

Mali at Pixod & The Bklyn Combine: As new and legacy technology both vie for your attention, remember to focus on the problem you are solving and how the given technology will help you best meet that goal.

John at Viacom: There has never been a better time to start a career in technology. My focus has always been on coding: learning to code, improving coding ability, learning about new tools and services available to coders. If I wanted to get into coding today, I would start with YouTube. It’s unbelievable how much free, high-quality video content is available to learn the basics of coding and computer science. It's important that beginners test a wide variety of coding platforms and paradigms, and then go deep on the one that interests her the most. Don't do it for the money or because you've heard it's going to be big. Go for an area that deeply captures your attention, and it becomes an obsession. As hiring managers, we're looking for T-shaped engineers: People who have a solid understanding of computer science, but then are able to dive deep into one particular area where they are expert.

Swati at Buzzfeed: I have two pieces of advice that have helped me through my career. One is to seek out mentors and advocates. They are a necessity throughout your path. My other piece of advice is to go after what you want. Ask for it. Don't wait for things to just fall into your lap.

Melanie at Haute Hijab: Know what you're good at and what you want to do, and then work towards executing that vision. Carefully craft that vision and try not to sway from it too much. People pick up on disingenuousness right away so stay true to who you are and what your philosophy is. Accept that you may need help — and seek that help from others who are exceptional at what they do. In other words, leave your ego at the door. Lastly, keep your intentions pure.

Jeremy at Prolific Interactive: Don't underestimate the value of slow, deliberate work. You'd be amazed how often competitive advantage amounts to patience and persistence. Identify a technology, or interface you're fascinated by and become a student of its component parts. Seek mentorship if possible to help guide your learning and provide encouragement, however, there's a wealth of information to draw from Youtube, Medium, and other platforms that can get you started on the right path. 

What’s a fun fact about you? 

Mali at Pixod & The Bklyn Combine: As a young designer (in the late ‘90s), my first staff position was with an Indian-owned print shop, where most of my days were spent creating Indian wedding invitations and Bollywood posters. 

John at Viacom: I love emoji. I believe that emoji are a huge technological advancement in communication and will be here long after mobile apps and websites fall into obsolescence. Emoji today are seen as a kind of fad for teenagers to save keystrokes, but long-term emoji enable us to express thoughts and feelings, which are not easily expressed alphabetically. Emoji add subtlety and nuance to our written language. Soon emoji will find their way into our magazines, newspapers and books. Currently on Apple's App Store, I have published Emoji Tac Toe (tic tac toe with emoji), and I use emoji in all of my coding — both in the UI and in the source code.

Swati at Buzzfeed: I'm a twin!

Melanie at Haute Hijab: I've visited over 20 countries. Needless to say, I love to travel and gain inspiration from the culture and dress of different countries that I infuse into my work at Haute Hijab. Whether it's batik fabric from Indonesia, the stunning headwraps in Nigeria or intricate metal work from Oman, there's something to absorb and love from every culture.

Jeremy at Prolific Interactive: I'm a voracious consumer of podcasts. I regularly listen to 30+ podcasts on 1.5x speed. 

Meet the panelists who will join us for Culture + Code II: How Diverse Teams Lead to Transformational Products on Thursday, June 22, in Brooklyn, NY. RSVP here.

Rob Kleiman