A few words from Chrys Wu on her new role
Hacks/Hackers organizer joins the New York Times Developers team
This week, Hacks/Hackers co-founder Chrys Wu joined the New York Times Developers team as a Developer Advocate. Chrys told Source a little about her plans for the new position, where here team fits into the New York Times, and some ideas for helping engage more people in journalism technology.
Congratulations on the new gig. Can you tell us a little about what you expect to be working on?
The portfolio for my group is actually pretty large. One of the things that I’m going to be working on is learning about all of the different projects that the developers here at the New York Times are working on. I’m part of what’s called the technology division, as opposed to the editorial group or the newsroom. Lots of people know who Aron Pilhofer is and the work that the graphics desk does. The group that I work with is essentially the group that makes the New York Times’ website and its mobile products and some of the other new products possible.
It’s a really interesting role for me, but also maybe one that people who know me from the news universe might not have expected. What’s nice about what I’m doing is that it crosses through lots of different divisions within the company. Anybody who’s developing things at the Times, whether they’re in R+D, development, or the newsroom, are people that I can work with and talk with.
What role the New York Times Developers team play within the journalism that the Times does and what role do you see it playing in the broader journalism tech community, especially as it relates to this technology and editorial divide?
Well, I think this is one of those things where I just got here on Monday, so I myself am still trying to understand the org. chart. In my role as developer advocate, my primary function is to make the developers happy. And to build on the code and the process that we’ve developed internally to build community around that. It’s both in-house as well as public facing. There’s about 230 people who are part of the technology team. There’s more developers than that, but I’m trying to learn 230 people’s names, what they do, what groups they work in, and all of that. It doesn’t include newsroom developers or people in R+D.
All of the Times Open events are run by my team and in fact this evening we’re running an event that I’m emceeing with one of my colleagues, Andre Behrens, who is a senior developer and will also be speaking.
One of my other tasks is to find developers within the company who are working on interesting projects and, if they are interested, help them develop talks and blog posts around it and tell the world about it. These people work really, really hard and they are working on fascinating things. One of the people I’ve met in training has said that the developers here are working on projects while the train is going 120mph, so their challenges are really rewarding and difficult. For anyone who is working here or wants to work here, the things they’re working on are really rewarding, but also difficult. It’s a good to place to be if you want to work on that level of stuff. The other thing that I think is pretty interesting and that I think people don’t realize is that, it is agile with a small A, but following the principles of agile development, in a lot of ways working here is like working at a start up, despite the fact that it’s in a huge company.
I’m also partly responsible for the open source code that gets published, we have a Github repo. Among other things, I’ll be helping to decide strategically where it makes sense to try to develop open source communities around the code that we release.
As you get settled in this position, anything in particular you want people to contact you to chat about or that you want to leave us thinking about?
One of the personal projects that I want to work on while I’m here that has the support of the company is using the APIs that we have as a means of helping people who are novice or intermediate coders to better understand how to work with APIs. One of the things I’ve seen across all of the things I’ve been doing before joining the Times is that you have all these people doing boot camps or Code Academy style learning and they get through those programs and they’re dropped off in a no man’s land of “What do I do next?” The thing you hear from people who are more experienced is, “Oh, you should just go and build something and use an API to do it.” I wrote about this on Poynter.org, API documentation is not standardized. For someone who is just building their skills, it’s really, really hard to read that documentation and figure out what to do. I have not yet seen a doc set that hand holds people through the doc set, for a novice person.
The New York Times’ APIs are well documented, and what I want to do is set up a set of tutorials to help people through it. This is how you read our documentation and then back up a little bit and explain to people, this is how you think when approaching any set of API docs. These are the questions you should be asking. This is how you go and find them. This is how you can then incorporate it into the thing that you’re building.
The problem at large is that the industry as a whole needs better developers. More and better developers, but there aren’t a lot of tools yet out there to help people who are learning on their own. That’s one of the big things I’m going to be working on here. Next year, my team is looking at perhaps doing more of Times Open type of events. We’ll be going to conferences, I’ll be going to conferences. Talking to people and presenting the work of people who work here. The Chase Davises of the world and Jacqui Mahers of the world are already well known in the journalism and tech space, but in the development space at large there are a lot of people doing fascinating things here and we’d like people to know about them. That also is part of my role. I’ll be at Google.io next year and I have a list of other proposed developer conferences to go to. People will be seeing me around at those as well. Despite the fact that I have a lot more to learn to dig deep within this company, the people part of it has been really great so far. People have just been really nice.
Co-Executive Director of OpenNews.
Chrys Wu, a journalist, strategist, coder and cook who works with businesses that want to deepen connection to their audiences through research, community-building strategy, and user-centric design. She speaks frequently on data journalism, online engagement and coding.