What’s your panel look like?

I wanted to capture a few thoughts about my recent interview process while they’re fresh in my mind. I’m on day 8 of my new role at Adobe, and a few of the expectations set during the interview process have been confirmed.

As I get up to speed on the teams I’ll be working with, and the workstreams I’ll be diving into, I’ve met lots of new people; in person and over video conferences. I’ve met designers, product managers, engineering managers and program managers. Throughout the first week and a half I’ve been relieved and impressed to see the number of women and PoC in leadership roles, especially as engineering managers.

When I interviewed, the breakdown of the interview panel and the roles that people held made a deep impression; it felt like a balanced team, with a mix of women and men in strong leadership roles. The questions were thoughtful and challenging, with as much focus on management philosophy and approaches to collaboration, as on projects and design solutions. The panel and process gave strong indications of how the team worked and of it’s composition. They must have walked away from the conversations with a good enough notion of my experience to hire me. I walked away with a great sense of what it might be like to work there.

I remember another panel and another interview, for a company and product that I deeply respected. When I arrived for the interview I sat down at a table with 5 men, mostly young, mostly white, with varying levels of stress on their faces. The conversation was more focused on tactics and execution than collaboration and strategy. It set a completely different expectation of what the work experience at that company might be like. I didn’t follow up, even for the practice. It didn’t seem like the type of place where collaboration would thrive.

The people you interview are often the strongest indicator of what your experience within that company would be like. Personally, I feel the culture of the company, and the composition of the teams within it, are as important as the products you’ll be working on (if you plan on having a long, inspiring career, without burning out). In my previous experience at Twitter and Facebook the most innovative and collaborative teams were also the most balanced: with men and women in leadership roles, and a mix of generations, experience and backgrounds. Sometimes I was the token #GenX, however.

I’m admittedly biased; I’ve been lucky enough to work at some reasonably diverse* organizations, and the majority of my bosses have been strong women, often moms (thank you, @samtripodi, @mariagiudice, @mags, @wendyowen and @gracie). It’s my strong opinion that diverse, balanced teams have a broader range of perspectives and create better products. Studies published in Harvard Business Review and Scientific American suggest the same.

If your company is developing a product for a broad range of users (like Adobe, Facebook, Twitter, Google and Instagram), it makes sense that the people working on it should reflect the people who are using it (or else possess superhuman levels of empathy). I remember at Twitter how groups like Blackbirds,TwitterOpen and TwitterAlas helped the org to have a better, richer understanding of the people who they were building products for, and why they should care. It’s true that research insights can bring most teams a lot closer to understanding their audiences, but it’s even better if the team itself can reflect and relate to the end users of the product.

In short, if collaboration, diversity and inclusion are high on your job satisfaction list, look for it in the people on your interview panel. If the company can’t field a balanced team, you may want to think twice about a role there (and they may want to think twice about their hiring practices).

*Of course tech and design still have massive amounts of progress to make on the diversity & inclusion front. I don’t underestimate that. But it’s encouraging to see the changes that are slowly taking place at many of the tech firms in the bay.