Starting up Slack’s Search, Learning, & Intelligence (SLI) Group in the New NYC Office

Want to work at Slack — in NYC? We are hiring talented engineers, product managers, and designers. Visit slack.com/jobs to find out more, or email me directly at nweiss @ slack-corp . com.

“In 2016, what’s an area you want Slack to make a big, new investment in?”

That’s the question Stewart Butterfield and I talked a lot about. We went through a slew of ideas: mining message histories to help alert people of relevant and timely messages, using the work graph to help people connect with internal experts, making the existing search significantly better for companies with rich message and file histories, building conversational knowledge bots, and more.

Slack is well on its way to building the new business operating system. Weaving in an intelligent layer is a huge opportunity to enhance the product for people who use Slack and the platform for developers who build on top of it.

That’s why I’m joining Slack to head up the new Search, Learning, and Intelligence group and start up its NYC office. The focus is on building features that make Slack better the bigger a company is and the more it uses Slack.

Our goal is to make people feel less overwhelmed by Slack’s information avalanche and give them superpowers to find fast answers — whether from their coworkers, search, or bots. The work will span many disciplines: search/information retrieval, recommendation systems, natural language processing, and machine learning. The success of the group will be measured in how much more productive, informed, and collaborative Slack users get — whether a company has 10, 100, or 10,000 people.

The Slack phenomenon is no secret

Based on the press, you would assume Slack had already replaced email for the entire Fortune 500 and had thousands of employees. The NY Times wrote “Slack is the Messaging App that May Finally Sink Email”, Inc called it the company of the year, Medium Backchannel announced “Shut down your office, you now work in Slack”, WSJ called Stewart the “2015 Technology Innovator” , and Slate wrote “Slack Off: How Workplace Chat is Changing Office Culture”.

Slack is “The fastest-growing enterprise software product in history” — Ben Horowitz

All of this is a testament to how transformative the existing Slack experience can be for companies that switch off email. Yet the Slack story is still just at the beginning. It has fewer than 350 people, under 1m paid accounts, and under 2 years since its launch. There’s so much more to do.

The NYC (Hiring) Plan

From its origins as Tiny Speck working on an MMORPG, Slack was a distributed team split between Vancouver and SF. This past year, Slack crossed the Atlantic to open up its Dublin office and will be soon be up and running in Melbourne. As Slack moves into ever bigger companies, it will need to work for increasingly distributed offices. Slack expanding its own geographic footprint is an opportunity to eat its own enterprise dogfood.

From NYT’s article on Cornell’s new NYC tech campus

NYC is a great place to build technology products for many reasons:

  • It has wealth of incredible technical talent from universities like Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Columbia, Princeton, Harvard, Cornell, Yale, NYU, etc., larger tech firms like Google, and finance companies with thousands of engineers.
  • Combined with its growing but still relatively nascent startup ecosystem, NYC is a great place to hire. Companies like Facebook, Uber, Twitter, and Square have opened major offices in the past few years.
  • It has a bigger diversity of people and industries than any other city in America, which fosters different perspectives than the Bay Area.

If you or someone you trust is an amazing engineer with a background in information retrieval, NLP, AI, or just moving fast to build scalable new products, please see this job posting or send an email to nweiss @ slack-corp . com !

A historical digression on collaborative tools

Screenshot of Collaboread, a Stanford school project from 2005 pre Google Docs

The roots of my interest in Slack are over a decade old. I’ve always loved the idea that collaboration tools could dramatically boost the happiness and productivity of teams. During winter 2005 for CS247, I helped build a document commenting and review tool called Collaboread. Just a few months later in March ’06 Google acquired Writely. The acquisition evolved into Google Docs, where I interned in ’07 as a UX designer working on review and revision history.

Over the next 7.5 years, I took a detour to work on search and recommendation systems. At Google, I was the PM lead for the structured search team, which evolved into the “Knowledge Graph”. At Foursquare, as head of product management I shepherded the personalized, proactive place recommendations service from SXSW ’11 beta launch to tens of millions of users today. All these projects took unstructured inputs, had machines learn a semi-structured understanding of the data, and then gave value back to users — exactly the kind of work this new Slack group will focus on by mining the message corpus.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

As Fred Wilson wrote last week:

“Just this week I’ve been on the receiving end of a half dozen emails… that start with the news that a valued colleague has made the decision to move on… It’s that time of year.

I sent my version of that email last week. After 5 years at Foursquare, it was time for an entirely new challenge.

Building productivity tools for enterprises couldn’t be more different than a social recommendation service for discovering great new bites and bars. But even though I’m switching companies, my love of the Foursquare team and product won’t end. Fred continues:

“A hallmark of great companies is the idea that departing employees who leave on great terms are roving ambassadors for your organization.”

I will still be a huge supporter, fan, and friend of Dennis Crowley and the company. I’ve written 547 tips, contributed 931 ratings, and saved 1,516 places. And over my week-long staycation between jobs, I made sure to go out as the #1 fan of the product:

#1 on the Swarm leaderboard for the week of 1/18/2016

Interested in joining? Want to talk about the future of conversational, assistive bots in the work place? Feel free to email nweiss @ slack-corp . com.

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