Why delivering search at Cookpad is a team sport

Matt Williams is a search engineer and technical lead at Cookpad. He and Cookpad’s search team are responsible for solving all types of search problems and helping to extend Cookpad’s search capabilities for the benefit of home cooks globally.

Cookpad Team
From the Cookpad Team

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According to Matt (centre) “Building a great search team is a lot like assembling The Avengers — you need a group that has all these different complementary skills and works with lots of different teams to get the job done.” Nine of the team members are pictured here.

Matt admits that until about five years ago, he didn’t even know that a ‘search engineer’ was a real job. He had been gaining experience and developing his engineering skills in areas of machine learning and data analytics.

“Before becoming a software engineer, I was a researcher and lecturer in computer science, so I knew there was lots of academic interest in search. But, it was only in my previous role before Cookpad that I experienced building search in the real world.

“Back then I was working for a tech startup helping news analysts to quickly access key reporting information and insights. It was here that I discovered there was a whole industry dedicated to solving search problems and engineers who specialised in this area.”

People’s need to search has always been there, but Matt explains that over the past 20 years their expectation of how to search and the results they find has changed dramatically.

“Behind every little search letterbox is a world of complexity. Our job as search engineers is to find solutions to hide that complexity and make it as easy as possible for people to find relevant results.”

Matt’s interest in search stems from a deep desire to help people.

“A search industry veteran once said to me “search is sometimes a thankless task — often, people only talk about it when it doesn’t work, rather than when it does!”.

“It’s important that we have high expectations of search. We all know how frustrating it is to fail to find what you’re looking for, or to encounter irrelevant results. I’m passionate about eliminating that frustration for people.

“Knowing that we’re helping everyday home cooks get to that ‘aha — I found it!’ moment is really rewarding.”

However, in the context of Cookpad, eliminating that frustration for home cooks in over 70 countries, countless cultures and more than 30 languages is no mean feat. While food is a universal language, everyone has different relationships, norms and expectations of it.

“We currently have 12 search engineers in the Chapter, with fluency in about 10 different languages — but we have over 30 languages to support. We have to be able to put ourselves into the mindsets of users to try and understand exactly what they are coming to Cookpad to search for, wherever they are. This isn’t easy — especially as trends significantly change throughout the year, too!”

Matt describes working in search at Cookpad as “an interdisciplinary sport.” With millions of global visitors every month across many countries and languages, the team has their work cut out for them to make sure that the quality of what they are building is high and that it performs as expected. This requires constant collaboration with people all over Cookpad, including community managers, designers, product managers, and machine learning researchers.

“Even among the search engineers, no two are alike, and each individual has their own specialism. From data engineering and backend development, to natural language processing, information retrieval and everything in between — there’s a lot of ground to cover. Just keeping track of the state-of-the-art in search can feel like a full time job — the field has exploded over the last few years!

“Building a great search team is a lot like assembling The Avengers — you need a group that has many different complementary skills and works with lots of different teams to get the job done.”

Being this enthusiastic about search takes more than just a desire to eliminate frustration. It takes passion and belief in something bigger which is one thing that every member of the Cookpad team has in common.

Cookpad’s mission is to get more people cooking and make everyday cooking fun — which means being THE place to go to find what to cook tonight. That’s SEARCH in big capital letters! Search is core to the success of our mission and that’s exciting.”

There’s no question that Matt and Cookpad’s team of search Avengers are excited about what lies ahead, but there’s a huge amount of work to do and they’re always looking for new search heroes to come onboard. So, what does it take to work in the search team at Cookpad?

“The key is passion. If you’ve got a software background but don’t have direct search experience, don’t be put off — the search skills can be learnt. What’s harder to teach is the passion and willingness to get into this domain, and the desire to see the world of cooking through the eyes of many different cultures. So, if you want to build features that solve problems for real users and help them find what they are looking for, then Cookpad might be the place for you.”

You can find out more about career opportunities at Cookpad by visiting www.cookpadteam.com/careers.

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Cookpad Team
From the Cookpad Team

We're building a global recipe sharing platform that connects home cooks and empowers them to help each other to cook by sharing recipes, tips and experiences.