Why I Joined Hearken: A Developer’s Journey from the Nonprofit World

Hearken means “listen”, which caught my attention right away when I found the software developer job posting. Technology that helps people listen to each other?! I was all ears.

I read about the Zebras Unite movement, which Hearken CEO Jennifer Brandel co-founded, months before I heard of Hearken. After working at tech startups for awhile, I found the Zebra mission of inclusivity and morality to be particularly refreshing. I had been feeling very conflicted about working in the tech industry and was looking for a mission-driven product I could really get behind. I found that inspiration in Hearken’s platform, the Engagement Management System (EMS), which aims to help easily integrate public-powered journalism into the daily workflow for newsrooms.

Going through the developer job application, I could tell a lot of care had gone into the process and the questions that they asked. I knew my application wasn’t just going into some black box. I felt heard! (You can read more about Hearken’s hiring process here.)

In college I opened and cataloged the library’s newspapers each morning as a summer job and loved reading the news. (I also used to love eating fast food.) Now I find myself needing to limit my intake of both. Just as more people are paying attention to their food consumption — how much is too much or not enough, where it comes from, etc. — I believe (and hope!) our media diets are trending in a similar direction. At least, my middle-aged metabolism can’t take any more of this junk and the internet buffet is 24/7. (Hearken is working to be part of the solution — Check out our comic treatment of a tragically broken process in journalism told through food!)

Building with bricks: Working at the ground level in Northern India

I worked in the nonprofit world before learning software development, so connecting to a worthwhile mission has long been a goal of mine. The formative professional experiences I gained while working on community-based and volunteer projects made me appreciate the importance of thoughtful organizational development and sustainable workflows. During the decade I spent working in the nonprofit world, I built houses and trails, I taught classes, I opened a thrift store, I managed volunteers, and I planned events. While these projects varied greatly in nature and scale, two themes became apparent to me:1) I’d meet the best people and 2) I’d need to write a report.

Almost every project needed documentation, using different templates and formats and data for different partners. I began to dread writing reports and I witnessed my idealistic, hard-working colleagues lose steam around these mundane administrative tasks, too. It was inefficient and made me mad. How can we solve all the world’s problems if we can’t even get our data together? I worked hard to improve our reporting systems using the tools we had on hand so we could free up more energy for the really important work. This was my first real taste of how terrific technology (especially spreadsheets!) can be when leveraged as a tool to make life easier. That eventually inspired me to learn to code, and I’m now working on Hearken’s EMS to help journalists do the important work our democracy needs.

Building with sticks: Working off-the-ground in South Dakota

At some point during my nonprofit career, “engagement” became the new buzz word and I made a lot of dumb jokes about wedding planning when my title changed to “volunteer engagement specialist.” That word is still used broadly: rules of engagement, social engagements, engage your audience, engage your core. For those volunteer projects, my team partnered with inspired people who wanted to do something worthwhile and engagement meant fostering these important relationships. The volunteers weren’t looking to partake in just one-time events, but rather were working to continue on a long-term journey to support worthy causes around the world by using their skills, dollars, voices. Not just recording transactional events in my beautiful pivot tables, but thinking through how we can advance our goals together as a team.

Hearken’s engagement model celebrates this type of curiosity and relationship-building. When I felt most burnt out from nonprofit work, I had let myself get too far removed from the ground level and my original source of motivation. As satisfying as it was to develop a well-formatted data-driven report, talking directly with volunteers and partners in the field was what kept me engaged with the work.

Building with bits and bytes: Working with software teams in Boulder, CO.

Hearken is helping the journalism industry rebuild a trusting relationship with the public and I believe that important work starts from within. Through the EMS and the public-powered journalism model, newsrooms can focus on prioritizing curiosity and ensuring every voice is heard to benefit the communities they serve.

In the short time that I’ve been on the Hearken team, we have rolled out new dashboard features and are cooking up new tools to help our partners reach their goals in 2019.

I’m excited to be a part of this effort and look forward to seeing what we can build together!


Want to join us? Hearken is hiring a product manager and managing director!