Few people know Glassdoor as well as CTO & SVP of Engineering Ryan Aylward, who first joined the company ten years ago as employee number three. But while the company has certainly grown since then — Glassdoor now has over 700 employees, and has become one of the largest and fastest-growing job sites in the world — one thing that hasn’t changed is its spirit of innovation.
“Things work differently when you’re a five-person company versus a 700-person company, like the way we make decisions and the way we plan. At the same time, there’s still a lot that’s the same. For one, I think we’re small enough that engineers still have a very direct impact on our product,” Aylward said. “We also work hard to ensure that we stay nimble and agile as we get bigger, and I think we do a pretty good job.”
Indeed, the last year has seen some of Glassdoor’s most exciting product announcements and features to date, like the Know Your Worth™ calculator and salary estimates in job listings. How has the CTO helped foster a spirit of innovation a decade in, and how can interested engineers join the team? We caught up with Aylward to find out.
You got in on the ground floor of Glassdoor. What initially convinced you that you had to be a part of this company?
Ryan Aylward: First, I wanted to join a company where I was passionate about the business and product. Our mission as a company, which has largely remained since the beginning, is to help people everywhere find a job and company they love. Helping someone wake up in the morning with joy and happiness because they are going to spend their day in a job they love is something I get excited about.
Second, the people — at the time it was just a few of us, but I had immense respect for our CEO, Robert Hohman, and chairman, Rich Barton. Robert and I worked together in the past and I knew him to be a super smart person with high integrity. He’s also an engineer, and working at a company where the CEO’s an engineer means he has a deep appreciation and great support for investing in engineering. And I knew both Robert and Rich had the experience necessary to create a highly successful business.
Last, but not least, I knew there were tons of interesting engineering problems to solve as part of Glassdoor. And as an engineer, I thrive on that challenge.
How would you describe the engineering culture at Glassdoor?
Ryan Aylward: This transcends engineering, but as a company, we very much aspire to be transparent. It is the core of our business, and our internal organization reflects that. We practice transparency not just because it feels good, but because it’s empowering to people. After all, the more you know about your company, the more effective you can be in your role.
It’s also a very collaborative culture. We work in small scrum teams that allow product, engineering, design and data science to all work very closely together. We think that cross-functionality and bringing diverse minds together is really powerful — it leads to the best ideas and ultimately, the best results.
Working at a company where the CEO is an engineer means he has deep appreciation for investing in engineering.
And finally, we have a passionate, mission-driven culture. People believe in our product and what we’re doing, so they rally together to achieve our goals.
What are the different departments that people can join within the engineering organization?
Ryan Aylward: Engineering consists of five departments. There’s consumer engineering, which is the group that builds all of our user-generated content products, the market engagement and the native mobile app experience — in other words, what job seekers typically think of when they use Glassdoor.
Our jobs team is specifically dedicated to our consumer jobs search and apply product, ensuring that users can find jobs that fit their specific needs.
The B2B engineering org builds all of the revenue products for Glassdoor, including our job advertising platform and employer branding product.
The data org consists of two teams: data engineering, which builds the platform that houses and maintains all of our data, and machine learning, which makes use of that data by turning it into real products.
Then we have the infrastructure engineering team, which builds the core platform and tools that our other teams depend on.
Without giving away any secrets, what are some of the innovative things going on in the engineering department at Glassdoor?
Ryan Aylward: There are a few different things that come to mind. One of those is how we’re creating a platform that empowers engineers to maximize efficiency and work on modern technologies. For example, we are making it easier to connect all of our microservices with a GraphQL API layer and we’re migrating our UI layer to Node. Plus, we’re working on a modernized data platform that empowers sophisticated business decision making and machine learning. As an overall theme, we’re leveraging data, machine learning and engineering to create innovative products that are unique to Glassdoor.
What are some of the cool projects you’ve worked on in the past few years?
Ryan Aylward: The theme of these projects is that we take a unique, differentiated data asset and merge it with software, science and machine learning to create something powerful. Know Your Worth™ is a really good manifestation of that — it leverages tons of rich salary, jobs and resume data, with some smart data science to create a personalized market value for you.
To branch off of that, salary estimates — our ability to put an approximate pay range on every job listing — are really exciting. Our job search algorithm also uses a unique mix of proprietary data, machine learning and engineering to create a great job seeker experience. Likewise, our advertising platform has similar characteristics to online advertising systems, with a bunch of customization to the jobs and employer vertical to optimize spend and bids to help our advertising partners.
Can you talk a little about Hack at Glassdoor?
Ryan Aylward: Most of the year, engineers and data scientists are told what to build, but we know that they have a lot of great ideas of their own that they should be able to drive. Hack is their opportunity to explore those ideas and bring them to fruition twice a year.
Sometimes they’re innovations that allow us to be more efficient as engineers. Other times, they’re product or visionary ideas. There are so many things on Glassdoor’s site that you can point to as coming from Hack, whether it was a full-blown product or just the genus of an idea that inspired a concept. So it’s not just a morale thing for our team, it really creates value for our business.
We take a unique, differentiated data asset and merge it with software, science and machine learning to create something powerful.
Our CEO, Bob, is always blown away by the amazing things we’re able to accomplish in just three days, but for us, it’s not just a twice-a-year mentality — we apply it to our everyday operations.
What do you look for in engineering candidates?
Ryan Aylward: There’s nothing that replaces raw smarts: not experience, not academics, nothing. You’ve got to be able to come up with ideas or solve problems in a way that other people can’t. We’re looking for collaborative team players — one of the most common hiring mistakes you can make is to bring in somebody who’s brilliant, but can’t play well with others. We need people that work effectively in teams and enthusiastically partner with others. We want candidates with a strong sense of ownership and motivation, who are self-driven, and don’t need artificial rewards to get excited about their work. We also love when we hire people who are passionate about our mission.
What makes working in engineering at Glassdoor different than at other companies?
Ryan Aylward: We’re at a fun scale where we’re small enough that every individual has an impact, but big enough that there’s a lot of complexity, with many different projects happening at once. That, I think, makes for a great learning experience. The fact that we’re so mission-driven and transparent also make Glassdoor a really unique, fun place to work. And we’re constantly innovating. We want to make sure that we’re empowering our small group of people to create truly amazing things.