BOSTON — You don’t need to hire prodigies to build award-winning, traffic-generating news apps according to Matt Waite (professor of journalism at UNL), Jeremy Bowers (senior developer at The Washington Post) and Shazna Nessa (director of interactive at The AP), who spoke on a panel Friday afternoon at The Online News Association about how to build an awesome data team with a few people.
Finding the right team
When looking for talent within your newsroom to recruit for the web, Matt Waite said to look for the following types of people: Those who are angry, passionate and willing.
“Finding people who are being sorely underused — people with skills that will go to waste … convince their bosses they are being wasted, and magic will happen,” Waite said.
Put bluntly, he said on one slide, find “people too dumb to know they aren’t supposed to do this.”
In other words, find people who aren’t afraid to fail and people who do things — they can sit down, say, “That’s a good idea” and start banging away.
Dealing with political struggles
It’s not easy. According to Shazna Nessa, some of the challenges in building a data apps team are :
- Doing more with less — and getting permission to do more with less
- Understanding culture, communication
- Curbing frustration, make it part of the challenge
- Dealing with resistance, lack of understanding
- Talking tech to non-tech people. “Be nice about it. They’re not morons because they don’t get what you’re saying,” she said.
- Being cognizant of other priorities, budgets and timelines in the newsroom
But you can get past the challenges by listening, understanding and communicating.
How to actually be a data developer
“Don’t be a tool. Use them,” said Jeremy Bowers, a senior developer at The Washington Post. These are some pep-rally-style guidelines and quotes from his presentation about how to be a data developer:
- Pick the right projects. “The problem is that everyone thinks too big. You need to think more iteratively.” You need to have something that people can click on.
- Invest in sweat equity. “There’s a reason we all start out horrible; it’s hard to build news applications.” Find the least amount of code you need to write to put a project on the internet. “You’ve gotta build it, you’ve gotta break it, and you’ve gotta do it over and over again.”
- Punch above your weight. “It’s not just about finding that easy project… every time you need to build something slightly harder than the last time… Your job is to build skills.” You want to keep getting better!
- Make unlikely allies. “The problem is, your newsroom is full of people who don’t like you and you just don’t know it yet.” You need to make friends and you need to show them the light.
- Spread the knowledge. “Your job is to show them the crazy things you’ve gone through.” Write blog posts! Document it!