The Fetch Blog

The best events and reads for professionals

Coffee talk: Cap Watkins, VP of design at BuzzFeed — July 27, 2015

Coffee talk: Cap Watkins, VP of design at BuzzFeed

Cap Watkins has an impressive professional background. Before joining the BuzzFeed team as VP of Design, he held roles at Etsy and Amazon, helping create user experiences that people still love today. Cap is also a keynote speaker at this year’s upcoming Web Directions Conference where he’ll talk about building a design-driven culture.

Today, Cap tells us what he loves (and fears) about his current role, what he looks for when hiring designers, and exactly how BuzzFeed creates such addictive media experiences.

How did you get to where you are today?

I wonder this a lot, honestly. I think a lot of it has to do with being able to identify roles that will push me to learn more and then, at the same time, not being afraid to go all in, even if I super mess up. When I moved on from startup life in San Francisco to Amazon in Seattle, that was pretty scary: it was a big company with lots of bureaucracy to navigate (compared to a five-person startup). When I moved from Amazon to Etsy, being a first-time manager was incredibly frightening and challenging (not to mention figuring out New York). And now, as VP of Design at BuzzFeed, having a more nebulous role with influence over the organization definitely keeps me in a consistent state of “holy crap, am I doing this right?”

I think if your current job isn’t challenging you or freaking you out (at least a little), you should look for a new gig. Fear = growth. It also means that you’ll be conscientious about the job you’re doing, which actually puts you in a better position to succeed. Embrace the fear.

Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, identify people who are way smarter than you and engage with them regularly. At Amazon, I met Aaron Donsbach — and it was immediately obvious that he was the best designer on the entire team. We weren’t sitting in proximity to one another, but every day I made sure to sit down at his desk and just talk with him about what he was working on and ask for help with what I was working on. Eventually, we became pretty close and he became my manager. He taught me so, so much about design and how to think more deeply, as well as how to successfully navigate design discussions with the executive team. We’re still in touch to this day, and I still think of him as the best mentor I’ve ever had. He really shaped who I am now.

What’s a ‘typical’ day as the VP of Design at BuzzFeed like? What has been your biggest challenge in the role so far?

I’m sure this is no surprise, but “typical” isn’t a word I’d use anymore for my day-to-day. I could be recruiting folks to work for us, or meeting with the Design Directors in Editorial, or giving feedback on some Product Design work in Basecamp, or discussing organizational issues with the rest of our Tech Leadership team or even prototyping a new idea I have.

What I really love and fear about the role I’m in now is just how flexible and fungible it is. It’s really up to me to make it whatever I want it to be.

No one is stopping me from doing stuff and, in most of the cases, I’m enabled to do more. For instance, I thought it might be a good idea to do a Hack Week, so I suggested it. It’s been a couple of months and we’re just now finishing up our very first Hack Week. It’s kind of insane and great.

I’d also say this is the biggest challenge so far. BuzzFeed is a gigantic place with a ton of different versions of what “design” means. I’m trying to tie as much of it together as possible, but it’s nebulous and requires a bit of patience and long-term strategic thinking. It’s a process, and you have to look back and take stock of what you’ve accomplished every so often. Otherwise, it’s easy to get discouraged.

You’ve helped shape some incredible media experiences at companies like Etsy and Amazon. How often do you draw on previous experiences and learnings in your current role?

All the time. At Amazon, I learned a lot about systems-thinking and deep UX processes. Etsy was a crash course in using both quantitative and qualitative data as part of the product process. I think about these things all the time at BuzzFeed, and advocate as much as I can for us to adopt the learnings from those previous experiences. Obviously, holistic UX thinking and using data to drive work is valuable regardless of what company you’re at.

A lot of folks ask me what it’s like going from a couple e-commerce companies to a media company, but the truth is that the differences aren’t that big when you abstract them out. We still need to ship good products that measurably improve the user experience. And whether that’s for an online store or a publication, the methodologies are the same.

BuzzFeed is one of the most engaging and addictive media experiences out there. Which critical components are required to keep a visitor’s attention?

Good content. That’s it. We could design the most beautiful and usable experience in the world, but if the content isn’t great, our work doesn’t matter.

Our editorial staff is the real engine that drives BuzzFeed and it’s up to the product team to support our editors in experimenting with new formats and ideas, as well as create a reader experience that set that content up to be as successful as possible.

How do you help build a design-driven culture?

Transparency and collaboration are two primary focuses for us lately. You can’t be design-driven if design is secret alchemy owned entirely by designers. I think that’s a mistake a lot of designers make – they think they need control, when they really need to give it up.

If we can get engineers and product folks to contribute to the design process, and if we can contribute to the product roadmap and code, then whoa, now everyone is a designer/engineer/product person.

What, if any, intentional process do you use to hire designers at Buzzfeed?

We have a pretty straightforward recruiting process that starts with sourcing as owned entirely by the design managers. I love our recruiters to pieces, but I discovered at Etsy that our hit-rate was way higher if we owned sourcing and driving the process as much as possible. Here’s the short version of our process:

  1. A design manager finds/reaches out to a candidate.
  2. First phone screen to talk generally about the candidate’s process, the role and BuzzFeed.
  3. Second screen to walk through a couple projects in detail. Looking for process artifacts and asking questions about what worked/didn’t work.
  4. Interview Loop: meet with a couple designers, a product person, an engineer.
  5. That’s it!

What qualities and skills do you look for?

Critical thinking, collaboration, and curiosity. I find that people who possess all three of those things tend to have the hard skills to get done what we need to get done. We require that all our designers write their own html and css, but that doesn’t mean we require all our candidates to be masters at it. We do an html/css live-coding session with one of our engineers during the interview loop, regardless of the candidate’s skill level. The engineer who runs the session is obviously looking at the candidate’s current skill set, but more importantly their ability to learn. We’ve seen these sessions turn into basically the engineer teaching the designer how to write their very first html and css – and then we hire the designer. The enthusiasm and curiosity are critical.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in design and media experience over the last year? Over the last five years?

In design, I feel like I’m seeing more and more people call themselves “designers” while only focusing on making things look good. I think Dribbble and Behance are good things, generally, but their emphasis on visual design has made a lot of young designers think that’s what matters most. I’ve interviewed a lot of folks whose work is beautiful, but falls apart under even the lightest of UX examinations.

My concern with the trend is that I remember our discipline spent years and years convincing our industry that we’re not pixel-pushers, that we should be a part of the entire process. The re-focus on just making things look cool may wind up biting us in the ass at some point (and may already be). It certainly isn’t helping the perception of design, in any case.

What about BuzzFeed do you find most exciting?

The types of content we design for at BuzzFeed are just so varied that I still have trouble wrapping my head around it. When I tell people that the BuzzFeed Videos we make have over a billion views a month, they’re blown away. Or, and I didn’t know this before I started, we have Pulitzer Prize-winning editors on our News staff who lead long-term investigative journalism. And we just built a test kitchen for our Life editors to shoot original recipes and cooking tutorials. It’s a pretty awesome time. Most people think BuzzFeed is all Lists and Quizzes (which we also love!), but it’s so much more than that and you’re really going to hear more and more about those things in the future.

Where can we find you in New York City?

Mostly in Brooklyn (I work in Manhattan, but it’s really not my scene). There are a lot of great restaurants and bars my neighborhood. On a hot summer afternoon I dig hanging out at Gowanus Yacht Club or Swan Dive. For everything food, Frankie’s, Prime Meats, and Buttermilk Channel are my go tos.

Last, how do you like your coffee?

Soy cappuccino all day.

Web Directions is Australia’s longest running digital design, product and engineering conference. Learn more about Cap’s upcoming keynote and register for this year’s event here.

When it’s time to stay or when it’s time to go: how to know when it’s the right time to move on from your job — July 20, 2015

When it’s time to stay or when it’s time to go: how to know when it’s the right time to move on from your job

A job is a huge part of your identity and security, along with where you spend most of your waking time. For passionate employees, it can also serve as a foundation for future hopes and dreams. With such focus on work, it’s no wonder that finding the right company and role or considering leaving a current one is a major life decision.

Are you stuck in a professional limbo like this right now? If so, you might be losing sleep or feeling as if the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Hopefully, these considerations can help you make the best decision as to what to do moving forward:

You feel stressed out

According to the American Institute of Stress, 76% of people surveyed say that work and money are a leading causes of stress, listing job pressure as the number one reason they feel stressed out. 48% of respondents went on to share that stress has a negative impact on their personal and professional life, with 30% claiming that they’re “always” or “often” under stress at work.

Stress is a very real and present force in the workplace, causing a multitude of employees to suffer daily. In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that stress costs $26 billion in medical and disability payments in addition to $95 billion in lost productivity per year. If you’re in a stressful situation (either mentally or physically) that negatively affects your quality of life, you have sound reason to consider searching for a different company or job.

You’ve lost your passion

“Find joy in everything you choose to do. Every job, relationship, home…it’s your responsibility to love it, or change it,” wisely said writer Chuck Palahniuk. A loss of passion related to personal growth and shifting interests can happen, particularly after spending a long period of time in a specific role or industry.

Do you dread going to work every morning? Are you bored out of your mind when you think about your to-do list? Are you disappointed that your talents aren’t being tapped? If any of these ring true, make it a point to speak with your manager first. In this case, your boss may be able to reassign you to a different project or position that’s better suited for your skill set and passions. No luck after catching up? You may want to consider alternative work options.

Things have changed with the company

Change at work is inevitable, but it can be a very real reason for feelings of discontent. Adjustments could include a boss you don’t jive with, out of scope work or a change in direction, lackluster projects, or new duties that deserve (and don’t receive) higher compensation. Feeling unheard or undervalued can increase feelings of bitterness, and the best thing to do in any of these instances is to directly discuss your feelings with a manager. If improvements aren’t made following a conversation, be honest with yourself and move on.

The office is a toxic environment

Do colleagues make sexist comments? Are teammates bullied or ridiculed? Do you feel as if you’re discriminated against for any reason? If so, be sure to create a strong paper trail. To do so properly, file a company complaint with a direct supervisor or the human resources department. Next, file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the incident. For further legal advice, contact a lawyer to guide you through necessary actions. While it’s understandable to want to move on as quickly and quietly as possible, protecting your rights and those of teammates who may have also been violated should always be carefully considered.

You’ve reached an ethical crossroads

Joining a new company is great, but sometimes the inner workings and true nature aren’t revealed until you’ve been at it for a while. Do you find that the mission, culture or values at your workplace make you cringe? Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author, suggests that you should consider jumping ship if, “you feel that there are ethical or moral differences in how the company and you believe the firm should operate; cultural differences; work ethic clashes, and so on.”

You’re being transitioned out

Much like in a romantic relationship, there are often evident signs that hint the end could be near. Staff management expert Alison Green warns that, “If your boss used to give you feedback in person and now she’s putting criticism in emails, she may be creating a paper trail to build a case for firing you. Many companies require written documentation of problems and warnings before an employee is let go.”

Other signs of an impending transition may be a slower flow of projects or a lack of thoughtful feedback when you share concerns.

While deciding to leave a job is never easy, taking thoughtful steps can ease your stress and ensure that you’re making the best choice possible. Be sure to research all of your options before throwing in the towel, and remember that every job has benefits and setbacks. Should you decide to make a leap and try something new, asking trusted friends for opinions, saving a portion of your income, and keeping your resume/portfolio updated for a job hunt will all help make the transition process easier.

About our writer // Christina Morales is a freelance writer specializing in creating online marketing content. Her dream is to one day rule the world with just an iPad, a case of Cherry Coke, Twizzlers, and a glue gun.

Coffee talk: Christine Amorose, brand partnership manager at Vimeo — July 19, 2015

Coffee talk: Christine Amorose, brand partnership manager at Vimeo

Christine Amorose is one of those rare people who can somehow do it all. When she’s not managing brand partnerships at Vimeo, she teaches yoga and writes for major publications like Condé Nast Traveler in addition to posting regularly on her popular blog, C’est Christine. We were lucky to catch up with Christine in this week’s edition of Coffee Talk, where she shares what she loves about her job, the coolest partnerships she’s working on, and where she hangs out in NYC.

How did you end up where you are today, working on brand partnerships at Vimeo [and blogging at C’est Christine]?

I used to work in marketing and social media for a photography-related brand, and I loved the photo/video space. We also used Vimeo to host our lifestyle/product videos, and I was really impressed by the quality of the site and quirky brand voice. I thought that Vimeo would be a dream next step in the industry. When I started yoga teacher training in early 2014, the girl who sat next to me on the very first night of training introduced herself and said she worked at Vimeo. I immediately thought: I have to be friends with this girl! Well, I befriended her and learned more about the culture at Vimeo and the work she was doing on brand partnerships–and less than six months later, I was working with her. In addition to my full-time job at Vimeo, I also blog about travel and lifestyle at and contribute to publications like Afar and Condé Nast Traveler.

Which brands have been most memorable to work with? 

We just launched the Connected Series with Samsung, which is such a cool example of the work we do. Samsung and Vimeo teamed up to ask 10 amazing filmmakers to explore the idea of connection, and each piece is so unique and true to the filmmaker’s style and vision. My personal favorite was Elemental by : : kogonada: he basically showed how humans went from rocks to computers, and it’s all so beautifully edited with absolutely perfect sound design. It’s awesome when brands like Samsung are willing to fund projects that push boundaries and spark conversations.

What’s your favorite thing about the Vimeo product?

The videos! Vimeo is home to some of the best videos on the internet, and our Curation team is fantastic at finding the ones that are truly worth watching. I also love how supportive the Vimeo community is: the comments are always so positive, encouraging, inquisitive. There’s a low tolerance for trolling and a real celebration of creativity, which makes watching and sharing good work a very pleasant experience.

Who has had the most influence on your career so far?

To be honest: probably my mom! She has always encouraged me to go meet new people, to travel, to take some career risks. When I was debating quitting my first job out of college to move to France, she told me that there would always be jobs for good people — and that you can always make more money. Those two pieces of advice have been key in how I make career and life choices.

Outside of the office, you’re an adored travel writer and blogger. What made you want to start sharing your stories?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer: I was constantly writing stories as a kid, and I majored in journalism. And then I decided to start traveling, and suddenly life seemed a little more interesting and worth sharing. I’ve been blogging for five years now, and I just don’t know what I would do with all these thoughts and musings and photographs if I didn’t have an outlet for them.

Where do you find inspiration?

So many places! Travel is a go-to source of inspiration: new places, new people, new routines forces me to look at things differently. And I find that I can mimic that type of inspiration just by exploring a new neighborhood in New York City. I love that you can live in this city for years and constantly discover a new street, restaurant, park. I’m also so inspired by my friends who are pushing boundaries, starting businesses, creating a niche for themselves through photography, art, words, and technology. I have a few friends who I love getting coffee with because I always leave the cafe so buoyed with optimism and new ideas.

What do you want to learn next?

How to make videos! I’ve been playing with making iPhone videos using the Cameo app and I watch so many videos working at Vimeo that it’s made me more curious to explore telling stories through video.

Where can we find you in NYC?

Grabbing a coffee at Sweatshop or Happy Bones, biking around Prospect Park, catching up with friends over cocktails at Gallow Green or an ice cream at Oddfellows — or most likely, stuck on the L train.

What are your can’t-miss events in NYC?

Rooftop Films, Travel Massive, outdoor yoga at Bryant Park.

How can we connect with you?

Instagram! Twitter! Email! I’m on all the networks, and I love catching up over coffee when my schedule permits.

Last, how do you like your coffee?

Iced with almond milk in the summer, in latte form in the winter. No added sugar!

10 online/offline communities taking the globe by storm — July 17, 2015

10 online/offline communities taking the globe by storm

Digital communities can be just as powerful as real-life ones, bringing together like-minded people to share knowledge and create change. Today’s brightest communities make use of all channels to be exceptionally engaging:

  1. TED
    Renown for TED Talks, this nonprofit is dedicated to sharing ideas and sparking conversation. From science to global issues, community members can reap the benefits of powerful ideas in more than 100 languages.
  2. Creative Mornings
    People in 117 ‘creative cities’ participate in a monthly breakfast with a short lecture, covering topics like music, design, and new technology. The offline meetups offer members a chance to learn something new while meeting like-minded peers.
  3. Travel Massive
    Travel Massive counts travel industry insiders, leaders and innovators in more than 95 global cities, hoping to connect insiders and empower change in travel. Community members meet, learn and collaborate at events all over the world, helping move the mission forward.
  4. Responsive Org
    In-person meetups take place from Brussels to Brisbane, bringing together those interested in creating a fundamental shift in the way we work and organize in the 21st century. Examples of Responsive Organizations that fit the Community’s manifesto include Google and Tesla.
  5. Social Media Club
    Founded nearly ten years ago, Social Media Club remains one of the world’s most digitally connected communities with a mission to expand digital media literacy and promote standard technologies. Knowledge transfer happens at meetups, which take place at events that range from ‘Content and Coffee’ to ‘Happy Hour with Chipotle.’ Membership levels range from educational to professional, offering flexibility for anyone interested in joining the Club.
  6. Girl Geek Dinners
    Breaking down “old fashioned stereotypes” is no easy feat, but Geek Girl Dinners is intent to do so by empowering women (and men) to talk about their experience and knowledge in the technology industry — over a fun dinner! Founded in the UK, Geek Girl Dinners hopes to make technology accessible for anyone, ditching outdated myths about women and young people in the field along the way.
  7. Startup Grind
    More than 200,000 entrepreneurs take part in shaping this incredible global community, which counts local chapters in 175 countries. Designed to educate, inspire and connect founders and creators through events and discussions, Startup Grind continues to grow and thrive by attracting the best and brightest.
  8. Product Hunt
    Product enthusiasts around the world delight in reading about the latest and greatest gadgets and innovations, surfaced daily by Product Hunt. Hailed as a ‘must read’ for those in technology and startups, the site has amassed a cult-like following in a few short years.
  9. PassionPassport
    Writers and photographers make up this passionate traveling community, created for sharing tales of completed trips and sights seen. An impressive Instagram feed boasts more than a quarter million followers, with photos garnering tens of thousands of likes along with countless comments. Contests encourage friendly competition, but members remain consistently supportive and inspired by one another.
  10. SoulCycle
    Sweating it out is serious business for SoulCycle riders who attend class in more than 30 global cities. The philosophy in each location is the same, inspiring riders to be strong and give them confidence and courage for personal and professional endeavors. Community is at the heart of what SoulCycle does, and its rides are at the center of many friendships.

What, if any, other communities belong on the list? We’d love to learn about them in the comments.

Coffee talk: Krista Gray, director of community operations at The Fetch — July 13, 2015

Coffee talk: Krista Gray, director of community operations at The Fetch

Meet Krista Gray, the new Director of Community Operations at The Fetch! A passionate traveler, Krista also loves tech and bringing people together. Here, she shares her story and why she’s so excited to be working with The Fetch community.

How did you end up where you are today?

Still in my first few weeks of experimenting with life as a ‘digital nomad’, I’m currently working from one of my oldest friend’s newly purchased home in Connecticut. This is amazing because I left New England about seven years ago to pursue a change of pace in California. My time on the West Coast has consisted of a two year stint in Carmel-by-the-Sea before moving to San Francisco to help build a startup (which turned into several startups over a five-year span). Just recently, I left my last role to spend this summer with people I’ve missed dearly for nearly a decade. The best part? While I’m temporarily back where I started, I’m able to work with The Fetch!

Why did you want to get involved with The Fetch?

I’ve followed The Fetch since meeting Kate Kendall at a Skillshare class she was teaching about Community Management in 2012. At that time, I had just moved to the city and jumped into the entire startup ‘scene’. The concept of The Fetch resonated so deeply with me as it was exactly the kind of resource I found myself searching for. Starting over in a new place/industry is overwhelming, and having a cheat sheet for the the right kind of events along with access to carefully curated, intelligent reads can make it much easier to get acclimated and involved.

What things excite you about our community right now?

The sheer volume of incredible things that Fetchers are working on! I’m so impressed with the passion and knowledge each person brings to the community, and eager to help them all make the most of their work-life.

What events do you recommend in San Francisco?

I love Inforum (a division of the Commonwealth Club) for their conversation series. I recently had the pleasure of watching Molly Ringwald interview Judy Blume at the Castro Theater, and it was really enlightening to hear each woman discuss her respective creative endeavors, sources of inspiration, and challenges encountered over the last twenty years. These events are also a great place to network with like-minded people and make new friends.

What’s your favourite thing about your city?  

The weather. No, seriously! A lot of folks complain about the fog, particularly in the summer, but I think there’s a certain bit of magic to it. I love San Francisco’s temperate climate and the opportunity to layer clothes everyday, nearly year round. ‘Sweater weather’ has always been my favorite. :)

What’s unique about San Francisco?

I think the people are what make San Francisco truly special and unique. The tech industry attracts such a diverse range of people from varied cultures, backgrounds, and experiences. I’ve found that people I’ve met in San Francisco also seem to share a sense of heightened awareness in terms of gratitude — it’s refreshing to be surrounded by such great minds that are also deeply appreciative.

Where can we find you in San Francisco?

If I’m not at The Roastery, you’re likely to find me at a Bar Method class or getting fresh air in one of my favorite places: the Lands End Trail, Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, or Crissy Field. I’m also a huge fan of sunsets, and like to watch them from friends’ roof decks or the city’s best vantage points.

How can we connect with you?

Keep up with my adventures by reading my journal, or give me a shout on one of my favorite social sites — Twitter or Instagram.

If you didn’t live in San Francisco, where would you be?

San Francisco is easy to fall in love with, and really difficult to think about leaving for a long amount of time. However, if I didn’t call the City by the Bay home, I think I’d try life in a European city. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Rome and marvel over how different the daily grind is. I think we learn the most when we push ourselves out of our ‘normal’ routines and overlaps, and trying something so different could be a really fun and productive way to keep growing personally and professionally. Time will tell!

Last, how do you like your coffee?

It depends. I’m somewhat of a rare breed in that I don’t have a go-to coffee selection. I’ll often drink it black, but there are days that I mix in cream and raw sugar. Additionally, I can never resist a coconut iced coffee at Breaking New Grounds in Portsmouth, NH when I’m visiting home. They flavor the beans, and it’s simply the best.


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