AfroTech 2018 | Strong Black Lead: A conversation with Netflix
Photo Credit: AfroTech

AfroTech 2018 | Strong Black Lead: A conversation with Netflix

 Speaker Bios

Jared Jordan has led engineering teams for nearly 15 years. He is currently driving a cross-platform team focused on building Netflix Original user interfaces. His core responsibilities include managing feature development and building an inclusive high-performance team. He’s also a member of Dev Color’s A* Program where he empowers fellow Black software engineers to help them achieve their career goals. Prior to Netflix, Jared ran Evernote’s growth engineering and commerce platform organization, launched cloud-based TV apps for mobile devices at Ericsson, and worked on multiple projects at Microsoft. Jared is a software tinkerer, a large-scale problem solver, a husband and father of three, an avid follower of Christ, and a craft beer connoisseur.
 
Jasmyn Lawson is most known for her role as a Culture Editor at GIPHY where she focused on making GIFs as diverse and inclusive as possible. She recently began the next step in her career working at Netflix, where she manages the brand’s Strong Black Lead vertical, helping to support the brand in its efforts to expand and reach a diverse audience. Her career in the media industry includes time with the NBCUniversal Page Program and a digital agency, GLOW, where she managed social campaigns for television networks and streaming services like HBO, Cinemax, TBS, and Hulu. When she’s not live-tweeting one of her favorite TV shows or stanning for Beyoncé, you can find her at brunch with some of her closest friends.


Notes provided by Evernote

Netflix is both a tech and a media company. Jasmyn and Jared started at Netflix on the same day, about 8 months ago, in two different offices, and have had strong impacts on both sides of the line.

Netflix culture

NETFLIX’S CORE VALUES
Judgment — Informed Captains
Impact — Freedom & Responsibility
Communication
Curosity
Honesty
Innovation
Courage
Passion
Selflessness

In Jasmyn’s experience, culture is usually something companies feel they “have to” do rather than really believing in it and enforcing it.

When Jared was applying to Netflix, he was asked to look at the company’s culture deck and provide feedback, but what really matters in not what a company says but what it does. Netflix follows through.

Informed Decision Making

Netflix expects Jared and Jasmyn to be “informed captains,” making the best decisions based on the best knowledge. You are expected to be the person in charge of your work, not to seek guidance from above.

Jared: “Trust is implicit.” He’s been in many companies and most have the same values, but at Netflix, decisions are “data-informed, not just data-driven” to ensure they make decisions that are truly in the best interests of the company.

Jared gives an example of a data-informed engineering decision: moving from still images to “motion billboards” to full trailer assets when browsing content. They did an A/B test with still, motion, and trailer. At first the difference appeared flat, but they realized it was because the trailers took too long to load and play. By fine tuning JavaScript to play the trailer faster, they were able to improve the take rate. Static content is fine, but if there’s actual video and it plays instantly, people respond to that.

The billboard concept has expanded and now has variants for kids, awards, episodic content, licensed content, etc.

Jasmyn: People may not realize it, but every single Netflix user has a completely customized experience. I went to my mom’s house and didn’t recognize half the titles being shown to her! Even between the two of us, the experience was that different.

Jared: We’ve had to reduce code duplication through common modules, thinking about, for example, how to create strong UI experiences across platforms. Example: showing tags for a title on a TV vs iPhone. “We use native code. We don’t try to force people to adopt something unique to us. We want to bring in the best people and use the skills they have right away.”

Billboards account for 85% of streaming hours. Huge impact.

Jasmyn: On the editorial side, I was very impressed with what Netflix was doing even when I was in college. The ability to watch quality premium content anywhere, and the quality of their original content (House of Cards, Orange is the New Black were the first ones she watched). Now there are hundreds of original titles.

Netflix has offerings for a huge cross-section of audiences, even within the community of Black nerds. So we have multiple platforms to share and talk about this content, not just one for all of Netflix.

Strong Black Lead

SBL is “an editorial brand that is committed to doing the work, focused on supporting black ctreatives, talent, and audiences, being a strong contributor to the culture.”

“We hire black writers, photographers, videographers.”

The informed captain concept plays strongly in Strong Black Lead. “I have SVPs coming up to me and asking my opinion, to make sure we’re doing the best for our audience,” says Jasmyn.

[shows SBL promo video: ”We are not a genre, because there is not only one way to be black.”]

Jared: We have similar discussions on the engineering side every day. Does this represent the users POV? Does it feel right? “If it doesn’t sit right with me, how can I ship it out?”

Jasmyn: “I have the blackest job at Netflix and i want to do it right.”

Working on Nappily Ever After, recently released original film starring Sanaa Lathan, they were able to give it strong promotion working on both the marketing and platform side. How do we give an impression for users? What do you see on the screen? What happens when you scroll down? The promotion canvas they created gave the title much greater exposure and was rolled out to global teams.

The response was huge, and Jasmyn was surprised how much came from global Black audiences.

Campaign included:
Editorialized clips on Strong Black Lead before release that got 753K view from over 1M impressions and sparked important conversations within the community, conversations that might not have happened on the main Netflix social channels.
Original interview series on Facebook, 3.7M views. Amazing conversations about being black actresses, dealing with insecurities, and how the film changed people’s views about their own hair.
Scripted content: self-care, watching Netflix with influencers, etc.

Jared: This is all important to us on the engineering side too. “How do we make this experience reflect us?”

Jasmyn: It’s about making the two sides of the business into one. “I use data too. But I’ve never been in a place where I could have an idea and truly feel empowered to act on it. Here, if I have an idea but don’t feel like I can do it, my boss asks, “Why not? What do you need? How do we get it done?”

At many companies, there are so many hoops to jump through that there’s no chance to do impactful work. Netflix is empowering.