Husani Oakley

With over 220 million worldwide subscribers across over 190 countries, it’s hard to imagine pop culture without the media juggernaut that we know as Netflix. But how do they manage to distribute and create so much, while also maintaining a top-class user experience for so many people? It’s thanks to geniuses like this week’s guest — Husani Oakley.

Husani talked about stepping into his role as Director of Creative Practices during the pandemic, and shared how his team helps define the art and science of great creative work at a huge scale. He also spoke about how his previous stints as CTO of online investment platform Goldbean and CTO of advertising firm Deutsch NY helped prepare him for the biggest role of his career. It takes a lot of work and nuance to create experiences for global and local audiences, and Husani is the right person to make those experiences happen!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So, tell us who you are and what you do.

Husani Oakley:
My name is Husani Oakley. I am the Director of Creative Practices at Netflix.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a pretty big title. I was going to ask what all has changed since you were last on the show, which was in 2014, you were Episode 40. That’s a long time ago. Tell me more about this new role in Netflix. It sounds exciting.

Husani Oakley:
Well, it was a very long time ago. That’s a whole two jobs in a global panini ago. That’s quite crazy. I hadn’t realize it was that long. Yeah, so my role at Netflix is in a group called Product Creative Studio. It’s a new role, even though Product Creative Studio isn’t necessarily new. We’re part of a team of people that are responsible for launching titles on platforms, so all shows all movies, whether they are Netflix originals or our non-original content that ends up on the platform globally. Everything is related to how those titles appear on platform. Everything from the descriptions, the synopsis that appear when you’re looking for something to watch to the tagging that appears. But specifically the art and clips and trailers that appear in the rows when you’re on the Netflix home page and when you’re on one of our titled detail pages.

Husani Oakley:
That’s the sort of work that’s done on my side of the organization. And my department and thus, my role specifically is looking at that work from a creative perspective, less than an operational perspective. And trying to figure out ways to make that work the best possible work for our members. We really want that art and those trailers and those clips to stand out and give you enough information as a member to let you decide whether this is something for you when you’re going to hit play and watch. We present you that evidence.

Maurice Cherry:
And I mean, it can be overstated just how big even Netflix has become in the past seven years. I mean, it really was something that was largely, I remember back then, I feel like it was mostly largely just for the United States or maybe for the Americas. But now, I mean, it truly is a global platform, not just in terms of reach of members, but also the content that it offers. I see trailers every week from content that’s in Spain, that’s in Italy, that’s in Nigeria, that’s in South Korea, everywhere.

Husani Oakley:
That’s what is both I think amazing to see from the inside. And then as a member to also experience from the outside that our content is we are a global company, our content is global. The way we create that content is global. But by global, I don’t mean from one location and spread throughout the world, it’s not one to many. It’s really many to many.

Husani Oakley:
Squid Game, I think is a great example that came out of South Korea for South Koreans. It was so great. Everyone on the planet ended up watching it. But the way we think about this global scale and reach, it’s almost like every area has its own Netflix. And the beauty of the platform is that content from those little Netflixes can be seen by members of Netflix as a whole.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you started this role last year. How was it to start something this big during the pandemic?

Husani Oakley:
I’ve got to say I was really scared. I was really scared to start during the pandemic. The role I was coming out of, I’d been in for a couple of years, so I knew everyone I worked with. And then we went into the pandemic and so, you’re on calls all day, every day with people, but you know them because you’ve known them before everything changed. I was really scared about the ability to form relationships with my peers, with my bosses and certainly, with the team that I lead only over a screen. Without having any indication of when the relationships could be built outside of just from behind the screen. I was terrified. If I am, to be honest, I was excited and terrified really, really because of that. But I have to say, this is the largest company I’ve ever worked at.

Husani Oakley:
And from day zero, and the fact that I say day zero gives a hint as to my dev background. We started zero. From day zero, I was impressed by the level of craft and the level of thoughtfulness that went into, not just starting, but the interviewing experience. And then starting, and then the onboarding experience. All of this with me sitting in my home office, having stepped into an Netflix office once in my life for maybe 30 minutes. I was terrified, but after really getting into things with folks who were aiding me along that interviewing and onboarding journey, that fear really went away and I was just able to embrace it.

Maurice Cherry:
What does your team look like? Who are some of the people that you manage?

Husani Oakley:
My team has, I was going to say some of the most brilliant people at Netflix, but that wouldn’t be fair because everyone in Netflix is sort of scary smart. And that’s I think a thing a lot of people say outside of Netflix like, “Oh, the folks in Netflix are really smart.” People in Netflix are really smart. I mean, back to this starting at day zero and how all of those interactions were clearly well-thought out and well-defined. The thoughtfulness is almost the hallmark of what it feels like to interact with these folks on the outside, I’m sorry, inside the company.

Husani Oakley:
My team is interesting because the team itself is new, but the people who are on the team are not. They’ve been in Netflix for an average of five years, four years and maybe. And so, they have such a deep understanding of not just the culture and sort of how we operate on a day-to-day basis. But the relationships with cross-functional partners across the globe. One of my amazing practices leads spent a lot of time and working with our APAC region. And has deep relationships with the folks there. So, they’re really able to bring to me the new person, this rich library of knowledge, which is incredibly helpful.

Husani Oakley:
Now, my folks come from varied creative focused backgrounds, creative strategy, art direction. Some from entertainment. Some from outside of entertainment. Some from marketing and advertising. But they all share a passion for TV and film and a passion for telling stories about TV and film. We tell stories about stories. I say that my team, with apologies to the late great Stephen Sondheim, I say that creative practices focuses on the art of making art. Inside of Netflix, I think that’s really important.

Husani Oakley:
We have these amazing editors and producers and strategists and designers spread across the planet, building out stories about stories, designing the art for our titles, cutting the trailers and clips for our titles. And because my team has experience doing that actual hands-on work, they are able to use that experience. And like I said earlier, use the rich knowledge of all of the cross-functional partnerships that they come to the team with. And elevate the work that our stunning colleagues do to represent titles on platform. I think I’m the luckiest person in Netflix with my team.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember from other people who I’ve had on the show before Netflix, they me that Netflix mostly hires mid to senior career people. You have to be at least kind of five years in to start at Netflix. There’s no “junior.” I’m using air quotes here, but there are no junior positions. Everyone kind of starts at a high level because you’re really in one way expected to kind of hit the ground running.

Maurice Cherry:
But to your point about how global and cross-functional, it is, I mean, you’re trying to deliver this consistent experience across hundreds of thousands of customers. And then Netflix is so unique because it’s a tech company, but it’s also media. And I just know from working with tech startups that try to do media, that’s often like mixing oil and water.

Husani Oakley:
Yeah, it’s hard and it’s also really worth putting the effort in. I think the space in between art and science is somewhere that I’ve spent my career and Netflix has spent its time existing like playing in the space between. I think if you are and I’m really talking about companies that I think I could argue this for really strong creatives as well.

Husani Oakley:
If you are solely focused on the art side, certainly in the medium that we’re talking about here, in digital. If you are focused on the art side, you’re missing out on the abilities and capabilities that are possible if you lean into the science side. But if you just lean into the science side and you don’t have the art, then you’ve got math. And I say, and then you’ve got math knowing, Maurice, what just like in college sounds silly. But I think you’re a great example of what I mean in this combination of art and science.

Husani Oakley:
There is such something that builds upon each other and allows things to build and move and merge. And I think that’s a fascinating place for a brand like Netflix to be, I think from a brand tone perspective, but from the day-to-day perspective of Netflix employees. And I hope that that experience for our members comes across. We talk a lot about our members all the time. We are member centric. We care so much about the member experience.

Husani Oakley:
Also, we are members too. I make this thing with my team in every other weekly status meeting, “What are you watching on Netflix right now? Let’s talk about it a bit.” Because at the end of the day, we’re focused on a lot of the science stuff, but it’s science for a reason. It’s science for the art and that’s just a fascinating space to play in.

Maurice Cherry:
The interesting thing really also with Netflix is it’s become just so ubiquitous within culture, writ large. I mean, of course you can look at the idiom of Netflix and chill and stuff like that. But with Netflix being such an early player in streaming and the rights with so many other streaming services, Paramount Plus, HBO Max, et cetera. There’s all these sort of affordances and things that they’re inheriting from work that’s been done in Netflix around how do we structure the UI? How do we provide a good user experience?

Maurice Cherry:
And it’s so interesting to watch conversation about streaming services on Twitter. Because one thing that I’ve found probably within the past couple of years, and I’ve noticed this, is that content, there are so many streaming services in places for content to land. And I mean, I’m using content in a broad sort of way to describe video. But I’ll watch 10 trailers and it’s almost negligible, which platform they’re on. It could be on IIB. It could be on Amazon Prime. It could be on Netflix. It could be on IMDB TV. It could be on a number of different platforms and stuff, but what sets it apart is that kind of experience of how do I use the app?

Maurice Cherry:
People talk all the time about HBO Max’s, the app. People say they’ve never seen an app that hates their users like HBO Max or I use Paramount Plus. And actually, Paramount Plus is the one service I’ve stopped using because the interface I found lacks the features that I would see on a Netflix or a Disney Plus or something for basic things that Netflix kind of pioneered, like Watch List and favorite-ing and ratings and stuff like that.

Husani Oakley:
I’ll tell you the secret. The secret is this amazing collection of smart people that work for Netflix that are spread across the globe. Just a little while ago, you talked about the level that we hire and you said, I think, the common thought is that folks are expected to kind of hit the ground running. And I’d say yes and no to that. So, I’ve been at Netflix are about seven and a half months and I think it took me about seven months to even understand anything.

Husani Oakley:
And the ongoing internal joke is, “You should spend the first year just soaking up information, understanding things, but we hired you because you’re great.” But your greatness at what you do, you need the information, the context about how we think about problem solving. How we’ve solved problems in the past, who people are and what they do and what they’re good at. You need some time inside before you’re really able to use the skills that you’re walking in with and apply to these sorts of very difficult problems that we are spending 24/7, 365 across the globe attempting to solve for our members.

Husani Oakley:
I hope that that effort or it’s funny. I was going to say, I hope that effort is clear to members. What I actually hope is that it’s not clear to members. I actually hope that it’s a magical experience that you sit down, you grab your remote control. You go to Netflix and you look, there are things that you want to watch.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s effortless. The experience is so seamless across. And I have to say, across a number of different platforms. I mean, I probably think like my toaster probably has Netflix now. It’s on every game console. It’s with every smart television. It’s on every smartphone, like yeah.

Husani Oakley:
Yeah. We have an amazing partnerships team that works in a lot of those sorts of situations and they’re just great. You should be able to enjoy this content where you’re at. Whether you’re sitting on a flight and you’ve got your iPad with you or you’re on a train and you’ve got your phone with you. You’re sitting on your cell phone, it’s a television, you’re on a laptop or you’re in the kitchen making toast. We briefly want the ability for you to be entertained because that’s our job.

Husani Oakley:
And I think there’s a huge responsibility in entertainment brands and the folks who, who work at them, certainly at brands as large as Netflix, and with such a global footprint. There’s responsibility in the driving of global culture. And so, you see this a lot or you saw this a lot during the pandemic. I think even more so than pre-pandemic. Life is hard and you’ve had a really difficult day, a difficult week. There’s family stuff. There’s work stuff.

Husani Oakley:
There’s the state of the world, in general. And what we want you to do, what we want to be able to do, what we focus so much time on, on an effort on allowing you to do easily is to sit down on your sofa or in front of your laptop or in front of your toaster, grab a remote. And for 43 minutes, for 60 minutes, hopefully for longer, you are able to take the weight of the world off of your shoulders and immerse yourself in a story. And live in that story and watch all of that story if you want or stop and sort of reemerge back into your life and do some more things and then come back and reemerge yourself in that story.

Husani Oakley:
That is an awesome responsibility that we have. And my team, because we are supporting the folks who make and the processes by which we make this creative work that represents titles on platform, we’re the front door and the last door to those moments of joy. And that’s what I tell my folks to, that’s what they focus on, that’s what we focus on. That’s why we are here at this company to focus on giving members moments of joy.

Maurice Cherry:
And I have to say, the way that Netflix has sort of expanded in the early 20-teens with not just expanding globally, but then also expanding into original content. The development of original content sort of further kind of lets Netflix seep into the culture in that way, because as it expands out more, now we’re making your own shows. Because there’s a lot of, or I think it’s probably is still this way.

Maurice Cherry:
You have all this platform hopping of old shows and movies and stuff. Particularly, I think with a lot of NBC properties and stuff like The Office, it was on Hulu. Now, it’s on Peacock. Now, it’s on this. And it’s amazing how people will follow a platform for a show that probably hasn’t been online or is still in syndication or something like that. But Netflix now moving forward with their own content as they also expand their global footprint, at the same time, huge. That’s huge.

Husani Oakley:
Yeah. There’s real power in that. And you only get to those sorts of insights and then execute on those insights and then continue to execute on those insights with more insights and do that at a global scale. The only way to do that is with stunning colleagues. It’s the only way.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. To that end, what does a regular day look for you? Does that exist?

Husani Oakley:
Nope. There is no regular day. Well, there are constants, let’s say. And maybe it’s almost like what does a week generally look like? And there’s things that happen in any given week are totally different. I said to someone, I said to a colleague the other day, “There’s never a boring day here is there?” They just sort of looked at me and they were sort of laughing of like, “Yep, no, no, no. That just does not exist here.”

Husani Oakley:
In any given week, I think like many people, we live on video chat. So, I’m on video chat a lot, but the conversations are so different and so rich and meaningful. Remember the days before everyone worked at home? And you might have eight meetings a day, but only three of them were really important. And the other five, you could of phone it in sometimes. Apologies to my previous lawyers who may or may not be listening to this.

Husani Oakley:
You could be with your phone checking Twitter under the table, that kind of moment. Not that I ever did such things clearly. It’s sort of the opposite of that here. So, if I’m on 10 calls, each of those 10 calls, is the most important call that day. And there were pre-reads read for those calls. There was prep work done. There was active participation in those calls.

Husani Oakley:
So, I think in any given couple of days or a week period, I’m having, it’s a really a collaboration session meeting with my team. My team, we don’t call them status meetings because it’s a waste of everyone’s time for all of us to sit on a call and go round robin and people tell me the status of their projects and initiatives. That’s a waste of their time. I think it’s disrespectful to their time. They can send me an email. They can update Slack.

Husani Oakley:
They can also do what they do because I trust them to do it because they’re the best people in the world to do this job. I don’t need to hover over them. So, we take an hour every Monday and collaborate on things. We’ll take a moment to celebrate on the latest content that we’re all or some of us are into. And then we really get into sort of the nuts and bolts collaboration, because these folks do have different backgrounds and different perspectives, different experiences.

Husani Oakley:
And because we’re a little a bit spread out and it’s a new team. It’s not as though we have spent so much time physically together. So, this moment is where you can start learning about each other and what each person kind of bring to this collaboration moment. I do also have a weekly status, also it’s less of a status. It’s more of a big thing that’s going on with my peers and the person that we report to. And we’re thinking of sort of bigger picture, strategic vision and what are the priorities for this year and next and how our cross-functional partnerships are doing.

Husani Oakley:
But a lot of time for me is spent watching Netflix. And I’m just smiling ear-to-ear when I say that. I watch a lot of Netflix. I watch Netflix during the day. I said to my mom, when I started, “I get paid to watch a lot of Netflix and that’s pretty damn cool.” And I’m watching as a member, but I’m also, I’m watching to gauge where we’re at creatively with title representation on platform. Does that feel right? And if it does, how can we do that not once, but twice but 5000 times. And then next year, 10,000 times. And then the next year, 30,000 times. So, there’s a lot of focus on getting content in.

Husani Oakley:
There’s a lot of task forces that are, we’re really big on cross-functional partnerships and cross-functional relationships. So, I’m on a couple of handfuls worth of internal working groups and task forces focused on all sorts of issues and initiatives and challenges to solve. Maybe there’ll be a meeting in that. And one person from the taskforce is going to present a deck or a super long memo about the latest findings from a test. And we debate them and we dissent openly and give feedback about what we’re talking about in these conversations openly.

Husani Oakley:
This is kind of what my life is these days. I watch TV a lot and I talk a lot. Which is for a person who talks a lot and watches TV a lot when he is not working in Netflix, that’s kind of a dream.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of this new job?

Husani Oakley:
I think maybe the most challenging and the most rewarding, the most rewarding is being able to work with colleagues across the world from completely different cultures and perspectives and backgrounds. And then I think one of the more challenging parts is coordination of the working with amazing colleagues from across the world.

Husani Oakley:
Time zones are a thing. It’s always going to be painful for someone. I mean, it’s either 8:00 AM for me or it’s 8:00 PM for me. It’s certainly when I’m working with colleagues on the literal other side of the planet. And trying to coordinate that with super busy schedules ends up being more challenging than you kind of think. “Oh, send a calendar, invite us all. Fine.”

Husani Oakley:
But our days are so dynamic. They change all the time and these meetings run long and maybe they run short. And then there that’s a company town hall. Trying to keep schedules in that space when there are so many dependent time zone dependencies, it ends up being a significant challenge and maybe that’s a challenge for me. The old school Netflix folks do this with their eyes closed. I’m still catching up and trying to figure out kind of the best way to handle that.

Husani Oakley:
One thing about that, when we have sort of larger meetings, larger department meetings, or all hands in our part of the organization, we do those meetings twice because of time zones. So, if you’re presenting in a meeting and you’ve got a couple hundred people on a call, for me, I’m in those conversations all the time. I’m presenting in those quite often. I’ll have one at 7:00 PM on a Tuesday and then I’ll have the exact same meeting the next day at 10:00 AM, but just with different participants, but I’m saying the same thing twice.

Husani Oakley:
And there’s a challenge in that sort of human communication moment. Sometimes, I feel a little bit like I imagine a politician feels giving a stump speech. And they’re, “Okay, hello, Rapid City.” And they’re like, “You’re actually at Albuquerque.” “Oh, sorry. I was in Rapid City yesterday.” That sort of when you say the same thing a number of times it starts to become rote.

Husani Oakley:
And I think that would be unfair to our colleagues in our various locations across the world. So, trying to keep that stuff fresh to get their excited unique perspectives is also sort of challenging for me sometimes. But you work through it, you work through it.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, when we had talked back in 2014, I know we’re talking now about Netflix, but I want to kind of go back to really track the progression to how you’ve gotten to where you are now. Back when we talked in 2014, you were fairly new, I think CTO at this FinTech startup called GoldBean. Tell me about that experience. How was it?

Husani Oakley:
Oh, GoldBean. Oh, wow. It’s funny how the perception of time is so malleable and the past two years feel like 30 years. So, really thinking back to the GoldBean days, it’s amazing. I’m watching right now there’s, there’s like what? Three or four prestige TV series about well-known startups happening right now. I don’t know what they’re called, but there’s the Uber show. That’s what I call them at home. There’s the Uber show. There’s this there no show. There’s the Uber show.

Husani Oakley:
I’m watching all of them at the same time. And I just, I laugh a lot when there are moments that they are talked about in these shows that I remember. Like begging for funding, a launch day, getting your first non-direct connected customers and that sort of thing. GoldBean was a blast. It was a massive learning experience. You’d wake up on a Monday morning and you’d think I am right. Our product is right. Our brand is right. Everything, we’re making the right decisions. We are so smart.

Husani Oakley:
And then by lunchtime, you’re like, “Wait, no, actually we don’t know anything. What the hell have we done with our lives?” Then it might change. It might go up again by dinnertime. That sort of emotional rollercoaster. That I think is inherent in startups. I guess when I think back on the GoldBean era, that’s one of the things that’s top of mind to me, that riding that rollercoaster.

Husani Oakley:
So, GoldBean, I was so lucky to co-found GoldBean with a former colleague. She was actually a former boss, truth be told. And we were, you have colleagues, boss or not, you’re close in, and when you’re working together. And then time goes by, you both have different jobs, different parts of industries. You don’t talk again. You drop each other notes on Twitter or LinkedIn. One is a Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday kind of a thing.

Husani Oakley:
I was so lucky to reconnect with her and have the opportunity to build something from nothing. And to think about all aspects during that building of something from nothing. Where it’s not just the product, not just the tech of the product, but the design of the product, the brand, but the brand values. And how those brand values would be expressed through visual design, but also through our own behavior in the marketplace and how we raise the money.

Husani Oakley:
Really all of that coming from a core set of brand values, which is really about, could we have a financial brand that didn’t just focus on straight white dudes? How do you take that kind of a phrase and express it in design and express it in the tech and express it in product design? Solving those challenges was so much fun.

Maurice Cherry:
And you were kind of going back into the startup world then, because prior to that, you were at Wieden and Kennedy before you were at GoldBean?

Husani Oakley:
That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. My career has been startup, ad agency, startup, ad agency. At a certain point, it was like startup, startup, startup, startup. Oh, no. Ad agency. I’ve kind of, I’ve lived a lot in both of those worlds, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And I guess, to follow that pattern after this startup, you were at an ad agency. Right after that you were at Deutsch New York. How did that opportunity come about? Because you were at GoldBean for a good minute.

Husani Oakley:
Yeah. It’s a funny story, and I think it was like four or five years at GoldBean. And we did the typical, it’s sort of like the typical startup life cycle. Even though there were all of the roller coaster at any given day if you kind of zoom out from that, there was the typical, “Have an idea. Ooh, that’s a good one. Let’s bootstrap it. Let’s make it. Let’s raise some money. Well, let’s raise some money. Oh, wait. We’re a woman and Black gay man as CTO-led financial technology brand.”

Husani Oakley:
So, we’re raising money and raising money and raising money. I continued that for a very long time before going on to the next part of working on a startup. But we got to the point, I guess, near the end where we had a lovely relationship with a company that ended up buying the GoldBean.

Husani Oakley:
I was having drinks with an old colleague from my Wieden+Kennedy days who for maybe a year or so, she was at Deutsch New York. And she had been trying to for a year to get me to talk to folks at Deutsch. And I kept saying, “No, I have a job. It’s called a startup. Ever heard of it?” I was sort of getting snippy about it after a while. But she was a friend. We finally had a moment in a bar where I knew that, “Hey, we’re actually going to be wrapping GoldBean up soon. Fine. I will talk to your precious Deutsch New York people. Fine.”

Husani Oakley:
And so, she did an email introduction to some folks there. And one conversation with a person who ended up becoming my Deutsch collaborator and then personal friend, one conversation, I was sold. I was excited to join Deutsch specifically because of the people. It’s always about people for me. The culture was much around, “Hey, here’s the thing. Let’s figure out how to do that better.” And that really, really kind of called to me.

Husani Oakley:
It’s funny. Where did we, where you and I spoke at a conference together in Atlanta, what was that?

Maurice Cherry:
That was How to Design Live in 2016.

Husani Oakley:
Wow, 2016. I remember standing on a stage there and I know this happened. I hope there’s not a recording of it. I stood on a stage and I said something like, “I will never go back to advertising.” And the crowd sort of giggles. And I’m like, “No, I’m serious. I will never go back to advertising.” Fast forward two years, I’m [crosstalk 00:32:43]. So, never say never, I guess.

Maurice Cherry:
What are some of the things you worked on?

Husani Oakley:
Deutsch work was and is focused on helping brands through inflection points. There’s a product launching, there’s a major change in company leadership and now there’s a new brand tone or value or look and feel of something. But no, I think the specialty of Deutsch was finding those moments of change and developing coms around those moments of change and to support those moments of change in the eyes of a brand consumers.

Husani Oakley:
I think a good example, some work that we did for, for AB InBev. The world’s largest brewer. Speaking of global scale, AB InBev has got it. I was going to say we designed and built an app called Hoppy, but that doesn’t come close to kind of what the project was. That’s what I loved about the work at Deutsch. It wasn’t just the what is the tactic that we’re leaning in on. It’s why is this tactic important? What larger program in an inflection point for a brand is this tactic a part of?

Husani Oakley:
For AB InBev specifically, it was around really wanting all of their employees to have a deep, deep, deep appreciation of, and understanding of beer. And I think that might sound a little silly sometimes, like “Well, it’s a brewer, how do they not understand and love beer?” But at a brewer, there’s a lot of employees. That’s just the folks in the brewery. You got sales people, you got marketing people, you have operations people, you have number crunchers.

Husani Oakley:
And there was a real desire by the heads of AB InBev to internally have every single AB InBev employee be educated about beer. Be able to champion beer and what beer could do from a cultural perspective like throwing people together and having sort of moments of meaning in people’s lives, who work at AB InBev. And how could every employee of AB InBev share that passion for beer to their friends and family and so on and so on.

Husani Oakley:
So, one of the tactics that we came up with was called Hoppy and it was an app, internal only. It has since gone public on the web, I believe, but it was an iOS and Android app that essentially gamified education. And we took a lot of cues from how people use their phones when they’re not supposed to be at jobs. Really wanted a little bite size content. AB InBev has a super competitive internal culture and we leaned in on that in some of the gamification as well. So the idea was, if you log into Hoppy, you read some bite size content about beer, and it’s all different sorts of courses. And from beer history to beer science, to the making of beer.

Husani Oakley:
It was very specifically about beer, not so much a sales tool for AB InBev brands. No. It was about beer. You read this content, you interact with these little games then you would get quizzes. If you answer the quiz, you get a badge. Every badge comes along with beer coin. Yes, I know. Every time I would say it then and said it now is I cringe a little bit. I won’t take up too much time complaining about crypto and my thoughts on that. But the idea was giving the AB InBev employees again from the super competitive internal culture a thing to compete with. We built leaderboards, not just in the app, but around offices.

Husani Oakley:
We allowed managers to create what we called Beer Code, C-O-D like a QR code, QR code. You go into an admin system, you make a beer code and that beer code could be for an extracurricular meeting you were having with your team or a happy hour that you wanted your encouraged your team to show up to. You’d make it, you’d print it, you’d stick it on the wall. Every employee that walks in, they log into Hoppy as they’re walking in, they scan that code. They get some beer coin. They move up in the leaderboard.

Husani Oakley:
All the content could always be refreshed and it was all very beautiful. And there’s this amazing design that the super talented product design team at Deutsch New York created. That sort of deep, deep, deep brand integration coming through via a digital tactic for employees. That’s the sort of work that Deutsch did and does. And it’s work that I, years later, am still super proud of.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at both your time working at GoldBean, which was a startup and working at Deutsch New York, which is an agency. When you look at those two specific experiences, what unique skills do you think you’re able to bring now to your work at Netflix, which is in a totally different space?

Husani Oakley:
The ability to tell a story succinctly, last answer to your question, notwithstanding. You know what I mean? Taking super, super complicated concepts and distilling them down to their essence, not 30 slides, but two. But when you are the digital per person in a non-only digital environment like a big ad agency. And anyone who is in that position sort of understands and I think even folks who are sort of new areas of larger older companies will understand this, you run out of time in a meeting.

Husani Oakley:
You run out of time in a pitch because your part of the pitch is like Slide 38 of 50. I’m sorry. Your part of the pitch is Slide 38 out of 40. And by the time you get to Slide 37, you look at the clock and it’s almost time and all your colleagues are looking at you like, “Okay, you had a whole lot to say when you practiced this pitch, but now you have seven seconds to say it because we took too long to say our part. You don’t have time anymore. Go.”

Husani Oakley:
When you experience that over a career, my ad agency career of being the digital person in these sometimes, non-digital native environments, you get really good at taking 30 pages of really complicated stuff and distilling it down to three sentences. It’s a skill that has come in handy at a place like Netflix where things are so and so cross-functional, and cross-functionally complicated. Cutting down to the essence has really, really served me well.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, from what you’re able to share, I mean, you’ve already shared so much about Netflix, what would you say is probably the most surprising thing that most people don’t know about Netflix?

Husani Oakley:
Netflix employees pay for Netflix.

Maurice Cherry:
Really?

Husani Oakley:
We pay a subscription, just like everybody else. And listen, I got to say when I got the message, when I logged in Netflix one day and I saw that my subscription price went up, I did have a second of a gasp. I did have a moment of like, “Hey, wait a second.” Then I remembered that I work there. Yes, we pay for Netflix. I think it’s actually really important that we pay for Netflix. We are members, too and when you pay for something, even if you work at the place that makes it, even if your work is available on it, come at it from a different perspective. It’s much more than empathy for members when you are a member.

Husani Oakley:
We, too, are sensitive to price changes and know that they are done with respect. We too are excited by content. We too are sad and disappointed when our favorite show isn’t renewed. And really being, having that perspective in the product, as expressed by, “I’m paying the same price everybody else is paying,” I think really gives us a strong, strong perspective when we are working on things that are potentially challenging or difficult.

Maurice Cherry:
That is wild. I didn’t know that you all were paying for Netflix. I mean, ooh, interesting. Okay. So, yeah, when those prices go up, you all feel it, too, so I guess that’s a little bit of empathy out there for folks who didn’t know that. How have you changed since we last spoke here on the show seven years ago?

Husani Oakley:
I think I’ve realized what I’m good at. I don’t always know what I’m good at to be, to be fair. But I think I’ve kind of narrowed down what I’m good at and I’ve embraced what I’m good at. And that is living in the space between art and science and leading teams creatively in that space between art and science.

Husani Oakley:
And I think earlier parts of my career, I sort of fell into this in between space. It was never a conscious intentional choice to sort of be in the middle. But I started out way back in the day as a dev, but I was a creative. In my day job, I’m writing code and I just happen to be the one of all the devs in whatever place I was at, at that time, that could have a conversation with designers or creatives. And really understand their perspective and then translate that perspective.

Husani Oakley:
And in the startup world, that was a superpower. I didn’t realize that that was a superpower. And in the agency world, again, it was a superpower I didn’t quite realize was a superpower at that time. And I think as I’ve matured as a human, as I’ve grown as a leader, and I think as I’ve grown as a creative, I’ve understood that as being a major tool in my tool belt and I recognize that it’s a tool in my tool belt. I know how to wield it. And I knew how to wield it back when we first spoke. I think, I didn’t know how well I actually could wield it and I think I’m really doing that now.

Maurice Cherry:
Are you where you wanted to be at in this stage in your life?

Husani Oakley:
Well, listen, having gotten started in my career in the dot-com boom, I thought by now, I’d be retired on a yacht. The yacht would be called the Husani. It would have my face on it, giving the middle finger to everybody as I go from port to port, island to island. Living my retired before mid-40s amazing life. That didn’t happen. It took me a little while to realize that wasn’t going to happen.

Husani Oakley:
But you know what? Yes, I am. I have always wanted to be in a place professionally and personally where my passions for storytelling can have an impact on more than a handful of people and a lasting impact on more than a handful of people. And it’s been a long road. I’ve been doing this for a long time, but I am certainly now in a place where my creative ideas, my creative leadership and the wielding of the in-between art and science tool can really have an impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of people. And that’s what I’ve really always wanted and that, I feel like I have that now.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have a dream project that you would love to do someday? I mean, it honestly sounds like this work that you’re doing on Netflix is kind of, I mean, I’ve known you for 20 plus years. But this sounds like the pinnacle of where you are in your career, but is there more that you want to do like bigger dreams and aspirations?

Husani Oakley:
I want to write a Broadway musical.

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm.

Husani Oakley:
All I get is a “Hmm?” Wow. Wow.

Maurice Cherry:
No, no. What would it be about?

Husani Oakley:
You’re difficult. Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know, but I want one. Look, I discovered a love for musical theater when I was a super, super young kid and saw Sarafina! on Broadway. It’s up to Google what year that was because I really don’t remember. I was super young. And then my love for musical theater was cemented when I became obsessed with Little Shop of Horrors in the late ’80s. And it’s just sort of grown and been there ever since on the wall that I sit in front of when I’m on video chat all day, every day.

Husani Oakley:
I mean, there are a bunch of pieces of art and some things that are meaningful to me. But on one side, there’s a Star Trek poster. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Best film ever. Then there’s also a stylized drawing of the logo of Miss Saigon because that show has had big impact and meaning on my taste in theater and understanding of the interplay between words and song.

Husani Oakley:
And I don’t know what my show would be about. But I would like to before I leave this planet to whatever comes next, write a show and hopefully have the same sort of impact emotionally on people that the work that I love so much has had on me.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, you’re in New York. If there’s any place to write the next Broadway musical, that’s it. All you have to do is get Netflix to give, I don’t know, Lin-Manuel Miranda, a project or something. Find a way for you all to work together and make that happen. I mean, seriously, because I mean, Netflix has, I mean, we’re talking a lot about Netflix because you work there. But just to kind of talk about more with their expansion, they’ve gone into games, they have a book club.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m surprised that they haven’t went into theaters. I know Amazon did that with their Amazon Studios. They bought, I think it was Landmark. I think it was Landmark theaters they bought that chain or they wanted to buy it or something. But I’m surprised there’s not brick and mortar Netflix theaters. I’m pretty sure that’s probably somewhere down the pipeline.

Husani Oakley:
We do own one theater. Hey, here’s another maybe thing that people don’t know about Netflix. We own a theater in New York, a movie theater.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

Husani Oakley:
Yeah, the Paris Theater. It’s a beautiful old landmark theater and there are screenings. It’s open. It’s a public, it’s a theater, it’s a movie theater. You can buy tickets and see a movie there. The Power of the Dog was there a couple of weeks ago. There’s something happening there tonight with Judd Apatow. That it’s open to the public as in you could buy tickets like everyone else, but yeah, we own that theater, which is a lot of fun.

Maurice Cherry:
Aside from the musical, what is it that you want your legacy to be?

Husani Oakley:
One of my early pre-career claims to fame, such that it is I had a first amendment related lawsuit with my high school in the town I grew up in. And back then, I really wanted to leave behind a changed world. There are a million and one things wrong. If I could change four of them, no one ever needs to know my name. No one ever needs to know that I was the person who changed those four things as long with those four things got changed.

Husani Oakley:
And I guess I’ve gone from then, I’ve run startups, so I’ve been at companies big and small. I’ve done all of this stuff. I’ve spoken on stages. I’ve been around the world. All of this stuff. And I think all I still want to do is change for things on this planet for the better. And so, the people who come after me don’t experience those four things of the million things being wrong as wrong.

Maurice Cherry:
One thing I didn’t even touch on that we focused on your work at GoldBean and Deutsch, but you’ve also done a fair amount of civic tech work in these past seven years. I remember vividly you being invited to the White House, Obama, not Trump, invited to the White House. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Husani Oakley:
Yeah. I was invited to the White House twice. Let’s just be clear.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Husani Oakley:
And so, the first invite was the Obama administration understood the importance of inclusion. And there was a group of LGBTQ senior technology executives invited to spend a day at the White House and put our heads together on the problems that plague our society and humanity. So, of those million and one problems that I acknowledge exists in the reality we live in, could we take 15 of those and solve them. What do we think would be great, great moves to protect against climate change? How can we think about employment and unemployment certainly, in the tech sector, since we were folks coming out of the tech sector.

Husani Oakley:
And that was just a fascinating moment, an amazing experience I’ve developed lifelong friends from that moment. Then it actually then led to the next moment later that year, and it was 2016, I believe. Yeah, it was 2016 because the last time was actually post-election, that election. It was around, “Okay. We made some really good strides in that first summit around digital and technology employment outside.” Thinking about it as not just being an issue in the major cities, but they’re really being huge opportunity outside of the coasts and the major cities.

Husani Oakley:
Now, there are smart key people outside of just New York and LA. Shocker, I know. How can we spread the unheard of in human civilization wealth that has been generated by the internet and digital to technology, IT in general, outside of just those centers from a jobs program and continuing educate perspective. We were worried that with the election having gone the way it did that any strides that we’d made. We had folks from the department of labor involved and a lot of the conversations we’ve had in that first summit, our assumption, a safe assumption, was that all of that was going to get thrown in the trash.

Husani Oakley:
And so the second time, a bunch of us got together at the White House was around, if we can’t ensure that it’s not going to get thrown in the trash, how can we on the outside of being in the executive branch continue kind of driving these initiatives? So, it turns out that continuing to drive those initiatives were one of a million problems caused by that guy. So, I think we all then found ourselves really busy from that date, I mean, through forever now, because the fight against fascist never actually ends.

Husani Oakley:
But yeah, I think when this technology was new, we didn’t know what it could do. A lot of us were naives in thinking that it was all a net good and connecting people was always in that good and base core infrastructure. Technology was always in that good because it didn’t have intention and then over time we learned that that’s not true. And now, we recognize that high AI biased, high moderation on social platforms a big issue, high identity on social platforms a big issue.

Husani Oakley:
I look back at those early times and think about how naive a lot of us were, myself included, about what these technologies would do. And so, now, I think those of us who remain in the space and certainly more so folks that are new to these spaces have a responsibility to use these tools for good and not for evil. An active good, not just being neutral. Technology is not neutral.

Husani Oakley:
That’s a responsibility we have as creatives, as technologists, as creative technologists, as humans, as Americans if that’s what we are. We have these things on our hand, we got to use them right. So, focusing on the betterment of society is it’s clearly, perhaps never far from top of mind for me. Now, actually, my little sister is running for Congress. I think we share a lot of similar perspectives on the need for being involved in the government of the world that we live in.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, Husani, just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find more information about you, about your work and everything? Where can they find that online?

Husani Oakley:
On Twitter, I am @Husani Oakley. On Instagram, I’m @Husani. And if you can’t remember any of that, I’m at husani.com on the web.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Husani Oakley, I want to thank you so much for coming on this show. I mean, as I sort of mentioned earlier in the interview, we’ve known each other for such a long time, so I already knew this was going to be a great interview. But really getting to hear you talk about the work that you’re doing with Netflix, the fact that you’re able to take the talent that you have and be able to apply that across a global scale with a company like Netflix, I feel like this is exactly where you need to be right now. And I’m excited to see what the next thing will be. I hope it’s the musical. I’ll be there. I’ll buy a ticket for the musical if it happens in the future, I’ll be there. So, thank you so much for coming on the show, man. I appreciate it.

Husani Oakley:
Thank you, Maurice. A blast as always.

Harrison Wheeler

If you’ve been a longtime listener of Revision Path, then you probably already recognize this week’s guest, Harrison Wheeler. Along with being a senior design manager at LinkedIn, he’s also a podcaster with his own show called Technically Speaking. (And I’ve been a guest twice!)

Our conversation started off with a peek into life at LinkedIn, and he talked about working and managing remotely, as well as about how he’s changed as a manager over the years. We also talked shop about podcasting, the metaverse, the future of design in business, and Harrison shared some of the best career advice he’s received. I love checking back in with guests and seeing just how they’ve grown over their career, and Harrison is proof that hard work and dedication pays off in the long run!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Harrison Wheeler:
Hey, Maurice. My name is Harrison Wheeler. I am a senior prog design manager at LinkedIn, and I’m going on four and a half, five years. Time flies.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Welcome back to the show, man. It’s good to have you back.

Harrison Wheeler:
I know. Yeah, we were just chatting beforehand. It’s been what, almost four or five years since I … No, it’s been longer than that. What I’m talking about, I’ve been at LinkedIn for, like I said, almost five years. So it’s almost been like seven years.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. You were at Base when we last talked, which is now part of Zendesk, I believe.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
But yeah, it’s been a while. So we definitely got a lot to catch up on in terms of your career and everything.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. It’s funny. I’m trying to think. I think I might have been in Chicago or had just moved to California back when that was recorded.

Maurice Cherry:
You had just moved to California.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
Oh, man.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2021 been for you? What did you learn about yourself over this past year?

Harrison Wheeler:
Look, if 2020 was rough, so I think I’m a glass half full kind of person. So I will say that 2021 definitely felt like a bit of emergence out of that. Just looking back, I mean, a few things. And so I think really being unapologetic in terms of just turning things off and making time for myself. I think making time in the space for yourself is super important for that. I think, additionally, we all know this, but your voice matters. And I think probably it’s a bit of a reflection in terms of where I’ve grown and the position and the role that I have within my organization, within the design community. It’s important to have that voice and then also give back. Perspective is very important. And I will say many things have also accelerated within the last couple of years.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so when you think about how a lot of the workforce is now, like tele commuting, what sort of constraints does that create? Are we creating opportunities for people to get in? Are we also conscious of some of the effects of the work that we do? And so how can we bring more consciousness to the work that we’re doing, to the decisions that we’re making on a day to day basis?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I think really also with this past year, because … and I want to say this partially because of the vaccine in a way. It’s really thrown workplaces in general into a bit of a learning moment in a way. Because of course in 2020, when we didn’t have the vaccine, everything was like, we’re going to move to remote work, we’re going to do this. And then the vaccine comes and then offices are like, well, I guess maybe we can start going back. And then the variants come through and they’re like, well, maybe you should stay at home. There’s been this weird push, pull. Of course there’s been the creation of these hybrid schedules, but I still think companies are trying to figure out what they’re going to do next and they’re not doing well at that. But I think that’s to be expected because this is so unprecedented.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. I mean, I’ve had a few thoughts on that. I’ve had an opportunity to at least exercise what the hybrid concept is like. And just reflecting, again, over the past couple of years, I think we’ve seen a lot of evolution, at least from a design perspective, the tools that we use. You have the online multiplayer, you’ve got tools like Loom where you can do asynchronous video recordings. Obviously Slack is a big part of it. Having soundboards or sound rooms as a way of communicating without necessarily needing to be on camera. I think the list really goes on in terms of how remote work has been optimized. But the moment that you step into an office, it is a relic of where we left off. And so there is a gap there.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so, one of the things that actually I’ve been thinking about is, how does this play a role in the design rituals that we have. Not necessarily from a remote perspective, but when we have folks in an office and then we have folks on camera. Because there are some really interesting nuances. Like, we’ve all had pretty good high fidelity cameras at home, but the moment you’re in an office, you now see someone in three dimensions. So maybe their voice sounds different, maybe the audio is a little bit distorted. Folks might not see what’s going on in the chat. Folks might be having side conversations. Some of these things aren’t new per se, but now we’ve got a more equitable type of situation that we need to be considerate of. And so, how can we build in process, practice? How can we ingrain it? I think for me, how do you think about that at scale? And so, there’s a software component, there’s a hardware component and then there’s also just the general human to human communication component. So yeah, it’s really interesting, man.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s funny now that I think about that, because when the pandemic really started, I was working for a company that was very much remote first. And they had an office and I had been to the office. I don’t even remember the last time I was in their office, maybe 2019 I think. But that was three or four jobs ago. Since then, now I’ve worked at a number of different companies in remote positions with people who I’ve never met, who I’ve had to work with oftentimes across very wide time zone births to try to get creative work done. And yeah, it’s a change, it’s a big change. And just trying to adjust to it, making sure you’re getting the best work out of people. Of course, I think, one, with being sensitive to just the general overall global issue that we’re going through with the pandemic. But also, it’s going to be a different kind of thing when you meet them in person. At the other places, I’ve not met a single one of my coworkers in person in over a year.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
I think it’s truly fascinating, that social component. I think on the show, I don’t know if I had gone to this point yet, but a lot of the engineering team that I was working with was based in Poland. And so I think we hadn’t developed ways to communicate. Technology wasn’t there, so the ways to communicate were extremely difficult. So then you really had to see and visit somebody to understand their body language. But I think now, we’re so good at communicating with each other. I think seeing each other in the flesh it sort of like, oh, how do we compute this now?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I’m running into that a bit now because the place where I currently work, we’re split between San Francisco and Paris. And so I’m working with Europeans in the morning, working with the US folks in the afternoon trying to … And it is all very much a sync. I mean, I’m right in the middle. So when I start my day at 9:00 AM, it’s the afternoon already in Paris and it’s still early morning in San Francisco. So I have to try to juggle how I work now based on that, because we’re not all on that same eight-hour block.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
When you think about 2022, are there any certain resolutions or goals that you have that you want to try to accomplish?

Harrison Wheeler:
Oh, resolutions or goals. I would probably say I need to do a better job at taking a vacation. I’ve been saying that for a long time, but I think this past couple of years, I think from a mental health perspective, haven’t been easy. And I don’t think it’s been easy for most folks. And so again, I think be able to create that time and space where you can reflect. You don’t need to, you can also be in the moment. You don’t have to necessarily reflect. But I think we need to just create the space. That’s how I recharge. I’m doing a lot of really awesome stuff with my podcast, Technically Speaking. So I’m looking forward to really expanding that. I know we’re going to get into that a little bit later. But I would also say like, move a little bit more. Really be conscious about getting movement in. I mean, I’m in meetings all day. And so going for that. Walk around the block, heading on the bike, lifting some weights. In some way, shape or form, committing to that every day.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I want a vacation. Well, I think I need one certainly, because the last time I was really out on a plane somewhere was February 2020. I just haven’t went anywhere because of the pandemic. But now it’s, I’m feeling it now. I need to disconnect on a beach in another country somewhere like nobody’s business.

Harrison Wheeler:
You’re in the hub, man. I think you can fly anywhere in the world from Atlanta.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s true. I’ve just been wary of it because … I mean, you’ve been seeing all this stuff with people fighting on planes and stuff. I’m like, I’m not trying [crosstalk 00:12:33]. I’m not trying to get caught up somewhere having to try to go somewhere. But we can’t because back in 25B, they’re [dooking 00:12:41] it out. Like, come on, you’re holding up everybody. We are all trying to get somewhere.

Harrison Wheeler:
I mean, this is a sad state of affairs. But it’s sad when airlines have to take away the alcohol because folks can’t handle themselves in the air.

Maurice Cherry:
Wait, have they taken away the alcohol on planes for real?

Harrison Wheeler:
Oh, yeah. I think now, probably around mid-December, early January, I think some airlines are looking at bringing it back. But yeah. Folks were getting lit.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh my God. Wow. I didn’t know it was that bad. Geez.

Harrison Wheeler:
Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Hopefully we can get it together, but I don’t know. Humanity has been … it’s been a very interesting experiment of humanity over this past year or so. Just seeing how folks have acted, especially with these vaccines. We’re not going to make this political, getting into it, but it’s been a lot. So yeah. When you were last on the show, which as we talked about was way back on episode 140, you were at Base, which is now part of Zendesk. And since then, you’ve went on to LinkedIn where now you are a senior design manager. What has your time at LinkedIn been like.

Harrison Wheeler:
Wow. Yeah, this is great. I love reflecting on this. So I mean, look, I want to maybe touch on … maybe we can give a brief overview of what Base was. Because I think a lot of times I get a lot of questions in terms of, what attracted you to LinkedIn? And I also get questioned around, yo, it’s been five years. And tech speak, five years, man, you’re an OG at that point because the average length of folks is usually around two years at a job. And that number is probably going down over time. I mean, we see that there are so many opportunities out in the market these days. But when I started at Base, I was a manager for basically a 300-person startup. And so my design team at the time was around five directs on the product side, one on marketing. And then I reported up directly into the CEO and then eventually the chief of product.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so I think for me, that was an amazing experience. I got to really build something from zero to one. I got to experience what growth looked like. Had some really amazing experiences being able to go to Europe and create lasting connections with folks back on that project. I think for me when I was looking … And I wasn’t even looking, to be honest, Maurice. I think I’d probably taken a moment to sit down and understand, what is the general experience that I want to have? And I think for me, I was pretty simple. I want to be able to have impact in the organization on the product and eventually grow a team. But most importantly, I wanted to have the support to grow as a manager. I didn’t really have the tools, in my opinion, to lead with confidence. And I will say that what attracted me was the fact that there was a good amount of folks that were experienced and seasoned from a managerial perspective. The company had a lot of amazing programs to help foster that connection.

Harrison Wheeler:
And on top of that, there were folks that I’ve been able to meet that have also played a big role in my development. And of course, I’ve had some awesome coworkers. I think in terms of the opportunity, so right now the team I’m on is called LinkedIn marketing solutions. And so if you aren’t familiar with our enterprise products, there’s obviously the flagship product that most folks on LinkedIn are on. It’s where you post, that’s where you see jobs, you’ve got the feed. And then we have really four different product areas. Sales navigator, so that’s usually for sales folks. We have LinkedIn talent solutions for our recruiters. And sometimes you might get those inboxes from recruiters trying to hit you up for a new gig. We’ve got LinkedIn learning and then we got LinkedIn marketing solutions. And so LinkedIn marketing solutions is really our ad platform and one of the fastest growing lines of … actually, I think it is the fastest growing line of business at LinkedIn.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so for me, I have had an experience very similar to a startup because we’ve seen a lot of growth in terms of folks using our product. A lot of growth in terms of the team growing. And also, the acceleration of our experiences from a maturity perspective. I think going in, LinkedIn was around 15 years old. So I think most people would be like, oh, man, that company is old, 15 years. But over the past four years that I’ve been there, we’ve invested a lot. And honestly, it’s evolved like night and day. It’s been really fun to be a part of that ride, because I know that I’ve had some part in doing that. Being able to have that impact for me and seeing that growth was really core to my decision-making there.

Harrison Wheeler:
And look, I mean, when you’re in the tech game, I think it’s important to understand really … on top of the work, understand what are the things that are going to help bring value to your life. We all know that over the past two years, if you’re working in tech, going into the office, not having benefits, not being able to focus on your physical and mental health as a part of that package, you know there’s somebody out there offering better. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
That’s the beauty of the situation right now. And for me, I can confidently say there’s not really too many companies that would offer support in that way any better than LinkedIn. And so honestly, that’s really kept me around.

Maurice Cherry:
And I mean, you came on at the time … I think it might have been right around the time that LinkedIn was bought by Microsoft.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. So I came in actually a little bit after that.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Harrison Wheeler:
But I believe the acquisition had happened earlier that year.

Maurice Cherry:
So even with that, I mean, you’ve got that big tech juggernaut behind LinkedIn. So I’m sure that in terms of just like, I think one job security, but two also just the … Like you said, if you’re in the Bay, probably just if you’re in tech in general, you’re always looking to try to level up. I mean, that’s a great place to do so.

Harrison Wheeler:
100%.

Maurice Cherry:
Can you talk a bit about what you do as a senior design manager?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. I get a lot of questions around, what does IC growth look like? What does a manager growth look like? And so, as I mentioned before on my team, I have eight designers … excuse me, seven designers, one manager. And then soon I’ve got two roles opening up. So for folks listening and you’re interested, definitely check out the job listings. But it’s really interesting because I think a lot of times when you think about managers, the people side of things. But honestly, for me, I think about, how can we create an organization that is really based on outcomes around how we approach design? And so a lot of that is making sure that my team has a time and space to thoroughly think through their problem space. I’ll give you an example of a few initiatives that I generally work on.

Harrison Wheeler:
So number one, we’re working really hard in terms of trying to really double down and protect our design rituals. And that’s from our weekly standups to our feedback. How can we give better feedback? How can we provide even safer spaces for feedback? How can we make sure the process is inclusive for everyone on the team to have a voice and be able to scale that in different areas? How are we thinking about what growth paths on the team look like? How can we be consistent in terms of creating expectations? How can we create different opportunities and modules for designers to have a better understanding about the situations that they’re in? So as they have the autonomy to really start to lead projects, they’re equipped with the proper tools to have the right conversations to be able to say no, and also understand when to prioritize.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so those are just a few of them. Obviously, there’s the planning side of things, there’s the performance review side of things. But ultimately, how can we also think about having more of a thoughtfulness in terms of thinking horizontally? So as I mentioned before, we’ve got the flagship experience, we’ve got these four other enterprise experiences. How can we bring some of that goodness or how can we bring in some of the initiatives that they’re working on into some of the things that we’re trying to achieve. And so a lot of that is honestly, I think, fairly similar regardless of the size, the organization that you’re at. I will say, LinkedIn, being that it is about an 18-year-old company now, there’s around 13,000 employees globally. There’s a little bit more conversations that you’ll have to have, but I don’t think that’s any different from most organizations this size.

Maurice Cherry:
And so, with the team make up like it is, I mean, do you get a chance to really work one-on-one with designers or are you mostly working more with upper management and leadership?

Harrison Wheeler:
Honestly, it really is a mix. At least for my designers that are my reports, we do have our one-on-ones. So we do have an opportunity to go through individual designs. We do have opportunities to really think about what growth looks like. As I mentioned before, we have rituals that I always attend. So if I can, at least. And so that is our design reviews, our standups. Those are the things that I really try to do. I try my best to make sure that our team is equipped, like I said, to be autonomous, to be able to work with their teams. Because I am not able to be in every single situation. Also, my manager isn’t available to be in every single situation all the time as well.

Harrison Wheeler:
So there’s a bit of that. There’s a lot of back and forth at least from a leadership perspective as well. And so, we have a growing design organization. We need to also understand at least as a manager too, that whether it’s coming from product or inch, that we’re not only managing down to the team, but also managing up and giving our executive team visibility. We might be working on vision work and so I might be a little bit more involved there working with other VPs or directors involved in that as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, speaking of design management, when we had you on the show back in 2016, you were a design manager at Base.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
How would you say you’ve grown as a design manager since then? I mean, is it different in this larger organization or what’s changed?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. I mean, 1000%, I’m a totally different manager than I was back then. There are times where I’m like, if I could take situations back in the day and pair it with what I know now, I guarantee you the outcomes would be totally different. And so I think a lot of times when I started out is like, you’d read all the books or you have this idea of what a manager is supposed to do and you try to be like. Or at least for me, I can’t speak for other folks. I had this misnomer that I had to be right. That I had to know what I was doing. That it was important that people knew that I knew what I was doing, when that was not the case.

Harrison Wheeler:
And I think really coming to terms with like, hey, I have no idea how this is going to turn out, I think for me became pretty transformational. And then I had a moment too where I had an opportunity to have a professional coach, shout out to Brooks. He was actually on one of my episodes on Technically Speaking. But the sessions that I had with him really changed, honestly, my mindset on being a manager. And a lot of it really came down to understanding when to have conversations and how to have those conversations. A lot of what we do as designers really comes down to communication. And sometimes it might not be comfortable, it might be uncomfortable. But usually when you do feel that, you’re usually at a crossroad. There is a decision that needs to be made. And on the other side of it, it’s going to be beneficial no matter what.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I would say, it sounds like you at least had that … and I’m not saying you didn’t have this at Base, but it certainly sounds like you’ve had support to grow at as a manager while you’ve been at LinkedIn. You haven’t just been winging it. I say that to say, I’ve been in design management situations where it was very clear I was winging it. The company was not really trying to offer any support in that area. But these were startups, it’s not an established company like LinkedIn. But it sounds like they are invested in your growth as a design manager.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. Yeah, 100%. And I think one thing, you asked what I do on the day to day. But there are definitely things that I look at in terms of, how can we evolve as an organization? And so those are things that we’re constantly chipping away. And I think having that north star and being able to have your team align on that, I think does help quite a bit in terms of making sound and constructive conversations and decisions as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, have you encountered any other black design managers while you’ve been … not necessarily at LinkedIn, but just in your career in general?

Harrison Wheeler:
You mean as far as being my manager, or?

Maurice Cherry:
Just in general.

Harrison Wheeler:
In general. Honestly, I will probably say, not since I’ve been at LinkedIn. How should I phrase this? I will say that there are a few that I’ve known and heard of from afar, but I will say I haven’t been able to personally meet any until I was at LinkedIn. And we’ve seen really a lot of growth in terms of representation as far as black folks go at the manager level. And so I think that’s been really, really special. Because I think for me, it just felt really inaccessible in terms of meeting other black design managers. And so now to have that presence where I work, I think is extremely special to me. Because I always think about, the first manager that I’ve had technically was my mom because my mom had hired me to do web design at the elementary school that she worked with. And so I always tell people, my mom was the first black manager that I directly had. And I think what was really interesting, the lesson in that for me was, I was able to reflect on this.

Harrison Wheeler:
I was like, my mom literally advocated for me in terms of making a budget. And then on top of that, she gave me the space to grow. It’s funny when you think about the lessons in some of these areas in your life that you don’t really think of until you are a lot older. And so I don’t know. That for me was really groundbreaking. Because I think in the discussion that we had in terms of that growth piece, you mentioned something around black designers need to have the opportunity to fail. And I think it’s so important to have representation as a black designer, as a black design manager, because now you can actually discuss these things. You can fail, you can have mentorship within your organization. And we all know this, that the representation numbers are extremely low. I think it’s really special when you can have a community like that to support along the way.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting. Even as I’ve done this show over the years and I’ve talked to people from other organizations and such, it’s still pretty fragmented when you think about other black design managers or even just … Someone had asked me, oh, is there a professional group of black designers that I can join? And I was like, well, not really. I mean, you could join the organization. And I have to preface this because I don’t want anyone from OBD coming after me. But look, I’m not saying the Organization of Black Designers is not doing great things. What I am saying is that for current black designers that are in the industry, they do not know that you exists. So I can mention, like for example, I can say AIGA. Or if you are regional, I can say, well, there’s Bay Area Black Designers or there’s I think Black Design Seattle, I think is what it’s called or something like that.

Maurice Cherry:
There are some regional groups, but a national organization kind of thing. It’s still pretty fragmented. I mean, there are shows like mine and shows like yours, which of course we’ll get into, that I think do a good job of highlighting who we are and what we’re doing out here. But it’s still, for I think the average designer, it still is pretty hard to find that community.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah, it is. It is. Yeah. And I will say it’s probably even more complex given how fragmented it is. It’s actually even harder to find, as you mentioned, because consistency is key. And so even over the past couple of years, I’ve seen things pop up, but then really quiet down. And so it’s not only finding the group, but it’s making sure that it’s active. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely. I’ve certainly run into a few that have been in that same fashion. They start up one way and then it just dies out. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint. It takes a lot to keep those things going. So then just in terms of initiatives and things, are there any particular initiatives that you’re involved in at LinkedIn?

Harrison Wheeler:
It’s real funny because I go back to … I was thinking or reflecting on the first episode that we had. I think for me being a black designer in tech, it felt like a sense of accomplishment. I mean, it definitely was. Coming from the Midwest, really trudging along and just taking risks, not knowing what’s on the other side and not necessarily having those perspectives. I think it was definitely something to celebrate and to be able to do this. But I think that quickly went away because at the end of the day you’re still one of, who knows? Hundreds, thousands in an organization.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so in the moments around Trayvon Martin. And it was tough, it was very isolating. And I think not having a community to be able to go to or at least just talk it out, I thought was, I don’t know, it was very isolating. And so I think moving into LinkedIn, I didn’t want to go through that again. I’ll put it like that. You know who Renee Reid is? Shout out to Renee Reid.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Yeah. Tech Wrap Queen, of course.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. Tech Wrap Queen, check it out. So we actually joined LinkedIn actually the same year. So myself, her and George Hay, shout out to George, we actually got together and we were like, we should put something on. We should try and create some representation within the organization. We should also have some external representation to let folks know that we’re here. And so we started with a lot of small things. I remember Renee was really passionate about having a week during Black History where the cafeteria served food from all over the African diaspora. And by the way, LinkedIn, I mean, we don’t have cafeterias right now because it’s kind of … Well, we do, but it’s not operating in the same capacity. LinkedIn has some bomb food. I think if you’re ever in the Bay Area, if you ask somebody which tech company has the best food, LinkedIn is definitely up there nine times out of 10.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so what they cook tastes pretty good. We got together and designed the LinkedIn [nberg 00:33:15], that’s the LinkedIn logo. I designed that with the kente pattern and we got those printed. And so whenever LinkedIn showed up, we showed up for sure. AfroTech, we came in deep with the kente cloth pattern and people were like, this is what LinkedIn is about. And one of the most amazing things about it is that it resonated with black folks all over the country. But LinkedIn has global offices around the world. So we had folks down in Brazil repping the LinkedIn kente nberg. So I think it was really great to see that movement. And then we had a little bit of a coming out party about three years ago during the week of AfroTech, the second week of AfroTech, where we had designers come to LinkedIn. And we just chuffed it out.

Harrison Wheeler:
We had a panel with research and design and we basically called that black by design. That was really a big moment for us. And it was great because we got to show people what design was like. Inside LinkedIn, people had an opportunity to see what we look like and what we were talking about. And there was a relational piece to it. And then we also eventually made hires from some of the folks that attended. And so here we are, we’re strong. I think 15 plus folks, it might be even more, but we started out being only three of us. And so it’s been really great to see that evolve over time. And over the past year, we’ve been doing a lot to really organize and really keep it growing. Because obviously we want this to keep growing, whether we’re at LinkedIn or when we move on. They call that the next play.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so we have really three pillars that we focus on. So we got a set of folks working on growth and retention. And so that’s really around, how can we keep folks in? How can we provide opportunities for people to grow outside of their traditional day to day job? We have another pillar called brand building and community. So that’s when we go out and we have these happy hours. So when we show up to events like AfroTech, this is when we have an opportunity to really be able to not only push some of the amazing initiatives that LinkedIn is doing, but also elevate the folks within the group to the community. And then we have a third pillar called product experience.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so actually a couple of weeks ago, we had a presentation around company pages that we invited black creative businesses to join. And so how can we elevate our products to benefit the black community and also learn about how people are using them, and bring that feedback directly into the product. So it’s been really fun to see that evolve. Really be able to create a space for our members to be able to kick back, talk about anything and everything, and go live in the Slack channel. So it’s been really great to see that evolution over time.

Maurice Cherry:
And I would say this is a testament probably to the longevity and the structure of LinkedIn, that you are able to have such a robust employee resource group like that, that will allow you to do things that directly touch the brand. A different version of the logo. I mean, that’s a lot just in and of itself because that’s something that goes out globally, like you said, across LinkedIn in a number of different countries.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. Look, I will say, I mean, it’s been a journey, but definitely shout out to the exec team that supports us. We have two executive sponsors. I’ve had an opportunity to talk with other folks within the company that have been super supportive and be willing to work with us and iterate as we go. And I think with that kind of mentality, that’s extremely empowering in allowing really that expression to be able to happen. And so it’s really been, honestly for me, I’m humbled. I’m honored to really be able to be a part of creating that platform where … I was thinking of this. To some folks, this is their first experience in tech. I mean, that’s mind blowing.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, switching gears here. Of course, we’ve mentioned before about your podcast, Technically Speaking. Which is one big thing that’s changed since you were last on the show, is you do podcasting now too. So why don’t you tell the folks here about your show and what it’s about?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. Well, look, man, I mean, I kind of touched on this a little bit earlier, I think. We both touched on this. I think the representation in the industry for black folks is fairly small. Still small. Very small. I shouldn’t even say fairly small. And I think what’s important is like, I think a lot of times when we tend to see each other, we always ask, what’s your story? How did you get to where you are? I think at least in the product design space, I thought that was extremely important to really be able to provide a platform for. I’ve been considering this for a while, but I honestly think a lot of the events from last year really was a bit of a catalyst to move that forward.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so to be honest with you, I didn’t think I could do a podcast. I think I’d asked people so many questions on how to do it and I for sure was procrastinating much of the time. But yeah, I went ahead and did it. And honestly, it’s been a game changer for me to be able to meet so many people and have many different perspectives. As much of a tool as it is for folks that are listening for them to learn, it’s been a tool for me to also learn about their stories. I think the production element of the podcast is also another area that I’m always striving to improve and learn on and iterate. But yeah, I think … let’s see, I mean, we’re about a year and a half in, almost 10,000 downloads throughout the lifetime, within a year and a half, which I think is a huge milestone. And I think we’ve recorded around 38 episodes.

Harrison Wheeler:
So yeah, man, it’s been fun. And look, you’ve been an inspiration along that journey as well. I think we’ve mentioned this on the episodes, but it really meant a lot to have you on the show, especially during San Francisco Design Week. Because I can remember when we were chopping up before the show, I was like, man, we got to get you out here and do something. So we still need to do something live at some point, but that’ll be post pandemic.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What has podcasting really taught you? I mean, you mentioned the thing about people being able to tell their own stories, but have you gained any personal insight from doing this?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. I think some of the personal insight, again, it’s like this weird perfectionism thing. Some of it I’ll also go into where I was coming in the Base. When I was going in my last job, it was definitely a career pivot for me. Moving from a more graphic design oriented web design career into product design. And so I didn’t really have the vernacular to be able to express design concepts, research concepts, et cetera. And I think for me, I have this idea of what an archetype of a designer was. And honestly, that could really go to hell at this point in time because there isn’t an ideal archetype for a designer. And I think a lot of the folks that are on the show are at a point where they’re having the same kind of realizations.

Harrison Wheeler:
But I think you’re seeing this evolution where people are really starting to prioritize their own ideals and beliefs, which I think has really been … I think to be able to have folks that have been in the industry for a while, but then on top of that to see that as the starting point for the younger generation, I think is an amazing learning. And I’m super hopeful that that can transform a lot of how we think about the folks in the industry who we’re solving for. And understanding that some of the things that we’ve perpetuated for years and years are extremely toxic and we need to move past that. But we also need to evolve in a way. We need to have these discussions, whether it be to tear it all down, whether it be to reform some of these things. But we need to be having these discussions followed up by action. And I think a lot of these storylines can really help people understand what that angle is in terms of moving in that direction.

Maurice Cherry:
Well said. Well said. I mean, podcasting for me, I think, has been something really which has given me a deep level of, not just introspection into people’s processes, but also how they come to the decisions that they do in terms of their career and the work that they do and everything like that. Have you found that there’s been a bit of a common thread among your guests?

Harrison Wheeler:
No. I think there are some folks that have definitely done the linear approach. I think there are some folks that have figured it out along the way and had a very meandering path. And so I think that’s what’s important. There’s not one way to do things. Did that answer your question?

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, absolutely. It did. Now, you talked about LinkedIn and even venturing onto these different spaces, like you’ve mentioned with black and design. And one thing that LinkedIn did recently was that they participated in AfroTech world, which was like a metaverse essentially. It’s like a conference in the metaverse. Now, I know you told me that you didn’t get a chance to attend that, but what did you hear back from how that experience was?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. This was the second year that AfroTech had done the metaverse thing. So for folks that aren’t familiar, AfroTech world is a conference. I think they had 10,000 folks buy tickets, I think 7,000 showed up. But it’s a global conference where folks talk about a lot of different topics around technology, design, engineering, product management, venture capital, all that. And so the experience is in a virtual world and so you could basically dress up your avatar, you could network with folks, you could have one-on-one meetings on a beach, in a jet ski, on a boat. It’s whatever you want to make it. And so I think a lot of folks were excited at the concept because you could have folks have an experience together without physically being in the same place. I think definitely it is just novel. It’s great to see it at a very large scale. I don’t know, I’m super curious to see how it’s going to evolve over time. Were there some other conferences doing something in the metaverse as well?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I went to one last week. And for people that are recording, we’re recording this early December. But I went to one at the beginning of December from this company called Tech Circus that was called Enter the Metaverse. And they had an online component, but you could also, I think, attend inside the metaverse that they set up for the conference. And so there were all these panels about just all the different things dealing with the metaverse. The economy, virtual wellbeing, real estate. The founder for Second Life was there and he gave a really great presentation. There was this guy, I think he works for Microsoft in Berlin, and he gave this really just overarching talk about, these are the things we need to think about when we talk about the metaverse. And it’s given me so much to think about with like, there’s all this talk about how the metaverse is going to be the future of the internet and the future of the workplace. But then hearing people talk about it in this conference, seeing the reality that the current metaverse is. First of all, there’s no one metaverse, there’s multiple metaverses. And-

Harrison Wheeler:
Metaverses. I don’t know.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Metaverses. The multi-metaverse, I guess. But there’s dozens to hundreds of them and that we’ve actually already experienced some versions of metaverses, even though they haven’t been called that. And the one that they pointed to most that got me was Foursquare. So Foursquare circa 2010. Because what it was is that you had this information layer of data layered on top of real world maps and things like that. You could get these badges that were not really NFTs but were because they could really only belong to one person or certain people. And it’s interesting when you think about the concept of Foursquare badges.

Maurice Cherry:
They’re kind of like these prototypes of what NFTs are in a way. Because for this metaverse conference I went to, they were like, oh, everyone gets a free NFT. And I was like, what do I do with that? They sent me an email like, here is how you claim your NFT. Okay, and do what with it? But the NFT was issued. They issued it through something called a POAP, P-O-A-P, proof of attendance protocol. And so it essentially was a badge that said you attended this conference at this time. And I’m like, oh, I can’t do anything with this.

Harrison Wheeler:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s, I guess, good to have. They were like, oh, well, you can connect it to your blockchain wall. And then they just lost me after that. I was like, I don’t know what to do with it after that. But-

Harrison Wheeler:
Look, I will say this, I’ve been dabbling into it. So I think what’s really interesting about this is, for one, the Foursquare thing really blows my mind, but it totally makes sense in a way. And I think if you’re going to learn about the metaverse, you should understand how the blockchain plays a role in it, where the NFT plays a role in terms of maybe something that you get to keep that identifies that you were there or not. I think it’s all extremely fascinating and it seems like even I haven’t heard of it, like the proof of attendance. But even that is super fascinating. Because now you can think of, I always think about it like this. It’s like when we were growing up, if we went to a basketball game or we went to a concert, we had a paper ticket, we might frame it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
And now everything is like a digital thing on your iPhone or your Android device, and you can’t really do anything with that. And so I think nowadays it’s like, huh, if I go to a concert, I have a token or I have an NFT from it. And maybe if that’s tied to Ethereum or whatever digital coin, then that can be valued over time. I think it’s really interesting that you’ve got this economy. It really adds another layer to like, hey, who are you? Oh, I’m famous on the internet. Because yeah, we were talking about this before, you got people that can make $300,000 in a week, millions in a month just selling NFTs online. Never do a gallery show. Not in a museum. I think it’s super fascinating.

Maurice Cherry:
The other part that’s super fascinating too is, for many people, the entry point into the metaverse are NFTs, like we’ve mentioned. But what I saw from this conference with there being these multiple metaverses is that there’s a huge problem with interoperability. So there’s all these metaverses. But if you buy NFT, for example, and it’s locked to a particular metaverse, you can’t necessarily … Or it’s minted with a certain metaverse, I guess that’s the terminology. But you can’t use it with another metaverse. And they were like, oh yeah, it’s like if you go to Foot Locker and buy shoes, but you can only wear them in the store. And so they’re thinking of like, well, what are ways that we can tie some intrinsic, real world value to an NFT to make it more of a lucrative thing?

Maurice Cherry:
But I mean, this conference touched on land ownership in the metaverse, it touched on things about digital wellbeing, cultural appropriation. Because one thing with being in the metaverse is that you’re represented by an avatar. But these avatars, well, of course we’ll, I think just like regular avatars that we see in terms of profile pictures and things, are not wholly representative of the diversity of body size and gender expression and race and ethnicity. You know what I’m saying?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And what I saw from looking at all this was like, oh, this is a huge opportunity for POC designers or particularly black designers to really try to get in on the ground floor of this and find a way to carve a niche in. Because I could easily see how we could get left behind in some digital divide sort of way. I mean, the fact that Facebook has renamed itself to meta, to subconsciously … And that was the other thing that I thought was great. Is that everyone on the entire conference was just shitting on Facebook. They were just like, what meta is doing is insidious. Because people are going to think metaverse and think that Facebook is the-

Harrison Wheeler:
Brand association.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Brand association. They’re going to think that they are the company that is the underpinning of the entire metaverse, when that is not the case. And the other thing about how even experiencing the metaverse is not something that you necessarily have to do through a $300 VR headset or something like that. So it was such an interesting conference. I’m going to have to go back and listen to some of the different talks from it. Because it really got me to thinking about, well, what is our place going to be in this new internet or whatever that they’re trying to call it. Because another portion of this was, how do we make sure we don’t carry over the issues from the current internet into the metaverse in terms of trolling and all of that sort of stuff. People don’t have any of this stuff figured out.

Harrison Wheeler:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
By a long shot. And the actual infrastructure for it can’t even support everyone like the internet can largely support people. Maybe hundreds of users per server. Some workplace metaverse situations can maybe only support about two dozen people. It’s not a revolutionary thing, by far.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
But people are throwing enough money at it that it almost feels like it’s a possibility. It reminded me a bit of the Million Dollar Homepage during this one particular talk. And for people that are listing that don’t know, back in the day, there was … Actually, I think the Million Dollar Homepage is still up. You went to this site and people basically bought pixels to be represented on the page. I think it was like a dollar per pixel. And so the goal, I guess, of it was to have a webpage that was worth a million dollars. But there were people in one of the talks that were buying up plots of land in a metaverse for thousands of dollars. This one person bought a 300 square meter plot of land for $10,000 in one of the talks. And I was just like, what are you going to do with that?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You just had $10,000 sitting around one afternoon in the metaverse like, you know what? I’m just going to buy this plot of land. What are you going to put on it?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Who can visit it? It’s abstract in that way where you’re like, this doesn’t make any sense. But there are so many smaller companies that are trying to get in on this before the “brands” get in on it. I.E, a Facebook/meta.

Harrison Wheeler:
Well, I think Nike or Adidas actually, they’re launching their own concept of a metaverse. So it’s already starting to happen.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it’s already starting to happen. And it’s definitely at a point where, like I said, I can feel like we could be left behind in that. So I don’t know. One thing that I’m going to try to do this year on the show is bring on some designers that are doing NFTs, just to try to get the audience that listens to the show up on like, what is it and how can we get involved? Because I see it. I was in this conference and I was just like, I can see the future and we could very easily be left behind. Because the fervor around the metaverse reminded me so much of late ’90s, early 2000s internet. Before internet advertising really became a big thing and companies trying to figure out, well, how can I conduct business on the internet?

Maurice Cherry:
Now it’s like, how can I conduct business on the metaverse? The same conversations, you just swap out internet for metaverse. How are we going to work on the internet? Email, what is that? Now it’s like, how are we going to work on the metaverse? It’s the same conversation, different times. And I’m just like …

Harrison Wheeler:
I don’t know if anyone’s seen it, but there’s this old clip of Bryant Gumbel talk from the Today Show.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I know the exactly one you’re talking. It’s Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric pontificating about email or something.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. That’s going to be this episode. What is web 3.0 in NFTs, in blockchain, and all of that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
I hope there are entry points where the barriers aren’t as expensive as it is right now. Because I think for me, I’ve been dabbling.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
I’ve been trying to explore, how do you get an NFT project off the ground? I’ve bought a few NFTs myself. And for anybody that has bought an NFT, having to do the wallet thing and then the gas fees, it’s not cheap. And so-

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Harrison Wheeler:
… to even get in the game to play, I think it still requires a decent amount of capital to really participate. So I hope there’s a bit more development, like you said, and ways for folks to get involved before the massive wave that folks are talking about actually happens.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I think it will happen. Because honestly, again, thinking back to early 2000s, one of the things about, well, how are people really going to get onto the internet? Oh, well, you can use a personal computer. So people were thinking about things like that. But then there were also any different number of web enabled. Like smartphone devices, you had BlackBerries, you had Treos, you had Palm. I’m really dating myself now. But you had all these personal things that were like, oh, we can get on the internet. And on this little device that’s in the palm of my hand. Things like that. So, oh, man.

Harrison Wheeler:
The World Wide Web. I think we were still calling it the World Wide Web back then.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. We very much were still calling it the World Wide Web. So it’s happening. It’s happening, but-

Harrison Wheeler:
It’s the meta wide verse.

Maurice Cherry:
And speaking of web 3, I think that’s another thing. Because back then, this conversation was happening around the time prior to web 2.0, because web 1.0 hadn’t really been named as such. But web 2.0 really came about with the advent of social media and user generated content. And now with web 3, it’s decentralized, it’s the blockchain. And I’m actually going to a web 3 conference in January. I think it may have passed by the time this episode airs, but people can definitely look it up. I’m pretty sure there’ll be more web 3 conferences in the future. Because I’m like, I want to know where we are going to get in on this.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
So much of what we’ve done now has been steeped in web 2.0. Like, where do we get in on this next thing?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. It’s real interesting that you talk about that. You mentioned Second Life and Second Life was around before web 2.0. And this is the same story. We are now at a point where the ideas and technology are now at a crossroads. They are finally intersecting. And so I always think of, we were talking about the Palms and the Treos, but then once we got processors and graphic interface that were fast enough, then that’s when we got the iPhone. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yep.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so, this is another one of those moments where the price of headsets are significantly cheaper than they were before. Now we’ve got this blockchain technology, we now have these different currencies that you can use in these different worlds. And so it feels like everything is there.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. With metaverse and cryptocurrency and all of this starting to mesh together, I can see where it confuses a lot of people. But also, this is happening. It’s not a, oh well, maybe. No, it’s happening and it’s happening right under our noses. I mean, this sounds almost apocalyptic in a way, but it’s happening. It’s happening and it’s either you need to figure out where you fit in in this or you get left behind.

Harrison Wheeler:
Or you’re going to be the 50-year-old on TikTok.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Or you’re going to be like my mom who is completely tech averse. And it’s like, I give her a cell phone and she turns it off until I have to tell her when I’m calling. Like that sort of thing. Because, I don’t want to get tracked, I don’t want them tracking me. I’m like, okay. But it’s getting to that. I see it getting there. And yeah, I could even see smart phones starting to do more with VR and AR and mixed reality, which we’re even starting to see with Google. Google has their maps that layer their own way. Finding on top of what you view out in the camera. It’s happening.

Harrison Wheeler:
It’s happening.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s happening.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. No, it’s definitely happening. I think in the tech sense, it feels like that moment when the iPhone came out, if folks can remember. People see what the possibilities are, people are doing a lot of experimentation. People are okay if it works and if it doesn’t, and I think that’s the way to do it. It doesn’t necessarily have to work. I think it’s good to see folks really doubling down to really push the boundaries. And so I will say, for anybody listening that is well versed in all of this, definitely tweet myself and Maurice and let us know if we are getting the solid good grasp on it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Please do. I don’t want to be sounding crazy out here, but I also want to make sure we’re informed because we both have our respective audiences too. We want to make sure that people are being informed about what this next thing is because it’s coming. And we either need to find a way to become a part of it, or once again, just get left behind with it.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yep.

Maurice Cherry:
To that end, we’ve discussed all of this. What do you see as the future of design and business?

Harrison Wheeler:
Oh, that is a million dollar webpage right there. I have many thoughts on this. We’ve been working from home for the past couple of years, so I’ve had an opportunity to really do a bit of introspection and really thinking about the conversations that we’re having. If we reflect, again, when I first started working in tech, when I first started doing web design, when I first started doing graphic design, I think the foundations and the way that we approach the craft, I think those foundations really still exists. But I think in terms of what we need to be conscious of to create inclusive environments, whether it be around make ups of team, we had talked about the different working spaces that people are in, thinking about what the consequences of design decisions are. Shout out to Ron, he actually just did a talk on consequence design. I think he was also a guest on your show, Maurice.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah. Ron Bronson. He is cool. Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. So I can keep going. We talk about equity, we talk about bias and whatnot. The list of things that we have to be conscious of, even on the business sense of things, research. I mean, I could keep going. I personally do not think a single designer is going to be able to comprehend all of that. But it is also very important to the work and central to the work that we do. And so moving forward, the industry itself, and that’s not just design, but we’ve got to say, hey, look, some of these things are not just in the discipline of design. We should be having design. We should be thinking and all encompassing about the elements that play a role in design across different business areas. This means your CEO should understand it. This means your product managers, engineers, they should understand it.

Harrison Wheeler:
How can we bring these types of things into the schools that they’re working at, into the conferences that they’re going into, because it’s a lot to put on the shoulders of design. And I think that if folks can really understand what the value is, we’re seeing a lot of growth now, I think the growth of the industry could honestly double. Most people you talk to, they’re always like, man, we need more designers. I’ve never heard of a situation where it’s like, we got too many designers.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s true.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so I think it’s really important for our industry to start really transforming the discussion there and thinking about design as an afterthought. If we’re still talking about design getting a seat at the table, I mean, that’s some web 2.0 stuff. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
We got to have organizations that are design centric. And so that’s where I see it going. I mean, I think whether it’s on the metaverse, whether it’s on web 3, virtual reality, augmented reality, the way that we operationalize still to this certain point needs to be the responsibility of everybody. And so I think that is where I see design going. I know that’s not a super trendy answer, but I think organizations really do have to do a better job of just thinking design is a service. I think there are some companies that are doing really great things, but I don’t want that to necessarily think that the industry as a whole is evolving. So yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say has been the best career advice that you’ve gotten?

Harrison Wheeler:
I don’t know. This is tough. Because I think some of the best career advice I’ve had is super simple, it’s the matter of me executing. But yeah. I mean, I think honestly, it really comes down to asking questions. Being curious, asking questions. And I think the question piece is not necessarily in a place where you are not in a normal onboarding sense, but questioning why things are the way that they are. Why are they the way that they are? Because I think we’ve operated so long in a world where we don’t question those things and we have to deal with the consequences. And the consequences may directly, indirectly affect us. Or we are around a bunch of folks that don’t care. And that in itself is already destructive in its nature.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Harrison Wheeler:
You’re bringing out all the hard questions. To be honest, I have not thought about that. So we have the former CEO or co-founder of LinkedIn coin this term called tour duty. I’m not one for military terms in a workplace environment. I think that’s extremely unhealthy and anxiety inducing, especially just given, again, just how crazy the past few years have been. People are definitely feeling it.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Harrison Wheeler:
But I think the idea around is really being on a path of, I don’t know, learning, a journey. And I think for me, I mean, I talked about this before. I think being able to transform an organization to be able to think about design, kind of like how I had mentioned in the question earlier. For me, that’s the mission that I’m on right now. And it’s great to really see the progress of it. In that sense, I don’t know what’s on the docket five years from now. I would love to lead the team. But I will say that I also get super excited about Technically Speaking. Moving into technically the third calendar year of the project, I will say that I’m looking forward to just iterating on it. So definitely more guests, more episodes. I’ll be introducing some writing, a lot of really cool mini project on that. So definitely stay tuned. That’s on technicallyspeakinghw.com.

Harrison Wheeler:
I’ve really started to look back at some of my older work. I think for so long I had this thought that my writing wasn’t good enough. And so I’ve been bringing back a lot of things that I’ve written down in notebooks or in notes or in slide decks that I never presented because I didn’t think it was there or somebody told me it wasn’t all the way there. I was like, man, this stuff is really good. And so I might have a book that comes out. I love talking about management. I love talking about how it can be more conscious around the things that we’re doing. I love having discussions around different tactics you can have. Because in my journey, I didn’t really have much of that.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so, I would really love to have something that the next generation of managers can have in their toolkit. And they don’t have to use it, but at least it helps them start to think about ways they can do things that are authentically them, that represents their nature and really helps build a healthy community around what they’re doing.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about the show and about your work and everything online?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. So you can look at my random tweets on Twitter, twitter.com/H-M-W-H-E-E-L-E. And then for the show, it’s called Technically Speaking, so that’s available wherever. Technically Speaking with Harrison Wheeler. So that’s available wherever you listen to podcast. And then on social media, if you follow Technically Speaking HW on Instagram and LinkedIn you should be able to find us there and at technicallyspeakinghw.com. So just remember Technically Speaking HW and you should be able to figure it out. And of course, you can find me on LinkedIn @harrisonwheeler. So feel free to connect. As I mentioned before, I’ll be looking at hiring a couple of roles. They should be up by the time this episode is live. So feel free to reach out if you’re interested. And of course, we’re always hiring designers, design managers, researchers, project managers, product operations, all that. So definitely check out the job listings on LinkedIn.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, like you said, companies are always looking for designers. Right?

Harrison Wheeler:
100%.

Maurice Cherry:
Harrison Wheeler, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been, I just have to say from a personal standpoint, it’s been so great seeing your growth and your progression since we first met back in 2016 up to now, and just how much you’ve managed to do. I mean, in your personal career and especially what you’re doing at LinkedIn, but also now branching out into podcasting and really putting that message forward and opening up more opportunities for other people to tell their stories. I think it’s such a natural extension of just the amount of patience and I think thoughtfulness that you bring to your work. So I’m excited to see what you do certainly for the next five years. And again, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Harrison Wheeler:
Appreciate you, Maurice. Have a good one.

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We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

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