Rob Gindes started in journalism writing columns at his student newspaper. Now he’s at USA TODAY, but you won’t see his byline anytime soon.
Instead, he’s behind the scenes as the manager of software development.
“I really liked journalism. More so, I really liked the feedback I got from people on my columns; it helped my social standings,” he laughs. “I knew I wasn’t going to make a career out of it. I was not a very good journalist.”
After earning his degree in Journalism at the University of Maryland, Rob found himself writing product descriptions for a small company. The director of IT noticed he had an aptitude for the technological side. When the director moved to Gannett, he brought Rob with him. His team works across the hundred-plus Gannett media properties to make whole-scale improvements to hosting.
Moving from writing to computer science was a steep learning curve, especially in the beginning. However, he noticed his writing and communication skills helped him learn on the job. “In tech, people build super complex systems, then they hand it off to someone who doesn’t know how it works or how to get the most out of it,” he says. “You have to write really good documentation. But they want to build the next thing, they don’t want to take the time to write how to use the tool or make it work. I was excited to write documentation, it was a great way to help me learn. For a while, I was the main documentation guy. I wrote hundreds of guides. I called it the encyclopedia.”
He acknowledges the tendency for people to typecast the technology industry and say tech is for people who are smart but can’t communicate. “We benefit when we have people from all backgrounds. Our industry is helped by outsiders,” he says.
When he hires his own team, he does not look for kids coming out of college with 4.0 GPAs or prestigious job titles. He looks for people who are self-taught.
“Curiosity carries you so much further than any type of skill or intelligence,” he says. “How much do people want to learn? How badly do they want to do the job? That’s what I look for.”
He works with the SRE (Site Reliability Engineers) team to understand how the products are supposed to perform and how they can improve efficiency, considering things like how quickly pages need to load to make readers happy.
“Impressions, clicks and things like time on site – we consider how we can build systems underneath to ensure that we’re performing as we should,” he says. “We work on projects that make everyone’s life easier here.”
Interns joke that Rob is trying to automate himself out of a job.
“As we make those improvements, multiply it by 100 companies and you see real cost savings,” he says. “I work for a media company in 2018. There are realities there. Financially, we care about not wasting money and running as efficiently as possible.”
He cares deeply about the mission of USA TODAY and is invigorated by the smart people he works with. “It’s easy as a technologist to say a server is a server, a computer is a computer, it doesn’t matter what I do,” he says. “But everyone believes in the mission of the company, and that makes it special. It makes it easier to do your job and know you’re doing something important.”