From Theater to Director of Product at The New York Times

Sara Bremen Rabstenek : Director of Product at The New York Times

Sponsored by Square Circle

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When I was a child, I was a performer: I danced and I acted. I thought I might even direct. Stage drama became my main love, though. I loved working with others to produce a performance. I kept with stage drama all through college, not because I thought of it as a potential career, but because I enjoyed it. And although my mind wasn’t really on potential careers, drama led me to one in a circuitous way.

I found myself doing additional, technologically demanding tasks for my theater group when I was in college. I made the website, and marketing flyers, and did outreach. While I mostly thought of these tasks as doing my collaborative part, it became a hobby. As my love of theater waned, I realized that I loved working with technology, so much so that after some convincing from my father, I went to graduate school. As with performing, I didn’t enroll with any clear set of expectations. I still didn’t know what sort of career I could have. By the time I graduated, though, I had a better understanding of my career opportunities, for perhaps the first time in my life.

Now that I’ve been working in this sector for a while, I’ve noticed some trends. The tech industry has always been interested in what people are working on. Now, however, more attention is given to how people are working. People are questioning how work can be made more enjoyable, not by introducing games and gimmicks at work that keep them there 80 hours a week, but by trying to facilitate a healthy work environment that doesn’t encroach upon a happy home life. In part, this means learning co-workers’ personalities and work styles, in order to better understand their particular set of skills. Additionally, this means eschewing language of “soft skills” and “hard skills” and adopting a more holistic approach that sees all contributions as valuable.

Naturally, I’ve encountered my own frustrations as I’ve worked in the tech industry. Some of these frustrations involve my own attitude: at times I feel like an imposter, and at other times, I feel like I want to do everything. Other frustrations result from the attitudes of others: I’ve encountered particularly inconsiderate and arrogant male co-workers who refuse to participate and listen during meets, yet still feel compelled to share their own ideas and expect to be listened to. This is frustrating and problematic for all sorts of reasons. More personally, however, it transgresses something I valued even when I performed: collaboration. When I encounter frustrations like these, I find it most helpful to seek out other women in the industry—both to share such experiences and to build a community of trust.

Despite these frustrations, I’ve found success in the tech industry, at least according to my own definition of the word. I don’t mean success in terms of salary, title, or even what makes me happy. I think more in terms of satisfaction. And satisfaction changes, which makes it tricky. Right now, my work is satisfying; it’s enjoyable and fulfilling, but doesn’t take me away from my family too much. I hope my legacy lives on in my daughters and my work at the Times, and reflects my desire to help others relax into a life of, more than anything else, satisfaction.

Written By : Josiah Nelson