Day in the Life: How Kik’s director of expression creates the future of messaging
Joe Rideout speaks in GIFs and moving images.
As mobile messaging app Kik’s product manager in charge of expression, he’s in charge of managing how the app’s hundreds of millions of registered users (it does not break out monthly users) communicate, not just with one another but with the growing stable of bots on Kik. He wound up at Kik in 2014, after it bought Relay, a mobile messaging app he’d co-founded that also happened to be the first mobile messaging app to include a GIF keyboard.
Fast forward less than two years, and Rideout is thinking not just about improving that keyboard but about how to enrich text and video-based conversations inside Kik, with the overall goal being to help people connect as deeply as possible. “Kik is part of a lot of teenagers’ journey of making friends online,” Rideout said. And for those kids, texting doesn’t cut it anymore: “I think it’s a bit harder to have shared experiences together through purely text,” Rideout said. “My squad really thinks about how we can give users those shared experiences or messages with more emotion and tone.”
While Rideout says that thinking can turn quite abstract, most of what he does is carefully mapped out, all the better to make the most of his five-person team. Here’s a look at what he does all day, up at Kik’s headquarters in Waterloo, Ontario:
8:30 a.m.: Eyes open without fail. No alarm clock. If I was at home in Toronto, I’d have three young kids bouncing up and down on the bed, but this morning I’m at my pied-à-terre in Waterloo, Ontario, by Kik’s headquarters. I stay here three nights a week.
8:45 a.m.: I’m not a morning person. I manage to drag my unhappy self to the kitchen for a Soylent and a Redbull. As the calories and caffeine start to circulate in my bloodstream, I muster the strength to throw on a Spotify playlist and get showered and dressed.
9:30 a.m.: The drive to the office takes about 10 minutes. I usually have a podcast playing in the car. Tim Ferriss Show and Ask Gary Vee are two of my favorites.
9:45 a.m.: Quickly catch up on email and check my calendar.
10:00 a.m.: Squad leads standup (at Kik, squads are cross-functional teams aligned around a common product objective). Each of the squad leads on the messenger team gives a one-minute update on what they’ll be working on over the next week. This ensures we’re all working in sync toward company objectives and also keeps us aware of any potential roadblocks or conflicts.
11:00 a.m.: Squad planning. I sit down with my squad focused on expression, comprising two engineers (Forrest and Harris), one designer (Ella) and one data scientist (Ryan) to plan out our work for the next week in JIRA. We do one-week sprints and run planning once a week. This week, we’re finishing up a project on iOS that we’re rolling out this fall. We’re pushing to be ready for QA and product review by Friday. We’re also running an A/B test with some new features on Android, so we need to set aside time to analyze the results.
Noon: Lunch. We have catered lunch and dinner every day from a nearby restaurant. Today is a poutine bar, so I need to get there early! Everyone eats lunch together, so it’s a great time to meet new people or find out what other teams are doing.
1 p.m.: Spec writing time. I write detailed product specs for every feature we launch. The spec is the definitive guide for how the feature works, why we’re doing it and what metrics will be tracked. It is used by the engineers on all platforms, the QA team, the design team and the data team. Keeping the spec clear and up to date is critical for a successful feature launch. Today, I’m working on a spec for a next-generation emoji-sending experience.
3 p.m.: Meet with our data scientist Ryan to take a look at how new features are testing on Android, looking specifically at if the features are driving more shares among new and existing users alike. Early results look promising, but we need to wait a few more days for statistical significance.
4 p.m.: Meet up with Chris, our CTO, to give him a first look at the new iOS feature. It’s important that I get his buy-in early as he will be a final approver during our product review on Friday. He’s generally happy with it, but he wants me to try a few variations on the UI and to make sure the bots team are aware and happy with the proposed changes.
4:30 p.m.: Wander over to the bots team to talk to their product manager and designer. They are mostly happy with the change but would like us to run a usability study to make sure it doesn’t cause confusion when chatting with bots.
4:45 p.m.: Chat with Ashton who runs QA and organizes our usability studies to talk about setting up a test for the new iOS feature.
5 p.m.: Running! We have an active running group at the office. Today four people come out, and we run 7.5 km through some local trails. I’m actually dying, but I manage to keep up.
6 p.m.: Shower at the office and back to my desk. I have to update our squad roadmap for the next few months and put together a short roadmap presentation for our Friday all-hands (companywide meeting).
7 p.m.: Some bot partners are in town from New York. The biz dev team invites me to join them for dinner and beers at a local brewpub called Abe Erb. We brainstorm some ideas for how partners can take advantage of the new expression features in our roadmap.
9 p.m.: Back home to decompress. I chat with my wife on the phone while she makes a late dinner. She’s a professor at the University of Toronto AND just finished putting our three kids to bed on her own, so she’s pretty much my hero right now.
12 a.m.: I’m passing out at this point and getting ready for bed. I love sleep and need to get eight hours to have a productive day!
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