‘I don’t code’: A day in the life with Forbes’ head of product development

Salah-ForbesSalah Zalatimo’s title — vp of product development at Forbes — may leave you scratching your head.

“It’s taken me a long time to figure it out because a lot of people ask me,” said the 36-year-old. “The first question is, ‘Are you a coder, or do you program?’ and, no, I do not.”

So, in response, Zalatimo has found the perfect analogy: that of building a house. “I’m the architect of all technology products at Forbes,” said Zalatimo, who’s responsible for designing and controlling the user experience, layout and design of all Forbes’ tech products, across website, mobile and video. He just doesn’t “pick up the hammer and nails and build the products.”

Zalatimo is relatively fresh to the media company. His background includes management consultancy for Sony and helping traditional media companies transition to digital. But after 12 years in the corporate world, he returned to Columbia University for an MBA (his undergrad was in economics and operation research) before creating his own products and companies. In 2014, his second startup, a private photo-sharing app called Camerama, was about to enter its second round of sourcing funding when it was discovered by Forbes’ chief product officer. By 2015, the app was snapped up by Forbes and Zalatimo was in charge of developing it into ForbesConnect, a social networking and conference app.

Zalatimo said transitioning from a traditional media to a tech-driven company is the biggest challenge and he leads a team of 26 who are in charge of creating a seamless user experience across all products.

While content will always be king, he said the user experience is what determines whether a media company will succeed in today’s environment. “What’s separating the winners and losers is not what words or topics you’re writing about; it’s getting the right content in front of the right people at the right time and giving them an experience they’re going to enjoy.”

Digiday asked Zalatimo to walk us through a typical day in his life. Answers have been slightly edited for clarity.

6:45 a.m.: Sina, my 4-and-a-half-month-old son wanted to make sure we were up. I bring him and our 6-year-old Great Dane for a quick breakfast picnic at Ft. Greene Park in Brooklyn, and then I head home for coffee with my wife, Tala.

8:10 a.m.: My workout for the day! I ride a Citi bike to Think Coffee at Union Square in Manhattan to meet a candidate for a product owner position overseeing the user experience of our article pages on Forbes.com. Our staff journalists and 2,000 contributors publish over 300 stories on our site a day. So, article pages are our most important product. (I always like to meet candidates outside of the office to get a feel for them in the real world.)

10 a.m.: I have my morning standup meeting with all product owners, product managers and design team members across desktop, mobile and video. We have a busy month as we look to the fourth quarter – our biggest-revenue quarter. We’re preparing to publish in the fall and winter some of our most significant lists, including the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans, among others.

11 a.m.: I meet with the ForbesConnect team, a team in charge of managing the Forbes Under 30 app, to get a progress update on version 2.0 of the app. Our Under 30 app is a private social network that we developed exclusively for the nearly 5,000 (and counting) of the world’s most influential young entrepreneurs and game changers who have been featured on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 lists. We will be launching version 2.0 of the app at the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Boston, Oct. 16-19.

12 p.m.: I spot Forbes’ Chef Jeff as he brings in his sought-after sandwiches to our canteen. I cut for lunch a bit early to avoid the stampede.

12:30 p.m.: I meet with chief product officer Lewis D’Vorkin, head of digital content Coates Bateman, and Mike Medric, product owner of CMS, to brainstorm ideas for the next generation of CMS. The future is mobile first, and we’re developing a new CMS that takes into account mobile consumption.

1:30 p.m.: I check in with Monty Ma, head of business intelligence, for the latest KPI dashboard report. We’re digging into user segments and how their engagement varies — sessions per use, pageviews per session, impressions per pageview, engagement time and scroll depth.

2:00 p.m.: The most exciting part of my day. I see results of our latest A/B test for the new mobile-first version of Forbes.com that we’ve developed. We’re building a progressive web app that targets the Snapchat generation. We’ve seen promising results so far from the two beta lists we’ve launched. Engagement has doubled for our power users and tripled for our casual users.

2:30 p.m.: I join a video conference with Hamsa Daher from Small Giants, a ForbesConnect licensee. We’re white-labeling the technology underneath our Under 30 app to niche organizations that want to create engaged communities, like Small Giants and Ashoka.

3:00 p.m.: I take a coffee break with this summer’s interns. We had seven interns on our team this summer — and they learned Android development, React and Angular. Within a few weeks of their arrival, they had picked up the language and contributed to our core products. I love our interns!

4:30 p.m.: I meet with the editor of our upcoming Forbes 400 list to brainstorm new angles and new product implementations. We will be comparing the wealthiest Americans against their philanthropic and political contributions. One of the U.S. Presidential candidates is on the list (hint, hint).

5:30 p.m.: I review mockups for our new “Most Innovative Companies” list, launching Aug. 24. I love the designs that highlight the people, products and history of these amazing companies.

6:00 p.m.: It’s about time to Level Up. Level Up is our new brand that lives off-site and presents aspirational content via newsletters, Facebook, Alexa and, soon, podcasts. Ehab Zahriyeh, the product owner, demoed the new Facebook bot he’s been working on.

7:00 p.m.: The office empties out, and I finally have some alone time to be with my data. I pull Google Analytics reports to test some hypotheses around video viewers on our site. The hypotheses can’t be verified with the data available, so I submit a request for a new tracker to be added to our site.

8:05 p.m.: I leave our offices in Jersey City and get on the PATH train to World Trade Center. I jump back on a Citi bike over the Brooklyn bridge and arrive home to meet my wife for dinner. A great and full day, though I missed Sina’s bed time. I’m ready to do it all over again tomorrow.


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