Life at Newsela: Shiren Vijiasingam, Chief Product Officer
As Newsela’s new Chief Product Officer, Shiren Vijiasingam oversees all-things related to developing, building, and refining our product. He is leading the charge on user experience, design, content, data science and product development.
We’re thrilled to have you join the team as our Chief Product Officer. You’ve led product strategy for some pretty well-known brands (General Assembly, Weight Watchers, and the College Board, to name a few). What most excited you about joining Newsela?
For me, it was three things: Newsela’s mission, the passionate enthusiasm about our product from our user community, and the innovation our product is driving in the education industry. I’ve had the good fortune of working at mission-driven companies before; I’ve learned that it’s possible to do meaningful, mission-driven work that is also fast-paced and innovative. Nothing could be more impactful than helping students and teachers to achieve their best. As I immersed myself in Newsela’s plans to solve more and bigger challenges for teachers and students, it became clear that this was a place where I could build a product that’s on the cutting-edge of shaping how K-12 classrooms learn about and interact with their world. What really sealed the deal for me was the unanimous, incredible excitement for the product I heard when reaching out to friends and family who are K-12 educators. It’s great to have the opportunity to build products for a user base that has a strong appreciation for your product.
Throughout your career, you’ve had great success bringing together digital and real-world experiences. How might this influence Newsela’s product?
I’ve built my career bringing products to market that sit at this intersection of software (app experience) and the real world (physical experience). The best part about building products that bridge the two experiences is that when done right, the product disappears into the background. This outcome is perfect for Newsela because we’re a digital content platform, but the magic of our product happens in the classroom when teachers and students seamlessly use our platform to learn about and authentically connect with their world. I anticipate that leveraging this thinking will help Newsela find even more compelling ways to couple our creative muscle with analytical and technical rigor. This will in turn enable us to help teachers deliver effortless, effective, and personalized learning for their students, as they achieve the educational objectives set forth by their administrators.
What is your team working on that is most exciting to you?
We are actively improving and expanding the Newsela product suite to suit the needs of teachers and learners across a variety of subject areas and educational standards. We’re also increasing the range of tools we offer our teachers to help them deliver differentiated, rich learning experiences. These are incredibly fun product problems to navigate - from semantic searching and recommendations, different modalities of delivery, and creating actionable insights for teachers and administrators.
How would you describe your philosophy on driving and sustaining user engagement through product design?
Identifying a real user need is key. While these needs can sometimes serendipitously emerge, more often their discovery comes from a disciplined approach to research, getting into the classroom, and spending time with users. Building experiences that are intuitive and transparent helps eliminate the friction that might inhibit someone from continuing to use a product. Coupling that experience with the right visual design creates the emotional connection that sets the tone for a high-engagement experience.
Which teams do you work closely with and how does that collaboration strengthen your work?
To build an intuitive, beautiful product that address real user needs, collaboration is crucial. Our Product Management team is broken into different domain functions to address specific areas such as engagement, search and recommendations, and purchase and adoption. The Product team consists of a broad array of roles, from product managers to data scientists, UX designers and content editors. This allows us to effectively align with our technology team to work together across the company to build solutions that are well coordinated and truly enhance learning in the classroom.
What do you look for when hiring on your team?
A few things come to mind: an analytical mindset, effective communication, and high EQ. An analytical mindset is especially important with Product Managers, although all teams can benefit from grounding their work and ideas in data. Effectively communicating a vision, and being able to advocate and rally support for an idea, are great skills to have to motivate people to achieve it. High EQ is the foundation for building a team that is empathetic to user needs, in addition to challenging themselves and each other to learn and grow. Equally important, I also pay special attention to ensuring a diverse talent pool. After all, we are building products to be accessible for everyone; we can’t do that without a team that reflects the diversity of our users.
Interested in joining our team? Check out our full list of openings here.