Interview with Linh Dao Smooke, COO of Hacker Noon, on Technology Education
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Interview with Linh Dao Smooke, COO of Hacker Noon, on Technology Education

Interview with Linh Dao Smooke, COO of Hacker Noon, on Technology Education

The former education entrepreneur talks about Hacker Noon’s early days and its future impact on how we learn online

In this interview, Linh Dao Smooke discusses her role in managing the astounding early success of Hacker Noon and how her educational background shapes the guiding principles the company has been built on.

The successful online technology publication first gained wide recognition on Medium amassing over 475,000 subscribers during its tenure. At its helm, COO Linh Dao Smooke has been facilitating and managing the company’s impressive early growth and through its move away from Medium’s content management system. Now, Linh oversees a growing community of 10,000 writers and 100+ sponsors on the company’s newly developed contribution platform. 

The site posts 27 curated stories every day featuring some of the tech's most prominent individuals, such as Creative Hacker Thomas Webb and Google Chief Decision Intelligence Officer Cassie Kozyrkov

Linh Dao Smooke and husband David Smooke (CEO and Founder of Hacker Noon) have set out a clear vision for Hacker Noon. At its core, the publication is free to view and open to anyone to browse its library of 50k+ technology stories. Going even further, it eschews the growing trend of intrusive ads and paywalled content. 

On Hacker Noon, the merit of the story decides if a post gets published, which has concreted the site as the go-to resource for many tech enthusiasts, earning it the tagline: how hackers start their afternoon.

In the early days of Hacker Noon, how did you handle the huge growth of writers, community interest and website growth?

A lot of communication, a lot of grunt work and a lot of consistency. For our contributing writers, we’ve always been very good at offering 10-30 minutes of time per story to read through, edit, improve, and distribute. We call it the “second human rule” and it is as true today as it was in the early days. That second pair of eyeballs makes a noticeable difference to the overall story quality. Hacker Noon’s writers notice and appreciate it. 

For our readers, we’ve been able to serve them far better since we moved off Medium’s content management system. Building our own content publishing platform has allowed us to truly optimize their reading experience, largely by deciding on a policy against popup ads, paywalls, and forced sign-in. The purity of a democratized site—where anybody can both access and publish quality content and learn for free—has resonated with our community since day one.

Why did Hacker Noon start publishing in the software development niche?

Since Hacker Noon’s inception in 2016, we’ve published content from 3 main groups of users: software developersgeneral technologists/startup people, and crypto enthusiasts

Personally, I think devs have a lot more to say than people realize—and are oftentimes the smartest people in the room. However most tech stories out there are written, more often than not, from the perspective of the CEO/founders or marketing people. So, when Hacker Noon started to grow, and we were flooded with expertise and opinion pieces from software developers, it became apparent to us that there was a gap in the tech publishing market that we could satisfy.

How is Hacker Noon continuing to attract and empower top writers?

Our managing editor Natasha Nel wrote a great piece on this - you should check it out. But in short, it’s a combination of better product experience, more valuable editing help, faster rate of publishing, more creative ways to distribute content (such as via social media, our newsletters, cross-publishing on other platforms), and overall a strong Hacker Noon “brand” so people feel a sense of pride when they get a story featured on Hacker Noon.

You've got lots of different publishing assets: a podcast, a CMS platform, how else do you see Hacker Noon expanding?

Our CMS (content management system) allows us to run our website, which is our main focus: publishing text. It is true that we dabble in a few other territories of content creation too, but they are ultimately all in service of increasing words published, and therefore reading time. 

Now, we absolutely can imagine a world where Hacker Noon will be more than a place for tech professionals to publish. Perhaps it could be a place that rewards contributors for every action they take. Perhaps we could evolve into a SaaS business so many other sites can have a simple contributor-driven model with a nonintrusive banner ad like us. Or, perhaps, we could be one of the first success stories of blockchain adoption. Time will tell.

How does your background in education shape and influence the policies and principles that guide Hacker Noon?

I care a great deal about equality and individuality. I believe every person is valuable, deserving, and could reach their potential given the right circumstances. As an educator, I lived and breathed these core values. And as an entrepreneur, I still do. 

You can see these values in the way we structure our internal team, for example. It is flat, adaptive, and safe. We recently did a year-end-evaluation round where 100% of employees (we have 7 full time, 4 part-time) answer yes to the question “are you happy?

Our North Star metric here at Hacker Noon is “time reading”, as in “how many minutes/days/months/years do people spend reading on Hacker Noon.” From July to December 2019, it was 50+ years. I think my former educator self would be very happy to know that I would go on to run a startup that adds 50 years of reading time to the world.

Why is internal hiring so important to Hacker Noon and what do you think other startups can learn from it?

Hiring is so important for everyone, and boy is it hard. I shared some honest feelings about hiring in this piece. The most important thing I learned about hiring is that you should think about it like how investors hedge bets. You just need 1 person to overperform for it to make up for the other “questionable” hiring decisions you might make. And trust me, you will always make some.

How will Hacker Noon continue to keep its exciting independent publisher feel?

It’s all in the name you know: Hacker - Hacker Noon. Our Hacker ethos is high and people resonate with things such as no personalization of ads, absence of forced sign-in, or no pop-ups. And, the “ugly” green I think would always make us feel a bit more indie no matter how big we get. 

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