Early history of LinkedIn's UED team, including screenshots, key employees, and assorted hijinx. This was presented to the LinkedIn UED team on June 18, 2013, to commemorate the hiring of LinkedIn's 100th web developer.
Before I left in late 2011, I put together this timeline of LinkedIns history, highlighting key moments, events, etc.Now at ourstory.linkedin.comToday, I want to go a little further and talk specifically about the history of the UED teamIf the timeline is the intro course in LinkedIn history, this is the graduate-level seminar
Internet was a very different place in early 2003No: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TumblrNo: Web 2.0, AJAX (Google Maps 2005, GMail 2004), tagging (Flickr, Delicious)No: Chrome, Firefox, Safari (in beta); IE ruled both Windows & Mac (IE5!)No: Ruby on Rails, Django, Node.js (2009)No: iPhone, AndroidNo beard either
One thing that was around... Friendster (Summer 2002)Not a new concept (sixdegrees.com), but first to go mainstreamHuge idea that really took off; the ability to see your friends of friendsEasy to mock now for its technical/business missteps, but was white-hot in 2003-4Kind of an inspiration for LinkedIn
We started building LinkedIn in late 2002Team made up of mostly old colleagues from a company called SocialNetFounded by Reid in 1998; seven of the founding team members worked there including Reid, Allen, Jean-Luc, Yan, Ian McNish, David Eves, and myselfWe broke the work into six phases, working from mockups (not visual) that Allen createdIdea was to have a completely usable system by the end of each stageCovered Login, Invitations, Profile, Search, Requests (Introductions), and SubscriptionsThis is one of Allen’s mockups for Phase DNo visual design yet; this is all placeholderEven the company name was still considered temporary (hoped to think of something better)We decided to use Java/JSP since the ex-SocialNet employees (Yan, JL, me) were all familiar with itFulfilled our needs and let us hit the ground runningHugely important in a bootstrap startup situation where you want to get something live ASAP
This is an early CSS layout test I did (February 03)On the front-end, I decided early on to build the site using CSS (no tables) for layoutA lot of blogs were doing this, but Wired was the only big site to have done it (Oct 02)ESPN switched in Feb 03 which helped validate the decision a bitMade for some really clean JSP pages, which made it easy to go back and forth with Yan when we were working on features
Launched on May 5, 2003This is the guest home pageFirst week was exciting, about 1000 users right off the bat, then tapered off
Signed-in member home pageVisual design done by AllenSingle column layout (except for home pages), limited color palette, a few icons
Profile page; things to note:Profile is pretty sparse; no endorsements/recommendations (not until later that year)No education on Profile (not until mid-2004!)Search network through 4 degrees of separationBUT, no way to view (or contact) people outside your network at all (no nameless profiles, etc.)Introductions are the only communication tool; InMail comes laterInvite by email address ONLYWanted to ensure you really knew the people you were connecting toLots of messaging on the site re: only connecting to people you knowDidnt want to weaken the networkNo photosComing from SN, we didnt want it to be a dating siteVery cautious –> recurring theme throughout the early yearsNo ads, no monetization whatsoeverToken "beta" survey hinted at possible subs (way down the road)
Early example of game mechanics in connection icons (created by Allen)Little icon on profile/search results next to your # of connectionsIcon changed as you added more connectionsNever published those thresholds, users had to discover on their ownFun way to encourage connection building
Front-End: May 2003•70 JSP pages•20 JSP emails•4 JS files•1 CSS file•Browsers: IE6/Win, IE5/Win, IE5/MacWe were an all-Mac shop, only 1 PC in the office (located on the floor of a closet!)
End of 20031Developer0Designers100,000UsersEnd of year stats for 2003Still no dedicated designer, aside from Allen (who was also PM, Customer Service, etc.)
Site has undergone some changesSecondary navigation appearsMulti-column layout“Add connections” link appears in the header (this is just one test)Growth starts to pick up significantly with address book uploads/invitesDays in 2003 where we got 10-20 signups!Groups launchedVery bare bones; badging onlyGroups created manually by WebDev (for the next couple years)Releasing new features weekly
Explaining how LinkedIn worked and how to get value out of it was probably our biggest issue back thenSpent a LOT of time on the new user experience in those daysConstantly redesigning the new user home page; here’s one example
This is a homepage from mid-2004Emphasizes address book uploads and searching your networkNote the “Sponsored Links”: our first, teeny tiny crack at making money (run first through MarketBanker, then Adbrite)
Ches Wajda joins as LinkedIn’s first designer (this photo’s actually from his last day... captures a typical workday for him)Was a lead at eTradeIncredible illustrator; over time, he transformed the site completely...
Shortly after Ches came on board, we did a full redesign of the siteHere’s the guest home pageNote the tie-in with Kelly Perdew, who won Season 2 of the Apprentice that year; he had an LI profile and helped promote us (somewhat)
Here’s the member home pageNote the header: we did a cobranding deal with American Express’s Small Business NetworkAnyone who signed up through it got that logo in their headerWe were really excited because it was going out to 1.5 small business membersOne of those things we spent a ton of time on to make work, and really didn’t net much in the endPart of the startup experience: throw a lot of stuff against the wall, trying to move the needle; some sticks, most doesn’t
Jobs launches in early 2005. This is the job seeker homepage at the launchWe’ve redesigned the global nav again; alternating blue tabs for the “find” and grey for “my” itemsAlso a funky toggle used to go between the seeking/hiring areas of JobsThis header would basically endure (with slight variations and additions) until beginning of 2008This was our first big push at monetization (although postings were free for the first couple months as we tried to build traction)Jobs was a tremendous amount of work for the whole team and, in particular, meRealized after pulling an all-nighter the night before the launch that I needed helpHad about 7-8 engineers now feeding me work + Ches redesigning the site every 5 minutes
Made my first-ever hire, Scott SchlegelNerve-wracking process; making that leap from individual contributor to “Mr. Manager”Still remember having lunch on Scotts first day and thinking "Man, I really hope this works out."Fortunately it did, better than I could have ever imaginedEverybody knows how important hiring is, but the first couple people you hire on a team are important x 100They end up setting the tone as much as you do yourself; you just can’t get those hires wrong
Around this time that Ches re-did the LinkedIn logoAfter many explorations, this is the final round of designs that Ches didEach exec was given three pennies to use as votes, they placed those pennies on the variation they liked bestThe one in the upper right is the one we use today
Continued to churn out new stuffGuest home page from mid-2005We had also launched Services at this pointReally just a page of links to different Service Provider searches (“lawyers in your network”, “accountants”, etc.)News mentions helped validate us and so were still very prominent
Here’s a member home pageGetting a lot busierGlobal nav changesFind Services is now a tabPlus there’s a download link for one of our desktop tools, the JobsInsider
This is a weird feature we did called the Signature CreatorBasically generated an HTML signature (including a LinkedIn profile link) that you could import into Outlook or other clientsAnother example of something we spent a ton of time on but, in the end, had little impactSchlegel pulled his first LinkedIn all-nighter for this projectSome execs really loved this feature and thought it would boost our virality; it didn’t
Here’s a one-off page we did for an event our Sales/Marketing team was attendingThis page is long gone, but it inspired a parody that still lives on the site today...
The Togo’s page!There was a Togo’s about a half-block from our office on El Camino in MV (it’s since been torn down and replaced by a Walgreens)We probably went there 3-4 times a week. Sandwiches were good, the service was pretty horrible (we figured this out much later after going to another Togo’s that was 2x as fast)When we weren’t eating at Togo’s, we went to...
Sizzler!This was also a parody of another marketing/sales page; I can’t remember which onePicture of Greg Cervelli, one of our product managers, who held the record for most shrimp eaten (92 on the day of that photo)We didn’t actually eat at Sizzler often because, if we did, we’d be dead
Here’s the product team circa 2005 (Ches taking the photo) at SizzlerAllen and Josh Elman, another PM (now a principal at Greylock) on the right
Besides jobs, the other big product from 2005 was SubscriptionsHuge release: really changed the way LI worksReduced network from 4 degrees to 3 degreesInMail is introduced; can get as part of a subscription or a la carteName search across the entire user base (not just your network)Such a big release, we took the site down for six hours in the middle of the dayWhile Eng worked, the Product team went to Malibu Grand Prix (true story)This is (pretty close to final) comp of the Member Home page from the time of the Subs launchAs you can tell, we were redesigning the home page pretty much every 3-6 months in these early daysInbox is still very prominent (esp. here where the comp shows all the cases)Also the top text ad makes its first appearance (still there today)
Of course, we did take some breaks.Scooters were very popular; we had a large office that was half-empty, so we frequently had scooter racesOn the left, Scott’s jumping over GregOn the right, he’s taking off during a timed lapWe also organized wiffle ball games in the front parking lot (where we learned our high school-age summer receptionist was a ringer)
Public ProfilesFirst signficant LinkedIn content available to non-membersDrove a lot of new signups via search engine traffic; huge boost to our numbers
We also created a LinkedIn Team page so we could boost the search ranking for our employees LinkedIn profilesIt was a simple list of everyone who worked here, but we needed something else for the pageI told Ches, we should say “these are the wizards who make LinkedIn happen” and have an appropriate graphicAnd so he drew a wizardThat’s the first draft on left, final on rightWe used this on the Team page for years (as long as we had that page)Later, he appeared whenever we had scheduled downtime (which was frequently, nearly every release), which gave him a bad reputationHe still lurks in dark corners of the site, spreading his magic where he is least expected...
Kept iterating on the siteHere’s a guest home page from mid-2006Note the search for public profiles, as well as the links to the public profile directories for SEOI think this is the first time “Relationships Matter” is used as a tag line
Here’s the member home pageThe top nav now includes a search box on every page“What’s going on in your network” is the first appearance of the Network Updates feed
Around this time that Ches decided even he needed some help, which lead to the arrival of... Mike Lin, aka Ultraman!Mike came from Yahoo, first in a long line of UED team members (designers and developers) we would import from the big YThe day Mike arrived was a very special oneNot just because he was to become instrumental in shaping the direction of LinkedIn’s UI over the next few yearsBut because we welcomed him with lunch at...
ARBYS!To be honest, I can’t remember WHY we took him to Arby’s; in retrospect, it was pretty far from the office (Sunnyvale)Arby’s was to become the scene of many...
Many New Hire lunches. In fact, every new hire lunch in UED from May 2006 to September 2010.
Brought the tradition to an end in September 2010 when we went for lunch on Mike’s last day at LinkedIn.Closing the circle, if you will.Keep in mind that everyone in this photo had lunch on their first day as a LinkedIn employee... at Arby’s.
After Mike arrived, we redesigned the profileBreak out some content (recommendations, connections, messages) onto sub pagesAdd a big 300x250 ad slot
Part of redesign: a small Profile Completeness widget that superseded the old Profile TipsThe % indicator suddenly made it exciting to fill out your profile in a way the old tips didn’t accomplishBecame a classic game mechanic example on the web (still it referred to today, and many other sites have copied it)
Coincided with a revamp of the Services areaThis never really succeeded as we hoped (eventually removed from the site), but I did use it to find my current dentist (true story)Around this time, we added two new members of the UED team...
Omar LeeOmar came from TivoAnother amazing illustrator and designerReplaced Ches, who had left for YouTube
Steve GanzThis is what he looked like when he joined LinkedInSent him an intro through my old boss at QSTurned me down initially, but then he came aroundPassionate about web standards, and was intrigued by our use of microformats/hResumePivotal hire for WebDev, responsible for connecting us to many future hiresOpened up PayPal to us: Jamie (who in turn, brought Scott O), Jeremy; also TravisKey lesson: Only thing better than hiring a great developer is hiring a great developer who knows lots of other great developers and can convince them to join himAlso promoted our work in the WebDev community, conferences, etc.
Around this time, Guitar Herotook the UED team by stormScott came into work one day and would not stop talking about how awesome it wasWe went to his apartment during a break in the afternoon and playedI think we had a PS2 and Guitar Hero for the office within a day or twoGuitar Hero become such a big thing at LinkedIn that we had a company-wide tournament when Guitar Hero 2 was releasedAnd it was the centerpiece of our “World Tour” t-shirt at the end of 2006, designed by Omar
UED team photo, late 2006L-R: Scott Schlegel, Omar Lee, Chris Saccheri, Mike Lin, Steve Ganz
End of 20063Developers2Designers8,000,000Users
LinkedIn AnswersAnother feature we invested a lot of time in but didn’t quite pan out as we hoped (eventually removed from the site)
Redesigned the home page again around this time (widening the right rail for a big ad slot)
Continued to find ways to blow off steam from workSometime in 2006, Scott and I found a rubber ball in the office, took it out back and marked out a four square courtIt caught on pretty quickly; we’d send out a company email announcing four square and eventually people would trickle into the back parking lotSometimes had to create two simultaneous games!
Eventually took on other startups (SimplyHired, Meebo) and were even featured on Fox Sports Bay AreaThis is a photo of us with our uniforms and personalized LinkedIn 4 square ballsHeaded over to SimplyHired to do some damage (and we did)
In 2007, we moved into Stierlin Court and kept the bullpen-style arrangement that kept us in close quartersEven built out a nice Italian restaurant for our cube warming/decorating contestThose are famous Italians on the wall (from DeVito to Sinatra)
This was a fun, UED-driven project to redesign the guest home pageWorked closely with Reid on this, all of us in a room together brainstormingYet another attempt at explaining the value of LinkedIn to new users (never stopped working on this)Really wanted something dynamic, even though it was before users had signed upHit on the idea of getting their company/school names and using that to show how many people from those places were already on LinkedInDidn’t really nail it, but it was a fun process and a rare opportunity to work directly with Reid on the design of a featureWas great that Reid clearly understood the value of design but, unfortunately, design wasn’t always part of the conversation at the exec level
Fortunately, there was a key hire for UED in 2007 who was neither a designer or developer who helped solve that problem... Adam NashLed Product for home page, profile, and registrationAlso became the manager responsible for the web developers and designersHelped establish the UED team as a true unitIn fact, it’s after he arrived that we started to refer to ourselves as UEDPreviously "the designers and WebDevs", "those jerks", "Benny and the Roids"Helped us manage up, advocate for importance of design at exec level
Why WebDev in Product?• Better communication, better results• Horizontal unity in a vertical world• Recruiting advantageHelped solidify WebDevs position in ProductStarting in 2007, steady stream of Eng leaders came onboard wanting to bring WebDev into EngineeringWe resisted; the partnership with design was very important to usFelt it resulted in better work; people at both ends of the process (concept + execution) sat side-by-side, so you had checks/balances to see that features turned out the way wehad originally conceived them"Horizontal unity in a vertical world"Company had begun splitting into vertical teams around Product areasWe worked on those teams, but continued to work horizontally, tooEasier for us to keep the site in sync that way (at least, with a small team)A recruiting advantageWeb developers who care about UX want to work closely with designersDesigners wanted to work closely with the person implementing their designNot that we had anything against Engineering; as web developers, we were close to them tooBut here, in UED, in Product, was where we felt we could produce the best resultsIt was an ongoing struggle and, if you like having a UED team that includes both design and development, thank folks like Adam and (later) SteveJ for helping preserve that
With our newfound identity, we doubled the size of the team in Summer of 07:Jamie hiredAnother PayPal hirePlayed Wii bowling with Jamie during his interview (hired despite numerous gutter balls...)Gina hiredFirst in a loooong line of Yahoo web developersLured her in with the promise of pony rides in our job description (finally fulfilled 4 years later)Brad hiredCame from Shopping.comCraig hiredCame from SimplyHired, still stinging from their defeat in Four SquareKate hired1st design manager (now design director at FB)Helped grow the teamUnfortunately, Omar left soon after thisBut on his last day, we visited a place that would soon become another traditional UED restaurant...
Benihana! (This is a photo from Omar’s going-away lunch)
Like Arby’s, the UED team would make many trips to Benihana (including a Christmas party)
Here’s the team after lunch on May 19, 2011 (IPO day).
Another revamp of the global navigation; adding a persistent side rail with profile informationMenus on the top and side give quick access to all key areasLasts until late 2009Redid the home page, tooStill emphasizes the various ways to build your networkRight modules prepare for launch of OpenSocial
End of 20075Developers5Designers17,000,000UsersEnd of year stats for 2007Hired Sarah just before the end of the year to even out the score and keep the team in double-digits overall
2008and beyond...Of course, the story doesn’t stop there...
02652781042003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013104793829151053211Web DevelopersEveryone at LinkedIn loves a curve that goes up and to the right. The WebDev team’s growth curve is no exception.(Design team is similar but don’t have the numbers. Sorry.)
Q&AOpen the floor to some Q&A on the history of LinkedIn, UED, WebDev, whatever.