Thinking Big: An Interview with #MozCon Speaker Kyle Rush

Posted by Erica McGillivray

Kyle Rush When we sat down in our big MozCon command room ГўВЂВ” think the Enterprise-D’s swank Observation Lounge ГўВЂВ” we knew we wanted to bring someone who’d worked for the Obama re-election campaign to MozCon. Why? Because no matter your flavor of politics, the re-election campaign was full of internet marketing brilliance and used big data to connect with its audience in a way that affected the world. This is what we’re all trying to do, right?

When we sent feelers out, Kyle Rush answered our call. He served as deputy director of frontend web development for the Obama for America campaign. Kyle’s currently director of technology at The New Yorker, and he’ll be speaking about how to “Win Through Optimization and Testing” at MozCon, July 8-10. You don’t want to miss this advice about testing and conversion rate optimization. You can follow Kyle on Twitter @kylerush and on his blog.

How did you come to work for the Obama for America campaign?

I’ve always been interested in technology since a young age. In junior high, I would spend all of my free time on the family computer making websites. In my second year of undergrad, I got really into politics and changed my major from advertising to political science. I followed the ’08 campaign closely and really admired how the campaign was able to innovate in the political field because political campaigns are notorious for deploying outdated and unusable technology, if any. After graduation, I worked for Blue State Digital which contributed to the ’08 digital effort. My boss Teddy Goff left Blue State to become the Digital Director at the Obama campaign, and I asked if he needed an engineer. Two weeks later, I moved to Chicago.

What did you learn most about yourself as part of such an intense experience?

A lot of political staffers will tell you that working on a campaign is like building an airplane while you’re flying it, and that’s very much the case. I moved to Chicago, where I had never lived, on a two-week notice. We quickly hired some engineers and built out a team. During the last half of the campaign, we worked seven-day weeks and not less than 10-hour days. We saw all the work we were doing play out on TV every day. There were extreme highs like when we had a 90% chance to win the election a few weeks before the first debate. There were extreme lows like when we lost the first debate badly. We worked 18 months towards one night, and then we won. I think that we all learned that the limits we thought we had don’t actually exist and that we can go as high and far as we want to.

What was your favorite win for the campaign?

The obvious favorite win is election day, which was one of the happiest days of my life. Aside from that, though, I would say the day we tested our “sequential” donate page. At that point, we had already optimized all the low-hanging fruit, and it was time to put some serious investment in a variation to try and beat our control donate page. We put in a lot of thinking, time, and effort, and we ended up beating the control by 5%. That was a huge win, because it taught us that even though you might think your page is optimized, there is always more you can do.

What win surprised you the most?

I don’t know if it qualifies as a win, but the Democratic National Convention was by far the most surprising thing that happened during the campaign. The convention went perfectly, but the amount of traffic we received to the website during the convention was unreal. We blew through our entire test queue for donate pages and were just coming up with tests to do on the fly while the traffic was pouring in.

Kyle Rush at the Obama Headquarters

Okay, for those us who are political nerds, did you get to meet President Obama? What’s he like?

We did get to meet the President! He came to the office several times during the campaign to talk and meet everyone at headquarters. For having the stature of the President of the United States, he is very human. The day after the election, he came and hugged everyone at headquarters. He is a great guy.

Switching gears from your past to your present, what’s inspired you lately?

Web performance is always really inspiring to me because deep down it’s what I care about on my engineering side. Specifically, I really like to read about the way that other engineers make web apps feel like native apps on mobile devices.

We’re all a bunch of data geeks. What are some of your favorite metrics to dig into?

I’m a performance engineer at heart so I really like to look at metrics around page speed. My favorite metric is time-to-paint, which is the amount of time it takes for the browser to do its first render of a web page. This differs from the pageload metric in that the browser often paints the web page before all of the assets have loaded. For this reason, time-to-paint is a more valuable metric to me.

As an engineer obsessed with UX, I also like to focus on metrics that quantify user frustration. On the Obama campaign, I spent a lot of time measuring any form error from a validation error on a certain field to the number of validation errors that occurred for each for submission. On our donate forms, we found that the people most commonly had two errors on their form submission which were the employer/occupation fields. Then we wrote a script that measured if people were entering any data in them at all. Turns out people weren’t entering any data, and we soon came up with solution to fix this problem. Once we solved the problem, our error rates plummeted.

MozCon attendees love to engage on social media with speakers. What’s your favorite social media network?

Instagram is definitely my favorite social medium. It’s beautifully simple, and it doesn’t require a lot of attention, unlike Twitter. You can go a week without opening it and not feel like you missed a lot.

Finally, for some pure fun, what music have you been listening to lately?

I like pretty much all music, but I really like upbeat/dance-y music. Lately, I’ve been listening to Kanye’s new album Yeezus non-stop. Typically though, I listen to house music at work and while working out. Over the past few days, I’ve been listening to songs like “Boy Oh Boy” by Diplo, “Play Hard” by David Guetta, and “Alive” by Krewella.

Thanks, Kyle, for sharing with us. Can’t wait for your talk at MozCon. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kylerush and on his blog. We’ll see the rest of you there!

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July 4, 2013  Tags: , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing

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TechNetSource » Thinking Big: An Interview with #MozCon Speaker Kyle Rush