Meet the Difference Makers
Welcome to the LexisNexis Tech Hubs
When I arrived at the LexisNexis tech hub in Raleigh, North Carolina, just before 9 o’clock on a rainy Monday morning in January, the place was already bustling with activity. Two friendly people working the front desk saw me through the glass doors and buzzed me right in. I told them I was there on behalf of RELX, and proceeded to wait while they relayed the message to folks upstairs that I’d arrived. Within two minutes, another smiling face in the lobby asked me a question, “Are you a new hire, too?”
It was certainly a good guess. Just behind me, seated in the lobby, were six other fresh faces to the building. I soon learned they were all brand new hires—first day on the job—brought in via the company’s Aspire program. I’d later learn too, that this early career professional program is geared to recruit key technical skill sets for the LexisNexis hub in Raleigh while offering young software engineers, developers, and designers the opportunity to continue growing their experience and expertise on the job.
Welcoming six new hires in a single day is par for the course at the Raleigh hub. About six years ago, when the company moved to North Carolina, there were 150 employees. There are now more than 800, and the expectation is that the team will continue to grow. Ashleigh Owens, Vice President of Human Resources, reports that more than 20 new hires are expected via the Aspire program alone in 2020.
LexisNexis Legal & Professional shares something in common with other segments of RELX, explains Jeff Pfeifer, LexisNexis North American Chief Product Officer. “We all process giant amounts of data at scale, often using advanced technologies like artificial intelligence or analytics to mine insights information out of data that’s otherwise unknowable.”
The growing number of employees at the LexisNexis hub in Raleigh is explained by the impressive and growing size of the task before them: using the power of information, technology, and data analytics to advance the rule of law around the world. The LexisNexis legal and news database contains more than 119bn documents. Recent estimates show that 1.3m new legal documents are added daily from about 69,000 sources, generating an estimated 70bn connections.
“In five years,” Pfeifer says, “it's likely that you won’t search like you do today because there’s too much data. Our database is doubling in size every two years. You won’t be able to enter search terms and pull back information because there’s simply too much information. Machine learning, analytics, and AI will allow our users to interact differently with our data than they have in the past.”
Take a Tour
The LexisNexis Raleigh hub is the largest of three global centers for technological innovation. The others are in London and Shanghai. The company has smaller technology centers and employees in other locations as well, including the San Francisco Bay area, New York, Colorado Springs, Toronto, Paris, Gurgaon, Manila, and Sydney. Part of the strategy is to ensure that LexisNexis software engineers are close, or at least in the same time zones, as their customers.
The Raleigh hub is strategically located on North Carolina (NC) State University’s Centennial Campus. This helps it source the latest technology needed to keep up with the unique challenges presented by the exponential growth in legal data, most of which is language based. LexisNexis sponsors research on campus in exploring computational sciences while getting access to a direct pipeline of talented university graduates, many of whom are placed at the company.
The benefits go both ways. For example, the company hosts an annual “Rise to Code” Hackathon, in which about 125 NC State students work with mentors at LexisNexis to develop technology solutions for real-world problems, putting in long hours over the course of a single weekend. Meanwhile, NC State professors offer ongoing development opportunities to LexisNexis employees with no-cost courses in advanced engineering topics, such as using NLP, Machine Learning and Python to code analytics. It’s a way for employees to grow their skill sets and for the company to keep up in a fast-paced, data-driven field.
A Focus on Work Culture
The NC State campus, says Pfeifer, is also “a cool place to work.” Employees who need some quiet time or a change of scenery can head out the door right to Hunt Library. (It’s no ordinary library, either. It’s equipped with immersive visualization technologies and spaces for collaboration at any distance. The University has called it, the “library of the future.”) When the weather is good, they might hang out in the grass on The Oval.
It’s clear as Pfeifer shows me around the building that, in addition to investing in innovative technologies for its customers, LexisNexis is working hard to invest in a vibrant work culture for its employees too, many of whom have joined the company within the last two years. Helium balloons adorn many desks. Pfeifer explains that those are part of how they welcome new employees and their presence also highlights for everyone else where new people sit, helping to forge new connections.
The floors are arranged to encourage impromptu interactions among employees working together to solve hard problems. There’s lots of space to move around, with areas set up for brainstorming new design ideas or brushing up on the law. Employees routinely write and draw pictures directly on the walls or on a seemingly never-ending supply of colorful post-it notes.
There’s an ongoing effort at the Raleigh hub to explore what makes LexisNexis “a great place to work and a great place to do great things for your career,” Pfeifer says. Employees interested to contribute their ideas on the subject can get involved in the “Culture Club.” They can also write questions or ideas on a chalkboard that is moved strategically around the building. When we find it outside the break room, Pfeifer points out where someone has scrawled a question about how the company can ensure it is affirming to people of all identities.
“We want the culture to be employee-led,” Pfeifer says, “not top-down.”
Around the Globe
Another reason the Raleigh hub was so full of activity that first morning was that dozens of people from all three tech hubs and other satellite offices around the world had converged on the NC State campus. Their goal? To spend some time together, review the year, and present a series of demonstrations as they looked to the future. This gave me the opportunity to talk with a few of the company’s leaders who don’t normally sit in Raleigh. Jamie Buckley, LNLP Global Chief Product Officer based in Silicon Valley, was the first on my schedule.
Buckley told me he started at LexisNexis in 2015. A computer scientist by training, he says he’d loved computers ever since the age of eight, when he began teaching himself how to code. After college and a master’s in computer science, he started working in startups and then larger companies, including Microsoft and eBay. After a recruiter called him and he spoke with LexisNexis CEO Mike Walsh, he was hooked.
“For me, it was the ability to help positively disrupt a whole industry,” Buckley says. “It’s one thing when you work on something that helps improve a product or a company, but this has impact on the entire legal industry. That's really exciting.”
"In Silicon Valley, there are many tech companies, working on amazing things," he explained. "Perhaps it’s a dating app," he says. “It’s kind of cool and people know about it, but here we get to drive rule of law around the world. That’s very impactful at a society level and more exciting to me.”
These days, Buckley does a lot of traveling to meet his team. He often has early phone calls to coworkers in the UK or East coast.
On any given day, he might be working with his team involved in advances in machine learning to improve search. Or he could be talking with his user experience team to learn what issues customers might be having and how those could be solved through design. He says they’re always exploring ways to improve their process for building products along with customer experience and employee satisfaction.
“We’re always thinking about how to get great ideas from people in the company,” he says. “It’s not just top-down. The best innovation comes from employees.”
Next up was Rick McFarland, the company’s Chief Data Officer who had traveled to Raleigh from the company’s headquarters in New York City. McFarland came to LexisNexis from Amazon and the publishing world. McFarland sees his role as an influencer. He spends much of his time thinking about how to raise the bar in the use of data by bridging gaps and removing silos. Data quality is another area of emphasis.
“Data scientists are only as good as the data they have,” he says. “We’re really focused on data quality and setting standards.”
He says he was drawn to LexisNexis as a place that values people’s families and lifestyles. But he was also intrigued by the impact their data science models have on the world, as they are feeding lawyers and other professionals. If you really want to focus on professional grade data science, he says, LexisNexis is a great place to do it.
“I think what motivates me and my team is that we have enough exciting challenges and we can use advanced technology to address those,” said Min Chen, Vice President & Chief Technology Officer Asia Pacific of LexisNexis at the Shanghai hub, and the last person on my schedule for the day.
Chen had technology experience from working at Lenovo prior to coming to LexisNexis 14 years ago. She says one thing that sets LexisNexis apart is the ability to dive into projects and see them all the way through. Even after a product launches, the company listens to its customers and analyses data on how its products are being used so it can improve them.
The Shanghai hub is focused on advances in deep learning and natural language processing as applied to improving search, recommendation and automation—training computers to better parse a person’s search intent and also accomplish various tasks, some of which are difficult even for humans, she explains. Chen says that, in her opinion, the company culture and leadership today is at an all-time high. “I do love what I’m doing,” she says. “That’s the key reason that keeps me in this organization. You have to love your work, otherwise it won’t last.”
At many other companies, she says, a newer hire wouldn’t often have the opportunity to get involved in core technology development. “Here,” she says, “if you show you have the capability, you can work on that.” A common thread running through these conversations with LexisNexis leaders from different parts of the world is that the company for them isn’t only a good place to work, it’s also a place to make a difference.
Work Hard, Play Hard
On Wednesday morning, I headed back to LexisNexis one last time to catch a breakfast Pfeifer was hosting for everyone new to the tech hub over the past 90 days, including the Aspire program hires and many others. As an icebreaker, he asked us to share with our neighbor an answer to the question, “Why did you choose to advance your career at LexisNexis?” Answers given from people around the room included, reputation, diversity, diversity with inclusion, work culture, and more.
I broke the news to the person next to me that I wasn’t actually a new employee. “So, what brought you here?” I asked her.
Oyinkansola (Sola) Ojutiku, a recent graduate from Florida Institute of Technology with a degree in Software Engineering no doubt moved to Raleigh in part because of her interest in finding innovative solutions to new challenges, as her LinkedIn page indicates. But another reason she said “yes” to a career at LexisNexis, she says, “had to do with ping pong.” And, if you stay late enough on a Friday, she told me, that’s when the Nerf wars begin.
Her answer brought to mind some words of advice Jeff Reihl, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, had for the six new Aspire Program hires on my first day visiting LexisNexis. “You guys are going to love it here, trust me,” Reihl said. “Enjoy your job. Life’s too short. Get engaged. Have fun. Work hard. Play hard, and you’ll be standing here soon.”
Update: Recruitment during COVID-19 pandemic
At this time, during the COVID-19 pandemic, LexisNexis is still recruiting remotely.
LexisNexis interviewers and recruiters are proactively working with candidates to schedule interviews virtually and are using full video conferencing tools to connect. A page dedicated to remote hiring support, including tips for a successful virtual interview, has been developed on the LexisNexis website.