In celebrating over 21 years at Audible, Oren Levin, Senior Manager of Software Development, likes to joke he’s on his fifth Audible career. Starting as a developer in 2000, he’s since worked in data reporting, quality assurance, customer service software and Amazon integration. Now a manager on the iOS team, Oren says the common thread of trying new things, building new skills, and working with really great people “is what’s kept me at Audible.” Plus, “I’ve had fun in all the things I’ve done here so far.”
He’s also been able to see the company grow and transform from a scrappy start-up to a global entity. In the early 2000s, Oren had around 40 Audible colleagues total. Last summer, he worked with almost 50 college interns on the tech side alone. The growth he’s witnessed “is kind of wild,” he admits.
Oren sat down with us to reflect on his time with Audible.
What brought you to Audible in 2000, and what’s one of your favorite memories from your first days here?
I was working for Ricoh Corporation as the corporate webmaster when I got a call from a recruiter who wanted me to talk to this company, Audible. I liked the people I met and the idea of building something brand new. I started about a month before I got married. I needed alterations done on my tuxedo and the alterations manager from the store came to the office so I could try it on. We were standing in the lobby while she put soap marks on the tuxedo and suddenly all of my new coworkers were finding reasons to walk past to see what was going on.
Another memory is setting up our integration with Apple for audiobooks in the iTunes store in 2003. To get the existing catalog to Apple, we had to send 500Gb hard drives back and forth. I would fill a disk and send it to Apple and they would copy the files and send the disk back. At one point, we had three disks going back and forth. While my career path has not been straightforward, I’ve had opportunities to try things outside of my “normal.” I tell people not to be afraid to take a leap. Sometimes you’ll find out that you’re capable of new skills.
What’s the best part of your role at Audible now?
On the iOS team, we oversee the Audible app on the iPhone, so we work across a lot of features, from search and discovery, to the product detail page, to the library to the in-app purchase. This means we end up working with a broader range of teams than some other tech teams that have a narrower focus on a specific slice of functionality. It’s kind of cliche, but I love helping members of my team move faster than they could otherwise. Being a manager, it’s really cool to see how you can help others perform better and achieve more as a team than they could on their own.
It’s also important to ensure that my team has opportunities for growth. One way that the iOS teams have embodied the Audible People Principle of Articulate the Possible and Move Fast to Make it Real is our adoption of new Apple technologies. In March we added an iOS widget that lets the user see recently played titles and continue listening to them from the home screen of their phone. Another example is our adoption of SwiftUI for the Audible iOS app, which allows our developers to implement features with less code. Of course it takes time to learn a new way of doing things so the entire team sets aside an hour each day so everyone can work on mastering this together. As a result, we are now building new features of the Audible app using SwiftUI and the entire team is able to contribute to this effort.
You’re also an active member in your community. What does that consist of and how has that experience influenced your day job?
I’ve been involved with a group called New Jersey Search and Rescue for longer than I’ve been at Audible. We are the largest wilderness search team in the state and an all-volunteer organization. I was an Eagle Scout growing up so I’ve always been passionate about nature, and it’s a good way to get out and be hiking while helping people. We help law enforcement find mostly lost hikers, but also missing airplanes, Alzheimer’s patients, runaway kids, and even once, a Girl Scout troop that went camping and took a wrong turn. If somebody’s lost, we’ll get paged and I’ll show up with my bright orange shirt. It’s a part of who I am, and going through so many years of training has helped me react differently under stress and to emergencies. At work, it’s helped me with incident management and to triage problems.
One of the things I really like about Audible is our People Principle Activate Caring. There are so many examples of how the company puts this into action. While the Covid-19 pandemic has changed how we have applied this principle, I still encourage everyone to look for ways to make this a reality in their lives. It’s amazing how much a simple act of helping someone builds your own strength and sense of satisfaction.
How has technology and storytelling evolved in your career at Audible? What are you looking forward to in the future when it comes to technology and storytelling?
As the technology around audiobook creation has changed, it’s opened opportunities for experiences that were not possible before, like ensemble-cast recordings and the Audiobook Creation Exchange which has expanded access for authors who may not have been able to see their book recorded in the past. One of the biggest changes in the technology of audiobooks has been the move to record the narration in a fully digital workflow. When I started at Audible we received the finished audiobooks from publishers primarily as books on tape or on audio CD. Because there was an incremental cost in the number of tapes or CDs, most audiobooks were abridged. Today you’d be hard pressed to find an abridged title among new releases.
What was your very first Audible listen 20 years ago? And what’s your most recent listen?
The first book in my library was Vote.com – How Big-Money Lobbyists are Losing Influence, and the Internet is Giving Power to the People by Dick Morris. Going back and reading the summary it’s amazing how much has changed in the political landscape over the past 20+ years and how much has remained the same.
I recently finished Sex, Race, and Robots – How to Be Human in the Age of AI by Dr. Ayanna Howard and I’m currently listening to Becoming Bulletproof – Protect Yourself, Read People, Influence Situations, and Live Fearlessly by Evy Poumpouras.