Rachel Rothman

Chief Technologist at Good Housekeeping of Hearst Magazines

New York City, New York

@GHGadgetGirl  |  LinkedIn Profile

NotesCan you please provide an overview of your role at Hearst Publishing?

I am the Chief Technologist and Engineering Director for the Good Housekeeping Institute, the legendary consumer product evaluation laboratory founded in 1900. I oversee consumer product testing methodology, implementation, and reporting for the six labs at the Institute, with product tests ranging from textiles and kitchen gadgets to health and beauty related items.  I also manage the Good Housekeeping Seal and Green Good Housekeeping Seal product clearance and am responsible for all consumer tech, home improvement, auto and toy coverage in Good Housekeeping magazine and various brand extensions.

I have been at Hearst for nearly eight years, and have been fortunate in that they have fostered professional growth.  Each time I master my skillset I have had a redefined role, so that I continue to achieve more personally and for the organization as a whole.

I have had the opportunity to evaluate thousands of products during my Good Housekeeping tenure, including toys for our annual Best Toy Awards, dozens of cars in conjunction with Car and Driver, who we partnered with this year for our first-ever Best New Car Awards and countless innovative, breakthrough products. I have appeared as an expert on The Today Show, Good Morning America, Fox Business, and MSNBC, among other live appearances.

How did you go about deciding to focus your career in engineering?

To be honest I didn’t know a job like this even existed before my undergraduate advisor mentioned it to me. Even after he did, I didn’t immediately think it was something I would be so well suited for. I think individuals, often women, have the ability to underestimate their abilities and capabilities when applying for jobs, and I’m glad I took the leap and applied. My background and interests couldn’t have been better suited for the role in hindsight. They were looking for a personable mechanical engineer who loved consumer electronics. My family had owned and operated a consumer electronics distribution business for nearly 65 years, so it was clearly in my blood! I had done a short stint in PR while in school, and another aspect my hiring manager was looking for was someone who would not have a problem conversing and interacting with press. It was literally a job that was tailor-made for my strengths and interests.

In terms of my education in engineering, I didn’t enter the field of study after some kismet encounter in my childhood. I simply enjoyed and excelled at mathematics, technical drawing and design, and physics. It became a natural path for me, though one I knew very little about and one that was not advertised, especially for women, in the same way it is today.

You attended the University of Pennsylvania.  What was your experience like studying engineering as a young women?  Do you believe we are making progress in encouraging young women with respect to STEM related careers?

I definitely feel as though progress is being made, but we still have a very long way to go. The ecosystem for young women has to start at a very young age, so that their skills are honed and their confidence grows. I’d like to say I never felt ostracized, but there were definitely moments of insecurity or feeling like I didn’t belong. When I walked into my first computer science class the professor said “What class are you looking for? This is CIS 115.” Stunned, I muttered that I was in fact there for that class. And looking around my classrooms, especially as my class progressed through our degree, the number of women dwindled, and was disproportionately low compared to the men in the room.

Technology has become an integral part of our lives.  What are the one or two key mistakes or assumptions product designers routinely make?

A key mistake I see designers make is that they design a product they want, not one that serves a customer need or takes a consumer-centric approach. Or that they design products with unnecessary or frivolous features. Tech for tech’s sake is just cumbersome.

Technology touches nearly every facet of life today. There is no escaping it. Women are more tech-savvy than many marketers and manufacturers realize. They are the chief decision makers, yet are often not the ones that the manufacturers and marketers are addressing. Take automobiles – nearly 80% of auto purchases are influenced by women, yet they are not addressed in the same way men are.

The role of women in the ownership position of financial decision making for families is well documented.  Do you believe most financial services products are designed with this in mind?

Unfortunately, I do not believe that most consumer product goods or services are appropriately designed or marketed to women, who as you mention are chief decision makers in most purchases. They are often the CEO, CFO, CTO, and more of the household. Part of why I love my job is that I get to help empower and educate women on the buying process for various goods and services.  But to really move the needle, we need more women working at the banks and financial institutions to help make progress from the inside.

You are responsible for Good Housekeeping’s test labs.  How much fun is this?  Is this similar to what I’ve seen on MythBusters?Rachel5

While on occasion we will explain the science behind movies and products, more often than not we aren’t experimenting with myths like they do on that show. More likely we are performing regimented benchmarking tests to compare products within a category, or ensure that products live up to the claims they make.

More often people compare my job to that of Tom Hanks in Big.  While I don’t work on the development of products like he did, I do get to play
with toys and gadgets as part of my job requirements!  I get to try out emerging technologies before they are available to most consumers, like Oculus Rift or advanced autonomous vehicles. So yes, I have hands down the best job of anyone I’ve come across. I work with brilliant minds, get to speak with influential and intelligent business  leaders and makers, and interact with products in advance of the general public. All definitely pluses.

You are also responsible for overseeing which products earn the ‘Good Housekeeping Seal’. Can you tell us a little about how the Seal works and why you believe this emblem has had such longevity?

The Good Housekeeping Seal was first launched in December 1909. Twenty-one products were listed in the magazine as being “tested and approved” by the GH Institute. By the end of 1910, almost 200 products were qualified to carry the Seal.

100 + years later, the Good Housekeeping Seal, an emblem that reflects satisfaction with a product’s performance also carries Good Housekeeping’s limited warranty: If the product proves defective within two years of purchase, Good Housekeeping will refund its purchase price up to $2,000 or provide a replacement (at Good Housekeeping’s discretion) to the customer.

Today, our experts at GHI still evaluate every product that applies for the Good Housekeeping Seal to ensure it lives up to its claims and performs effectively. Only after it has passed rigorous tests can a product earn the Good Housekeeping Seal.

The magazine is celebrating its 130th year, and we continue to build on the legacy and heritage that we’ve amassed through the years. Our longevity speaks to the integrity and value readers place on our magazine. While people are more conscientious of how they spend their discretionary income, the feedback we have received is that our publication helps them save time, money and headache in our ever-increasingly chaotic world. We serve up the best of the best across verticals – not just a single one such as beauty, fashion, or home. We have stuck to this credo, while evolving to speak to the specific desires of new generations in inventive ways.  Combining the technical expertise from the Institute with a brilliant editorial staff is a perfect synergy for doing such.

I’m proud to work for such a prestigious organization, and every day hold myself to the litmus of doing that name proud. I have a tremendous amount of integrity in what I do, and hope that translates to our readers.  That’s what I love most — that we have managed to continually stay current while the underpinnings of trust and reliability still underscore everything. We continue to have a strong print offering, with multimedia experiences and other social interactions augmenting it.

In 2009, we introduced the Green Good Housekeeping Seal. It was developed to help consumers make more environmentally responsible choices. This environmental overlay is an extension of our primary Seal, and was introduced at a time when there was great confusion on how to sift through the confusing world of “green” claims.

I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to continue to deliver great service to our readers, but also to serve as an advocate for them.  As an institution we are able to take steps to make things easier, safer, and healthier for our readers.

You have the distinct privilege in your role to play with consumer technology solutions well ahead of most consumers.  What has been a few of your favorite products and why?

My favorite products to test are either those that do exceptionally well and exceed my expectations, or those that perform horrifically! I have a pretty good gauge for what will perform well, and not so well, so whenever I’m surprised it’s a welcome experience.

For products that I love, it’s a lot of the staples. I am tethered to my phone and recognize the tremendous amount of power this little supercomputer affords me. While I try to stay agnostic, I’m pretty attached to my iPhone since my whole family and friend circle is likewise in this ecosystem, making communication easier. I use my portable Bluetooth speaker daily – I’ve been using a Jambox for several years and appreciate its simplicity, design aesthetic, and sound quality. A great pair of wireless and noise-cancelling headphones are a necessity for productivity for me – Beats, Plantronics, Bose, V-Moda – I have a handful of go-to’s that I love. In terms of less obvious products, I love my Sarah Potempa Beachwaver. I am beauty-challenged, and it’s automated functionality makes curling my hair not only a viable, but simple option!

What technology products do you believe will be the most influential in the next five-to-ten years for the average consumer?

Products related to the Internet of Things will surge. They will become ubiquitous – in the home, automobile, retail spaces, cities, and more.  Sensors capturing data will be everywhere – and the insights that are then synthesized from them will enable greater productivity and personalization that most consumers can even fathom right now.

Who(m) do you believe has had the most influence with respect to your own career? 

My parents. It sounds cliché but it’s true. I was entering into a world that wasn’t known to them, but they did nothing but support me and help nurture my talents and desires. I had a handful of wonderful teachers along the way, but none provided me with constant feedback and support the way my parents did.