I am excited to share the news that, after a lovely summer break post-Google, I have taken a new job at Shopify. My mission focuses on helping developers succeed at delivering amazing, diverse, commerce experiences.
Why Shopify and this mission? It turns out that my career journey has set me up for this moment. I have spent a lot of time working on, and caring about:
- Web and the diversity of content
If you will indulge me, I will explain how the pieces have come together, and the thread of people that got me here.
I had the fortune of working with Ilya Grigorik at Google for over five years. I loved working with him as we shared the same ecosystem view, and big picture on what was needed to really solve complex problems. We have learned the hard way that it isn’t enough to engineer yourself out of a constraint, and instead takes a lot more.
Ilya joined Shopify at the start of the year, and I got to chatting with JML, who I must have first met in Ottawa many many years ago when the Bespin team spent time with the Eclipse team to chat about Web IDEs 🙂 We had a great conversation that went all over the map, and it ended with … “So, you seem to really like working with Ilya, how about if you could continue to do so? :)”
That was the birth of great chats with Duncan Davidson, Tobi, Tom Newton, and many more who showed me how much passion there was around making sure that Shopify would invest across the board in making commerce great for everyone, and really leaning into the platform and ecosystem view. I was excited about the desire to lean into the nuance, to go with gut where appropriate, and to care about taste. This has always been in the Ruby and Rails community, and is something I always appreciated when building Rails sites back in the day.
This really came through at the Shopify Unite event, where I saw developers excited about so many of the changes that were announced and in the pipe, and how things that I find important, were being tackled.
I have learned that step one on a journey is really listening to developers, feeling their pain, and doing everything to take on any of their burden and fix it.
But, it isn’t enough to listen and act, step two revolves around shining a light on the future. A platform needs to paint this exciting future, and make it clear how they will be enabling it… bringing developers along for the opportunity.
Commerce and the Web
When I look back, I have spent the majority of my energy on the developer experience and tools, the Web, and commerce. I remember building a student book exchange website when I first came to college in the US. I couldn’t believe the prices of books here, and many of which were only useful for 10 weeks, so why not recycle them? This is one end of the entrepreneurial spirit that Shopify serves so well.
After college, I got to work on Vitamins.com. Tom Malaher was an amazing lead engineer there, and he taught me the beauty of a finite state machine (David K would be proud!), and how it enabled us to make so many fast changes in a dynamic cart and checkout environment. It also took me from Perl to Java… and started my time with Enterprise JavaBeans and TheServerSide.com!
And more recently, I worked at Walmart Labs, focused on the front end… starting with mobile with their native apps and mWeb sites, and ending with desktop as well as we merged the streams. This humbled me at the impact of commerce in peoples lives. I remember being at a Walmart store just before midnight, testing some in store product integrations. I noticed that there were a large number of women with full carts, and young children. This late at night? It turned out that it was the end of the month, and a new month meant access to food stamps, and they were waiting to get the most value they can for their family. I went on to see so many examples of the broad role that commerce plays in peoples lives.
At Walmart scale, I got to learn about the effects of performance on the experience for customers and the bottom line for the merchant. I remember reading studies that showed simple statistics with claims such as: “If your response speeds up by Xms, it will result in Y conversion uplift”. This hides so much detail of course. The flow of commerce isn’t linear at all. When a customer first clicks on a link from a Google Search result and it loads slow, they will likely abandon and go back to click on another link… or open Amazon. On the other hand, if they have a bunch of items ready to check out, the bar for abandonment is a lil lower. It’s not that performance doesn’t matter, or that it doesn’t have an affect, it’s just different. The notion of “commerce performance” is different to generic performance, and I think there is a lot we can do here to optimize the experience and help developers hit the right bars. about:blank is very fast, but doesn’t offer much. I want commerce to feel amazing, and performance contributes to this, but it isn’t everything.
I have been talking about how the Web is a general purpose platform, and how we should consider spending time on verticals and making sure the Web has everything needed to do a great job there. Commerce is a key vertical, and is interesting to me as it touches on the Web, because:
- It is a massive driver of usage and growth on the Web (notice it’s effect in earnings calls as of late!)
- It isn’t just content, and yet isn’t a full on productivity app experience…. it fits in the spectrum in between, an area that the Web can be really great at
- Commerce journeys can naturally compete with silos. Composition, and the flow as you browser to multiple sites, can make commerce particularly good as a multi-merchant experience
This all comes together for me in how the Web and Shopify allow you to not just rent space, but also own your destiny. Have your own property and build relationships with your customers, much needed for LTV. Also use the variety of sales channels that get your goods in front of customers and draw them in with the potential of becoming loyal.
This is why I am at Shopify. I am excited to help deliver the best possible developer experience, starting with an amazing platform, and working with the entire ecosystem.
If you are a Shopify Developer, I want to hear from you, and understand anything that we can do to be more helpful.
If you are a developer that hasn’t looked at Shopify yet, I’m guessing that you will have some need for something on the commerce spectrum, and I would love to get any feedback.
And finally, Shopify is growing fast. If you are interested in the mission, and if you are interested in working with great people to dive deep into delivering amazing developer experiences through platform work, tooling, integrations, ecosystem work, or education, I want to hear from you. We will be growing our product, engineering, developer advocacy, and writing teams. Please reach out!