What Shopify does right, Part 1


I suspect this topic could be an entire website all its own, instead of a series of my thoughts. Since I happen to be in one of those moods (yeah, yeah, you have no idea which "those" to which I am referring, but that's beside the point), and these thoughts have been swirling around, I should get them down, lest I forget them. Which is pretty much the reason for every single one of my posts on this site, now that I pause to reflect. Anyway.

Having been away from Shopify for a month now, there are a number of things I realize that Shopify just does RIGHT, and I miss a lot of them. I can lump them under the giant umbrella of "Shopify treats its employees right," which is true as far as any company can treat its employees right and still make a profit and still stay in business and still have more than one employee. It's hard to grow a company and it's hard to sustain a company and it's hard to have any group of people all harmonious, working in one direction, and without politics (but let's not be naïve, there are politics and maneuvering at Shopify, so maybe that last one should be, "without a lot of overt politics that adversely affect everyone in the company").

Shopify treats its employees right as well as I've seen (from the inside) any company do it. Which is not to say Shopify is perfect (it's not), but it's pretty damn good.

So, how does a company do a company "right?" How does Shopify "treat its employees right?" In no particular order other than "this is the order I thought of them," the first way they do it right is,

Default to open.

When trying to decide whether or not to let someone at work know about a thing, the answer is always yes. Default to open. The finance guys talked at an all-hands to the whole company when it came to the process of having an IPO. There wasn't any "You don't need to know this." It was, "We are doing this together." The executive team let everyone know when some change was happening (mostly) within the ranks. The security guys let everyone know when there was some could-have-been disaster with some phishing attack that might have succeeded in a spectacular way, but didn't, thankfully. Shopify is getting better at documenting things, with the company wiki available for everyone to edit and question changes. The guru leads talk about mental health in a way that opens the door for anyone to come talk if they were having issues. Every door, as far as I could tell, was open. Default to open.

It matches up with the other well-known Shopify ideal of:

Do things. Tell people.

Which I couldn't quite understand when I started working there. I read it as, "Do things, brag to everyone about it," which is such an ego-centric, American, Silicon Valley way of looking at it.

And so wrong. In reality, it was:

Do things, tell people about this nifty cool thing you just built that will make their lives easier!

Do things, tell people about this way you made the website faster!

Do things, tell people about this new project that encourages new entrepreneurs!

It was never, "Do things, now brag," It was always "Do things, now share."

Default to open.

That default to open goes both down and up. If a project is going poorly, you let the dev-lead know so that expectations are better set, additional resources can be added to the project, or the requirements adjusted. I did not do well at this, I'm very sad to say. I did do better after I was called out on this, I'm glad to say. When I found a mistake that was potentially going to cost the company six figures, my reaction was not, "Oh shit, how do I cover my ass?" it was, "Oh shit, how far up do I need to tell people right now so that we can get this fixed, and the losses minimized?" The answer to that question is, by the way, two levels up, which is pretty shallow, actually, in an organization as large as Shopify. And the potential loss from that mistake didn't happen (thankfully, that was a really rough week), as far as I know.

Default to open, except in public, then default to close.

There are of course things that can't go beyond Shopify's walls. Those stayed in Shopify, because Shopify trusts its employees not to share when they were told not to share. Shopify treats its employees as adults.

Which is, of course, the topic of "What Shopify does right, Part 2."

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