Nov 06, 2018 | by Budi Tanrim
Things I learned from working at Shopify
List of learnings and insights from working at Shopify.
In September 2018, I made one of the hardest decisions in my life. I decided to quit my job at Shopify to move back to Indonesia for a personal reason. Since then, people often ask how was my experience working there and what are the things that I learned.
Let me start by sharing that Canadian uses “eh?” a lot. OK, jokes aside, here are a few things that I learned from working with Shopify.
Come with a learning mindset
Let me start by sharing my first mistake. When I started, I was trying so hard to prove that I’m a good designer and began to give different solutions in the existing project. As a result, I focused too much on the solution and made meaningless actions that end up wasting my time with zero impact on the team. The takeaway is to come with a learning mindset, channel all your energy to gain context first, and then start thinking on how you can make an impact.
Be willing to say “I don’t know”
Well, yes, you have to be accountable. Prepare your craft skill, communicate, and get your sh*t together. However, you don’t have to be a genius. When you don’t know about something, learn to say “I don’t know but let’s find out together.” This way, not only you’ll learn something new. It will also lead you to make a better decision rather than wasting time trying to come up with a vague answer. At the end of the day, it’s a team work.
Freelance is a totally different world
If you come from a freelancer world and want to try out the full-time job. You have to understand that you are entering the whole new world. Let me clarify, it doesn’t mean a bad move. But you have to step up on some of the soft skills, like managing people’s expectation, how to solicit and to give feedback (which I was lacking on). The takeaway here is to be aware that you’re entering a different world and prepare to learn something new.
Get to know your manager
Learn and understand who is your manager if you’re an individual contributor. The report to manager relationship is essential. It’s hard to recover once the trust is damaged. I learn this in a hard way, my first manager wasn’t a bad manager per se, but we didn’t get along and my life was miserable during that time. All of my 1:1s were about me reporting what I did and what I’ll do. That’s it. Fortunately, I switched to report to the other manager and my life is like day and night compared to before. The takeaway is, build and respect the relationship.
Be comfortable with being uncomfortable
On the peers’ feedback. One of my colleague, Gil, gave me one of my favorite feedbacks I’ve received. “Budi, I love working with you,” she said. “Although, you can try to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable,” she gently added.
I was puzzled. What again? Comfortable, uncomfortable? What does she mean?
After further conversation, I slowly realize that I get stressed out whenever things move away from what we planned. I’m not comfortable being in a chaotic situation. I really love this feedback! It was direct and helpful. Now, whenever I deal with the chaotic situation, I always remember Gil’s feedback. I take a deep breath and just being aware of it.
Appreciate people’s interest and passion
Don’t you love to collaborate? I have one fun trick to do it effectively. First, you gotta understand what people’s passions are and talk about it with them.
One of my favorite times was with my colleague, Jeremy. Despite known as one of the best developers in the team, he has a deep and vast understanding of Data Viz that doesn’t have anything to do with his day-to-day work. We always enjoy the brainstorming time and I love to get his perspective when it comes to Data Viz. It’s a win-win.
Share your work and get feedback often
We’re working in the complex industry. I’m a believer that all the good quality works are a result of collaboration. Get comfortable to share the unfinished work and when you do that, make sure to highlight the areas you need the feedback the most. It’s better to get feedback sooner than later, it will save times and headaches.
People are busy and they appreciate the updates
Leaders, managers, and stakeholders are busy. Unless you want them to micro-manage, you should communicate and give enough visibility. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it, many of them told me how my update really helps them. Here are a few different types of updates I usually give:
- Daily high-level update
- Weekly progress update on Monday and Friday
- Ad-hoc update when necessary
As far as the content to include in the update, it actually pretty simple. You can focus on 2 things: What has been happening and what are the next steps.
Prepare before presenting your work
One of the good aspects of a good designer is to be able to articulate the thinking thoroughly. When presenting our work, we often have around 15-20 minutes if you want to leave time for a discussion. Therefore, you better make every single second count. I find it really useful to practice it in front of the mirror and actually say what I have in mind loudly.
Make a decision log to have a firmer decision
There are a hundred of decisions put into the design and, to be honest, I find it really hard to keep up. For me, it’s better to have the decisions documented in a decision log and ask for the relevant people to review it before proceeding it. It will make the decision to be less ambiguous in every step and help you to focus on your work.
Shut down during the weekends or vacations
This is kind of my own personal note. Find your peace and recharge during the weekend is essential. The culture at Shopify is so great about this, everyone being respectful of the vacation time.
Take lots of pictures on the last day
I mean, I don’t know what else to do other than spend my last minutes with all the lovely people and capture the memory together. Goodbye for now and thank you, Shopify!
Why did you leave Shopify again?
A lot of people asked me, “Budi, are you crazy? Why did you leave Shopify?” I often think about this, leaving behind a fantastic company, an excellent mentor, and free lunch seems like a crazy move for me, too. It still is.
Well, life always works in a funny way. I never thought I’ll go back to Indonesia. But, my wife wants to pursue her career and the only way for her to grow her career is by being in Indonesia. It’s time for me to give back, she has been my best supporter in the last 4 years. Her makeup work is fabulous, follow her on Instagram
Note: These are all based on my personal experience. I’m not trying to represent Shopify as a whole.
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