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My experience being a part of Shopify’s rocket ship

When talking about internship experiences, I find that what so many people resort to saying is “it was great,”without reflecting too much on what actually made it amazing. What is it that stood out that I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else? So this blog is going to do just that: take you through my journey interning at Shopify as a Backend Developer.

Shopify is a place full of culture. For some reason, Shopifolk are so in love with unicorns, rocket ships and waving hand emojis. Not only that, I can’t help but mention the amazing workplace (an indoor slide, fancy coffee machines, cool meeting rooms), amazing perks (free lunch everyday, personal development budget), flexible work hours, flexible attire, the list goes on. So that sounds amazing, right? It is, but a lot of tech companies out there, who claim to have a “startup” culture, probably have similar perks. So what really makes Shopify different?

It all started with the interview process. Like other interns, the way I prepare for my interviews is by going through HackerRank challenges, reading Cracking the Coding Interview, etc. But my first interview with Shopify was something called a “life story.” Huh… interesting… I’d never heard of it before. So how do I prepare for it? Apparently, by doing nothing. “Just be yourself” is pretty much the answer. It might sound cliche, but in the world of job interviews, I actually find it so refreshing that the first stage of the interview is to get to know you as an individual. It might be common practice in interviews to test how many trees a candidate can balance in linear time before getting to know who they are as a person; but Shopify flips the script. I really appreciate that; it tells you something about what the company values in the individuals they hire.

In the end of the day, the people on my team are the ones who have shaped my overall internship experience. I’m very grateful to have them as they have honestly exceeded my expectations in so many ways. I have such a diverse team — I get to work with designers, UX researchers, content strategists, and of course, programmers. The UX side of things is very well-integrated into the team, which is something I had never seen before. Starting out, I had never even heard of half of the UX roles I mentioned before. Being part of such a UX heavy team was extremely valuable. Even as a backend developer, placed at the end of the execution pipeline, I still learned a lot about why design decisions are made. More importantly, I also learned how to empathize with the merchant (Shopify’s user) and care more about making a great product for them, rather than merely shipping things. I even had the chance to shadow a UX researcher while she interviewed a merchant who was trying out the feature I implemented. I was quite devastated when the merchant found a bug that I wasn’t able to fix in time — something that must have affected his experience and perspective on the product. One of Shopify’s values is “Act like an owner.” I truly got to see this in practice, as I was given autonomy over my tasks, to the point that I really felt like I owned them.

Something I found surprising about my team was the fact that my mentor asked my opinion about the tasks I was assigned to, and whether or not I was learning from them. I came to Shopify thinking that in a lot of companies, interns only get assigned to tasks that no one really wants to do, or ones that are just tedious in nature. So I was pleasantly surprised by how much my mentor cared about my growth and my learning. Another surprising thing was my experience requesting to switch teams when my contract was extended. My reason was to explore what other people at Shopify do, and to learn more about the company. I was hesitant at first, because I felt like it wasn’t the best reason out there. I was quite scared to bring it up, as it only makes sense that if I’m available for an additional 4 month internship, I would stay on the team that invested a lot of time and effort in training me. I was prepared to hear a resounding “no,” but my lead and mentor were genuinely supportive of me trying out new things. Suddenly I became hesitant to leave my former team because they are just so amazing! (Insert a shameless shoutout for the New Merchant Experience Team! You all are so awesome :))

Diversity and Inclusion are definitely something I have to bring up. In the tech industry, being a female software developer still means that I’m a minority. That said, at Shopify, I’ve never felt like my co-workers have treated me differently. While I’m the only female dev on my team, I’ve never had the impression that anyone thinks that I’m biologically unfit for this role. Of course, this is just my experience as an individual — I’m sure that everyone has a different story. I’m also not saying that it’s sunshine and rainbows all the time. Being the sole woman dev can sometimes feel daunting. It can be quite a challenge to convince myself that I truly belong there, that I wasn’t just hired to increase diversity numbers, that I am as qualified as my male colleagues.

I think that this is a common challenge that the whole tech industry is facing. While Shopify, as a company, still has a long way to go to improve its diversity, I think they are heading the right way. At Shopify, we have regular discussions on the topic of diversity and inclusion, and knowing that a lot of Shopifolk care so much about inclusion makes me feel really safe. I know that if I was ever treated unfairly, I have people I can talk to who would act on it. I also see a lot of Shopify’s effort in improving diversity — sponsoring Ladies Learning Code, being a part of Pride and sponsoring PrideHacks in Montreal, and having the Dev Discover program that aims to find great talents from underrepresented and underprivileged groups. The company takes inclusion seriously, and I really appreciate that. I have to say that I didn’t only learn how to code this summer, I also learned the importance of inclusion and diversity in tech from Shopifolk who really care about this issue.

There are still a lot of other cool things that I experienced in Shopify (learning how to be a Vim wizard, getting to know how the company prioritizes the passion to learn over experience, an Infrastructure Engineer agreeing to mentor me out of the blue, etc.). If I kept going, the length of this blog might get to MAX_INT so I’ve focused on the points that truly meant a lot to me, and what I really value from a company. I really appreciate Shopify trying to get to know me as a person, my team supporting me in my learning and growth, and the constant emphasis on making the industry a more inclusive environment. I’ve honestly had such an amazing time here that the word “amazing” itself is almost a disservice.

This is also the first time I wrote a blog, so I hope I was specific enough and managed to convince someone out there to be a part of Shopify’s rocketship! (P.S. I think they use this to symbolize growth, it’s my 4th month here and I’m still not too sure).

Special thanks to the content strategist for waving her magic wand and making my whole blog less awkward sounding.