by Dan DeMeyere - @dandemeyere
Every company has a different way of organizing and defining their engineering teams. At thredUP, we have three engineering teams. We have a Mobile Team that builds our native iOS/Android apps. We have an Operations Team that focuses on our distribution center's needs (getting our product online, fulfilling orders, handling returns, etc.). Lastly, we have our Web Team.
What is a Web Engineer?
A web engineer is an engineer that focuses on the user-facing, browser-based (desktop + mobile web) thredUP experience. From the moment someone types 'www.thredup.com' into their browser, until the moment they complete their checkout, they're in the web engineer's world. A world that consists of Rails/HAML/SASS/CoffeeScript, improving page load times, and measuring customer engagement metrics.
A web engineer operates differently than engineers on our other teams although we do have an over-arching engineering culture that encompasses all of us. The Web Team works in two week sprints and we have two different backlogs that we work out of. One is our merchandising backlog and the other is our growth & conversions backlog. Each backlog has someone that is responsible for that backlog's roadmap and a sub-team of web engineers responsible for delivering each sprint's projects.
Merchandising is focused on surfacing the best product to our customers as fast as possible. They work on scoring algorithms, improving free text search functionality, collaborative filtering, recommendations, and much more. Their goal is to create a shopping experience uniquely tailored to each customer based on what they have searched for but haven't purchased and what we can recommend to them based on what other customers with similar tastes have purchased.
Growth & conversions is always focused on a specific layer of our funnel. We consider getting new customers to the top of the funnel as the growth layer. Our conversion layers are getting customers to add a filter -> add to cart -> go to checkout -> complete checkout. Getting customers to become brand advocates and invite their friends is an example of something that affects both growth & conversions. All of our funnel's layers have clearly defined KPIs that we try to improve each sprint.
Including myself, there are currently 8 engineers on the Web Team - two are on the merchandising backlog and six are on the conversions backlog. We used to shuffle which engineers comprised each sub-team, but over time engineers gravitated towards the team they cared about the most after they became engrossed with that team's metrics/goals. We feel that if you care about what you're doing, you'll make a bigger impact so for the most part web engineers can decide which backlog they want to work out of.
What does a web engineer do?
Now you have some context to what a web engineer is and how they help the drive the product forward. The layman would assume that web engineers spend all their time cranking out code; however, web engineers are responsible for much more than that.
To take a step back and speak in very general terms, companies exist to serve the needs of the public and generate profits for the shareholders. For companies to exist for an extended period of time, they need to become profitable (there are obviously some exceptions here). Companies that are not profitable should be doing everything in the power to become profitable. At an eccomerce company, it takes time, research, and proper execution to close the gap to become profitable. Our executive, product, and marketing teams are tasked with providing the vision on how we're going to close that gap. The Web Team's role is to fulfill the needs of these teams so we can make their vision a reality.
In the ideal world, the more time web engineers spend doing development the faster we can become profitable. My responsibility is to work with the Web Team and put processes into place that maximize development time in a sustainable way. If the processes are not sustainable, engineers will burn-out, technical debt will be accrued, bugs will overwhelm the user experience, and the team will fall apart.
The processes we have put into place determine the composition of how a web engineer allocates their time. Here is a simplified list of responsibilities for web engineers:
- Complete the development stories in each sprint.
- Only push code that improves the overall quality of the code base.
- Thoroughly review your peer's pull requests to reduce the number of bugs that are introduced into production.
- Squash bugs as they come in or create a story with enough details so another engineer can squash it.
- Handle escalated customer services tickets to be exposed to the problems our customers are encountering.
- Use the product so that all development can be done within the context of the customer's needs.
- Define and work towards professional development goals.
- Mentor and/or teach other engineers to increase the technical competence of the team, transfer knowledge, and help your peers work towards their professional development goals.
- Attend our engineering book club to further our growth as engineers.
- Help evolve our engineering team culture.
It's a challenge to do all of these well, but no one said that engineering was an easy profession. At thredUP, we pride ourselves in hiring engineers that care about our product, our code, our processes, and each other as much we do. If you would like to join our team, we have two open positions: