Operations Engineering @ ThredUP

By Syed Usamah

At ThredUp, our engineers are broadly divided between three teams: Mobile, Web Engineering, and Operations Engineering. In this post, I am going to talk mainly about what we do here as operation engineers.

ThredUp is a very operations-centric business, and the Ops Engineering team plays the vital role of providing the systems, tools, and the analysis required to make the company’s operations more streamlined, automated, and scalable.

That was a mouthful, so let me explain a little more.

When I joined the company in mid 2012, our warehouse was run entirely on homegrown iOS apps. It was quite the sight; everyone was walking around doing stuff with iPhones, be it receiving bags, or taking photos and measurements of garments to put on our online store. For our size then, the approach was working incredibly well. But soon, we realized that to achieve scale and higher efficiency, we needed something more robust. Thus, we intensified our focus towards building new systems to improve our operational efficiency.

While doing so, we have not restricted ourselves to any particular platform or language. We knew from the start that to solve such a wide array of problems, we needed a diversified technology stack. The result: our bag receiving is still done using a custom iOS app, our garments are photographed using a .Net station, their images processed using C++ and Python libraries, and the branding and categorization is done using a slick Backbone.js UI with touchscreens (mind you, this is just the inbound side of operations.) That said, our backend is primarily in Ruby on Rails.

Another distinctive feature of Ops Engineering is that  we do not have project managers or business analysts in our team; we ourselves do the managing and analyzing. For me, this makes for a really valuable experience, and I believe it both enhances and complements our teams programming abilities.  On one hand, working with the stakeholders directly to understand business requirements results in better and more suitable features. On the other hand, understanding the technical ins and outs of our systems helps us in explaining the functionality, tradeoffs, and limitations better to the stakeholders.

So what do we do on a daily basis you may ask? I have no straight answer for this. We could be hiding in a room, chugging coffee and coding, or we could be training the ops team on a new feature we just deployed, or we could be analyzing critical metrics from the last quarter and figuring out how we can make further enhancements. We are also not an all-work-and-no-play kind of a team. Some of us go work out together, others go to Meetups and conferences together, and others go tour breweries and discover random bars in SF together.

By the way, we are hiring for a number of engineering positions. If interested, check out our job postings.