7 Things I Learned in 7 Years at Shopify
Brought to you by all of the questions in my LinkedIn-box
After years of being asked “what’s it like to work at Shopify?” I figured it was finally time to pull this together since I have officially closed out my Shopify chapter. I spent over seven years with the company, it was certainly an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget. I’m so proud of the work I was able to do alongside some of the greatest humans I’ve had the privilege of knowing and learning from. If you asked me back in 2013 what I thought I’d be in for when I joined Shopify, I would have never guessed any of it, and that’s kind of the beauty of it all.
So, let’s cut to the chase, the real reason you’ve landed here…
“What’s it like to work at Shopify?”
Working at Shopify is hard and more often than not, quite ambiguous. Both by design, and I would be misleading you if I suggested otherwise. This is likely why they say that one year at Shopify is like ten anywhere else [confirming that yes, it definitely felt like 70 years]. If you’re looking for an easy and comfortable ride, this isn’t the place for you. If you’re looking to stretch in new ways while solving meaningful problems, keep on reading.
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This is, of course, my experience as someone who spent the majority of their time working within the marketing org. These are my seven learnings from my seven years at Shopify, take from it what you will.
1. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable
Shopify is a hard place to work and navigate — teams are truly always “building the rocketship, while flying it” and things are always changing (we’ll get to that next). Whether I was carving out where I wanted to go within the company, building out something new, or pivoting campaigns in the 11th hour, being uncomfortable through the chaos of it all made me stretch and grow. It can certainly take you up to a year to begin feeling comfortable but don’t let that scare you. I definitely went through the ebbs and flows of feeling comfortable and uncomfortable throughout my career at Shopify.
2. Change is like, really, really, reeeaaaaaally constant
Like most things in life, change is inevitable. One the core values at Shopify is to thrive on change, and there’s a reason for that — things at Shopify change constantly and at the drop of a hat in the benefit of the company’s number one priority, Shopify merchants. The frequency of change is something you will notice early on, and will come to expect it over time. I promise, you’ll get used to it. Although the change was painful at times, it did help me to build up a resilience-to-any-change-at-all muscle in and outside of the workplace.
3. Fail forward
I came into Shopify terrified of failure. In theory, I knew that making mistakes were opportunities to learn but in practice, I couldn’t wrap my head around not succeeding. I had zero clue what I was doing most of the time but Shopify fostered a test, learn, and share environment. It was a safe space to fail, and eventually, my mentality went from “failing is failing” to “failing is forward”.
The cycle of: ship → fail → learn → iterate → ship that I went through while building my own Shopify stores spilled over into my day-to-day. Today, the idea of failing forward makes me work quicker, and avoid stalling on the small things. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “just ship it”. This was especially helpful when working in SMM where trends move at the speed of light.
4. The biggest growth hack is empathy
Context is king at Shopify, and building the right relationships helps you there quicker. The company does a great job at providing resources internally to help you gain as much context, and fairly quickly too. But, if you really want to level up even quicker, do what I did — start a business on Shopify. They encourage everyone to do this internally. The product knowledge and the empathy I was able to gain by doing this was undoubtedly the best thing I could have done for my career at Shopify. Whether it was tech support, hosting merchants, or giving an opinion on an upcoming campaign, I was able to cycle between the different hats I wore to provide additional perspectives. More hats, more perspective, more empathy.
5. The ‘perks’ aren’t the real perks
I started at Shopify in Ottawa when I was 22 and truthfully, I didn’t know much about the company. I remember being drawn in by the cool office space — beer on tap, catered lunches, etc. Who wouldn’t be? It wasn’t like anything I had ever seen, especially in a ‘government town’ like Ottawa. More often than not, this is what people narrowed in on when they would ask me about working at Shopify.
It didn’t take me long to realize that the real perks of working at Shopify were in fact the mission and the people rallying around it. I may have come for the cool office spaces back in the day but I stayed for the people and the Shopify merchants. Working and connecting with merchants over the years was by far one of my favourite aspects of working there, and it’s something I’m certainly going to continue doing. Look beyond all the undeniably flashy and fun stuff and focus on the real reason you’re considering working at Shopify.
6. Show up as yourself
Being yourself is encouraged from the interview process to the day to day. While your experience and all that jazz is important, Shopify will look beyond the resume. What makes you tick? What are you passionate about? Who the hell are you outside of this list of jobs you’ve held down? I realize that saying ‘be yourself’ is cheesy but it’s the only advice I give to people in the interview process. Showing up as your authentic self goes a long way, and so don’t ever mute yourself, especially not for a company that isn’t yours.
Funnily enough, I was recently asked how my coworkers would describe me vs how my friends would describe me. My answer was that they would both describe me in the same way [my assumption was later confirmed by a video they all put together about me 😭] and I have company culture to thank for that. I never once felt like I had to be a less whacky, less queer, lesser version of Liz.
7. Movement is growth and growth is movement
Over the last seven years, I was able to learn the platform inside and out, connect with tons of business owners all over the world, become a business owner myself, fall into the start of my marketing career, and dive into design. If that’s the sort of growth trajectory that inspires you, it’s definitely possible at Shopify.
Shopify allows for tons of growth opportunities across the organization which is referred to as ‘jungle gyming’. Jungle gyming enables professional growth, it’s how I went from starting in tech support to working across multiple teams in the marketing org. It opened my eyes to the craft, and as a generalist, it was exciting for me to be able to get a taste for the different dimensions of marketing.
Okay, okay, so, why the hell did you leave?
Ironically enough, because I spent a lot of time thinking about all of the growth I had experienced from moving around. I was ready for my next ‘jungle gym’. Only this time, I knew that moving internally would only put off the inevitable. It would have been really easy for me to stay, and that scared the shit out of me. And let's be real, 7.5 years [aka 75 years] in one orbit, is a long time. I had been craving something new to dive into, new ways to stretch, and then as timing would have it — an opportunity popped up.
My decision to leave Shopify was exceptionally hard because I cared [and still care] so deeply about the mission, and the people. I realized the things I loved the most about Shopify, were the things I could continue doing without being an employee. I’m still using the platform because it is the best product out there, and I’m still connecting with and advocating for small business owners. While I may not be walking the virtual halls of Shopify anymore, you can — they’re still hiring: shopify.com/careers
I’m always a DM away if you ever want to connect about all things marketing, setting up shop or to share a meme or two. Good luck out there, stay safe.