How URBN’s culture of creativity inspires technologists to build their own career path - Technical.ly Philly

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How URBN’s culture of creativity inspires technologists to build their own career path

If you’ve got curiosity and drive like software engineer III Osei Seraphin, opportunities to work on the fashion company’s ecommerce platform are limitless.

Collaborating at URBN's Navy Yard campus.

(Courtesy photo)

Like many future engineers, as a kid, Osei Seraphin loved Legos.

But imposter syndrome is a different beast. It’s that constant nagging feeling that you’re not good enough to hold your position or a lingering uncertainty following every move you make.

“I’m a builder,” said the software engineer. “And I’ve always seen myself in a role where I am building new things and creating new ways to help people.”

That role eventually took shape at a company he least expected.

While finishing up his undergraduate degree in information sciences and technology at Penn State University in 2015, an advisor referred him to a software engineering internship at URBN, parent company to cult fashion brands Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People and Nuuly. The brand struck a chord with the young engineer — in college, he identified closely with Urban Outfitters’ representation of art, fashion and pop culture — but he was skeptical that the clothing retailer could offer the tech opportunities he hoped to find.

“I had no idea URBN did its own software development,” he said. “I was definitely mistaken.”

Today, Seraphin paints URBN’s tech department as a playground for curious, self-motivated builders like himself, who enjoy pushing boundaries and bringing new ideas to life through technology.

Osei Seraphin. (Photo via LinkedIn)

Early on in his full-time career at URBN, which began in 2016, Seraphin was a QA engineer. At that time, the ecommerce platform didn’t have a process for automated testing. He wanted to do something about it. He made his case for the project, and together with a few senior engineers as mentors, began building an automated testing application that could not only test APIs for his team, but the entire company.

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“That work was pivotal to my early growth at URBN,” he said. “And it helped me gain experience as a software engineer, long before I landed in that role.” Two years later, he officially became a software engineer, and has recently been promoted to software engineer III, as back end service support for URBN’s core ecommerce platform.

Seraphin’s style of proactively seeking out opportunities that interest him has made him a good fit on URBN’s tech team.

“We’re never complacent with tech,” he said. “We confidently push forward, looking for areas to improve upon, ways to be better. There’s never a shortage of interesting projects — there’s a wealth of information and opportunity.”

Case in point: Seraphin said that when he started at URBN, his team was only using Python. Since then, they’ve expanded their tech stack to include Golang and JavaScript.

Another URBN software engineer, Nicole Erkis, seconds that notion.

“I feel like I work at a tech company,” said Erkis. “Everyone is interested in learning the best technology to solve a problem. And there’s room to explore. If you’ve got a great idea, you have the freedom and the agency to pursue it.”

Nicole Erkis. (Photo via LinkedIn)

Erkis is currently excited about a side project on which her team is implementing infrastructure as code. The work should streamline the process of sending messages to external systems by making them easily reproducible and therefore more efficient. It’s a challenging passion project for Erkis, and one of many her manager has encouraged her to take on.

While much of Seraphin and Erkis’ growth and development is due to their inquisitive determination, its URBN’s bustling culture and open-minded management style that empowers its employees to thrive. From encouraging the pursuit of new ideas to hierarchy-free collaboration to office spaces that are brimming with natural light, plants and eccentric artwork (both original and from the campus’ days as a working navy yard), URBN’s workplace and leadership style are designed to inspire creativity at every turn.

True to form, Seraphin is already envisioning what’s next for his career. It should come as no surprise that the Lego enthusiast aspires to do more software design and architecture. But that doesn’t mean he’s looking to leave URBN any time soon.

“I’m a naturally curious person, always looking for something to learn and explore,” said Seraphin. “Working at URBN, it feels like I’m in an environment that fits me just right.”

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