The scene: A group of WebLinc’s most loyal engineers, operations and communications team members are gathered at the company’s industrial headquarters around a communal work table. Ruby on Rails program lead developers Greg Harnly and Mark Platt, product architect Ben Crouse and communications manager John Forberger laugh about the holiday party a few nights prior and speak about the respect and camaraderie at the veteran Old City ecommerce company.
We got the crew together to talk about the level of access they get to WebLinc’s founders, why they think the company has “history without the baggage” and the two most important qualities they’re looking for in new hires.
If the conversation’s got you interested, WebLinc is currently hiring software engineers.
Your company has grown since its inception. How is WebLinc set up today?
Greg Harnly: We have a services side, which is responsible for implementing the product side. On the product side we have the product team that creates the ecommerce platform and the plugins, extensions and the core offerings. On the services side we have a bunch of teams, which take the product and customize it. Structurally, you have the product in the middle, and all these teams doing their own thing working in the ways that are best for them.
Ben Crouse: Every team has a technical lead and a front-end lead and a UX person. The teams can range from as few as three people to as many as eight. It depends on workload. If a team has a large client, it’ll be a larger team. We have around 11 teams. In terms of developers, we have 45.
What makes your team structure stand out from other startups?
BC: WebLinc has been around since 1994. We have some of the startup culture still around, but from a realistic perspective, I don’t know if we’re under startup conditions.
We’re a scale-up. We’ve offered professional services for a very long time. One of the unique opportunities around that is the support teams have the opportunity to contribute back to the product and help steer the product team in the direction we’re moving. There’s a pretty good feedback loop on the other side of the business with what we’re doing on the professional services side.
A startup feel but with 'more structure and consistency.'
GH: We’ve had changes with team format. We’ve had learning scenarios and have tested things out, and we’ve been able to keep the inclusiveness when it comes to high-level decision making. I think there’s a good balance of the startup feel, but there is more and more structure and consistency across the board that people have pushed to make sure it’s what we really want to do and what works.
Mark Platt: The other thing we have is history without the baggage. We have people who’ve been here a long time, who’ve learned a lot of things and have contributed knowledge to the technologies we’re building. You can come in and develop something, and it’s cool, and someone will say, “You don’t want to do that, because six years ago we did that, and it didn’t work out so great.” But it doesn’t feel encumbering.
What do you hope new developers will bring to the table and add to your teams?
BC: What I’m always looking for in new developers is creativity and inventiveness. It’s one of the most essential things you can find in a programmer but also one of the rarest. You get developers whose attitudes and behaviors follow, “I want the rules for how to do it, instead of the tools for building it.” [But that’s not what we want.]
We need really good problem solvers. Our sites tend to have many interactions with third parties and heavy business logic customizations. When you hit a problem, sometimes you need to be able to trace through third party layers and different levels of code to figure out, “Where is this thing breaking down?”
MP: That creativity and problem solving can also apply to implementing software created by others. We like people who are interested in, or have experience with, implementing existing software, too.
Some of you have been at WebLinc for almost ten years. Why have you stayed?
BC: At WebLinc, you have a feeling of autonomy, my own guiding of what my priorities are or my options for learning and expansion. That’s always been true here for me, and why I’ve stayed. I haven’t been doing the same the whole time I’ve been here. I’ve probably had five jobs if you were to boil them down to a title. For me, that open-ended sense of career opportunity combined with the fact that your voice is heard from a management perspective has always felt good for me. I have a lot of trust and personal relationships with the people in the company and who run the company.
MP: I would echo those exact points. The Hills [cofounders Darren and Jason] are great people who are accommodating and considerate and smart. This is the kind of place where you see a problem that you want to change, and you’re encouraged to talk about it like, “This is how I think we should fix it.” You aren’t constrained by your title. If you see something you want to do, you’re encouraged to go do it.
At WebLinc, devs have an 'open-ended sense of career opportunity.'
John Forberger: I don’t think there’s a ceiling for anyone here. If you want to work towards a certain title, there’s nobody holding you back from that. If you want to go to an event or seminar, it’s encouraged. I never have to beg management to let me go to a session or speech down the street. I’ve seen people vocalize more than any other place I’ve been. There’s no fear.
The Hills are here. They’re not off in Malibu. We’re a founder-led company. If I have a question for the Hills, they’re here, and other people on the executive team are here as well. A lot of places of our size regionally and nationally have difficulty in getting a hold of leadership. The transparency of the business is very rare. We have company-wide meetings, and we’re told where revenue is coming from and the split of revenue from that time period. I think that’s extremely rare to have that access.
MP: There’s a lot of trust around that too. The company feels that, “Hey, you work here, you should know this.” It affects your job and your life. It’s fairly unique being able to get an update about what is happening in the past six months or year and hear the direction of the business.