New Job at Wanelo 20 Sep 2012
I have made the move. Starting Monday I'm going to be working at Wanelo, a social media startup working on connecting people with e-commerce. It's an interesting change for me, as two years ago I promised myself I would never work for a social network company. A lot has changed in the last two years, however, and I thought I would take some time to put it down in words (for my own benefit as well as yours, illustrious reader).
For the past two years I have worked at ModCloth, an e-commerce fashion company that works with small-medium sized fashion designers to sell vintage-inspired clothing. In the course of my time there, I worked on various features including Be the Buyer, a program to crowd-source product acquisition and merchandizing. I led a team to re-architect the product categories to be based on search indexes, not only making the process by which new products appear on the site more automated and robust (before, every product was manually added and sorted in every category by hand), but allowing us to implement faceted drill-down on almost every category—customers can easily find in-stock dresses that are their color, size and price range. In the end, I worked on systems automation to build new servers in an automated and quick fashion. Hopefully I had some influence in the long term strategy of organizing code into separate applications and services.
One of the things that I've grown to believe in is the power of individuals to positively influence the world through their connections. At Cal there was an organization called the Computer Science Undergraduate Association (CSUA). At the time that I was in school, I thought that the main the benefit I received from being a member was an email account on the main Unix host that they maintained. What I realized during my first real tech job out of college was that the CSUA was not only an organization that facilitated CS learning (if endless hours trying to get on the Nethack leaderboard facilitated my learning) but a forum for hundreds of people who had passed through the halls of Soda, and who were now industry professionals scattered throughout the world. When I had a problem setting up postfix, I was two people removed from someone who worked at Sendmail. The first time I struggled through a massive XSL transformation, I was able to talk with and share my frustrations with someone intimately familiar with the specification and who had already solved many of the same problems.
Working in code, I have a lot of heroes from whom I've learned… even if they have no idea who I am. The power of the brain is not in the neurons, but in the connections between them—just as in any large application deployment the state of system should be more important than the persistence of any individual node. More and more, however, I'm finding that specific individuals have far greater influence over my world view.
One of the things that sold me about Wanelo (apart from using it, which is extremely addictive) was a conversation with Sean Flannigan, the product manager there. I have been frustrated in recent years by the concept that positive environmental change in supply chains can only be impacted by giant companies. The idea is that only by growing as large as possible does a company assert enough buying power to effect change. I have this idea that instead, a million small companies and individual creators could make a greater difference in the world. He agreed, and suggested that in connecting people directly with the sellers, and then the creators of awesome things, we could reduce the footprint of e-commerce in the world.
I think in order to be happy I have to truly believe in what I'm doing, not only in the long run but in the short run. I think that ModCloth is going to be a very successful company in the long run, but in the near term I feel like I need to be elsewhere.