Reflections on 4 years at Carpages.caApril 20, 2019 -
“Your main contribution to this company won’t be in code writing.” – this shocking statement came from the VP of Technology very early in my days in the role of a front-end web designer at Carpages.ca. I was in disbelief. In my previous role writing high-quality code quickly was my primary purpose. How could he seriously mean that?
I came to this new job in 2014, and looking back I must have been somewhat burned-out by the previous ten years which had been dominated by agency work. I would find myself at the end of the workday staying late, and it took me a couple of weeks to realize that my “stress tank” wasn’t being spent in the same way; it didn’t feel right to leave at the end of eight hours without having been frazzled by conflicting priorities, Project Managers battling for my attention, or working towards some physics-defying deadline. The life of a web designer in a SaaS (software as a service) industry is almost unrecognizable compared to agency work.
My initiation was incredible, and at times overwhelming as I sought to adopt new web standards with unfamiliar workflows:
- Git instead of Subversion
- Object-oriented Sass
- Grunt and Bower (then cutting edge)
- A Carpages front-end framework called Gemini which followed our own SMOOCHY methodology
- and most bewildering of all, working extensively in the terminal (an article from those weird early days)
I saw for the first time that ambitiously tight deadlines get in the way of craft and scalability, but conversely that the lack of pressure toward projects launching was a deadly lure toward perfectionism. Our team was able to strike a balance by putting more emphasis on quality for foundational tools like frameworks and our boilerplate, while using speed on the delivery of specific projects. Our first dealership website built on this technology stack took over five months to build. Our second (and most subsequent sites) one took on average four days.
Creating a new platform for dealership websites was the first major project I undertook in this role. Building upon the same search engine and database structure as the flagship Carpages.ca itself resulted in a product that dealers were excited by. After getting the first site in the wild demand picked up, and we hired another front-end developer to join me… then three more. I found myself suddenly as a very busy team lead!
The front-end tools and processes were so well defined (see the article on SMOOCHY for more technical details on this), that we were able to hire junior developers fresh out of bootcamps like HackerYou. More often than not this meant young, eager, motivated team members that introduced a lot of fun to our team culture. My first official foray into team leadership was quite a simple one as these developers were quick learners with awesome attitudes.
Apart from managing a team of developers and a network of 300 or so websites Carpages gave me the opportunity to… well, do anything! Management was always very open to employees experimenting, learning, and optimizing virtually any process! I learned a ton about the finer details of cable management and coffee brewing, to iMac hardware updates, documentation, writing, video production, and user testing. Any facet of the web development workflow was up for grabs, and I hungrily dabbled in much of it and encouraged my team members to use up to 10% of their time on professional development and sandboxing ideas.
In 2017 the Carpages management team was very accomodating with my biggest experiment; moving to a four day work week (which I wrote about here). This gave me the opportunity to explore more passion projects, and do some non-profit work I would otherwise never have been able to make time for.
Looking back I think taking this job saved my career. I was hesitant about making this change for the commute, but it was life-giving in so many ways. By not living with constant stress I had the mental bandwidth to be more present at home, to go on my first short term missions trip, and personal projects like learning how to type Colemak, or building the Bible in markdown (four times).
The greatest impact on my life however, was my growth in a leadership position. Tim said my greatest contribution wouldn’t be in producing code – and then he took the time over four years to show me just what he meant.
Categorized in: Personal
This post was written by ArleyM