Software at Scale 8 - Farhan Thawar: VP Engineering, Shopify


Farhan Thawar is VP Engineering for Channels and Mobile at Shopify. Previously he was the CTO and Co-Founder at Helpful, CTO Mobile at Pivotal and VP, Engineering at Pivotal Labs. He was named one of Toronto's 25 most powerful people.

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We discussed frameworks for making life decisions, the structure of engineering organizations, setting up successful hiring pipelines and healthy organizations, committing to large engineering decisions (like React Native for Shopify mobile apps), pair programming, growing engineers and leaders, and more.


1:28 - A framework for making long term decisions. “Work with smart people on hard problems”.

9:00 - The varying experiences of being an engineering leader at both small and large companies.

12:30 - The Roles and Responsibilities of a VP of Engineering

16:30 - Diving into the decision of going with React Native for Shopify mobile applications. What’s the process to make that decision?

26:12 - Should large scale decisions like these be bottom up or top down? What’s the tradeoff.

31:00 - How much should an engineering organization invest into platform, vs. customer facing work? Why Farhan thinks they might have over-engineered their systems at Helpful.

35:30 - Measuring developer productivity. A well reasoned, first principles argument against using commit count

40:00 - Managing 120 direct reports at Pivotal, and how to keep an open mind about the actual scaling limits of engineering leaders. The value of scheduled vs. unscheduled 1:1s.

49:30 - Pair programming, especially in a remote setting

52:00 - Hiring 2021 engineers in 2021 - managing that hiring pipeline

64:00 - High leverage activities to drive high quality hiring

67:00 - How to think about attrition in engineering organizations? Is there a magical percentage to keep track of? Segmentation is key.

72:00 - The best way to grow engineers and engineering leaders at a company