Putting the "Erch" in Merchandising

Cameron Jacoby
- San Francisco, CA

My team at Stitch Fix builds internal tools for our merchandisers, who are responsible for planning and buying inventory that delights our clients. Internally, we are known as the “Erch” team. It’s a funny name with roots deep in Stitch Fix history, but I’ll save that story for another time. Instead, I have a story of my own to share. Prior to joining the Erch Engineering team, I got my start at Stitch Fix on the Merchandising team.

My first role at Stitch Fix was as Merchandise Coordinator for the Jewelry and Accessories departments. I was responsible for the end-to-end execution of orders from our vendor partners. Much of my work revolved around communication; when order changes came up, I would promptly relay the updates to everyone involved (vendors, buyers, planners, allocators, and warehouse associates).

At that time, our Erch Engineering team was building a customized application to streamline our processes and manage our work. I developed my own interest in learning to code from working closely with our engineering partners as they built the app for us.

In 2014, I decided to make the switch from Merchandising and enrolled in a full-stack web development bootcamp at General Assembly. I hoped to someday combine my knowledge of Merchandising with my newfound coding skills to build awesome apps that make people more efficient in their jobs. Here I am, two years later, doing just that.

As I reflect on my experience transitioning to an engineering career, I want to share a few things I learned along the way. This is by no means an exhaustive list of tips to follow, but pieces of advice based on my experience.

Make sure you enjoy writing code.

Regardless of your personal motivation to become a software engineer, the reality is that you will spend a significant amount of your time writing code. The best way to figure out if an engineering career is a good fit is to start writing some code (online tutorials like Codecademy are great), and ask yourself how you would feel doing it every day.

I first realized I loved to code during my interview process for General Assembly. Part of the interview was to watch tutorials on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and build a single web page with a scrolling carousel of images. I started my project on a Saturday afternoon, and before I knew it, it was 4am, and I had not stepped away from my computer once.

This feeling of being so absorbed in your present task that all sense of time goes away is called “flow”. I had heard about this idea before but had never experienced it myself until I found coding.

Figure out the right balance.

Those moments of “flow” aside, you’ll spend most days in your job balancing between writing code and doing other things. The amount of time you spend coding will vary depending on the nature of your job and the company where you work.

At Stitch Fix, we emphasize product ownership by engineers at every level. A big part of the job is doing product-management work, like meeting with our business partners to figure out what problem we’re trying to solve.

This is something to think about when you’re job searching, and the answer is different for everyone: what balance will make you the happiest and most productive?

Leverage your background and past experiences.

When applying for your first engineering job, you may not think your background or past experiences are relevant to the role. But in reality, there are companies that see it as a positive thing if you can relate to different areas of the business aside from engineering, so seek out those companies.

Your background and past experiences make you unique. They make you a good communicator and allow you to see problems from a perspective that’s not purely technical. So if you have relevant experience to the business, make sure to mention it, and use it to your advantage!

Remember what it was like to be a user.

Recently, I had the rewarding experience of delivering a small, but high-value feature to our Sample Coordinators. Sample Coordinators are responsible for managing samples of our merchandise sent from vendors. Over the past few weeks, our Buyers had started requesting an additional sample for each item ordered. Our Sample Coordinators were keeping track of these extra samples manually using spreadsheets.

The user-facing feature I delivered was a tiny checkbox to track the additional samples. When I sent out the email announcing the new checkbox, I got numerous replies immediately letting me know how helpful it was and how appreciative the team was to have this capability.

Moments like this always bring my experience on the Merchandising team top-of-mind. I remember when I was using manual processes to keep track of a million details. It makes me happy to see how the work I do now relieves that pain-point for someone else. It also reminds me how important the end user’s experience is in delivering a great product.

Find ways to be a mentor and a mentee.

This summer, I had the opportunity to mentor one of our interns on the Erch team. We pair-programmed for the first month of his internship so he would be ready to work on his own project for the rest of the summer.

Pair-programming with our intern was a great way to solidify my own knowledge. It made me strive for more clarity in my code and my explanations of technical concepts. It was also rewarding to see how quickly he picked up new technologies and started contributing independently to our codebase.

In addition to being a mentor, I am also a mentee at Stitch Fix. I get to work with talented people who have experience and expertise beyond what I can even comprehend. My manager is always there to answer my questions, and he pushes me to think of solutions I never would’ve come up with on my own.

Being a mentee to experts who know more than me helps me level up my own skills, learn to write high-quality code, and solve complex technical problems.

Reflecting on my experience switching roles at Stitch Fix reminds me what I love most about my team’s name, “Erch”. To me, the name symbolizes how intertwined we are in the work that the Merchandising team does; we are an integral part of their day-to-day jobs and their productivity.

I’ve had the unique opportunity to see both sides of that partnership. The tools that helped me in my job two years ago are the same ones I get to spend my days working on now. It’s been an exciting and fulfilling experience to come full-circle!

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