Three Years of Erch Engineering

Emma Colner
- San Francisco, CA

This past December marked three years since I joined Stitch Fix Engineering. In that short time, I’ve witnessed the bulk of the growth that we’ve experienced as a company since our founding. For example, in December 2014 there were roughly 10 engineers and now we number nearly 100. It was a time when those of us at our SF headquarters used to be able to sit around a small conference room table for our all hands meetings. Similarly, we needed just a slightly larger table when our remote engineers (roughly 50% of our team) came to SF for a week during our once-quarterly Engineering summits.

Back then, the team divisions didn’t seem as prominent or important. Now, however, there are so many of us that when we’re all in town together we have to rent out an entire hotel ballroom, and it naturally feels easier to keep track of what’s happening within our subteams rather than the organization as a whole.

I was the 3rd member of the Engineering subteam that supports our merchandisers, “Erch”, and now we have 13. I’m considered an “old timer”. Needless to say, making it to this milestone has me getting all sentimental and reminiscing about simpler times. What follows is my own personal account of the last three years.

Long ago (2015), and far away (in our old office 3 city blocks away), all of Erch met with the Chief Merchandising Officer, directors, and other senior members of the Merchandising team each week to discuss our priorities and plan our roadmap for the coming months. We pored over a shared Google spreadsheet and debated the relative importance of a long list of must-haves. As the newest person in the room, I had no idea what was going on. I had so many questions. What is a colorway? What do they mean by silhouette or fabrication? What are the differences among knits, casual wovens and blouses? What is a line plan? What does open-to-buy mean? And what about the jumble of acronyms (such as AUC, AIR, IMU) littering the conversation? Everybody spoke so fast and were so opinionated that, as an introverted engineer with little-to-no fashion sense, I was kind of intimidated.

When developing new features for our merchandising tools with our business partners, it was feasible to meet with and speak to nearly all the people who would be using them. This was a new and delightful experience for me, creating something that other people actually found valuable and made their lives a little easier. In my first year on Erch, I worked on a variety of different features for every group within merchandising: Buying, Planning & Allocation, Exclusive Brands (who develop products and brands exclusive to Stitch Fix) and Visuals (who produce photo and video of every style we carry for our internal Styling application).

Over time, as our business grew and the needs of our business partners evolved, we found that we needed to restructure in order to focus on what was most important. Erch was split into two subteams: Buying and Planning & Allocation (P&A). I was on the P&A side and strove to specialize in their business processes and workflows. At the same time, I was still involved with supporting our Visuals team at the photo studio since we didn’t have enough engineers. (We had hopes and dreams to have two additional subteams to support the Exclusive Brands and Visuals teams, but after hiring people specifically for those roles, they were moved into other areas of our Engineering department).

Our roadmap planning meetings were also split into two, meeting every other week. I personally began to have less and less contact with people in Buying, and was not keeping up as well with new developments in that part of the business, which made me a little sad. Feature development in P&A tended to only involve one or two key people, and I found more and more of my communication moving to email and chat. At the same time, it was exciting to know that we reached a point where we had to start specializing and that we had plans to hire more people onto the team to keep up with the rapidly growing business.

Somewhere amongst all these changes, early in 2016 the entire SF headquarters moved to a new office space spanning two much bigger floors. We began splitting out our main Rails app into different apps and services, with each app serving different groups within Merchandising. Our subteams started having separate stand-ups each morning. And during approximately 9 months of this period of rapid growth I was pregnant and gave birth to my first baby (along with other women in the company, including our CEO Katrina Lake).

Upon my return from my 16-week maternity leave, the company had taken over two additional floors, and Erch seemed to have doubled in size. When I first joined the company, we in Erch could physically see our business partners across the room and it was really easy to just get up and go talk to them. Now they’re spread across different floors, or in the case of our colleagues on the Visuals team, at our photo studio in an entirely different neighborhood of SF requiring a half an hour walk.

2017 has been no different in terms of big changes for Erch and for myself. I began working on a project that wasn’t for any one particular group, but was part of a much larger initiative happening across the entire company. I began meeting with people on our strategy team as well as merchandisers and engineers I had never worked with before. I was making changes to systems that affected all of engineering, requiring weeks of coordinating deploys. Like the structural changes happening within the team, the scope of what I was working on expanded and my interactions with business partners became less casual and more focused. Although it was stressful to work on something that touched more people, it felt great helping move the company forward towards bigger goals.

When my involvement with that project ended at the end of summer, Erch again restructured into two different subteams. This time, one focused on continuing to support our expert users in Merchandising while taking into account more of the top-down company vision than ever before. The other focused on building systems that provide merchandising data to the rest of the company in a scalable way that preserves the integrity and quality of that data while we continue to grow. We moved from having loosely defined monthly deliverables on a spreadsheet shared with the entire Engineering org to having subteam-specific 2-week sprints in Jira. Although our subteams maintain separate roadmaps and have separate standups, we still come together twice a month for our Erch team meetings. I feel this is so important not only to keep up with what everyone is doing at work, but also to catch up with what is going on in each other’s lives.

When I first joined Erch, we served our business partners mainly through a single Rails app that lacked most of the functionality we have today. In fact, we now have five Rails apps and three microservices. As an example, our buyers used to communicate with our vendors solely through email, which was becoming more and more unmanageable over time. Emails were hard to search through and siloed to an individual’s inbox (or cc’ed to half a dozen people in long chains). Purchase orders were frequently lost and it was hard to keep track of the most up-to-date version. Now we have an entire app and two services, providing business logic and data, dedicated to a vendor information portal that obviates the need for much of that back and forth. There’s one source of truth, and anybody with the right permissions can access that information without sending a single email.

Three years ago the entire company squeezed into two floors in a small building. Now we occupy five floors in a large SF office tower, with additional headquarters in Austin and Pittsburgh. We were once an unknown, a start-up operating under the radar. But now, in case you haven’t heard, we’ve gone public as the only woman-led company in 2017. It’s amazing to think about everything that has happened with the growth of our company and our team these past few years, and I’m thankful I’ve been able to grow along with them.

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