I’m available for employment again.
My time with Nordstrom was everything I’d hoped it would be.
Late Stage career growth is a personal journey
Last April I had no idea how large the Nordstrom product and engineering teams were, nor how substantial their scale. I had just come from a late stage startup (post-acquisition), and I think I probably expected a significantly less agile culture with a slower cadence of product development, but hoped at least the scale of it would be my opportunity to learn more.
I couldn’t have been more wrong about what I’d find, or what I’d learn. What I found was an engineering org that was very much in transition and full of amazingly passionate, skilled, and compassionate people.
The most important thing I learned was actually an insight into what motivates me. What I learned was that the same things I loved about Airhelp (my last great job) can be found in an organization dealing with 10x the scale.
winning and welcoming
The default mode at Nordstrom was kind. Management books talk about culture coming from the leadership and it was immediately clear that this culture of kindness was not just a company value, it was a family value. The speed of an organization like this shouldn’t look like the speed of a startup. Reacting to pursue uncovered opportunity is still key but when you run at this scale, you are not racing to a finish line, you are running a marathon, every darn day. So you have a lot more meetings, you do a lot more planning, and you do a lot more validation of a choice before it begins to constrain all your options.
Previously I had been very animated about the question of how to do
Agile at Scale? How do you achieve the right amount of autonomy to enable rapid iterative development and deployment while simultaneously maintaining alignment across your entire org to make sure that all your investments are being made in the right places at the right time and at the right scale. The simplest way of describing what this looks is to imagine what a non-aligned org looks like.
Imagine marketing has spent an entire quarter’s ad budget in a single week because they’ve unlocked a super effective CPA channel. The entire front end team is at a conference. The operations team is in the middle of migrating their Kubernetes cluster from Microsoft to Pivotal. The SEO (growth team) has just unlocked some amazing SEO juice tripling regular organic traffic. Your site is down and buggy, your quarter’s ad budget is lost, and Google deranks you because of your plumetting conversion rate due to site performance. That’s what a non-aligned team looks like.
We didn’t have any of that at Nordstrom, but there was a higher than expected level of autonomy — and not as much alignment as you might have expected at a 100 year old company. While that autonomy may have been costly in some ways because there was certainly some duplication, and some dead end projects, on the whole the autonomy enabled a culture of helping each other out. The momentum of that company is driven not at the leadership level, it’s driven by the community of technology folks who are being kind and supportive of one another.
There’s a reason they say Culture Eats Strategy. I’ve been working mostly strategy for the past year, and none of my work has had as big of an impact on the future success of the company as the folks who’ve had the opportunity to work on culture. Making the engineering culture more equitable, more welcoming is the reason that Nordstrom is winning.
I’ll be leaving Nordstrom at the end of April and I encourage anyone looking for a wonderful place to work to give them a look.
And if you have a welcoming and winning org and are looking for a technology leader – Or someone to help cut your cloud bill, send me a DM and let’s talk.