6° of Grouponation: Shinji on the Evolution of Groupon Technology

6° of Grouponation: Shinji on the Evolution of Groupon Technology

With 6° of Grouponation, we’ll chat with employees who have hit their six-year mark—an impressive milestone for Groupon. Shinji, currently an Engineering Director, has seen Groupon’s technology group evolve immensely since starting his career here.

Name: Shinji
Title: Engineering Director
Start Date: May of 2009

What is your title and what do you do?

I’m an Engineering Director, so I manage Engineers and Product Managers here in Chicago as well as two teams in Berlin. All of these technology teams are part of our “commerce platform,” essentially e-commerce sub-systems.

We have many software systems for different segments of the business:

  • Finance and accounting automation for merchant payments
  • “Deal catalog” which is sort of an aggregation of all the deals we run across the different businesses
  • Voucher inventory services, which are basically the same thing but on a unit level (for Local its vouchers, Goods it’s products, Getaways it’s bookings, etc.)
  • Our deal management API and internal deal management tools

So what was Groupon like in 2009?

The Point had just started hiring for Groupon when I came on board. At that time, there were about 20 people total and I think five of us had started that week. The main focus was still The Point—essentially, Groupon felt like a new project that was starting to work. About six months in, it was obvious that Groupon was the future of the company.

And what was Tech like in 2009, specifically?

There were three of us in tech and everything was in classic startup mode: everyone did everything. When I started, The Point was a single Rails app that was built to run community campaigns with tipping points. Groupon was originally launched via WordPress, and every night someone would go in and launch the “deal of the day” as a new post in the blog. My first project was to get Groupon off of WordPress and onto The Point. In the early days we were building features; we were excited when we launched the ability to buy more than 1 unit at a time. That sort of thing.

How has tech changed as an organization since 2009?

From my perspective we’ve gone from doing what a startup does (proving you have something people want to buy), to maintaining that, iterating on it, and building new businesses alongside it. In the beginning it was one piece: the site. Now we have all those other components in place as well to try to improve the life cycle (finance, accounting systems, merchant center, etc.).

What has kept you here for 6 years?

Groupon, which is still very much a growth company even though growth looks different now than it did 3-5 years ago, is a place where things change very quickly. On a professional and personal level, that means a lot of opportunities. I’ve been here six years and I’ve been in many different jobs and teams within the technology department, so it doesn’t feel like it’s been only one job in that sense.

Another thing is the culture. It’s characterized by openness, accessibility, and irreverence. This is a place where people don’t take themselves too seriously, and that’s really important to me.

What advice do you have for someone interested in joining Tech at Groupon?

It’s possible to be professionally rewarded by being aggressively honest. This is a place where people value truth telling. Giving people the benefit of the doubt and creating spaces to tell the truth is a great professional strategy, but it’s hard to do that if you’re at all cynical about relationships, business, corporations, etc. I think if I had been very cynical and cagey about my opinions, it wouldn’t have gone as well.