Julia Hurrelmann 02/01/2019

Attracting Local Talent And Building Mobile Apps: A Developer Hiring Initiative

Read Time: 6 minutes

Shopify is a commerce platform that serves over 600,000+ merchants and employs over 3000 people across the globe. We’re always on the lookout for highly skilled individuals with diverse backgrounds to join our team and that requires us to connect with them outside traditional recruitment channels. That’s why we ran the “Build Things, Show Shopify” initiative last year, inviting developers outside of Shopify to build an app and showcase their finished product to a multidisciplinary panel of Shopify employees, hiring managers and VCs. The outcome? Not only did we build a local developer community in Ottawa, but we added a number of potential hires to our recruiting pipeline.

Getting Local Mobile Developers Building Things

From May to August, we hosted workshops in Ottawa where over 20 Shopify product managers, developers, designers, and computing educators supported the 75+ participants. These workshops covered topics like mapping app workflows, coding, code reviews, design, and presentation skills. The setup of these workshops allowed participants to directly interact with Shopify developers and receive feedback on improving their apps and problem-solving. After the last workshop at the end of August, participants could submit their app to the final showcase in September where they would share their work with their peers and the multidisciplinary panel of Shopify designers, developers, leads, and directors.

Attracting Local Talent And Building Mobile Apps: A Developer Hiring Initiative
Build Things, Show Shopify Participants

Build Things, Show Shopify

During the showcase, 13 developers presented a total of 12 apps to all attendees. The number of apps presented and attendees far exceeded our expectations and indicated to us that this event wasn't only important to Shopify, but also to the community. We organized the showcase where the developers presented their apps to one or two Shopify developers and after three minutes would rotate to new ones. In lieu of selecting a single winner at the end of the showcase, we identified six of the most promising apps overall who would be given the opportunity to present in front of a grand panel. During the second half of the evening, our panelists which included Director of Engineering IBK Ajila, Developer Lead Mustafa Ali, Android Developer Nikita Ali, Senior Developer Chris Saldanha, and Designer Shanique Shields gave feedback and asked technical questions to the app developers to prompt them to think deeper about their apps. At the end of this experience, each of the app developers walked away with a fully developed app with which they could use to showcase their skills and experience.

Build Things, Show Ottawa

Following the success of the final showcase, we decided to host an additional showcase called: Build Things, Show Ottawa, where we opened our doors to angel investors and Ottawa-based technical recruiters to connect with the app developers. The showcase started with a video presentation introducing each app with an elevator pitch style video and immediately followed by a networking session for investors and recruiters to interact with the app developers and grow their networks.

“I learned a multitude of things, but the greatest gift was the encouragement to go beyond my comfort zone and try out new technologies for building apps. I had previously never built the back-end for any app, so building it here was huge for me.  I also met tons of developers, both at Shopify and in Ottawa, and learnt from them as well.” - JS Goupil, participant (GROOVER app)  

Lessons Learned

Though this was a successful event, we also learned that not everything worked out as we initially planned. The more workshops we hosted, the more participants we lost along the way. We required participants to build a complete app and some of the applicants were unable to (for a number of reasons) participate till the end. Additionally, when we look at the data breakdown we could see that we lost proportionally more women than men along the way. When the event launched, 24 out of 77 of all participants were women and by the last event, this number dropped down to 16 women and only two were part of our showcase.

This is far from ideal and prompted us to question if the initiative wasn’t setting women up for success and what could be some of the factors preventing them from participating till the end. We understood that a number of variables could be the culprit of this, but we narrowed it down to one major issue, which was the time of day the workshops took place. The workshops ran during the evening, where some people (women specifically) might have social and familial obligations preventing them from having the time to attend our events. This observation was supported by the fact that our educational initiative Android Bootcamp, took place in the morning and during business hours and often had 50% or more women attending meaning the next events we run should potentially take place during the day to allow more women to attend.

“Build Things taught me a lot in terms of technical development and design. We got a chance to learn from amazing developers and designers. But the most valuable thing, in my opinion, were the connections I was able to make.” Kareem Arab, participant (TRND app)

What’s Next?

The goal is to continue to connect with talented mobile developers and build a more diverse talent pipeline. With the positive response we received from everyone involved in this initiative, we hope to continue to run more like it in the future.


We're always on the lookout for talent and we’d love to hear from you. Please take a look at our open positions on the Engineering career page