Toni Akinwumi 12/03/2018

Director of Engineering, Lawrence Mandel Talks Road to Leadership, Growth, and Finding Balance.

Lawrence’s feature is part of our series called Behind The Code, where we share the stories of our employees and how they’re solving meaningful problems at Shopify and beyond.

Lawrence Mandel is a Director of Production Engineering leading Shopify’s Developer Acceleration team and has been at Shopify for over a year. He previously worked at IBM and Mozilla where he started as a software developer before transitioning into leadership roles. Through all his work experience, he’s learned to understand the meaning of time management and to prioritize the most important things in his life, which are his family, health, and work.  

What does the Developer Acceleration team do at Shopify?

Our team ensures that the Shopify development team can scale effectively by building and providing tools, convention, and documentation. This is critical as we continue to grow our scope of work and the size of our team.

What’s your educational background?

My formal education includes a B.Sc. in Computer Science and Human Biology from the University of Toronto and an M.Sc. in Computer Science from Western University. As is often the case, I got my real software education outside of the university setting, and for me, this was at IBM, where I learned how to build software and open communities.

If someone was interested in joining your team - what should they keep in mind?

We’re developers building tools and automation for developers. That means we build for ourselves and others. We generally have easy access to our users and, being developers, they tend to expect a lot from us.

What has your career path looked like?

In my career, instead of following a typical career path, I’ve sought out opportunities to grow and solve problems. I’ve worked on web service and XML tools; open source development; release engineering and installation, and a coordination role for technical project and release management, where I maintained the scope of a project, identified risk, and made shipping decisions.  Additionally, I’ve had some defining experiences like completing my M.Sc.; founding the Eclipse Web Tools Platform and Apache Woden open source projects; and writing the book Eclipse Web Tools: Developing Java Web Applications.

What kind of things did you do to set yourself up to get roles like your current one?

I believe people don't typically know where they’re going, or might have a vague idea but don't know how to get there. As a computer science student at U of T, I completed a 16-month work term at IBM during my undergrad. My role was in pre and post sales support, which was technical but had lots of downtime. So during my free time, I taught myself Perl and CGI programming which ultimately formed the basis of my interest in web development. Needless to say, this experience paid off.

What has been your biggest challenge yet working in this industry?

Being okay with not having all the answers or understanding every technology in depth. As my career progressed, my role changed from doing all the work to ensuring we get the most out of the work of others. At this point, I outgrew the expectation that I could always be the most knowledgeable person in the room. It took time to be comfortable asking questions, knowing the capacity with which I could contribute, and trusting the knowledge of others.


You’ve worked at several other companies now - what would you say sets Shopify apart?

I believe there are three major things that really set Shopify apart:

Trust

I think the big differentiator at Shopify is that we trust each other. We have and encourage a culture of trust. This affects the way that we interact with each other and the way that we build our tools.

Growth opportunities  

For leadership, the company is moving very fluidly right now. Teams are forming, experimenting, and dissolving. There are many opportunities to create new teams, projects, and even lines of business. Our leadership team is also growing along with Shopify, and there is still a lot of influence that our leaders can have over the future of this company.

Operating at scale  

We’re possibly the largest Rails application in the world. We ship changes to our core application 50 times a day. If you like pushing the boundaries of a technology, this is the place for you.

What’s your typical daily routine?



How did you cultivate a good work/life balance?

For a long time, I was very stressed and frustrated, and a lot of that stemmed from not setting the right priorities for my life. It's very easy to remain focused on work and progressing in your career — I did this, and it didn’t make me happy. In fact, it had the opposite effect and negatively impacted my personal relationships. It took me many years to figure this out, and I can confidently say that I’m in a much better place because of it.

Can you elaborate on what a good work/life balance looks like for you now?

The key was looking at what is truly important to me. Through this lens, it was clear that I needed to change my behavior to reflect my priorities by putting my family and health first. This allowed me to mentally assign time throughout the day and on the weekends for my wife and my kids. I do the same with sports and exercise. Work will fill as much time as you make available. In assigning my personal time first, it becomes the priority, and I have to squeeze in extra time for work as opposed to squeezing in time for my family and health. As a positive side effect, I’ve learned to be more deliberate and efficient with the work that I do.

What book(s) are you currently reading?

Factfullness by Hans Rosling. It’s a great read that I’d highly recommend. In the book, Hans provides a new model for thinking about the world based on income. In this model, there are 4 levels. The fact that you’re reading this article almost guarantees that you’re on level 4. Everyone you know is also on level 4. The thing is, 6x more people live on levels 1-3 and all of them live in what we on level 4 think of as poverty. Our reality results in a biased worldview and Hans provides rules of thumb to avoid drawing incorrect conclusions based on our incorrect instincts. Also, I recently finished How We Can Win in which Anthony Lacavera breaks down the political, economic, educational, and cultural systems and thinking in Canada and provides insight into the change that’s needed for Canada to thrive in the information age.

What are some ways you give back to the community?

I mentor and volunteer at the University of Toronto, a fundraiser for the Canadian Shaare Zedek Hospital Foundation, and I’m a coach for the North Toronto youth hockey and baseball programs.

What is the best career advice you’ve gotten?

You’re more likely to get what you want if you ask for it. This applies to projects, roles, compensation, and life. Speak with your manager. The worst that can happen is they say no. In this case, you’re still better off because you know the answer.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in technical leadership?

Early in my career, I was unsure whether I should speak up and voice my opinion or go along with the consensus of the group. I worried about not rocking the boat and at times fell into the trap of protecting my job more than doing my job. Don’t be afraid to speak openly and honestly, and take time to listen and work well with others.


We’re hiring! If you’re interested in joining our team, check out our Engineering career page for available opportunities.