Hundreds of thousands of new businesses are created each month in the US alone—and this number keeps growing. Global commerce company Shopify hosts more than 1.7 million businesses across 175 countries on their platform. And they’re not slowing down. Shopify wants to democratize entrepreneurship by making it easy to start and run a business. In addition to technical challenges like payment processing and hosting catalogs, Shopify helps companies navigate international shipping, tax requirements, and a multitude of other business concerns.
“Everything we do begins and ends with helping merchants build successful businesses,” says Fatima Yusuf, Director of Ecosystem Partnerships.
Commerce was a fast-changing industry even before the COVID-19 pandemic, with trends like mobile shopping, and shifting buying behaviors driving the need for technical changes. Shopify has leveraged GitHub as a tool to help them meet the ever-increasing pace of change.
This was vital when the pandemic hit. “Commerce accelerated 10 years in about three months last year, and there was a rapid shift of merchants getting online,” Yusuf says. “Some of those merchants were retail stores that had never had an online presence before, while some people were starting an ecommerce business for the first time. Although many new commerce trends were emerging already, COVID accelerated the timeline, and our merchants’ needs grew exponentially.”
To ensure that Shopify can meet those needs, the company hosts more than 6,000 third-party apps in its app store covering everything from marketing automation to customer support to shipping and logistics. “Merchants join us from all over the world, selling different products,” Yusuf says. “All of those merchants need something a little bit different, and our developer ecosystem is what helps them tailor the product to exactly what they need for their specific business.” This vibrant ecosystem enables another type of entrepreneurship: developers and agencies building businesses to help Shopify merchants succeed. “We can do more alongside our ecosystem than we can do alone, and that is the power of the Shopify platform,” says Taylor Aplas, who leads Partnership Acceleration. The economic opportunity for merchants and partners on Shopify is massive, and the Shopify effect is felt globally.
Scaling the Shopify platform to match the company’s growth requires high-velocity development. “Deployment automation and DevOps is a superpower at Shopify,” Director of Ecosystem Engineering Derek Watson says. “In 2019, our production applications changed 40 times a day, and it’s changing even faster now. GitHub helps us meet this demand.”
In 2019, our production applications changed 40 times a day, and it’s changing even faster now. GitHub helps us meet this demand.
GitHub serves as a one-stop shop for developers working in Shopify’s bespoke environment. “We have such an unusual scale and pace to our work, so it’s critical that we’re able to build efficiencies into our workflow by creating replacements for those off-the-shelf tools that are custom fit to our organization and the way we want to work,” Watson explains.
“All of these tools tie back into GitHub through webhooks and API calls,” Watson says. “For us, it’s important that as a developer you can see all the context and changes of what you’re working on, in one place.”
As a growing global company, distributed development is part of Shopify’s DNA. “We are building our company and our products on top of open source projects and technologies,” Watson says. “So it was natural for us to use GitHub internally as well.”
Shopify has been contributing to the open source community since the earliest days of the company. “Open source and context sharing is core to our culture,” Watson says. For example, Shopify open sourced Active Merchant, a payment processing library for Ruby on Rails, as well as many React-based user interface components.
Shopify uses a variety of GitHub Actions workflows to manage and automate processes in their open source projects. “We set up workflows and then open source them, so that every developer can perform CI tasks without being dependent on some secret workflow configuration,” Watson says. Shopify also uses Dependabot as part of its Software Composition Analysis strategy. “We appreciate the automated pull requests it generates,” Watson says.
There are many ways Shopify has optimized their work on GitHub over time. GitHub also serves as a collaboration portal at Shopify. “GitHub is our primary tool for R&D project management,” Watson says.
In addition to open source, Shopify embraces the innersource ethos. The company organizes its code primarily as a monorepo that people from across the company can use and contribute to. That makes it easy to review and leverage code across the company. “We encourage collaboration internally,” Watson explains. “I can go work on another team’s codebase and ship some code and get some of their team members to review what I’m doing and understand it.”
That goes for people in traditionally non-technical roles as well. “We encourage all of our employees to have a base level of technical knowledge,” says Watson. “Through a company-wide program called Patch, we invite the entire employee base to build their technical literacy, and make contributions to our codebase and product. For example, if you notice an issue in a product, like a typo somewhere in a string or something like that, you’re empowered to find where this is, fix it, and get it out to production.” That’s the sort of company-wide effort Shopify puts into ensuring their merchants have the best possible products and tools available to them.
Shopify exists to make commerce better for everyone, and every employee at Shopify is always on the lookout for ways to make their products better for merchants. Thanks to GitHub, Shopify is able to scale and continually improve—and entrepreneurs around the world benefit.
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