Inside htmlBurger, Insights, Web Development

Shopify Experts – Interview with Zack

[Straight Out of The Kitchen] Zack – the manager behind the development of 500+ Shopify websites and the head of the Shopify department at htmlBurger.

While the eCommerce world was growing rapidly in the past few years, with the pandemic going on, things are now moving at a speed never seen before.
The eCommerce boom reached 10 years’ growth in just 3 months. As soon as these numbers go up, they go up for Shopify as well. For 2020, the growth of sales on the Shopify platform increased by 76% and surpassed one million merchants worldwide.
Surely, somebody has to make sure all those amazing stores work well and look perfect and this is where the Shopify experts come in.

So follow us straight to the kitchen and meet one of our own Shopify experts and the culprit behind your Shopify projects – Zack.

He’s a lead manager and the head of the Shopify department here at htmlBurger, with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Systems and Technologies and a master’s degree in Software Engineering from the Technical University of Varna. He has 11 years of experience and is behind the development of more than  500 Shopify stores. In addition to being a Shopify expert, he’s also very passionate about photography, traveling, drones, short-films making, snowboarding, and Audi.  A man of so many interests and a true passion for his work, Zack will share his experience with working with the team and his thoughts on the platform. So let’s jump right into the interview.

Zack, tell me a little bit about yourself?

Zack: In my free time, I love hanging out in the wild with a drone and a camera. I’d say that I’m a photography and videography enthusiast. I live in Varna, Bulgaria, which is on the Black Sea coast. It’s amazing during the summer and a bit windy in the winter. Having said that, you can imagine that I also like all kinds of water activities and sports that I can practice.

 

How did you jump into the tech world?

Zack: I believe that it all started with my passion for math. I loved how logical everything is in math.

When I was about to choose a university I thought that programming would be the way to go because it’s also very logical and math-related in many ways. And here I am today 🙂

 

How long have you been at htmlBurger. What is your role there?

Zack: I’ve been at htmlBurger for almost 11 years. I started my journey at htmlBurger as a front-end developer. After a couple of years, I became a team lead, and shortly after that, I was promoted to a project manager to one of the front-end teams.

I was in that position for about 5 years. During that period my main role was to manage projects but I’ve also trained new project managers and helped them in creating and evolving their own teams.

I was also involved in lots of different internal projects like working on internal systems, defining working standards, developing company brands.

 

How did the Shopify team emerge in your company?

Zack: It was the beginning of 2017. During that time we’ve been offering Shopify services for some time but we weren’t that focused on this area.

We knew that Shopify was a good platform and we were seeing a bright future for the Shopify service. That’s why we took the decision to create a separate Shopify department and started promoting the new services to our clients.

We started with only one developer. Now, 4 years later we have 3 project managers, 12 developers, 2 QA testers. Together we’ve worked on about 600 different Shopify projects.

As a general rule of thumb, a good developer is a person who always strives to learn new skills and always tries to write the next chunk of code better than the last one.

What is the profile of a good Shopify developer? What areas of knowledge are a must?

Zack: When we recruit new developers, the bare minimum we look for, is a very good understanding of the basic front-end technologies.  HTML, CSS/SASS, and basics in JS. Everything above guarantees a much smoother process of learning the curves.

If we’re talking about a Shopify expert – then we need perfect front-end skills, a very high level of JS knowledge, at least a couple of months experience in liquid programming, and last but not least – dedication to the quality.

As a general rule of thumb, a good developer is a person who always strives to learn new skills and always tries to write the next chunk of code better than the last one.

 

What does your team look like today?

Zack: Our team consists of 12 developers, 2 QA testers, and 3 project managers. All of them are young, very talented, and communicative. Some of them have been with us for a very long time and some are rather new. However, they all have the spark for driving the team forward and achieving new levels of success. We’re constantly working on expanding our team and recruiting new Shopify experts in the team.

 

What differentiate us is flexibility and ability to adapt. Every company has specific needs and requirements. Adapting to different company standards  guarantees us good long-term relationships.

 

What differentiates your expert’s team in the way of implementing Shopify?

Zack: I’d say that this is our flexibility and ability to adapt to different approaches and methodologies. We constantly work with a number of different companies and each company has specific needs and requirements. We always adapt to these requirements and company standards and this guarantees us good long-term relationships. This is a common understanding by every team member and I believe that this is what drives us forward and makes us a different kind of Shopify experts. 

 

What techniques have you used to motivate a team?

Zack: All of our projects are different in the matter of complexity, functionality, design, etc. This makes it quite easy to keep the people interested by doing different projects instead of working on repetitive tasks.

Also, there is quite a lot to learn in the Shopify world before you become an expert so it is quite hard to become an uninspiring job.

However, our teammates perceive the future of the team as a common goal and this motivates them the most. I see that their biggest motivation is the results we achieve together and they understand that every single successful project is a step in the right direction for all of us.

 

What are the main advantages of Shopify in front of other e-commerce solutions?

Zack: It’s the combination of simplicity, built-in eCommerce functionality, security, high uptime percentage, and 24/7 support.

You only need a credit card and a couple of free minutes in order to get your business up and running. It has all of the payments and shipping features inside and you don’t need to bother with all of these like installing plugins, etc. That said no technical skills are required.

The other very important thing here is the Shopify ecosystem with all of the themes, apps, Shopify experts, etc.

And last but not least – Shopify can also be very powerful and used for very big and complex projects using its APIs and creating custom apps.

 

What are the most common challenges you face with your projects?

Zack: I’d say that it’s finding the right app for a certain feature, modifying apps’ functionality, or connecting more than one apps to work well together.

For example, sometimes the requested functionalities require using Shopify apps and when we’re not solving a well-known problem it is hard to find the right app for that particular task. It usually requires installing and testing a couple of different apps, getting in touch with the app developers, and discussing possibilities for changing the way the app works.

 

Do you do lots of migrations from other platforms to Shopify?

Zack: Yes, during the last year we’ve been receiving a lot of requests for migrating from Magento or WooCommerce to Shopify. 

When it comes to migration from Magento to Shopify, the main reason was the site speed and the complexity of the admin panel.

In the WP cases, it was mainly the plugin dependencies as well as issues in the admin area.

 

What are the alternatives of Shopify available on the market?

Zack: The alternatives are the other well-known eCommerce solutions like WordPress with WooCommerce, Bigcommerce, Magento, Squarespace. However, as in Shopify – every platform has its strengths and weaknesses as well as some really solid reasons why so many people choose it for their business. That said, it really depends on the needs.

 

 

What methods of communication do you offer your clients? Which ones do you prefer?

Zack: We prefer to handle the main communication through our client area as this way we keep all of the general information centralized. Along with that it’s very well organized and it’s easy to follow the thread.

We do also use Slack with some of our clients and this gives us the ability to discuss some points faster.

When needed we do quick meetings through Zoom, GoogleMeet, or any other system that is suitable for the client.

And last but not least – for larger projects, we tend to use additional systems for breaking down the features and tracking the progress like Trello, ASANA, JIRA, etc. Again – depending on what our client prefers.

 

Do you use any tools to support you in leading a team?

Zack: Sure, we wouldn’t make it without using Slack, Trello, Github/Gitlab/Bitbucket, GoogleMeet, Discord, and a couple more.

If we all ask the right questions and pass the correct information – then the success of the project is easily achievable.

Explain a project where you led your team to success?

Zack: The success of a certain project is teamwork between our client, our project manager, the developer, and the QA tester. If we all ask the right questions and pass the correct information – then the success of the project is easily achievable. I make certain decisions and I take certain actions to lead the project in a specific direction, but it’s a team game and we all push the project to success together.

 

Do you have a starter theme or setup for Shopify projects?

Zack: Yes, we have a starter setup.

However, the focus is more on the setup and the working process instead of the predefined styles of the theme.

The reason is that for 90% of our projects we work with custom designs and we build all styles from scratch following the provided designs.

The main features of our setup are:

  • Dependency management via Webpack
  • ES6+ support via Babel
  • Predefined styles for all default pages (accounts, cart, products, collections)
  • Use regular SCSS (including mixins, imports, nesting, and so on)
  • Moduled SCSS
  • Sourcemaps
  • Multi-environments development
  • Deployment process (including minifying of the compiled CSS and JS)
  • Split vendor and app code (both JS and SCSS)
  • Based on Gulp 4
  • Live reloading with Browser Sync
  • Easily extend Webpack to add GraphQL, Vue, React, etc.
What are the typical projects that your team works on?

Zack: I would say that there is no such definition as a typical project. They are all different in a way.

Most of our projects are for converting specific designs (from PSD, Figma, Sketch, etc.) or current live site to a fully functional Shopify theme starting from scratch.

However, we also have a lot of projects that are different from that. For example starting from updating the navigation of an already created store, to creating a custom app and incorporating it into an existing Shopify store.

What does a typical working day look like for you?

Zack: After a good cup of strong coffee, the first thing used to be driving to the office and meeting my teammates. However, since we’re now working from our homes, the steps after the coffee are not applicable. So I just get into our client area (the Kitchen) and start checking my emails. I review all of them quickly and define the urgent and important ones and start working on them as soon as possible.

After these are clear and discussed with the developers, I usually have a meeting with the other project managers. Together we discuss the plan and make sure that everybody in the team has assigned tasks and there are no blockers. Next are my routine tasks with regular checks on the current projects’ progress and doing quick meetings with the developers for additional clarifications.

We’re still about to see the best from Shopify.

Last question. How do you see the future of Shopify?

Zack: Shopify has been out there for about 14 years. However, it has been getting most of its traction during the last couple of years. It’s a very solid structure that is consistently gaining more success. Putting together its main benefits (simplicity, unique features, built-in eCommerce features, security, etc) with the large ecosystem (with apps, themes, and Shopify experts) and the fact that they are constantly making new useful updates, I believe that we’re still about to see the best from Shopify.

Final Words

We hope you enjoyed diving into the work process and everyday life of a passionate Shopify expert.

If you have any questions about Shopify, feel free to book a call with Zack for a free consultation and further discuss your needs. He will be happy to chat with you and help in selecting a solution that is perfect for your needs.

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