Respect for People: Optimize for Developer Happiness at Etsy

The webcast above discusses the culture of software engineering at Etsy (a very popular site providing a marketplace and community for small businesses – artisan focus). Some of the key points of the talk. Etsy trusts employees. Etsy’s strategy is to optimize for developer happiness. Etsy has lunches twice a week where employees build community.

Etsy sees code as craft. The echos Etsy’s value on authorship: “the people behind what we buy make commerce meaningful.” It re-inforces the belief that work has meaning and is valued and should have intrinsic value to those doing the work, people should have the opportunity to take pride in their work.

Chad Dickerson discussed the importance Peter Drucker placed on connecting people to the value provided to customer. Etsy takes steps to connect employees to the value provided to customers, including emphasizing the community of the company and the customers of Etsy.

Related: Respect People by Creating a Climate for Joy in WorkMistake Proofing Deployment of Software CodeBuild an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation Flourishes

Continuous Deployment Done In Unique Fashion at

I asked Sussman, if they have this great framework, why the graphs? I mean, shouldn’t they know things will work? “Well, sure, in theory,” he said. “And even, most of the time, in practice, too. But humans make mistakes. It is always possible to think you put a feature in dark, miss a config flag, and blam, it goes out to the world. So you watch the graphs, you figure out the problem, you fix it, and you drive on.

If I understand that it seems exactly right. Have good process measures in place that let you quickly see if performance is flagging. Very similar to having control charts in the workplace to identify an issue as soon as it crops up. In process measures let you identify problems at the process level (systems thinking paradigm, not computer software process) rather than wait for them to crop up in bad outcomes to the customer.

I was about to ask what they do if the programmers get stuck when Sebastian Bergmann, the creator of PHPUnit, the unit testing framework for PHP, walked by our space. It seems that Etsy hires Bergmann and other leaders to consult by walking around, teaching the staff while doing the work. The following week, Rasmus Lerdorf, the creator of PHP, would in the office.

Very nice. I like this model. This is one of many ways to work a joy.

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6 Responses to Respect for People: Optimize for Developer Happiness at Etsy

  1. Marc Martin says:

    Very well-said, thank you for sharing. Every work should be considered an art or craft, and efforts should be taken to allow workers to take pride in their work, for without each individuals talent, success of a company has no meaning. Great post!

  2. Maria says:

    While everyone would like their work to be considered an art or craft there is a big difference between the engineers on etsy and the artists on site.

    The engineers get paid whether they succeed or fail. It’s easy to take a risk, experiment with the site, change the way people search….

    If you are an artist and you take a risk your very livelyhood and reputation are at stake.

    When you are an artist and sell on etsy it can be a scary place. Not all change is good, especially when you are an end user with no input.

  3. Ramona Hall says:

    I would suggest you read some of the seller complaints on etsy forums before you start celebrating this form of creative chaos. Etsy’s CEO was VERY selective in the seller’s comments. There is a thread going right now about testing the is one of dozens that have been started over the past several months. Sellers are begging them to slow down, consider consequences, and think about the impact of how they (engineers and experiments) are affecting sellers during the major selling season of the year.

  4. Rare Beauty says:

    As an Etsy seller who depends on Etsy in order to pay my mortgage and buy food, I am intensely bothered by this video.

    A dog who deploys code?

    Engineer happiness?

    Anyone can deploy code?

    Chads references to Chaplin are just so off- Etsy has no relation to an assembly line, in any way, shape, or form. Not for the sellers, not for the workers- computer engineers must, by definition, bring their project to completion- assembling code is NOT a “factory assembly line” operation!

    Etsy engineers see the product of their work EVRY DAY- all they have to do is go to the forums! We will tell them what the results of their work are. It often is horrible. If they REALLY want developer happiness, then they need to ask us BEFORE they make all these random changes!

    I did not sign up to this site to be a guinea pig for a CEO who values “engineer happiness” over my hard earned cash!

    Get a grip, Etsy, this is not a Utopia. It’s a business, and those of us who pay your salary need a voice.

    This is sad. THIS is the man I have put my faith in?

    Beauty of how it works? IT DOES NOT WORK!!!!!!!!!!!

    WTF did you take in college, Chad? Philosophy and comparative literature? It sure was not Business Management or marketing!


    If you can guarantee me a paycheck from Etsy every week, for a set amount, that will cover my bills so I can sleep at night, then I will buy into your philosophy. Otherwise, STOP SCREWING with my business by making un-needed, unwanted, and dangerous changes that cost me money.

    You REALLY need to THINK about the IMPACT these changes have on us, the sellers.

    It’s kind of like sex. Just because you CAN have sex with someone does not mean you SHOULD.

    Just because you CAN write code to make Etsy do something does not mean you SHOULD.

    Change for the sake of change is always a bad thing. It breeds a culture of “look what I can do” without consequences for the actions of the programmers.

    Thousands of people depend on Etsy being a stable, easy to navigate, friendly marketplace.

    And it is not, and it gets worse every day.

    This is life, not an Ivy League college experiment.


  5. John Hunter says:

    To those upset at I guess some problems with Etsy’s platform I can understand why “developer happiness” can see a foolish aim. I believe Etsy has developer happiness as a aim, in order to have a web application production system that is the best it can be. The developer happiness is not an end goal. It is a goal that make the end goal, for the software development at Etsy the best it can be.

    The dog deploying code I think is stupid but it is an entirely harmless gimmick. Though I agree it is foolish, not the least of which because when there is a problem it makes it seem like you are caviler. I don’t believe this is the case it is just people having a bit of fun with a insignificant matter – pushing a button that start the process that deploys the code that professionals put in place and tested.

    I looked around on the web a bit but I am not exactly sure what issues people have been having. What Etsy does is hard. It isn’t surprising people will be frustrate. I believe Etsy knows it is critical to keep customer focus inside the software development team. I believe they do this.

    Even when doing this it is not at all hard to mess up and do something that just isn’t really a good idea and everyone would agree was a mistake. One of the benefits of a stock programming culture is that this can happen very quickly. You pay attention to users and quickly figure out you messed up.

    Another issue that even when you are very customer focused the issues (both the coding iteself and the thinking and features created) can sometimes just be very hard to get right. When you experience the problem it is very frustrating but even very well functioning systems creating software that isn’t idea from time to time and it can take a bit of time to get things straightened out. It can often seem much simpler on the outside. There are often many additional factors that make finding solutions much more complicated than it would seem it should be.

    What I find, over and over, is that good systems will react quickly and get working solutions in place with a huge comparative advantage over average organizations. As the software code grows and the customers supported needs and desires grow this often becomes very complex. There can be struggles, even for very good organizations, when they start bumping into a new level of complexity they haven’t mastered yet.

    It is also possible, sadly not uncommon, for good places to quickly deteriorate. There are a number of reasons for this but in software development one of the biggest is how great the opportunities are for really good people. If things become a big pain it is very easy to lose a couple good people. Then replacing them can be very difficult (so they are replaced with less capable people) and then those still there are in a system that is getting worse and they flee. This is one reason why a focus on developer happiness is so critical. You can quickly lose critical corporate assets.

    For those with problems, hope Etsy isn’t in the deterioration phase. I have no reason to believe they are. Based on my fairly minimal understanding I would be much more inclined to believe they will continue to do very good work. And if there are critical problem, they will address them. It might not be quite as fast as people hope, but they will do it.

    Time will tell.

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