May 24, 2017

Finding a Home on the Software Team at The Container Store

I never thought I’d be working in Retail. Retail. Don’t get me wrong - I had nothing against the industry, I just never thought I would be working in it myself. But here I am.

How did I get here? Well, for the last five years I’ve been a software developer playing the ever entertaining game of “startup roulette”. If you’ve ever played this game, you know exactly what I mean when I say it’s the most exhilarating, exhausting, rewarding, demanding, damning thing I’ve done. It’s a way of life, that’s for sure! But, when you have a toddler at home and another boy on the way, you really start to re-evaluate things.

That is exactly where my wife and I were this January when I got a call from Bobby Grohmann, a friend and an incredible recruiter at Improving. Bobby asked if I had ever thought about working for The Container Store. “You mean that place that sells shoe boxes and closet… things?”. Yes. That place.

One of the wonderful things about web development is that basically every single company has some sort of budget for it. Just think about this - if a company has a website then they either have software engineers on payroll making that website or they have contracted that work out to some third party. Oh, and just about every single company in the world has a website. This is one of the reasons why I’m so optimistic about software development as a career and web development specifically - it literally pervades every industry.

So when Bobby told me that The Container Store was looking for new software developers I should not have been surprised. “Quentin, trust me, once you check out their place you’ll be convinced.” It turns out I was.

You see, The Container Store is not just some retailer, we are one of the best places to work for in the country. And our software team isn’t just building some eCommerce website (we are also doing that) - but we’ve got our hands on some really amazing stuff. Let’s just say that if you’ve recently completed any of Udacity’s nanodegrees you’d find something to work on here (OK, we’re not building a self-driving car, but the rest of that list is fair game).

I’ve been here for 3 months, and I’m frankly just surprised that a place like this exists. This is Retail?

My prejudice must have been formed somewhere during that hellish ride through startup-land. We’re conditioned to always wanting to be on the sexy project; to be working for a team with the cutting edge technology. It’s just a given that you’re always one month from either bankruptcy or exponential growth, right? I guess somewhere along the way I lost sight of the most important thing: it’s the people you work with, and not the products you make, that lead to your happiness.

The Container Store is all about the people. After my first round of interviews I said to myself, I couldn’t care less about what industry this was, I just want to work each day with these people. Not surprisingly, my team is made up of amazing engineers who fled similar startup pasts looking for some balance to life.

I never thought I’d be working in Retail – but here I am at The Container Store and it’s great. We just welcomed our second child into the world a few weeks ago, and I’m am at the lowest stress levels I’ve been in at least the last 15 years.

To be sure, retail is no cakewalk – many analysts are predicting 2017 to be some sort of apocalypse for retail (already we’ve seen record store closing across the country). Right across the street from our own headquarters is one of several Dallas-area distributions centers for Amazon, a sort of ominous reminder of the challenge facing us. In reality, no industry is sheltered from ups and downs, and The Container Store is positioned as well as any other peer to come out of this challenge improved, so I’m optimistic.

But more importantly, I’m happy.

If you are a software developer stuck in the startup grind, I encourage you to rethink your priorities during your next job search: above all else consider the people you will be working with and let things like industry, technology stack, and product take a back seat to company culture. Ask yourself the most important question: will you be happy working there?

Of course, if you happen to be in the Dallas/Fort-Worth area I cannot recommend The Container Store enough; we are always looking for talented engineers to join our staff; please email me if you have any questions or want to learn more about what we’re building: quentin@qdonnellan.com