Happy holidays, readers! In this installment of Dev Corner, we’re spotlighting a Shippo superhero and all-around wonderful colleague: James Allen Brown. James has been with us for a whopping three years, with humble beginnings as a Support Engineer, building his leadership skills to grow into an Engineering Manager. He brings a wealth of verve, collaboration, and problem-solving skills to the office—and sometimes his playful dog Sadie comes, too (although nowadays, she’ll make an occasional appearance over Zoom).
James and his team play a key role in Shippo’s mission to bridge the distance between businesses and their customers. We sat down with him (virtually, of course) to hear about his journey and how his team is fueling those endeavors.
Congrats on a big three years at Shippo, James! How are you feeling now that you’ve hit this milestone?
When I look back and think about where I was three years ago and where Shippo was, I can’t help but feel humbled to have been part of the journey. As a team, we now have so many stories of personal growth and development, and I feel honored to have contributed my small part.
How has the company changed during your time here?
We’ve grown up quite a bit. And, not just in terms of headcount, but in maturity as well. In my early days, we definitely had that early stage startup vibe, where we had to push forward non-stop. Today, we’re fortunate enough to be able to take a step back, look at where we want to go, and take the time to make the correct decisions to get us there. We still have that startup vibe, but our footing is strong—making us less likely to trip along the way.
Today, you are an Engineering Manager for the Carriers Team. What can you tell us about the team?
It’s arguably the best team at Shippo! (I could be just a tiny bit biased, though.) Our team is responsible for one of the core foundational aspects at Shippo—the carrier network. Our carrier network allows our users to connect to the best possible shipping options for their business needs. In this landscape, the ground is constantly shifting, so we try our best to ensure the network is completely seamless for our users. Including our PMs, we’ve grown from a team of two to a team of eleven during my time here. Every single day, I’m constantly astounded by how lucky I am to work with such a smart and talented group of people.
How did your role evolve from being a Support Engineer to an Engineering Manager?
For a while, I was the sole Support Engineer at Shippo. In that role, I had to learn fast, wear many hats, and listen to the needs of our customers while also balancing the needs of our engineering team. Then, I transitioned into an Engineering Manager role where I carried more responsibilities and developed some leadership skills.
When I moved into the role, I carried those values and experiences with me. As an Engineering Manager, you have to become an expert in a primary aspect of the business. Your role then becomes one that supports the team itself. You must weigh internal and external stakeholder directives, and deliver projects on time. Ideally, this has to be done in a way that promotes the internal growth of the team, and of course, makes our customers happy.
What do you enjoy the most about being an Engineering Manager?
I most enjoy seeing the growth of my team firsthand. For a few of us, this was our first job in tech. I can sit down with my team members one on one, and look back at where they were three, six, and twelve months ago. In every case, the story is clear; it’s so amazing and rewarding seeing how far they have come, and how far they can go.
What does being a leader mean to you?
A leader is someone who you can count on. Through the highs and lows, they will be there to support you in whatever capacity they can. I would say a leader’s job isn’t to tell you what to do and make sure you do it. It’s to listen and learn and guide team members through their own processes. You must be their advocate. This may mean being their voice and giving them the opportunities to reach their full potential. Feedback is crucial, as growth often comes from overcoming challenges.
I’ve now stepped into a manager role for the team for the first time and carry with me the experiences and lessons from my highs and lows, mistakes, and successes from my previous roles. I couldn’t be more fortunate than to lead this team today.
What has been challenging for the team this year?
Like all companies in the Bay Area, shifting to an entirely remote work environment brought in some challenges. We didn’t want to lose the “closeness” we had as a team in the office, but also wanted to give everyone space to develop their own working style. Today, I think we’ve hit a good stride. I think it’s fair to say that our ability to be effective communicators has increased greatly.
Shippo just opened its Austin office. What does that mean for you?
Shippo Austin! I am beyond excited about the Austin expansion. This will mean that there will be an element of remote-work collaboration for the foreseeable future. Our team is really excited to see what the Austin office will bring.
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