To start with let's be frank. Last year when I contemplated joining PayPal it was clear PayPal had long lost its luster as the darling innovator of Silicon Valley. PayPal had changed the face of payments when it came on the scene. And the innovators DNA is evidenced by one of its founders going on to create the first viable electric car and the successor to the Space Shuttle program. To get a fuller look at the innovator DNA of early PayPal, check out the wikipedia article on the PayPal Mafia.
But what I sensed when I joined PayPal last October was a desire to get back to its innovation roots. Back to a desire to innovate again. This desire coupled with a very healthy financial position seemed to me to be a no brainer. I decided to take the chance. So what has happened in the past 10 months? From my perspective three things: New leadership, new way of working and new talent.
New LeadershipHow often do companies the size and age of PayPal get a complete makeover? Not often. But that is just what has been underway here. Take a look at just some of the new leadership in the company:
- David Marcus. President. David came into PayPal a year ago as part of the Zong (mobile payments) acquisition. David is a product, user experience, social & mobile guy at heart. He is passionate about innovation and his motto is GSD (Get sh*t done!). Before PayPal I believe the largest organization he led was 200 people (Zong). He believes in small teams empowered with really smart people working with great business context. I could not be happier than I am working at PayPal with David at the helm.
- James Barrese. James became the CTO of PayPal earlier this year. James brings the challenge to think differently to the technology organization. James also brings a wealth of experience leading technology at eBay with lessons learned from what worked and what didn't.
- Hill Ferguson. Head of Product & Mobile. Hill also joined PayPal through the Zong acquisition. Hill has strong mobile & financial roots and is a passionate leader bringing together all of our product & mobile teams together in a single team.
- Hendrik Kleinsmiede. VP of Global Design (UED). Hendrik joined in January and brings with him a passion to create great experiences by attracting top talent and collaborating deeply with product & engineering. Hendrik & I have a very close working relationship and in our short time have collaborated on bringing LeanUX and Mobile First thinking in as first class citizens of PayPal.
- Kirsten Wolberg. VP Technical Business Office (Project Management). Kirsten believes in Agile approach through & through having led the Salesforce IT org to become agile there. I am working in a team with Kirsten to make working in small teams a reality across PayPal.
- Allen Olivo. Head of Global Marketing. Allen is a luminary in the industry having led Apple during the Steve Jobs transition back in the fold. He has places like Amazon & Yahoo in his past as well. Like the new fresh PayPal look? That is Allen & his team.
This is not an exhaustive list. I am sure I am forgetting to mention someone. I could also make a much longer list of VPs, Sr. Directors and Directors that have joined in the last year bringing fresh perspectives into the company. But I should mention that there are many existing leaders (like my former boss who recruited me) that also have this DNA of change.
New Way of WorkingI have mentioned before that PayPal is in the midst of a transformation from working in silos in a slow waterfall manner to a lean, startup approach. Earlier in the year I had the privilege of helping to kick off a new way of working on a core part of our business. We took lessons from startups and decided that going forward (this was with David's total blessing as well as mandate) we would not work the way we had in the past.
We gathered our designers, our product folks and our engineers and took over a few conference rooms and began to operate like a startup. Design was done on whiteboards and coded in real time. Usability tests were weekly so the pace was fast and furious. But we were able to try dozens of experiences across desktop, tablet and mobile in the time that would have taken years at PayPal before. Build/Test/Learn became our mantra.
To date we have trained several hundred designers, engineers, product, QA, and other employees in Lean UX methodologies. In addition, we are in a huge transformation project bringing more and more of PayPal into this mode of working every day. Currently I am involved in at least 6 new innovation projects all operating like a startup within the company.
You can read about this approach in my presentation on the Lean UI Stack as well as see my cautions for what can go wrong in the presentation Anti-Patterns for LeanUX.
New Technology StackI am really excited about this part of the transformation. For years PayPal's UI has been built on top of XML/XSLT technologies. If you know me you will no doubt have heard me rant violently about how this technology is the bane of good UI engineering. I won't go into it here, but suffice it to say that the only thing worse than XML/XSLT is a proprietary form of XML/XSLT -- which of course is what PayPal was built on (C++ on the backend).
In the last year the company has moved to Java for all new projects. I am very comfortable with Java. In fact since 1996 I have personally built 4 UI frameworks on top of the Java stack. However, I long ago lost my excitement for using Java in any way, shape or form for the experience layer. Typically Java Server Pages (JSP) is the standard Java solution for UIs. And not very surprisingly this is exactly what was in flight when I joined PayPal.
Knowing that Java was an improvement over C++ and JSP was an improvement over XML/XSLT wasn't enough to satisfy my requirement that UI Engineering (UIE) needed to be able to "Bring great design to life quickly". Elsewhere I have written about how the UI layer is actually the experimentation layer. And that you must design for build/test/learn. Which means designing for volatility and throwaway-ability. Iterating in Java and JSPs just didn't cut it based on my experience.
So with the launch of the new "startup" for one of our core businesses we began to experiment with nodejs. Node is an extremely powerful development environment for applications. Many node modules exist to bootstrap an application. And coupled with the right stack on the UI layer we saw it as a winning combination.
We wanted to be able to iterate faster than we could with the JSP stack and we wanted to be able to bring new talent in the door and have them checking in code within the first few days of hiring. In our mind this was only possible by using open source software as much as possible. Here are some of the choices we made at the UI layer:
- Dust JS for our templating. We are partnering with LinkedIn as well as contributing to their fork of the Dust JS code on github. Dust is great because it compiles down to JS and so the same templates can be run in the server as well as in the client (page-oriented vs applications).
- Backbone JS for eventing/model/structure to our applications. Of course underscore JS comes along for the ride.
- Twitter Bootstrap. For our components. Very nice.
- jQuery. Naturally.
- For mobile: jQMobi. Although we are continually re-evaluating choices here.
- Less. For CSS pre-processing.
- Require JS. For module discipline, dependency management, packaging and minification.
However, we were faced with a dilemma. PayPal had invested significantly in the Java layer. It was easy enough to develop with these UI technologies on top of node. But what about the Java/Spring foundation below?
What we did was a rather elegant hack. We added a new ViewResolver in Spring to handle running Dust templates within the Java server stack. We use RhinoScript as the resolver since it is the JS execution engine for the Java VM world.
On the node side, we continued to use it for all of our mockup/prototyping of the actual product. The UI stack sits nicely on top of this node stack. And at anytime we just push the UI portion of the app over to the production Java stack and it runs the same as it did in node. In effect we have made our UI prototyping code be the same as our UI production code.
We continue to investigate the feasibility of using Node in production and working with our PayPal infrastructure team are continuously adding modules to Node to have it operate as a first class citizen in the PayPal environment. In addition, the team has built a node bootstrap that allows you to gen up applications, views, controllers for our node apps -- a lot like the Rails scaffolding.
Another great change internally has been the addition of GitHub to our full enterprise. Nothing like having GitHub as your blessed code repository. All of our node code lives there so the whole org is can make it better.
What has been the result?
- New UI Engineer hired and within 4 hours was checking in code! PayPal record as far as I know.
- "Coding is fun again" -- quote from UIE after working in our new tech stack.
- Spun up half-dozen new projects behaving like startups using the new technology stack with very little training (if you can google it you don't need a week-long class to teach it).
- Innovation is happening. We are seeing high levels of collaboration and continuous build/test/learn cycles happening in multiple teams.
New TalentLast but not least is the talent. I was pleasantly pleased to find good to great talent within PayPal when I joined. Two top engineers at Netflix joined my team and are leading out on a lot of the innovation. The existing members are actually folks I sought out to work for me before and are doing excellent work. I have hired great talent from Yahoo! as well as other places and am looking to deepen the talent further. But I don't want to stop there. I am looking for talent density within my organization and across PayPal.
What about you? If you are a top-flight UIE (frontend engineer, web developer, etc) and it jazzes you to imagine the change we can bring with the resources of PayPal focused correctly, then why not drop me a line. I always have room for top talent. Come help be part of the new PayPal mafia :-)
Contact me now at bill.scott _AT_ paypal.com.