Talking tech: Why these 3 companies are more technical than you might think

by Liz Warren
January 25, 2018

It’s an unfortunate reality that many e-commerce and digital media startups don’t get the technical recognition they deserve. Unless they come from a technical background, users don’t typically notice the intricacies of the platform they’re using. That’s the case for the following startups, which are powered by tech teams of 25-70 employees. Here’s what it’s like to be on some of those teams.


Image via tpt

Teachers Pay Teachers is a platform that helps educators find essential resources, collaboration and inspiration. Resources can range anywhere from lesson plans to full curiculums. Made up of 40 engineers, the company’s tech team is a strong force that keeps the platform innovative and functional. Software Engineer Abhi Pillai told us what goes on behind the scenes.

What tech stack do you use, and why did you choose that one?

Our main codebase consists of a React/Redux/Apollo frontend and a graphQL API built in Elixir, which we chose so we could innovate quickly. The declarative and component-driven nature of React allows us to write reusable and maintainable code that consistently pays dividends when building new features. The same goes for graphQL and the functional way of Elixir.

Also, we're currently managing our AWS infrastructure with Terraform and our servers with Chef. All of our newer services are deployed in Docker containers and managed by Kubernetes.

What are the tech team’s major responsibilities?

My team is building TpT for Schools, a new experience where teachers and administrators at a particular school can collaborate to choose the best curriculum for their students. Instead of dipping into their own wallets to buy resources, teachers can now leverage school funds to access more of the battle-tested, teacher-created tools. We’re pushing the boundaries of our tech stack to build a great product in a way that balances the speed of delivery in both the short-term and long-term. This includes code reviews, pairing, automated testing, A/B testing, proper monitoring/alerting and establishing best practices that level up the engineering organization as a whole.

How does tech help drive your business forward?

Technology is core to our business. We have more than two out of three U.S. teachers relying on our website and mobile app to find exactly what they need to meet ever-evolving student and classroom needs. Plus, for a lot of our educators that sell resources on TpT, our website is a significant part of their livelihood. This year and in the coming years, it is essential that we continue to innovate on our platform, with new initiatives like TpT for Schools and digital teaching resources. All the while, we must keep a laser focus on our mission: to empower educators to teach at their best.


image via harry's

Men’s grooming brand Harry’s doesn’t immediately scream “tech,” but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes at this subscription-based e-commerce site. VP of Engineering Christina Wick explained the team’s responsibilities and told us what it’s like to be on a tech team that’s 25-employees strong.

What tech stack do you use, and why did you choose that one? is built on Ruby on Rails, which we chose out of expediency shortly before the company launched. As we’ve grown, our needs to scale and provide new functionality have evolved. We’ve re-written our order processing and fulfillment code as a Scala service (Scala’s immutability and strong type safety make it a good fit for API-driven backend services) and moving our frontend to React.

What are the tech team’s major responsibilities?

We build and run a custom e-commerce platform that drives the direct-to-consumer experience on mobile and web, internationally. We are responsible for the technology that supports everything from delivering the content of the site itself, to supporting the user throughout the checkout process, to order processing and warehouse integration and more.

How does tech help drive your business forward?

The power of running a custom platform combines well with our vertically integrated direct-to-consumer business model. We have a close relationship with our customers that feeds back into how we build and improve versions of our product and the capability to iterate relatively fast on our products and digital experience. Harry's has also invested in data and analytics from the beginning so we can make informed decisions and improvements to all of our offerings based on our customers’ needs.


image via dotdash

Dotdash is a digital publisher that’s made up of six brands: Verywell, The Spruce, The Balance, Lifewire, ThoughtCo, and TripSavvy. It delivers tailored content that entertains, educates and inspires readers. CTO Nabil Ahmad leads a team of 70 who work behind the scenes to keep the site vibrant and user-friendly.

What tech stack do you use, and why did you choose that one? 

We’ve coalesced around Java, Javascript, and Python as our primary languages, though each engineering team/application generally has its own stack based on the purpose/needs of the application.

Our websites are all built using a custom Java framework that is optimized for performance and reusability. Our high availability/high load web services are also written on a custom Java stack, while the rest are written in Python running on AWS Lambda. Our CMS is built using NodeJS/Express/Angular. We also have other apps using Python/Django and NodeJS.

What are the tech team’s major responsibilities?

Our team is responsible for all of our technology infrastructure. That includes our consumer facing websites, custom CMS, web services, data systems and data lake, automated testing platforms, internal tools, and our hosting and deployment infrastructure.

How does tech help drive your business forward?

Given that our products are our websites, tech is core to our success as a company. Beyond helping innovate on our websites, our tech team builds the systems that we use to derive insights from the data that drives our decisions, tools that enable our writers and editors to present their content in compelling ways, and infrastructure that allows us to try new things expediently.


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