Platformization is technical, high-level work. But that doesn’t mean any talented developer can learn it like they would, say, a programming language. In fact, this kind of work is hardly about the technical details at all.
When Dan Bar-Shalom joined Wix, he became the second member of a two-man team. Together with his colleague Itai Chejanovsky, he had to organize an entire company of developers to work towards one, common goal - unifying code.
This was not so much a job for a technician, but a distinctly human endeavor. It was about listening to developers, making their lives easier, and helping them work better together.
In this episode, we’ll learn what it’s like to work in platformization. But more so than that, we’ll learn how to work with developers. Platformization may be a niche line of work, but getting people to work together is crucial to any team, and any company.
INTRO TO DAN AND ITAI
Dan Bar Shalom is a programmer of twenty years. He worked in a few companies, and in one of them - LivePerson - he came across a developer he really liked.
So I’m Itai.
Itai: So when I came to LivePerson before I was at Wix, Dan was one of the interviewers and I found him to be very inspirational. It's like an interview that, when I finished it, I went home inspired and said, "I want to work at this company." And Dan was one of the reasons.
Dan: I actually interviewed him there and recruited him not to my own team but got him to the company and I really liked working with him. He’s a very brilliant guy and very – I really liked working with him.
It was love at first code--two developers swiping right on working with each other. But they were on different teams and, soon, their paths diverged.
Itai: I joined Wix about four years ago. I joined the platformization team as its first architect, and I was set to actually start the whole process of platformization in Wix.
If what Itai just said doesn’t make sense to you, it’s understandable. The word he used--“platformization”--is made-up. Not a real term. And it’s kind of fitting that Itai’s job title is gibberish, because the work he does is pretty unusual, too.
INTRO TO PLATFORMIZATION
To understand what “platformization” means, we first must understand that Wix is organized a bit differently from most companies.
Most corporations have a centralized command structure--one CEO, one executive board, a defined chain of command. Within that structure there may be divisions dedicated to different sectors--maybe a marketing division, an R&D division, and so on.
At Wix, what you’d normally think of as a division of the company operates, rather, as its own company.
Dan: The organization structure of Wix is actually many companies. Each product, you can call it a company, like e-commerce and bookings, et cetera. Each one is a company. And all of them were pretty much independent.
Each “company” at Wix is related to the others, but operates with a great deal of autonomy.
Dan: And that has worked pretty well because it allowed each company to move quickly without creating any dependencies between companies. So each one had their own product and their own R and D and everything.
Each one decided, basically, what they’re going to do and how they move. So that was the good part and it worked well as long as the company was small enough.
Imagine a team of six developers, working on a new software product.
If everyone works around the same table, in one room, you’re bound to have great collaboration, with ideas bouncing off the walls and each person helping one another. But you might get less work done when everyone’s hanging out. Two or three people talking about one thing might distract the others trying to work on their own thing.
You could put each developer in a separate room, and they’ll be highly productive. With quiet, no distractions, and no worrying about who’s looking over their shoulder, you’ll get some amazing work done in little time. But you lose some element of collaboration in the process. Each team member knows less about what the others are doing, and things which could’ve been hashed out in an argument, instead, go unsaid, and the remnants of that lack of communication make their way into the code.
Dan: The cost of this became pretty high because you realize that each company needs the same set of things. So they all need billing and they all need things like coupons and checkout and chat and other things, and because of this independence, each one of them developed it independently.
So it’s – for one thing, it creates duplication of efforts, so a waste of people’s time. And it creates inconsistencies in how the product looks and works.
When Wix was a small organization, dealing with each company’s idiosyncrasies wasn’t too big of an issue. But as the company grew, the issue compounded itself. Wix was like a minivan with a tractor’s engine, bicycle wheels and a clown car horn.
Dan: So our customers, they don’t really care about how the company structure is. They care about the customer experience. So for them, if they have two different billing systems or two different checkout experiences for their users, this is really bad.
This brings us to “platformization.”
Dan: So that’s a made-up word in Wix for, I think, the process or the overall move from let’s say one big mass of custom integrations between services to something more organized and, you know, a platform that looks coherent from outside and people can use it and understand how it works and understand the mechanisms and the different methods to use it.
Now you understand what Itai moved to Wix four years ago to do. And why doing it probably wasn’t going to be easy.
Itai: So the first part was defining how we want to tackle platformization in the system. After that, what we started doing is reviewing APIs with the different companies. So at that point I was reviewing like tens of APIs alone, by myself, which wasn't really scalable.
Itai was trying to do platformization for an entire corporation, across many companies, basically on his own.
Itai: So it was a tough time.
DAN AND ITAI RECONNECT
Meanwhile, Dan Bar Shalom was still finding his way in the startup space, with varying degrees of success.
Dan: After a few years, after I left the two start-ups, I was looking for a job.
Dan was told about a job opening at Wix. For platformization.
Dan: I think they were looking for maybe a few months or even maybe six months. It is very hard to find someone for this position.
And it’s pretty hard to recruit someone because, on one hand, you need very experienced people that can overlook the different aspects of the system and connect the dots on a very wide range of technologies and products and on the other hand, it’s kind of you’re not managing anyone. You’re not owning any specific system in production. So it’s very hard to find someone for that position.
He was hesitant about leaving startups and going back to a big company.
Dan: But I knew Itai was working there. So I just texted him and asked him if he knew anything about this position. And funny enough, he tells me, “You’re looking at it for yourself? I’m the one recruiting for that”. So we ended up pretty quickly, really - like 5 minutes after the HR call me and, maybe, a week later I get an offer. And I was very happy to take that opportunity.
Itai: I interviewed quite a lot of architects and it's very hard to find an architect that also sees high-level visions and is very good at APIs and sees the details and has enough experience to actually come into that place and be able to talk to people about the complexities and get them on board with the vision.
I knew from past experience of working with him that Dan had the skills that we needed. He was able to see visions of complete systems. He was very thorough, meticulous, and well-groomed on APIs.
It was really a blessing getting the notice from him that it was a possibility for him that he might join us.
After years apart, Dan and Itai teamed up again to run platformization at Wix. Now the team responsible for organizing an entire multinational corporation had...two employees.
Hey, it’s an improvement.