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Jenny McMillen

Wednesday 25th January 2023


This article was originally published on Work With Shop as part of the "Humans of the Shopify Ecosystem" interview series. Work With Shop was a project I started in 2022 and closed in August 2023. However, I wanted to keep the interviews online and have therefore repurposed them here.

Jenny McMillen — Product Manager at Eight

This week we chat with our second Lancastrian Jenny McMillen — Product Manager at Shopify themes and apps-focused company Eight.


General

Q: Where are you right now?

I'm currently at my coworking space in Preston, Lancashire.

Q: Where are you based?

At home, also Preston, Lancashire. I've been a remote worker since 2016 and love it.

Q: When asked, what do you say your job title is?

I work at Eight, a digital product company that currently focuses on Shopify apps and themes. I am the Product Manager for the theme side of the business. Most of the time, I strip that back to "Product Manager for a tech company" to save the blank stares of non-Shopifolk!

Q: Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?

Not really, which I love! We have recently gone a-sync which means I get to move my day around my 2-year-old and other commitments, which makes the days really varied. Also, my tasks can vary from data analysis to planning our next sprint to feedback and sign-off of the team's work to discussing future plans and the Shopify ecosystem with our CEO.

Q: How did you get started in the Shopify ecosystem?

I worked as a designer/front-end dev for an ecommerce company that wanted me to scope out what Shopify was doing right. I was immediately hooked and read every blog post that came out.

Jenny sporting her bear hat at Shopify Support Summit

At the same time, I was planning a temporary move to Vancouver and just happened to see that Shopify was looking for Support Gurus out there. I bagged the job a week before I flew out and worked for Shopify for 6 months which arguably taught me more about Shopify and its merchants than I could have ever taught myself!


Themes

Q: How did you get started in Shopify theme development?

When I came home, I had already picked up a few dev jobs after providing some free advice on a UK Shopify Facebook group. I decided to give freelance a go focusing on Shopify theme work.

I grabbed my old uni job back at Starbucks (of which I managed to only spend 3 months part-time!) and worked on getting my business up and running. Someone raved about an SEO audit I did for them on an Etsy Facebook group, and the rest was history. I never promoted myself once!

Three years later and I was knackered. Those who run their own businesses will know you end up having less free time than you did before (obviously, there are lots of people who know when to say no to work, but I was not one of them!). That's when serendipity stepped in, and I got a LinkedIn message from Spence, the owner of Eight, with an offer to still work on the platform I loved but with an end-of-day and sick pay!

Q: What's the biggest challenge you face in building themes for the Shopify platform?

Good question. I'd say piracy of our intellectual property and changes in the theme store that affect our install rates.

Q: How do you decide which features and improvements should be incorporated into an existing theme?

There are a lot of things we consider; What is trending across ecommerce in general, data from multiple sources, including (link: https://baymard.com/ text: Baymard) for UX best practices, looking at what works and doesn't in our own themes, Shopify user interviews, and the big one is listening to our merchants. What are they asking for that we're not providing…yet. This could be a public review of someone raving about how easy to use the theme is, to multiple requests for a specific feature.

Along with building new features, we continuously try to improve both the flexibility of the theme as well as the usability. As they're so contradictory, it's an incredibly tough challenge, but that's where my happy place is, working the problem using the insights I gained as a Shopify guru and my time working directly with merchants whilst freelancing.

Then it starts to come down to the goals of the company and the management of the team. What are we working towards, and will these ideas help get us there? Do we have the resources to make it happen, and in what time frame?

Q: When it comes to thinking about creating a new feature or theme, where do you start?

I've covered it a bit above, but to summarise, research on the ecommerce industry in general, especially looking at stores that target the same industries our themes do and listening to what our merchants are asking for. We also like to look ahead; what's the next big thing in ecommerce? Conferences are great for that as an insight as to where things are heading.

For new themes, we look to data from Shopify as well as our own awareness of gaps we think exist in the theme store that we could fill. For example, when the lockdown happened, we built Fresh to cater to the food industry that had to quickly pivot to selling online to survive the pandemic.

Q: What does your theme-building and developer collaboration tech stack look like?

  • Custom JS and CSS compile stack to get the performance aspects where we need it, not just on new themes but on our older ones as well
  • We stopped using Themekit and now use the Shopify CLI
  • Github handles all code management across the entire company
  • Github deploys for all demo, testing and development stores

Lessons & Learnings

Q: What's the biggest challenge you face in your business/work today?

The recent changes Shopify have made to the theme store have completely changed the landscape of what we do, so it's adjusting to the new norm and figuring out how we, as a company, want to position ourselves in the new theme store.

Q: How do you get "stuff" done? Are you a proponent of a particular productivity method, or do you prefer a "Post It" note on your monitor?

I have a bit of a reputation in the company for organisation. I'm the type that runs off to-do lists and documents. If someone is looking for something, I'll be able to direct them to a Notion doc that has what they're after as well as 5 other links they may find relevant and a graph of relevant data.

Q: What's the one bit of advice you would give someone starting out in the Shopify ecosystem today?

Make friends. You learn so much from your peers in this industry, and not only is it important to know the latest gossip to help you make calls on your business plan but there is also a bloody lovely community around Shopify with some fascinating folk that will simply inspire you.

Jenny asking a question at A Day with Shopify Birmingham 2017

Q: How do you approach improving your craft, development, leadership etc.?

We're very lucky at Eight to have Personal development days. One day a month, we can pursue anything that may enhance our skillset. I've recently been learning Google's data studio and general product management and plan to look into how I can improve my data collection skills this year. We also do retros after every sprint, which is always insightful to see what the team has enjoyed and what processes have worked or not.

Please share any influential books, blogs, authors etc., that have helped you in your work life.

I love a product psychology book!


Shopify

Q: What's the one missing Shopify feature you wish existed?

A way for themes to be downloaded with all the metafields required. That would just open up the door for flexible and easy-to-use features.

Q: How do you keep up to date on what's new, what's outdated, or those pesky updates that just might break your theme?

Being in the theme store, we do get early notifications on upcoming changes. Occasionally we also asked for input before launch.

We also have the Shopify changelog RSS connected to Slack for all updates, which is really handy for keeping on top of the smaller things that we may not get notified of.

And we're also always ready with a system for quick pivots if needed. Like the time Instagram removed its API. There were a lot of support tickets for a few weeks on that one!


Let's Get Technical

Q: What does your personal tech stack look like?

Keeping it simple with a MacBook Pro, Secondary monitor/desktop at home or iPad at the coworking space, keyboard and Magic mouse (yet to attempt a trackpad!)

I mainly live between Notion (complete fangirl here!), Github/Zenhub, Slack, Figma and a load of Google products (Gmail, Meet, Sheets etc.).

(link: https://todoist.com/ text: Todoist) is my new favourite, and as a dev, I used (link: https://toggl.com/ text: Toggl) a lot to track my time on projects too.

Q: What's in your menu bar?

Q: What about everyday apps that you can't live without?

Q: Do you have any funky/cool hardware or desk accessories you'd recommend?

Considering I'm obsessed with smart tech, my desk is pretty standard. I made my own desk raise, but the coolest thing in my office, in general, is probably my pinboard wall.


And Finally

Q: What do you do for fun and relaxation?

Paddleboarding has always been my go-to for escapism, especially with the Lake District an hour away. I also love a good puzzle; I'm currently doing an escape room in a book.

Paddleboarding on Wast Water in the Lake District

But in all honestly … I have an almost 2 year old. So most of my “spare time” is spent building dens in the living room and drinking imaginary tea.

Q: What was your favourite album/book/magazine/event of 2022?

We had a company in-person meetup in Bristol, which, considering we're a fully remote team with people coming from Australia, it was pretty amazing seeing the people that I talk to on a daily basis in person, many for the first time!

I've also been reading Ask, which I've found very inspirational so far.

Share three of your favourite Shopify stores

  • Lanx — Incredible northern shoe brand that I've seen grow from day dot
  • Mahi Leather — Gorgeous leather bags
  • Spice Kitchen — Sanjay wanted to help his mum with a retirement project, and now they have a plethora of awards
  • Not Another Bunch of Flowers — Founded by Anikka who won her battle with cancer and who's original goal was to improve the options of cancer patient gifts but has now gone way beyond this with the help of our Bundle builder app.

Sorry I couldn't choose between these!

Q: Where can people find out more about you?

I mainly function on Instagram @jennyleidesign but you can find me in a professional capacity on LinkedIn and in the Shopify Partner Slack Community slack channel.


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