Xero recently began an ambitious push to expand in the United States from its headquarters in New Zealand. Though scaling always comes with challenges, it also means more opportunities for internal promotions and the chance to onboard a range of people from many different disciplines.
At the heart of Xero’s expansion plans is the newly-created engineering team in Denver. Rapid expansion requires Xero’s engineers to spend a little extra time getting to know the rest of the team, as well as learning everything about the product domain and customers. The team’s long-term mission to create exceptional software for accountants and bookkeepers is still a priority.
We spoke with four team members to learn how the scaling process is going.
EMPLOYEES: 2,000 globally, 375 nationally and 155 locally
WHAT THEY DO: Xero is a public software company that offers a cloud-based accounting software platform for small- and medium-sized businesses.
WHERE THEY DO IT: Denver
NOTABLE PERKS: Generous PTO and weekly in-office breakfast and lunch.
BUILDING BRIDGES: The sales team at Xero builds partnerships from the inside out. Learn more.
Rob Brown, Senior Software Engineer
Rob’s responsibilities include maintaining the current Workpapers product while creating and executing a plan for what the future of the product will look like.
BEYOND WORK: Rob enjoys landscape photography because it teaches him patience and how to work with what he has presented to him.
What problems are you solving with technology?
We are solving the problem of compliance for our accounting partners. Our partners all have their own way of handling compliance, so building a solution that works for all of our users is a challenge. We are solving this by building a cloud solution that is customizable enough to allow for all of our partners’ different calculations but is simple enough to drop into their existing workflow.
Is there anything special about the processes this team uses?
We really value video meetings. Since we are distributed all around the globe, we don’t always get a lot of face time with people on our team or with the teams that we collaborate with. Because of this, we always try to use video when we have any meetings as it helps us get to know each other better since we can pick up on things that voice alone might not convey.
I take a lot of pride in being able to look at a feature or piece of software and know that I helped create it and see the impact that it has on our users."
If you look at your to-do list, what is one thing you love doing?
I love to solve problems and really enjoy helping to make someone else’s process easier. I take a lot of pride in being able to look at a feature or piece of software and know that I helped create it and see the impact that it has on our users.
Malcolm Gibb, Product Manager
From Xero's office in New Zealand, Malcolm works with internal and external stakeholders to translate market requirements into executable user stories and designs. He also manages prioritization and trade-offs among conflicting business priorities.
BEYOND WORK: Malcolm’s three sons keep him busy, but he loves playing video games with them.
Describe your discovery process. How do you find out what your customers want from your products?
We are lucky to have many sources of input for feature ideas and problems to solve from our customers. These include product advisory groups in each region, Facebook groups, an online Xero community and lots of current and ex-accountants who work at Xero or accounting firms. I enjoy jumping on a call to get their feedback, whether it’s brutal or positive.
In other cases, we use metrics from within our products to see how our customers are already using our existing applications.
What do you do the day of a product launch?
When I started at Xero just over four years ago, a release was like a rocket launch. It involved a Herculean cross-team effort, and everybody was a little bit terrified that there were going to be problems since it was a horrifically manual process that had too many steps.
Today is very different. We have learned a lot about continuous delivery and are able to push changes to production with far more ease, frequency and, most importantly, confidence. Nowadays it’s possible to concentrate on celebrating the wins for our customers and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.
We have learned a lot about continuous delivery and are able to push changes to production with far more ease, frequency and, most importantly, confidence."
What kind of candidate would you like to join your team?
An ideal candidate would be someone who does not take themselves too seriously. Someone who can have fun but can also work with the team to achieve great things. Someone who is keen to understand the value we deliver and challenge both themselves and those they work within a positive and engaging manner. Ownership is important, as is not being afraid to jump in and try new things.
Joe Nelson, Senior Software Engineer
Joe primarily works on Workpapers, a compliance workflow and documentation management solution.
BEYOND WORK: Joe spends his weekends basking in the blue skies by skydiving.
Do employees set goals and have incentives to meet those goals?
At Xero, we love data and we collect all sorts of metrics. Teams are generally responsible for defining the metrics that matter to them and work with each other and their leadership team to evaluate results regularly. As far as incentives go, we tend to be very driven people — we want to improve personally, and we want to be part of the company’s success. We do have a long-term incentive program that awards stock to employees as part of their compensation. Either way, we all have skin in the game.
Did this job turn out to be what you expected it to be?
It did — and more. Xero did a great job explaining the product and technology side of things during the interview process, so there weren’t any surprises there. What I did find surprising was how much the people at Xero truly do embody the company’s core values. We use Slack to communicate a lot, and we have a custom emoji for each of our values. People feel comfortable speaking up and collaborating in part because it’s so easy for others to be supportive and reinforce the value portrayed in a message with a simple emoji reaction.
People feel comfortable speaking up and collaborating in part because it’s so easy for others to be supportive."
What are your goals for your team?
I strive to help create and foster an environment where everyone has opportunities to grow along multiple axes. It’s obviously important for us to keep our engineering skills sharp, but I also believe it’s hugely important for engineers to attain a deep understanding of their product domain. That knowledge is what enables those random sparks of creativity. It makes conversations about our products richer and more efficient, and it allows us to experience true empathy for the people who rely on the work we do. I believe these are all necessary to create something exceptional.
Melissa Bonds, Software Engineer
Melissa writes code and helps with the continuous integration and deployment pipeline.
BEYOND WORK: Melissa currently spends her free time working on her capstone project to complete her bachelor’s degree in computer science.
What initially drew you to Xero?
I liked the tech stack in the job posting and thought I would be a good fit. What really cemented it for me was meeting the people that worked here. During the interview process, I felt there were people who would make me a better developer and they were all very easy to talk to. And, since headquarters are in New Zealand, I’m hoping for an excuse to visit.
Describe your company’s approach to training engineers.
We have continuous training, PluralSight access and a mentorship program. There is an actual career progression roadmap for developers, so you know what you need to do to get to the next level. There is a professional development budget, and not just an assurance that we do that. You can find all the specifics easily — I’ve been here less than a month and I know all the details.
There is an actual career progression roadmap for developers, so you know what you need to do to get to the next level."
What are you most looking forward to working on or solving with this team?
I’m looking forward to our redesign of the WorkPapers product. We get to start a brand new greenfield solution for it, and we have some of our New Zealand team coming over so we can all collaborate on the design. Solving all the integrations that need to take place will be the most challenging, but I think it will be fun.