2.7 Years Engineering — Etsy

A short story of my experience working as a software engineer for ~2.7 years at Etsy.

Chuma S. Okoro
9 min readJan 25, 2022

June 4th, 2019 — January 26th, 2022

In interactions with strangers, clients, peers: I often receive questions about what it’s like to work as a Software Engineer. In this blog post, I’ll be discussing the following topics:

  • how I got into Etsy
  • insight onto my experience
  • my achievements/takeaways

Landing the job

I first applied to work at Etsy in September of 2018, almost a year before I would graduate from Brooklyn College in Computer Science. I got the rejection shortly after that 😭.

Rejection letter from Etsy

When I saw that, I had a brief feeling of self doubt and imposter syndrome. It was short lived because I kept networking, applying to new positions, and trying to secure another internship or full time role with other companies. I had finally landed a “winternship” with Justworks that I was able to do during my final semester at BC. During that program, I kept my technical skills in shape and continued preparing for interviews(project work at Justworks + data structures/algorithms). In February of 2019, towards the end of my “winternship”, I received a pleasant surprise via email from Etsy. They invited me to complete a HackerRank coding challenge to begin the interview process(for the role I was rejected on the year before).

After that, the interview experience was pretty standard. After the coding challenge I had one interview with a recruiter(👋🏾 Sarah), 2–3 technical interviews on site with engineers, 1 conversational with an engineer, then another short meeting with the recruiter. Maybe a week or less later, I received a call from the recruiter offering me the full stack position on product engineering 🙏🏾 . On this call, she presented a different opportunity: working as an API engineer to support the Buy on Etsy mobile app. This sounded like an exciting opportunity, so I elected to do another interview call with the engineering manager for the team at the time. We hit it off and ended up getting some lunch in the Brooklyn Etsy office area(Dumbo) to meet in person( 👋🏾 PJ). I was sold on Etsy after the interview process, the people, and the office/location.

Year 1 of Etsy

My first day of work at Etsy was June 4th, 2019: just 4 days after graduation 😅 . The onboarding experience was very helpful and engaging. We had a buddy system where I had a coworker to ask questions about configuration, process, and tickets for the first few weeks. One thing I really enjoyed was that there was already a code lab for new employees. This allowed for an interactive way to understand the Etsy code base as well as an easy jumping off point to get into real production work.

CAS Prep x Etsy 2019

While getting started on the technical side, I began looking for ways to make impact outside of my team. Prior to working at Etsy, I worked with this organization Creative Achievement Success Prep (CAS Prep). It is an enrichment program that focuses on preparing 7th and 8th grade students from disadvantaged communities for the specialized high school exams in NYC(SHSAT’s). Although I went to one of these schools(Brooklyn Tech), I didn’t really have much knowledge on what careers existed in the technology space and didn’t optimize my time in high school and the beginning of college. Because of that, when I started at Etsy I wanted to help some of those students gain that knowledge early. After speaking with the president of CAS Prep and my manager at Etsy, they were both on board to work together on this effort. So ~1 month into working at Etsy with the help of fellow Etsy admin, I led a program to bring these students to the Etsy headquarters in Dumbo. We presented a high level presentation of a few careers in tech with fun activities, gave them a tour of the office, and showed them the Etsy hospitality by giving them lunch via Eatsy(Etsy’s lunch program). This program went on to run 3 times annually from 2019–2021 and even adapted virtually due to Covid.

Afrotech 2019

In addition to this the CAS Prep effort, I also joined the black employee resource group at Etsy(BridgE). In order to make an impact, I joined the communication committee. There I was able to contribute to the BridgE member news section in the newsletter and even automated to news acquisition process by leveraging Google Forms to collect news from the group. I was even able to go to the Bay Area in California to help recruit black engineers at AfroTech!

All the while, things are heating up with my main job function. I began contributing to the codebase very soon after my onboarding. This meant individually delivering scoped out features, scoping out small projects(spike), and even completing the android codelab(which led to me contributing in that codebase too). Some of my stand out projects include Quick Delivery on listings(app), Auto Save for Later(app) with caching optimization, and the Carbon Emission Signal in cart. All of this led to me getting put up for promotion by my manager by the end of 2019 which was turned down due to time in role.

Year 2 of Etsy

In 2020, I came back from the holidays prepared to have a breakout year with respect to my career. My team pivoted to focus on different spaces in the mobile app which would give me the opportunity to expand my breadth of experience with different API’s on the app. In addition, there were a few moves with engineers on the API side which would create more opportunities to lead and take on bigger projects. On my team, 2 of the senior engineers pivoted to work on a big refactor project. In addition the 3rd and last senior engineer on the API side for my team got an opportunity to work on the Sell on Etsy(SOE) app. This left me as the last API engineer on my team to work on new product features. I had a bit of anxiety with this, but I was also excited for the challenge and opportunity to show my technical chops.

Due to the changes on the API side of the team, we needed to onboard some folks to help with product work for the year. This gave me the opportunity to help interview 2 contractors which we ended up hiring. In addition, I helped onboard and ramp 2 other engineers to our team 1 on the API side and 1 on the iOS side.

On the technical side I was able to take on a plethora of project leads. Many of these ended up becoming very successful for Etsy and core components of the mobile app. This included the Recommendations on Top Taxonomies project on the homescreen, Create a collection from multiple listings, Collection Recommendations, the homescreen banners for the holidays, and the Review Module on the homescreen(I didn’t create this, but the folks who did repurposed some generic code I wrote for a failed experiment). Not only did my technical abilities grow rapidly through all these projects, but I made bounds in my transferable skills. I learned how to plan projects effectively, collaborate effectively with cross-functional groups, and deal with setbacks. This ultimately led to my promotion from IC1 to IC2.

Chuma’s title change on Linkedin

Year 2+ of Etsy

In year 2+ at Etsy, I was really focused on finding my niche(technically) and getting depth in it. Something I saw about high level engineers was that although they may have had a wide array of technical skills, they had 1 thing that they were “masters” in. Having worked on a few recommendation projects, I knew I found that space very interesting. In addition, I had done an Artificial Intelligence class at Georgia Tech towards the end of 2020 which taught me a lot about the Machine Learning and AI space. I decided that I wanted to pursue that as my niche, outside the classroom.

In my regular 1 on 1’s with my manager, I had expressed this to him and asked for opportunities to work on these types of projects on a possible rotation. Fortunately for me, my manager was able to over deliver and got me working on one of the most impactful projects in my Etsy tenure. With the Updates Reranking project, my team wanted to use the ML platform to rerank a users in app updates based on what was most impactful to the user(a novel concept to Etsy). Normally the way a product team would achieve something like this would be to reach out to an ML team, get the work prioritized by them, and integrate it whenever the work was complete by them. Our team wanted to get this done on a faster horizon and since we had an engineer interested in doing that work(me), we could try doing the work ourself. This was a very new concept at Etsy to have a product engineer pivot to the ML system for a single project to contribute there.

With this large project, I was responsible for several things:

  • creating an implicit feedback job to inform our scientists on what actions users take from the updates tab
  • creating an update features job to inform our scientists on information about our various update types
  • creating a DAG to automate these jobs with Apache Airflow
  • creating the endpoint for our apps api’s to give a users update feed and get scores in return
  • observability, testing, iteration, and documentation for all of the above
  • collaborating closely with the scientists working on the ML model to make sure the data I’m giving them is optimal

To do all of this, I started out by adding the Scala programming language to my tool belt. I added a couple of articles along the path that you can check out. Then I had some regular one on ones with a fellow engineer that was working on the same path. Lastly, I made sure to ask tons of questions and keep in constant communication with the people who were most experienced in all of the spaces that I was working in.

Updates Reranking Called out in Earnings Call

After this long and strenuous project finally got into experimentation it failed 😨. But I wasn’t done and I refused to accept that it wasn’t successful. I worked closely with my product manager to ideate on why and figure out what we could do to get it accepted by Etsy customers. With a few technical tweaks on presentation and about 3 experiments later, Updates Reranking was wildly successful. It led to an increase in update taps, 30 day repeat purchase rate, and conversion. The project was even called out in Etsy’s earnings call with investors.

In addition to my work with updates reranking, I had a few other achievements in my last year at Etsy.

  • I mentored an IC1 engineer via Etsy’s mentorship program and helped her navigate difficult conversations with her manager
  • Led the Recently Favorited Coupon update project which integrated a novel marketing technology in the updates feed. The project was also very successful and was called out in Etsy’s earning call with investors.
  • Completed a system design for the new Item Back in Stock update. This led to us leveraging another novel technology for capturing data changes in our databases for fast and accurate updates. I also created a novel unit testing solution for the pipelines created in this codebase.

All of this led to my manager putting my up for promotion again so I could become an IC3.1 at Etsy in 2022.

Alas, it’s time for me to move on from Etsy. I have been given opportunity after opportunity to not only grow my talents, but exhibit it. From fellow engineers to management, the people I’ve had the opportunity to interact with have been wonderful. The biggest takeaways from Etsy will be the technical experiences working on interesting yet challenging projects, a network of smart/talented individuals, and the code as craft culture. All this being said, I’m excited for what the future holds.

— If you found this article interesting or helpful, please do me a favor and share it with a few people in your network 😁.



Chuma S. Okoro

Sr. Software Engineer @ Bloomberg. I love talking about technology and business. Every article has my opinion backed by my experience, education, and research.