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Shopify VP of Engineering Farhan Thawar: ‘Follow the smart people and the hard problems’

As part of our Breakthrough Builders podcast series, our VP of Tech Jesse Purewal chats with Shopify VP of Engineering Farhan Thawar on why you only need 15 minutes with a candidate to make a hiring decision, and the one thing you should optimize at the expense of all others...

Listen to the complete podcast episode of Breakthrough Builders with Farhan Thawar.

Early reflections

Farhan Thawar’s introversion as a child did not foretell a future of founding, growing, selling, and advising start-ups as a luminary of Toronto’s burgeoning tech scene.

Nor did it predict his later penchant for community building. But perhaps it was his practice of solitary, deep thinking that produced his unique perspectives on life and work, and allowed him to take a brave, creative, non-linear path to create impact.

Behind the breakthroughs

“In 2015, there was this guy in Toronto named Daniel Debow, a serial entrepreneur,” says Farhan. “I wanted to work with him, and the only way to work with him was to join his startup. Even though I have three kids and a mortgage and my wife was not working at the time, I decided to quit my job, take zero salary and actually write a check to the company so we could hire people and rent a space.

“I felt the riskiest thing was to not be learning at the fastest rate possible. And the only way to do that was for me to work with Daniel.”

This is just one example of Farhan’s non-conventional take on big career and personal decisions. Quit a stable job to pursue a risky opportunity where the only guarantee is accelerated learning? Absolutely. Take a fresh-out-of-university salary after 10-plus years in the industry, just for the chance to learn? Yes. No question.

Learning to infinity

Farhan applies this lens with a non-typical approach to networking as well. “I hear this all the time: ‘I need to find a new job. I'm going to start networking. Who should I meet?’

“That's not how it works. You have to be doing it all the time. I think what most people would think of as community building, I look at as learning. So when someone reaches out to me, I flip it around and think, what can I learn from this person?”

To Farhan, the rationale for networking is not the possibility of a new job opportunity but the certainty of learning something new. And regardless of career stage this is always a worthwhile investment. This view has allowed Farhan to become a sought-after resource and advisor in Toronto’s tech community, and opened doors to numerous opportunities including his current position in one of tech’s hottest brands.

Farhan summarizes his decision-making process with the maxim “follow the smart people and the hard problems”.

His commitment to questioning traditional decision frameworks has powered a remarkable career path crammed full of discovery and impact.

Farhan has deliberately worked to challenge conventional thinking throughout 20 years in tech. Listen to him chat with our Chief Industry Advisor, Tech, Media & Telecom, Jesse Purewal in a recent episode of our Breakthrough Builders podcast.

Breakthrough Builders is about people whose passions, perspectives, instincts, and ideas fuel some of the world’s most amazing products, brands, and experiences. It’s a tribute to those who have the audacity to imagine – and the persistence to build – breakthroughs.

Listen to the full conversation with Farhan