Q&A with Giulia Greco, head of localization at Shopify

By Acclaro
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Q&A with Giulia Greco Head of Localization at Shopify

Giulia Greco is an industry expert who leads localization at Shopify. In 2022, Giulia joined us as a panelist at an online LocLife event. In this interview, we ask Giulia about her new position, the role of localization at Shopify, a typical day at her job and more.

Tell us about your role at Shopify?

I’m the Head of Localization at Shopify. Until recently, I was the Localization Programs Lead and the person in charge of Vendor Management. My manager recently left Shopify and I’m taking over his role right when we are merging with another localization team (we used to be fragmented into 3-4 teams doing loc at Shopify. We are now centralizing). 

So my role is to head localization and take these teams through the change and transformation necessary to become one big central team serving the entire company. This will allow us to be more efficient, less siloed, and to have better, more seamless, easier-to-understand processes, systems, workflows, and tools. 

It also gives us better leverage when negotiating with vendors! And last but not least, it provides growth and career opportunities for everyone on the team, as folks can now venture into a different area than what they were normally assigned to. 

What role does localization play for Shopify?

It is a growth and enablement engine. Thanks to localization, we grow our numbers and enable our merchants and partners to use our products and services in their own language. It’s no longer a “nice to have”; it’s a must, and the company understands and embraces this. We are very lucky in that respect. 

Tell us about your team?

My current team comprises several Localization Program/Project managers and Global enablement managers, two technical program managers, a vendor manager, a terminologist and a couple of people managers besides myself. Everyone is remote and scattered between North America and Europe in different locations, although there are several of us in Toronto, Canada. 

It’s a great group of people; it’s honestly the best team I’ve ever been on. We have so much fun. And needless to say, almost everyone has an accent because our mother tongue is not English. We are an incredibly diverse group with representation in several dimensions. 

For your team, how was 2022 different from 2021?

It was a crazy year. First of all, at the end of 2021 into 2022, we could still hire for many roles, so more than half of our team joined in 2022. That means we have spent a great deal onboarding, training and teaching, which initially slows you down. 

At the same time… work didn’t slow down until the second half of the year, so we were flying a mile a minute with a ton of new people who couldn’t move fully independently yet. We managed, but it was intense! June was our busiest month with some high-volume, high-profile launches that required all hands on deck and a crazy pace… and just as we were celebrating the success of said launches and breathing a bit because it was summertime, Shopify had to cut 10% of our colleagues. 

The layoffs in July affected the other branch of our team – folks that weren’t doing localization but were in-region and were managing intl content marketing. They were our closest stakeholders and partners, our ears and eyes on the ground. 

Some of them had started with me years ago, so we were also friends. It was a big blow, personally and emotionally, at team and company levels. Losing them also broke some of our best, most established processes and ways of working and required a significant effort to figure out a new way forward that relies more on vendors instead of internal resources. 

Everything slowed down after the layoffs, and while the pace is picking up again, I do notice that things are a bit slower than they used to be. I want to say that 2022 compared to 2021 was characterized by constant change and a high level of pervasive anxiety overall. We had a lot of wins but also many losses and hard truths to contend with.  

At the same time, looking at the bright side of life, it was also a year when we could come together in real life a few times, which was lovely. It is so important to spend time in person every now and then. Working from home has many positive aspects, but nothing beats breaking bread together. 

How do you expect 2023 to be different from 2022?

2023 will be a crucial year because we will centralize the localization function for the entire company and end the fragmentation we have had so far. Four years ago, it may have made sense to have a loc team for Growth/Marketing, one for Product, and another for Support. It no longer does. 

We can go further if we travel together, so to speak. We need to combine our teams, look at our processes, look at our tech stack, figure out redundancies and duplication of efforts, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and start harmonizing. It’s a massive transformation but one that I’m excited to tackle. I’ve been wanting and pushing for this for years… Now it’s finally here! I need to see it through and am honored to lead the team through this change. 

Describe an accomplishment that you’re most proud of?

I’m proud of all the launches that go well without much fanfare, meaning: the launches may get celebrated and sometimes even covered by the media in English, but nobody ever mentions the international aspect of it, the fact that they happened simultaneously across several languages/markets, and that… is a win. 

You know what they say, people talk about translations only when they are wrong, so I take that as a great accomplishment! And I know how much sweat and tears many of those launches have cost my team, I know how intense things can get, and I’m always so proud of how they deliver in the most professional way. 

A colleague of mine, an important person, once told me that our team was the only team that didn’t worry her for an important project/launch because we always seemed to have a cool head and a way of solving every problem; she felt we were in control of the situation 100% of the time and that was not the case with all the other teams involved. 

That was the biggest compliment for us. The fact that I’ve built such a team with such an excellent reputation is possibly my most significant accomplishment. These things are not casual – there’s a ton of intentionality in the way we are. I’m proud of every single person on my team. I focus on soft skills more than hard skills and on team cohesion and gregariousness. Everyone must have each other’s back – that’s my only acceptable reality. Work is hard enough, we need to be nice and supportive of each other, and we are. 

Take us through a typical day on the job?

I’m afraid it’s going to be super boring. 

I tend to be in meetings in the morning until lunchtime and then in the early afternoon unless it’s Wednesday. We don’t have meetings on Wednesday so that we can have focus time. I also try to protect the slot from 3 to 5 PM from meetings so that I can speak to my kids when they get home from school, catch up on all the things I missed while in meetings like responding to emails and Slack messages, and keep my sanity! I keep 90 minutes for lunch and walk my dog, rain or shine; it’s a nice real break from work; I’m forced to go outside with my puppy and be present in the world without thinking about what’s going on at the office, although occasionally I listen to a localization-related podcast or I take an informal call with a colleague. I come back refreshed and energized, and ready to tackle the afternoon.

I often stay behind after 5 to review and handle all the action items that come out of meetings because I don’t have time in between. I try to do 1:1s with each direct report every other week, but I’m always available should they need or want to talk to me outside of those regularly scheduled meetings. Sometimes emergencies arise, or people need a listening ear; I keep time slots free of meetings for this reason so that I can jump on a call on the same day. 

My calendar is jam-packed and demanding, something that people who don’t work with me at Shopify may not realize. I get requests to meet with external folks for the same day or the following day, and they make me laugh. My calendar needs to be highly managed; I don’t have the luxury of giving an hour of my time to someone who I may not even know on such short notice. I don’t mean to sound precious – it’s just that I have to prioritize ruthlessly to deliver on our objectives and support my immediate team in doing the same. 

You were Co-Founder and Event Manager of Women in Localization Eastern Canada. Tell us about that?

Yes! Catherine Cristaki and Kathrin Bussmann contacted me a few years ago to ask if I’d be interested in joining the leadership team and helping them establish the chapter. They wanted someone from the client side, and I immediately said yes without even asking what that entailed! 

I was just too excited to see a chapter finally happening in my neck of the woods. I took the role of Event Manager, which suited me perfectly because I enjoyed it, and this was pre-pandemic, which meant that we still had a physical office, and I could use its spaces for our events for free. So we had a number of events at the beautiful Shopify office, and it was great. 

Eventually, I had to pass the baton to someone else as my workload kept increasing, and my family life also required more attention and energy. I remain a big supporter from the sidelines! 

What separates a great LSP from an average one?

A great LSP is a partner. Ideally, the team assigned to us from our LSP becomes knowledgeable of us and learns how we prefer to communicate, our style, and what we care about. 

Delivering quality at all times is obviously a given, and open communication is a must. An LSP that owns its own mistakes and proposes solutions earns my respect. Mistakes happen on both sides; it’s just a fact – how my vendor responds to a crisis or problem is essential.  

I want transparency, openness and a solution-oriented mentality. I demand that of my own team and I don’t see why I shouldn’t expect it from my vendors as well.

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