I met Orion Demkiw in a very trendy coffee shop just north of the River North Arts District (RiNo). With dogs, espresso, and jazz music surrounding us, we sat down to talk about the Manager's journey from Down Under to Denver. Read on to learn about his position at Beatport, how he built up the company culture, his top qualities in a new hire, and more.
What are you currently doing in Denver?
I am currently working for Beatport. I began with them as a software engineer, doing back-end API development and stuff like that. After about 3 months, I was offered a manager's position and became the Manager of Engineering. At that point we had a pretty small team, and since then we've doubled it. So, I've had a big role in hiring and everything that goes along with it.
After Beatport was acquired, they got rid of a lot of the initial engineering team and brought in a development agency, and it felt like we lost some of the culture, and the product lost some of its DNA—what made it great. Therefore, one of the first things I undertook when I was put in charge of hiring was creating a team that cares for this culture. You need a team who can, one, get the job done, but, two, who have a real intrinsic motivation and passion for what we do in this record digging culture. I feel we've had success in getting there now and I'm working with executives at this stage to define the product roadmap. I've since brought a couple team members into leadership positions to help run the team internally, while I manage things from an external perspective, and where we fit into the whole company as far as product vision and product roadmap.
What attracted you to Beatport?
It all started when I was younger. I have a brother who is twelve years older than me, so when I was about ten, he was in his early twenties. So, he was a prominent figure in the Melbourne techno scene. They had a lot of warehouse parties, shed parties, things that you don't really see today. There was definitely a feel to all the posters and graphics that went with the music and the scene, and, as a kid, my room was full of this "electronic music swag," though I didn't know what a lot of it was. I just thought it was really cool. So, that got me listening to the music, and even mixing some of my own, at a really young age.
I then began my eclectic early stages of my career: first, going to school for computer science when after about six months I realized it wasn't really for me. I then went out and got a job doing graphic design. From that, I got into doing web development from a front-end perspective. I was doing marketing emails and that sort of stuff. I then went on to study digital media and design, so, at this point I have a background in web design, front-end development, 3D modeling—all these various things. I decided that I wanted to know more about audio, so I went out and got an audio engineering degree. After all that I came back to school to do a computer science degree, which, again, I ended up dropping out of.
So I have this mix of digital media, computer science background. Of course, throughout all this, I've been listening to techno, buying records, keeping up with it. Beatport shows up on my radar shortly after they launched and I loved it. I was sitting on the site finding music all day—rather, all night. So, I end up taking my next job working with a record company, where I would upload content to Beatport. I started seeing some of Beatport's back-end admin tools and I thought it was really cool, I liked what I was doing and I knew I wanted to work for Beatport.
So, I researched Beatport more and found out that they were located in Denver. For a kid that's obsessed with alpine environments and the mountains, and of course, techno, this was perfect. But I wrote it off for the time being, and started building sites again, to get more experience. I was working for an app development company as a devops engineer, and I ended up having some issues with the way the guys ran their operations; they were taking advantage of first time entrepreneurs, taking their money and often not delivering anything. As I talked to the guys running it, I realized they knew exactly what they were doing. So, I left on a Friday and come that following Monday, I had set up my own agency. I went out leased an office, sorted everything out over the weekend, and on Monday, registered for business. I did that for about two years. That's how I really got involved with development and complete responsibility for a project, because now people were paying me for deliverables. That's when I learned how to get a job done from start to finish, the whole process.
After those two years, I felt like my skillset had caught up to this Beatport dream I had. I interviewed with them for awhile, and now I'm here. It was a long term journey, close to ten years. I feel like this role combines everything that I wanted, and all the things I am able to do as well. For me, taking the position was a no brainer.
What are the top three qualities you look for when hiring someone?
For one, I watch how well someone listens in the interview. Some people in interviews will be asked the question, and they hear you, but they choose not to answer the question being asked. They'll acknowledge the question, like, "Oh that's cool but let me tell you about this instead..." So, I pick up on that. I wonder, is that how it's going to be when they're working for me? So that's definitely one thing.
For developers, there obviously needs to be a level of diligence on the work they do. They need to be passionate about it. If someone tells me they want to work for Beatport because they like music...well liking music is so generic. I like when people have some kind of story. Passion for what we do, and preferably they have some rich experience, that's important to me. University degrees and that type of stuff is great to have, and I appreciate it, but I value experience more than certificates. It's proven to be more important.
Thirdly, I think there's an importance to feeling it in your gut. Some people walk in and you just feel it, you know they'd be great on the team, you have this affinity with them. I want to build a team where the guys don't do the work for me or for the company, they do it for each other. You get there by having respect for each other, and enjoying one another's company. You spend a lot of time with the people you work with, they should be people you like.
So, I think that's three things somewhere in there.
You said you wanted to build a team that cared about the culture. How do you find those people?
You'll find that most people on our team have a way that express who they are. Maybe by the way they look, what they wear, the music they listen to. It's like, "hey, while I may be an engineer, I get the finer side of life and understand the importance of art and expression." It's not even about having to look or dress a certain way, it's about identifying with a passion, then I feel like they have that mental capacity to understand what Beatport is about.
Beatport is about connecting people through a shared experience, and so when people can show their passion for something, anything—riding a bike, writing music, I feel like they can appreciate what it is we do. We have people on the team that don't identify with "techno culture," but they understand what it is, and why it makes people feel like they're a part of something.
How did you build a good company culture?
I believe in, and have been on a mission to create, a devops culture. When I mention devops, I mean in a grander sense than things like building pipelines. Those workflows are part of it, yet to me, devops is something that changes the way people "think about work." We do this by focusing on four major areas: collaboration, affinity, tools, and scaling. I also ask a lot of "why" to my superiors. People need to know why they are doing what they do. This gives a sense of purpose to any role in the company. People are happier, and you create a collective energy that is conducive of real, positive change. Action is the cause, not just the result of motivation.
On top of that, it's the simple things. When I started, we had a lot of remote employees, which isn't a problem—sometimes the best workers you have are remote, and some people are more effective working from home. But, it started impacting the team in Denver, it was becoming disjointed. A lot of the employees in Denver would work remotely everyday because other people did. Once that happens, you start to lose that connection you get when you're physically close to a person. There are certain conversations that you become a part of by just being in proximity. So, one of the things I tried to do was reduce the days we worked remotely. It's a privilege to work from home, not a right. Step one was getting people coming into the office more. Step two was then getting the teams to actually sit together, to feel a sense of purpose when they come in, a sense of belonging. That actually had a bigger effect than you may think, so it worked out pretty well.
From there, it was about ensuring that company executives were aware of culture needs. For example, Beatport should have a kick-ass DJ booth in the office. Eventually, we got the company to agree and had someone in the office build and install it. So, we've got that, and we rearranged some things to make it feel almost club-like in the office. Just setting the tone right as you walk in the door.
What's the workspace like at Beatport?
We have an open office space with a loft area in the middle. It generally seems to work well for everyone. There are a lot of headphones worn, though. One of the things I'd like to work on next is getting people more connected without banning headphones. But, I still want people to feel connected in some type of way, so that plan is to develop—which is nice as a developer to be able to build these tools ourselves—but develop a way for everyone in the office to listen to the same music flow. In the same sense as it's different to listen to a song in your car versus the same song at a festival. There's a common experience that takes over when you share that experience with others. And I want to make that more prevalent in the office.
What's your favorite thing about Denver?
I never thought it would be possible to live in the mountains and work a career job. Living in Nederland, I have that here. I may travel further than my coworkers but my commute is probably a similar time to other people I work with just depending on traffic and where they're coming from. So, that's probably the best thing about this city. Also, there's this sense of humble pride about Deverites. There's something they really, rightfully, appreciate about the city and state.