In 2010, when Matthew Shoup first started at LinkedIn’s Mountain View office, he had a simple enough title: “Technical Marketer.” He had expertise in online advertising. Today, though, Shoup is known by a range of different monikers. Officially, there’s his current title, the stark and enigmatic “Hacker-in-Residence.” And then there are his nicknames: “Mr. 10X” (for the internal tools he built that have helped LinkedIn scale) and “The Swiss Army Knife” (for his general jack-of-all-tradesiness), among them.
Within months, Shoup was building a reputation as a creative employee at LinkedIn, and he has since moved from a fairly circumscribed job to a very free one. He wears a lot of hats, works on a lot of projects, and acts as a hub connecting a lot of people–and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He has essentially transformed his job from work into something more closely resembling play. “The common thread between all of the hats I wear is that I get to traverse multiple disciplines to solve business problems with creativity, and bring innovative ideas to life,” he tells Fast Company. “And I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do with my time.”
How did he do it? And how has LinkedIn managed to hold on to such an entrepreneurial character? We spoke with Shoup to find out.
FAST COMPANY: How’d you become LinkedIn’s “Hacker-in-Residence”?
MATTHEW SHOUP: My role transformed over time, due to my participation in our hack days. I started winning them, and through this series of small wins, people assumed I was working on hacks full time.
And were you?
Yes. [Laughs.] Some hacks ended up becoming prototypes for internal tools, but my favorite category is the experimental hack. People started coming up to me and pitching their own ideas, and my role transformed into what I consider to be my dream job.
Google famously has “20% time” for passion projects.
I’ve inverted that, and made 20% my day-to-day duties, and 80% my passion projects. I’m blessed to be able to shift those priorities.
What are some of the most fun hacks you’ve worked on?
DropIn is like LinkedIn Tetris. It’s pretty much like the traditional game of Tetris, but we substitute LinkedIn profile pictures. It’s a fun way to navigate your network. I don’t know how much value it adds, but this is the first hack I made that went viral through the network.
It should also shame people into uploading profile photos, I found–because if they don’t, they register as invisible blocks, which can screw up your game.
I think our research shows that people who have profile pictures have seven times more views on their profiles. And maybe a little less shame.
You never work at your desk.
I have the best office in LinkedIn. I usually sit outside. It’s not so important that it’s outside, but it’s a high-traffic area. Because of my marketing background, I think of location as a kind of advertisement. Lots of people walk by, and I call those impressions. If someone waves, I think of that as a click. If someone sits down, I call that a conversion. We’re always optimizing for conversions.
What do you do for power?
I’m usually out there on my laptop, running on battery power. I had to replace my laptop once already, because the battery doesn’t last so long. I joke sometimes that I’m going to bring an extension cable out.
Have you caught any flak for your unusual habits?
I’m usually of the mindset that you should beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission. I haven’t gotten much flak about where I sit. I really like that I get access to people I normally wouldn’t have access to.
Do some people wonder if you’re homeless or deranged?
No, but I do get comments when it’s really cold. “I don’t know how you can sit out here with your flip-flops on.”
Are you the Dude Lebowski of LinkedIn?
Hopefully a little more serious.
LinkedIn has about 3,000 employees now. Big companies sometimes have trouble holding onto entrepreneurial types like you. How do they do it?
LinkedIn gives employees the ability to transform their careers in order to do things they’re super passionate about. We have a gentleman named Michael Nguyen, for instance, who started in the finance department. His family owns a catering business, and he’s passionate about food, so he transformed his career into being LinkeIn’s food guy. There’s a culture of transformation and innovation at LinkedIn, and that’s one of those things that keeps employees engaged.