Meet Leela Khandelwal, a Director of Engineering at Zalando

Meet Leela, a Director of Engineering at Zalando. Learn what got her interested in joining Zalando, what the PRSB teams get up to, supporting and developing teams as a director, and some tips for future candidates.

5 min
04 January 2024

Could you introduce yourself and your role at Zalando?

I'm Leela Khandelwal. I’m a Director of Engineering, and I lead engineering teams responsible for personalization, recommendation, search, and browse. My responsibilities include strategic planning, providing teams with technical expertise, and collaborating across various functions to deliver user-centric experiences that drive business growth and address customer needs and satisfaction.

When did you join Zalando and how would you describe your work at Zalando to your friends?

Having joined Zalando about a year and a half ago, I lead an area called PRSB, which stands for “personalization recommendation, search and browse”. PRSB oversees everything that revolves around, assisting customers in finding what they are searching for, or giving them opportunities to discover new products. A great part of my job is working directly with my teams and my cross-functional peers and shaping our customers’ experiences.

What motivated you to join Zalando?

I was not really looking for a new role, but I was reached out regarding a leadership role in the then apps engineering team. I got to know Tian Su, our VP Customers, and I found her vision of building an understanding of customers and how she imagined shaping the search & discovery area to be inspiring. It made me want to be part of this work.

What keeps you motivated?

It is the impact that my work and the work of my team have within the company. It is the feeling of delivering a feature or driving any kind of innovation to solve something that matters to our customers. I like driving the business forward.

What do you love about our culture?

One of my personal values as well as something that is widely implemented at Zalando is transparency and good communication – sharing as much information as possible as soon as possible. I love it that people usually assume good intent and have mutual respect for each other.

As a director of engineering, how would you describe your leadership style?

My leadership revolves around supporting and developing. I strive to understand what the teams need and prioritize their growth and success while also driving the product and the business forward. I aim to create an environment in which everyone understands where the business is headed and their role in it. I feel like everyone has the potential to do their best and succeed. My role is to empower them to do that.

How do you inspire your teams to build the best products or experiences?

I try to elaborate on what impact our work has on customers and businesses and then I make sure to provide our teams with the support they need to do their job best. I make sure to connect them to the right people, select the right tools, and establish the right processes. This, I think, really keeps the teams going.

Let's talk about your teams – what role do your teams play at Zalando?

The teams in PRSB are responsible for all the systems powering search, browsing, and recommendations, and making these experiences more personalized. These experiences define how our customers find the products they're looking for, or help them discover new products. That is one major area for us. Besides that, we’ve developed the Zalando assistant which actually helps our customers explore what Zalando has to offer through a more human-like conversation.

The teams in PRSB are at the crossroads of engineering and applied science. They get to work cross-functionally and work closely with product teams and data analysts turning research into beautiful experiences for our customers. We embrace cutting-edge advancements in technology and science trying to constantly innovate and bring more modern experiences.

What advice would you give to our future candidates? What are the top three qualities you are looking for in candidates?

I think the biggest factor for me is understanding what motivates a candidate. What drives them? What do they value the most? What are they seeking? Another important thing is their attitude to collaboration. I need to see how well they can work with other teams and how comfortable they feel about contributing their ideas. How can they fit in and adapt? Then, last but not least, I look for curiosity and passion for learning. I think when you come into a new environment you need to approach it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

How can candidates stand out within the current talent market?

Candidates need to highlight their accomplishments providing details on their quantifiable impact and how they benefited the customer or the business. I also look forward to hearing about their learnings and how the candidates were able to apply their learnings to actual projects. It’s essential to see this ability to reflect – even if you tried something and failed, extracting some learnings from this experience is important.

If you could only give one piece of advice to candidates to prepare them for an interview with Zalando, what would it be?

We really want to understand the candidate's experience and what their potential is. So when you talk about your experience in your interview, highlight what you would do differently now, given how fast-paced the technology landscape is, or how much you’ve learned since. Show some critical thinking on your past projects.

From a woman's perspective, what does it feel like to work in the tech industry?

Sure, there are still few women in tech leadership – as an industry, we have a lot of work to do. As for finding the balance between my work and private life, it can, surely, get tricky. You need to be flexible in allocating your time – sometimes your work might demand more from you, at other times, your personal life. What I really appreciate is that Zalando gives me the opportunity to be flexible in navigating my work and private life.

Are you interested in learning more about technology at Zalando and finding your fit? Then click here to explore our tech insights.