Infusion @Zalando: how to develop the Google way

by Sebastian Rönnau - 18 Nov 2013

Last week, Mark Striebeck, Director of Engineering at Google in Mountain View spent a day at Zalando. Mark was the first guest of our "Infusion" talks within the Zalando Tech Academy, which are meant to exchange thoughts and insights on the cutting edge of internet technology. Having been in the GMail team for several years, Mark was the perfect choice - and an excellent speaker as well.

In a talk to a broad audience of Zalando’s Technology team, Mark explained the most important management methods of Google from an engineering point of view. Later on, Mark discussed some major technical topics with Zalando’s corresponding engineers and managers.

During these discussions, we figured out that Google has a lot in common with Zalando: We need to keep our system running, while being forced to release updates and new features constantly. Let me share some points of Google’s philosophy that Mark Striebeck did highlight:

  • Collaboration and open information: share all information you have in an openly manner and communicate it; information is only restricted if there is a reason. Google communicates mostly by email - there is a huge amount of mailing list to which developers can subscribe. And they do. Mark told us that Google engineers spend a significant amount of their working time at GMail; hopefully, Zalando engineers do less mailing as we are (still) smaller.
  • Focus on user-impact and put the user first: development is strictly done from an user-perspective, rather than "it sounds cool to engineers". As with Google, Zalando’s product managers are in charge to keep the focus on a happy customer - which will in turn also make the engineer happy.
  • Delegation downwards: Even with more than 20.000 engineers, Google performs its product development bottom-up. The development teams with their respective leads are the true heroes, pushing the products forwards, taking all responsibility. In turn, they get all credits. We at Zalando handle this the same way and are happy to see that this model even works at Google’s scale.

Mark Striebeck from Google @Zalando Technology

I had the pleasure to discuss some issues of release management and deployment with Mark. Interestingly, Google builds its own tools for nearly every single aspect of development, deployment, and testing. Zalando develops its own software stack for the ZEOS platform on top of open source software, because the market does not always provide the fitting tools at the needed scale. And, like Google, we give back and share some of our developments with the Open Source community (see our github repository). But the most important things I learned from the discussion relate to responsibility:

  • "Don’t do checklists, because people will not feel responsible anymore"
  • "Suggest tools, but don’t enforce them. If people think they can do better - let them do"

This afternoon was a great "infusion" for me and other Zalandos - thanks to Mark, a brilliant speaker.

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