This month marks my 1 year anniversary since I joined Zalando. Last year I took this picture during onboarding and sent it to a friend. She said “Embrace Change”, so I embraced the change and here I am.
People ask me about my experience. Zalando is one of those companies where the experience highly varies by team. When I was joining I asked 6 people working or have worked there. 3 said go, 3 said don’t. It was confusing.
I was concerned when I joined because of the setup. I am part of the team that builds developer tools and infrastructure. I was the first product manager in the department. My biggest concern was having a deeply technical manager who had no experience managing product people.
Because of Zalando’s Dedicated Ownership model, there is no separate product and tech orgs. Both tech and product report to the head of the unit, who can be a product person, a tech person, or something else. This might create friction if the leader is inexperienced as they might be biased towards the discipline from which they are coming. This fragmented setup also makes it harder to find other product people especially those one can learn from.
I was lucky that my manager was open minded, he gave me the freedom and trust to productize our offering and processes. I was also lucky to be in a mature team with mostly collaborative engineers and leads. This makes things easier.
I like it a lot in our department. I am learning a lot about infrastructure topics, I am dealing with strongly opinionated customers (developers). I also changed my perspective on some things like transparency and the role of desires and incentives.
On the flip side, if you worked in big companies before, Zalando sometimes feels like a teenager trying to understand adulthood. It doesn’t act like a big company, and not a small one either. This leads to inefficiencies and sometimes over reinvention of the wheel (every big company has an element of reinventing the wheel).
Of course this post should end on a high note. The high note is there is a strong desire to always make things better. And it is still impressive to have a 6-8 Billion dollars company out of Germany, which is way behind when it comes to tech.