My First Year as an Engineering Manager at Zalando

Reflecting on my first year as an Engineering Manager at Zalando.

photo of Kaan Bobac
Kaan Bobac

Engineering Manager

Posted on Sep 26, 2023

Starting a New Journey

Moving forward in career steps is always an exciting adventure, even if it comes with challenges. For me, the biggest challenge was becoming an engineering manager in a foreign country. Stepping into a new country as an expat, with a culture I wasn't all that familiar with, was a completely fresh start. When I said yes to my new journey, I started researching Zalando to learn more.

My first stop was the Zalando Engineering Blog - a real treasure for someone like me who was curious about the engineering culture and practices at what would be my new company. Reading post after post, I was amazed by everything - the interesting engineering topics, challenges, solutions, and approaches. Since I love reading and writing blog posts, I even dreamt of contributing here someday. Now, looking at today and thinking about my first year, I see that I've gained lots of experiences and learnings that I can put into words. While one post won't cover all the details, I believe I can create a short but nice summary of my journey so far. So, let's begin.

First Impressions

On my first day, as I stepped into the office, one thing truly resonated with me. A phrase was inscribed on the floor: "Always put yourself in the customer’s shoes". This is one of the founding mindset of Zalando which I would learn in the next few days. This also marked the first of many reminders that would constantly keep me aware of how important customers are for Zalando.

As I walked around and met with various people, I realised the impressive international working environment with a rich multicultural and diverse setup. From day one and with each passing day, I've come to believe that this is Zalando's greatest wealth. And on a personal note having colleagues from all corners of the world, having lunches, coffee breaks, learning from their diverse experiences – these are indeed great benefits that cannot be simply found in contracts.


As I settled in, my onboarding journey kicked off right away. Zalando provides an excellent onboarding program for newbies. It covers not only technical topics but also goes into Zalando's culture, with a lot of inspiring meetings. This also creates an opportunity to connect with colleagues from different departments that you may not have had a chance to interact with otherwise.

Besides Zalando's onboarding, it was important for me to really understand how my department and team contribute to the company. So, I focused on what we do and how our work helps Zalando’s success. My department is Pricing Platform, and our main scope is pricing and discounting tools and algorithms. The more I learnt, the more I was amazed by how much data science, engineering, and analytics are involved in something as simple as a 20% discount on the web site. For me, the real test is, if I can successfully explain the project details to my dad, who doesn't know much about tech except using a smartphone. If he gets it, then I'm pretty sure I truly understand what we do in our department. When I told my dad about my department's job, I started with, "dad you will not believe how that simple discount you see in the webpage is calculated".

Cyber Week

My first big challenge was Cyber Week. Since I joined Zalando just a month before Cyber Week, everyone was talking about it. Coming from a country that doesn't have Cyber Week, I initially thought (I'll admit it shamelessly) that Zalando was having a week of cyber security tests, which actually sounded pretty cool. But then, when I understood what Cyber Week was really about, I realised how important it was for Zalando.

The readiness for Cyber Week and all the preparations that go into it completely impressed me. The structured game plan, playbooks, situation rooms, incident processes – they were all new concepts to me, and I was amazed by how operational excellence can be. There’s no way I can cover all the details of Cyber Week in this post, but there's one thing I have to mention. During the final minutes of Black Friday, there's this tradition of virtually gathering with the shift crew and watching the order monitoring spike up like a hockey stick, marking the peak order rate during Black Friday. That moment made a strong impact on me, showing how our little contributions as software engineers play a role in those big successes.

Growing Together

While I've mostly focused on the technical and operational aspects of Zalando, I can't skip the people part, of course. Zalando has an amazing culture when it comes to managing and developing people. They provide different ways to grow with clear expectations. One thing that really surprised me was that Zalando offers both management and technical expert paths for software engineers. For example, after becoming a Senior Software Engineer, you can choose to either become an Engineering Manager or a Principal Engineer. This is quite unique, something I hadn't encountered before in my past experiences. It’s not about getting pushed into management; instead you have the opportunity to advance based on your skills and aspirations at the same level as management roles.

Feedback Culture

Talking about career growth, I shouldn't forget to mention performance evaluation. This is a vital aspect of any organization's success. Zalando recognizes this importance and has implemented effective practices to ensure that performance management is done right. Performance evaluation at Zalando starts with collecting feedback, the most important part of the process, in my opinion. Company provides an ideal environment for sharing and receiving feedback. You can receive feedback from your peers, team members, and stakeholders, essentially from the people you interact with daily. This culture of openness to feedback has been invaluable in helping me understand where we can improve as a team and how I can grow as a leader beyond my current capabilities.

Moreover, in my role as a leader, I know the importance of giving constructive feedback and facilitating performance evaluations for my team members. Zalando has several effective practices in place to support leaders in this regard. We receive support from experienced leaders, seek guidance from our peers in different departments, and collaborate with P&O (People and Operations) business partners. Throughout the year, we also have access to various training sessions, coaching sessions, and leaders' enablement programs. This comprehensive support to leaders makes sharing constructive feedback, which ultimately helps everyone reach their full potential, a seamless and rewarding part of the job.

It Is Not All About Work

While I've mostly shared the business aspect of Zalando, I must acknowledge that Zalando also knows how to have a good time. There are a lot of communities with various interests, running, fishing, beach volleyball, board games, or more technical topics like Python or Linux guilds.

The company also gives a big importance to continuous improvement, which is, of course, a crucial aspect of a software engineer's work. Departments organize hack weeks; for instance, our department had an Innovation Sprint where individuals pitched initiatives using cutting-edge technologies like generative AI. Every month, Tech Academy hosts a Coffee Bytes event, a casual coffee meet-up with no set agenda, allowing members of the tech community to connect and make friends. Considering all these examples, despite the importance of business and customers, having fun is equally important at Zalando. I realized this right from the beginning when I saw one of the t-shirts with the slogan "Zalando, we dress code".

What's Next?

Finishing up this look back, my first year as an Engineering Manager at Zalando has been a really good journey with lots of learning, growing, and experiencing new things. The diverse and dynamic environment, along with focusing on people and having fun, has been like magic. Thinking about what is next, I'm looking forward to continuing adding my small touch to Zalando's great work, enjoying the mix of tough challenges, teamwork, and moments that make us laugh. Here's to more times of growing, trying new things, and maybe getting a few more awesome sneakers along the way!

Do you like growing engineering talent and building high performing engineering teams? Consider joining Zalando as an Engineering Manager.

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