Holger — Lead Developer, Desktop Unit


Get to know our growing family. Follow our Inside ABOUT YOU blog series and catch a brief glimpse of the people behind Germany’s most exciting e-commerce project!

Vol. 4: Holger — Lead Developer, ABOUT YOU Desktop Unit

Introduce yourself and tell us a little about your history with ABOUT YOU.

My name is Holger. I’ve been with ABOUT YOU since March 2014. I started as a Senior Backend Developer before the shop first went to market. Throughout my time here, I have been increasingly involved in planning the technical side of our feature development. I have recently moved into a Lead Developer role for one Circle of the ABOUT YOU Desktop Unit. Circles are specialized teams which focus on dedicated topics — all grouped in a bigger Unit like our ABOUT YOU Desktop Unit. For example, these groups can be focused on the buying process, category pages and products, UI design, and so on. The advantage of having small, dynamic, and specialized teams focused on individual aspects of the shop is that we can reduce context switches and reduce complexity e.g. of discussions and decision processes. These are a consequence of big teams in the classic organizational sense. As a result, we’re all able to work more quickly and efficiently with the utmost focus on our tasks.

I take of some weight from the Technical Lead of the whole Unit and try to support the Tech Lead in all ways I can. I also try to maintain the performance of the Circle itself. I’m also the first contact person for the developers in my Circle. If I am unable to sort things out by myself, I can reach out to the Tech Lead to support me.

Right now we have two Circles: ABOUT YOU Buying Process and ABOUT YOU Community & Inspiration. Buying Process is responsible for the core buying process of our customers so they get straight forward to their order, Community & Inspiration takes care of all features which excite and inspire our customers furthermore.

What in your opinion are the most important qualities of a Lead Developer?

I would say that you need to have an overview of what’s happening in the other Circles, that you’re always up to date with release cycles, blocker, technical implementation of things happening around you, what the dependencies on your Circle are. This is a great opportunity to attain new skills and do more than just development alone. What I can say so far is, I’m programming less, planning more, and taking on more of a managerial role. It’s a very new way of working for me. Until recently, it was more receiving tasks and implementing them according to the requirements given. Now, it’s me who is giving the requirements and the stories for a feature. It’s a good balance between programming and planning. I’ve been doing this for roughly a month now and am finding it to be a very good fit for me.

What are some of the challenges you have faced so far?

One thing is being able to think about a technical implementation first hand, which is a challenge of course. You must know how everything is working, the complete stack of your own team and other teams, which needs to be considered in planning phases. Also, propagating your thoughts in what you came up with to the developers so they can think about it. What I do during planning is talk to my developers and get a sense of their opinions on a particular feature, because I believe involving the team gives you multiple different perspectives, which often didn’t cross your own mind. A single person doesn’t have a monopoly on optimal solutions for the problems we’re trying to solve through development, so I really like to involve the team in the decision making process.

Walk me through a typical day in your job.

There normally isn’t a day that I would call typical. What I often try to do is come in earlier than my colleagues, to have some time to make up my mind about what I will do for the day, go over my emails, and have a little quiet time at the beginning of the day. We have our standup which is happening every day. After that, I decide what to do next. Sometimes I need to work on tickets — thinking about feature implementation, fixing bugs, and so on.

I tend to have a lot more appointments now than I did as a normal developer. I regularly meet with the Tech Lead and stakeholders to keep our goals aligned and ensure we’re on the same page.

We have a team setup and mindset that makes it easy to handle a lot of different situations.

What do you find most exciting about your current role?

What’s most exciting is that I now have the opportunity to drive discussion, bringing my thoughts and knowledge to the table — how something could be built or implemented. Injecting my personality into the things we develop. After going through the whole process, release something you had a significant role in creating, then seeing customers interact with it — it’s a very rewarding experience…I think the most rewarding part of development.

What can you tell me about your philosophy in approaching development of backend features and how you unify them with the frontend to make a complete feature?

Most of the time, the backend is handling data in some way. You take this data which is input by a customer and then pass the data on to somewhere else. So what I’m always most concerned about is data structure, which will make it easily usable by everyone who needs it. So, if we transport data to the frontend, it needs to be done in a way that it can be worked with. Also, when you’re receiving data from the outside, it’s also about how you work with and process that data. Good performance is important, avoiding bottlenecks, etc. I always see the backend as a key part of transporting data.

How did you get into development in the first place?

My initial exposure to programming was about 19 years ago. I really liked playing computer games back then, Quake III in particular. Myself and some friends wanted to create our own mod for the game, which we did. For that we also needed a website to present what we were doing. This was the first time I had been in touch with web development. It was a completely different world back then and so much has changed since. The mod was based on shadow run, like Dungeons & Dragons with a sort of cyber punk theme. The concept of the gameplay was similar to capture the flag or deathmatch, and so on. Game modes had already been established by other parties, but we wanted to have this theme in the game. It was a nice time meeting in the basement of a friend with all our machines and working as a team to get this thing done.