Inside ABOUT YOU: The challenges of a Tech Lead’s onboarding process and how a strong team helps mastering them

Vol. 7: André — Tech Lead, ABOUT YOU BACKBONE 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!

André, Tech Lead BACKBONE Unit at ABOUT YOU

Hi André, you are the Tech Lead of our BACKBONE Unit — sounds like a lot of responsibility. Tell us a little bit about your role and the work you do here.

Hi! As the Tech Lead of the BACKBONE Unit, I’m responsible for the technical aspects of the heart of ABOUT YOU’s IT. Together with my unit’s members, such as Mehrdad, I work on the systems that manage orders, products and stocks. We abstract the complexity of dealing with more than 135 merchants in different countries by providing standardized interfaces within our company.

As we are processing orders, which are worth more than € 7 million in total every single day, this role comes with a lot of responsibility. Therefore, we have a strong focus on quality and continuous improvement.

I’m mainly involved in improving the current processes, scaling the unit’s structure, keeping the key projects on track and taking architectural decisions and supporting the lead devs within the unit.

We are curious about your start at ABOUT YOU: When did you start and why did you chose ABOUT YOU to become the next challenge in your professional career?

Before joining ABOUT YOU in September 2017, I worked for a startup in Berlin. In general, I pretty much enjoy the startup spirit as I like to move fast and change directions whenever new insights are gained.

Unfortunately, that company went insolvent, so I had to look for a new challenge. I wanted to continue working with highly skilled and motivated colleagues on ambitious goals, but was also taking into consideration to what extend the company was already established.

With ABOUT YOU, I found exactly what I was looking for: A company that was proving for more than four years its success and still follows a convincing vision with a high pace.

What were your professional experiences before joining ABOUT YOU and is this your first lead role?

I started my career by founding several own online marketing businesses when I was still at school. During that time, I gained a lot of experience. However, as I did not have any game changing success, I followed society’s advice — I studied business administration and information technology and worked for companies of various sizes. After having spend some years at OTTO, I joined smaller startups again where I worked as Head of IT or CTO, being responsible for up to 25 people.

The first weeks at a new company are probably very exciting, when joining a new company as a lead. How did you experience your first weeks at ABOUT YOU and do you have any advice to get a good start?

The first weeks were intense. There were a lot of new faces and opinions around me and I had to understand heaps of things quickly — business topics, technical implementations, organizational processes etc.

Luckily everyone was very supportive. While I learned lots of new things on the one hand, I also discovered some areas where I could add value immediately, so I got my hands dirty very early.

I think this is also what I would recommend: Be hungry for understanding everything related to your role but don’t be a theorist — focus on the most important topics and make progress.

Did ABOUT YOU offer you support in the first months? If yes, can you share with us what or who supported you?

The onboarding was well organized. On my first day, I got to know my buddy, who helped me with everything — from getting to know the office to setting up my well prepared notebook.

When I opened my calendar for the first time, there were already a lot of meetings scheduled for me, which was nice and granted a good start. I met all people to whom i have dependencies or will have contact during the following days and weeks. These people gave me an excellent overview of the company’s structure, its history, the responsibilities, the tech stack, the systems and their interfaces and also the units and teams interdependencies.

Apart from that there is an official onboarding program for tech leads, which was shared with me from the first day on. There were clear expectations I had to meet and which were discussed after two, four and eight weeks with our CTO, Sebastian Betz. These feedback meetings were very valuable as I could find out if I’m on track with what I am doing — especially, as it’s hard to find out what you should focus on when you are new to something.

Luckily, ABOUT YOU introduced a new organizational concept recently to its IT department named “MOVE”. Besides a lot of other things, MOVE comes with the fact that every unit is led by two leads — a tech lead, which is my role, and a product lead. So far, I experience this setup as being very successful and especially during my first weeks, it was very helpful to have a sparring partner on eye level who knows all the unit’s members and current and upcoming projects very well.

Even though you are still new at ABOUT YOU, you probably already faced some challenges as lead. What were the biggest challenges and how did you manage them?

One of the biggest challenges so far was a business emergency on a Sunday afternoon in my third week.

One of our API’s Redis cache ran out of memory which blocked some processes. We were able to find the root cause and fixed that problem as a team.

What I really enjoyed was the great support in that emergency not only of the unit’s team members but also of various colleagues from other units like it operation team, mobile apps, shop and checkout.

On Monday, we met to have a short retrospective about what has happened. We improved the implementation, added tests, adjusted the monitoring and even came up with a long-term solution to make the overall architecture more robust by further decoupling the Checkout systems from the BACKBONE systems.

In general, how would you define good leadership and what is important for you to be a good team lead?

In my opinion, as a Tech Lead you should (at least after a while) have a clear vision for your team, which covers both the business and the technical perspective. It is important to make this vision transparent and show the way on how to get there.

But that’s not enough to be a good lead. Instead, you must work hands on to make progress on that common way and support the unit where and whenever possible to get things done.

When goals are reached, we celebrate our successes but stay hungry as there are still many more goals to reach ahead.

It seems that you are involved in many activities at ABOUT YOU. What are your goals / milestones for the next months for you and your team?

Our department just launched the ABOUT YOU CLOUD and we’re already onboarding our first customers. Seeing them in production is definitely a moment I’m looking forward to.

Furthermore, we are currently growing our unit intensively and getting the new colleagues fast on track is always an important but also challenging task. Having established the new unit structure that the product lead and I planned and seeing it in action is also an important milestone for me.

What do you like in particular about working at ABOUT YOU?

I enjoy working with smart people on ambitious goals and projects in a high pace. Everyone is honest, working hard and supportive. Everyone has the ability to share his or her opinion and ideas and when better options come up, the company is still able to act quickly on them.

So, just a short last questions: tell us your highlight within the last months in our company!

Definitely the launch of the ABOUT YOU CLOUD and the great feedback we got so far.

Thanks, André!