Mark Murray of Zalando is standing in the Dublin tech hub's office and smiling into the camera.
Mark Murray. Image: Zalando

‘The work I do reaches more than 32m people across Europe’

13 May 2020

Mark Murray, a software engineer at Zalando’s tech hub in Dublin, discusses his work on the company’s online stores.

Mark Murray, a software engineer at Zalando in Dublin, has been working at the company for three years. During this time, he has seen his work reach customers in 17 different European countries and has helped prepare the site for all-encompassing events such as Black Friday.

Here, he talks about his day-to-day work in Zalando’s fashion store division and why he enjoys the “responsibility, autonomy and impact” that comes with his job.

‘I quickly learned that building apps and websites was so much more than just coding from nine to five’

What is your role within Zalando?

My role is software engineer, but I’ve worked predominantly as a front-end engineer on the Zalando fashion store team here in Dublin for the past three years.

If there is such a thing, can you describe a typical day in the job?

My work can be extremely variable on a day-to-day basis, but a week typically consists of reviewing code from my peers, building new features, monitoring the health of our systems, collaborating with product specialists, designers and architects on new initiatives and, best of all, drinking lots of coffee with some of the greatest front-end engineers Ireland has to offer.

My calendar is generally very flexible and never stocked with meetings. One of my favourite core values of Zalando is: ‘Don’t meet because it’s Thursday’, which essentially means keeping meetings purposeful. Don’t meet for the sake of it, because very often it isn’t productive and distracts people. This gives my team and me space to work, to talk and to innovate, which is important.

What types of projects do you work on?

I’ve been here for three years now, so my work has changed quite a lot over that time. I started by working on internal applications that surfaced current fashion trends to help fashion buyers make better purchasing decisions.

Throughout this process, the office here in Dublin accumulated a large amount of incredible data scientists who produced a suite of APIs which could be leveraged by any team in the company. It was my team’s responsibility to document these APIs in an interactive way and make it easy for other teams to use the power of this work.

Following on from this, I’m brought to where I work now. My team and I own multiple areas of the fashion store division, including the login, registration and customer account pages. However, Zalando is moving towards a more shared model where global initiatives are shifting the focus of teams from ownership of a particular section of the site to creating a cohesive experience for our customers. This contribution model significantly increases the direct impact an engineer has on the user interactions.

What skills do you use on a daily basis?

I’ve been lucky to land a job in an environment that affords me to work across the full, or almost full, stack.

Not only are my team and I responsible for building customer-facing features, we’re also responsible for building and managing servers and instrumenting them with tracing, monitoring and alerting, as well as managing deployments and scaling our services. We use state-of-the-art tech and generally keep up with industry standard best practices.

Do you have any productivity tips that help you through the working day?

Context switching can be a tricky thing to manage as a software engineer. Competing priorities, and requests from various stakeholders, meetings and incidents make it hard to focus on a single task at a time.

My secret to productivity is writing lists. They help me structure thoughts, manage priorities and guarantee nothing will be forgotten. Learning how to break a task down into its sub-atomic parts is also very important. Additionally, marking tasks as ‘done’ has a positive psychological effect. The list is a progress bar for your productivity that day.

Microsoft To Do (formerly Wunderlist) has been the best app I’ve used to date for managing my work, especially the ‘my day’ feature which lets you assign tasks to that particular day and automatically clears the following day.

When you first started this job, what were you most surprised to learn was important in the role?

The Dunning-Kruger effect was in full swing for me when I first joined the company. I quickly learned that building apps and websites was so much more than just coding from nine to five.

How has this role changed as this sector has grown and evolved?

I think the role had been evolving toward a more full-stack position, but is currently reverting back in the opposite direction now that the tooling has matured.

For me personally, technologies such as GraphQL, Relay and Zalando’s Interface Framework will make it easier to ship new features, which will trigger a focus on delivering feature-rich experiences for customers and not so much on technical implementation.

This also creates a lower barrier of entry as engineers aren’t required to have a broad knowledge of systems to have customer impact. Obviously, there will always be those who enjoy working across the full stack and they will continue to do this, but it opens up a whole new role for product engineers.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

The responsibility, autonomy and impact. Working as a software engineer on the fashion store team, a lot of the work I do reaches more than 32m people in 17 countries across Europe. This sort of impact comes, of course, with the responsibility to care about our customers’ needs and their experiences on the site.

This means that we need to do everything we can to ensure an exceptional standard of quality in everything we do. New team members can expect that very same reach on some of their first tickets. You won’t find that in every company around Dublin.

Another thing I really enjoy about the job is Zalando’s clear set of values. Some of my favourites include: ‘start with yes’; ‘always put yourself in our customer’s shoes’; ‘think big, act fast’; ‘default to transparency’; and ‘put purpose first, ego second’. They help immeasurably with decision-making and fostering a culture where everyone cares about the same things.

My yearly highlights are participating in Black Friday and Cyber Week. Being a fashion e-commerce site, Black Friday and the lead-up to it is crucial for Zalando. Since my team owns the front end of login and registration, we have a lot of responsibility to maintain maximum availability during this time.

Preparation for this period takes place long before the week and requires lots of coordination between multiple teams. Being in the ‘situation room’ on Black Friday and seeing the scale of our operation is humbling and something you simply don’t experience at every company.

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