Sergio González Sanz, a research engineering lead at Zalando, discusses his move from Dublin to Berlin with the company.
Sergio González Sanz is a research engineering lead at Zalando in Berlin. Originally from Spain, he moved to Ireland and worked in the company’s Dublin base for four years, watching it grow from a team of 20 to a tech hub employing 120 people.
Here, González Sanz talks about the best aspects of his job on the recommendations team and how Zalando helped him make the move from Ireland to Germany.
‘I enjoy thinking about how to make our systems scalable and resilient’
– SERGIO GONZÁLEZ SANZ
Where are you from and what’s it like there?
I’m from a very small city called Soria in the north-east of Spain, halfway between Madrid and the Basque Country. It’s pretty high up in the mountains – around a thousand metres over the sea level – so we have very cold winters and warm summers.
It is surrounded by pine-tree forests, which makes it a great place for outdoor activities. The city is well-known for the Numancia’s ruins, an old Celtiberian settlement sieged by the Roman Empire in 134 BCE.
How long have you been in Germany?
I moved to Berlin in October 2019 and am still settling in in the city, discovering new places and things to do.
What prompted your decision to move there?
I worked in Zalando Dublin for four years before I moved to Berlin. I joined the company in October 2015, just a few months after the site opened its doors. There were only 20 of us at that time and when I left, the hub had grown to 120 employees.
It has been a great professional experience for me to witness how Zalando attracts new talent and how we set ourselves up to tackle more ambitious projects. The expansion also brought new opportunities to grow and take over more responsibilities. Zalando is also very active in the data science and engineering communities in both Dublin and Berlin and it is a great chance to build your professional network.
The company encourages internal mobility within sites, but also across locations. I had the opportunity to join the recommendations team in Berlin and decided to take on the new challenge. The team is a core contributor to our customer value proposition, as recommendations are at the heart of Zalando’s browsing experience. We use the latest developments in deep learning to solve our use cases and share our insights with the scientific community at conferences and meetups.
What’s your role in the company?
I am a research engineering lead in Zalando’s recommendations team. My focus is the delivery of our machine learning use cases, making sure they are aligned with our product requirements and up to the best research and engineering standards.
As a team lead, I also help my team members define their professional development plans and make sure they have the resources they need to develop and learn further.
How would you describe your working environment?
In Zalando, we believe that multi-disciplinary teams deliver the best results for our customers. Product specialists, designers, engineers and data scientists work side by side to understand the customer journey, design new solutions and bring them to life.
I believe that the work environment in Zalando is really open and inclusive. People are welcomed on board, independent of their background and origin. One of the things I personally like most about working here is that I have the opportunity to work together with people from different cultures.
What do you like most about your job?
I highly value the opportunity to work on solutions that reach millions of customers and address challenging engineering and data science problems. I also enjoy collaborating with my team, our insightful discussions on how to solve the customer problems, use the right data and measure our impact.
We also invest time to keep up with the last developments in recommender systems and deep learning, and discuss how to use our learnings to develop better products.
On the engineering side, I enjoy thinking about how to make our systems scalable and resilient so that they can serve millions of recommendations during the busiest times of the year – for example, Black Friday. It gives me the opportunity to apply the latest available technologies and frameworks such as TensorFlow or Kubernetes.
Was it difficult to adjust to living and working in Germany?
Zalando supports new and existing employees during their relocation. This simplifies and shortens the process. The company also offers free language courses to help overcome the language barrier.
Learning German was one of my goals when I moved, so I also joined one of the courses. Luckily, most people in Berlin speak English as well, so it is relatively easy to cope with everyday life.
How would you describe the growth and development opportunities within Zalando?
Zalando offers fantastic opportunities for professional growth – including developing as an individual contributor or into a leadership role – across multiple areas of expertise and also across different sites throughout Europe.