Zalando opens Helsinki tech hub

Fashion retailer will benefit from the mobile expertise found in Finland's capital, as it focuses on mobile apps

Online fashion retailer Zalando has opened its second technology hub outside Germany in Finnish capital Helsinki.

Supporting the company’s mobile-first approach, the new tech office will benefit from Finland’s Nokia roots and a focus on the development of customer-facing mobile applications.

“Mobile visits to our shop have already exceeded desktop visits, amounting to 57% in the second quarter of 2015. We are therefore heavily investing in our mobile capabilities,” said Philipp Erler, senior vice-president of technology at Zalando.

The Helsinki tech hub opened in August to strengthen Zalando’s 800-strong international technology team. It is part of the company’s international expansion plan, which first saw it open a research-focused data science and engineering tech office in Dublin, Ireland, at the start of 2015.

“After we went to Dublin, we scouted the bigger tech hubs in Europe over a period of a few months,” said Marc Lamik, head of technology expansion at Zalando.

“Helsinki has a rich history in mobile, but also a strong design focus and good universities, which is why we decided to build customer-facing products there.”

Currently, Zalando’s Helsinki office employs 14 people, but recruitments are ongoing with a goal of reaching 50 staff by the end of 2015. The company is prioritising full-stack and mobile developers, user experience specialists, product owners and data scientists.

“What customer-facing means for us is that we aren’t just building the app and the user interface, but also the back end belonging to that product,” said Lamik.

“We don’t only need mobile engineers in our team, but also full stack software engineers who can do the whole back end and the integrations with the core platform.”

Radical agile development

Zalando plans to ramp up its Helsinki operations over the next few years by recruiting as many as 200 employees. This is welcome news for Finland’s technology industry, which has recently been hit by major layoffs from influential companies such as Microsoft and Rovio. The recruitment is also in line with Zalando’s ambitious plans to hire 2,000 engineers by the end of 2016.

Zalando manages this fast growth with its so-called radical agility approach to software engineering. The model is based on small, autonomous development and delivery teams who are fully responsible for the products they develop. Including the new Helsinki office, the company now has more than 70 teams across its locations.

“[Managing growth] is one big advantage of the radical agility system, as you really do have autonomous teams that organise themselves and how they work together,” said Lamik.

“In our model, leaders work as coaches, so they must be able to instruct the teams and get the connections between the teams right. We have been successful in bringing senior local people onto the teams in Dublin and Helsinki.”

 Zalando has come a long way since 2008, when it started its online fashion business by selling shoes. Now it is a platform selling 1,500 brands to more than 16 million active customers in 15 countries, and in 2014 recorded sales of €2.2bn.

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