CIO interview: Bas Anneveld, Gumtree

When your parent is the internet phenomenon eBay, how do you make a difference?

Bas Anneveld joined Gumtree last November, having spent 10 years at eBay, where he managed the European DevOps team in Denmark and later became CTO.

Anneveld says eBay is investing a lot in Gumtree. The site was founded in London in 2000 to help Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans find a place to live, a job, and everything they needed to settle into the city.

The site was bought by eBay in 2005, and Gumtree is now part of the eBay classified group.

Its London office is in Richmond, where about 60 people work on product development, says Anneveld.

A lot of work is being done to revamp the Gumtree website, he says. “The site was originally developed in Perl. There was a big migration from Perl to Java, but we now realise we have a big monolithic application that we would like to convert to microservices so we can release code updates independently.”

But Gumtree did not want to halt development work while it migrated to a microservices architecture, says Anneveld. “We are monitoring the number of commits on our code repository and if there are parts of the application we tend to touch a lot, then those parts become candidates to turn into a microservice,” he adds.

As it shifts to microservices, Gumtree is also changing the way it runs coding projects, moving away from a waterfall-style approach to releasing code in regular cycles.

Traditional roadmaps are the most expensive way to develop code, says Anneveld. “We have an idea, then start to write code. Six to seven months later, we release something and start including customer feedback. If the feedback is not positive, then the development work becomes an expensive piece of code.”

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Instead of organising around the waterfall approach to software development, the teams are organised into squads that are fully cross-functional, he says. “This new way of working will empower local teams,” he adds.

A squad comprises product owners, designers, UX people, developers, QA engineers, DevOps engineers, plus marketing and business development people.

“We give the teams a problem statement and a target,” says Anneveld. “The squads work with objectives and key results. Some of the outcomes will result in new code, but sometimes the team will look to create new insights and analytics.”

Data is another matter that Anneveld is looking to optimise at Gumtree.

“What is really exciting in the coming years is that we are sitting on a massive amount of data and we are not using the dataset properly yet,” he says. “We want to get our act together from a tracking perspective to ensure all the various things we track can be consolidated to create better insights and build models to enrich the user experience.

“We become much more outward-focused and data-driven so people have the right tools to make decisions and they utilise the dataset we are sitting on.”

Making better use of the data can also enable Gumtree to connect customer journeys together to create a single customer view.

Going forward, this could mean that someone looking for a pushchair, for example, may want to buy a larger car in six months’ time, says Anneveld. This data insight can be used to improve the user experience, such as making it easier for someone browsing Gumtree on a smartphone to find relevant items.

This reflects a shift in usage patterns from PCs to mobile devices, he says. “On a smaller screen size, you can get a more optimal user experience based on the data we collect from you.”

Open source technologies

According to Anneveld, Gumtree is a user of open source technologies, but it is starting to donate code back. “There are a lot of tools we are trying to use in our datacentre, such as maintenance tools to sync between two locations and we are trying to share with the community,” he says.

Previously, parent company eBay had potential issues with open source code because of intellectual property converns. But last summerr, eBay realised it was benefiting from open source and became a lot more comfortable with open source contributions, says Anneveld.

In the past, it would take three quarters to submit code, and the company spent thousands of dollars before it had a developer that could contribute open source code. But this has now changed, he says.

The company recently started a Gumtree github repository to donate code back to the community. Anneveld says the company also hosts meetups and hackothons. For example, it hosted a meetup in December with 80 attendees, where its engineers talked about the move from home-grown search to Elastic Search.

So where to next? Anneveld admits Facebook is much more open than Gumtree in offering open application programming interfaces (APIs). “We have APIs for business partnerships,” he says. “It is a start and it is not part of our 2017 strategy to open up our APIs, but in the next 24 months I would like the Gumtree platform to be healthy to support the business.”

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