My First Six months at Zulily After a Bootcamp

Hi, I’m Mark — a mathematician turned a coffeeshop owner turned an actuary turned a software engineer. When I discovered my passion for software development, I quit my day job, went through an immersive development bootcamp and got recruited by Zulily’s Member Engagement Platform team. This post is about my first six months here. 

Things I had to learn on the go: 

  • Becoming an IntelliJ power user 
  • Navigating the code base with many unfamiliar projects 
  • Learning about containerized deployments and CI/CD 
  • Getting my hands dirty with Java, Scala, Python, JavaScript, shell scripting and beyond 
  • Reaching high into the AWS cloud: ECS, SQS, Kinesis, S3, Lambda, Step Functions, EMR, CloudWatch… 

Things that caught me by surprise: 

  • I shipped my code to production two weeks after my start date. 
  • Engineers had autonomy and trust. The managers removed obstacles. 
  • The amount of collective knowledge and experience around me was stunning. 
  • I was expected to work directly with the Marketing team to clarify requirements. No middlemen. 
  • Iteration was king! 

Things that I am still learning with the help from my team: 

  • Form validation in React; 
  • Designing and building high-scale distributed systems; 
  • Tuning AWS services to match our use cases; 
  • On-call rotations (the team owns several tier-1 services); 
  • And many more… 

There is one recurring theme in all these experiences. No matter how new, huge, or unfamiliar a task may seem at first, it’s just a matter of breaking it down methodically into manageable chunks that can then be understood, built, and tested. This process can be time consuming, and I feel lucky that my team understands that. It’s clear that engineers at Zulily are encouraged to take the time and build products that last.    

One of the things that I find truly amazing here is the breadth of work that is considered ‘full stack’. DevOps, Big Data, Micro Services, and React client apps are just some of the areas in which I have been able to expand my knowledge in the last several months. It may have been overwhelming at first, but when you are among teammates that have vast expertise, acquiring these new skills became an exciting part of my daily routine at Zulily. 

It’s hard to compare what I know now to what I knew six months ago —my understanding has expended in breadth and depth — and I’m excited to see what the next six months will bring. 

Meet a zulily developer: Beryl


Who are you, and what do you do at zulily?

I am Beryl, a Software Engineer on the EMS (Event Management Systems) Team. I work on the internal tools that help other zulily teams set up and manage sales.

When did you join zulily?

I started at the end of July, 2013 — almost a year and a half ago.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Every day I am usually spending some time working on my assigned projects, reviewing designs or code from other members of my team and supporting users. The work I do on projects depends on the project I am working on as well as at what stage that project is at. Various things I might do for project work include drawing up user interface designs, attending meetings with our users, coding and testing.

What is one of your favorite projects you finished and launched to production?

My favorite would have to be a rewrite of a page that provided an audit for what we sell. The page had become extremely slow, the data source had been deprecated and was often inaccurate and it was not tailored to what our internal users needed to do. When we realized this was taking up a huge amount of time for our users, I was able to talk to them to figure out their intended workflow and propose a new design. Within a fairly short period of time we had a new page up and running that everyone was happier with and that provided accurate data.

What was it like in the early days?  Tell us a crazy story.

When I first joined, I spent some time looking around the application I work on. It was very surprising when I came across a couple of error/info messages that included pictures of my coworkers for humorous effect. Some still exist, but I think they’re slowly starting to disappear…

What gets you excited about working for zulily?

The sense of community I get from other employees. As a developer on internal tools, I get a lot of opportunity to meet with employees from a bunch of different parts of the company. Additionally, I am enjoying getting to know engineers across all tech teams through our small, but growing, women-in-tech community. Even though the company has grown so much since I first started, it still manages to feel just as small!

Meet a zulily developer: Bala


Who are you, and what do you do at zulily?

I am Bala, a Software Engineer on the EMS (Event Management Systems) Team. We create and operate the tools that help other teams launch and manage sales and deals. Our goal is to minimize the time it takes to get deals on zulily by providing efficient and easy to use tools.

When did you join zulily?

I started in October of 2013, so it has been a year.

What was it like in the early days?  Tell us a crazy story.

Although I officially joined at the end of October, I did not come to work for a week after my hire date. I had asked for a vacation for a week and I got one 🙂 I had very little work experience prior to zulily and was scared about the work culture in a start-up (which zulily was at that time). The first impression I have of zulily: this is a company I want to work for who cares about the employees.

On my actual first day of work at zulily, my manager greeted me and introduced me to the team. Luckily on the very first day we had “All Hands” meeting. It was a small auditorium and everyone was gathered there and the host started calling out people who joined that week. All the new hires gathered on the dais and there was a grand welcome for us. They asked us a question: “Which Christmas Carol movie do you like the best?” Everyone was answering the question with their most liked movie name. People were shouting and clapping all the time. When it was my turn, they asked my what mine was. I wanted to steal others’ ideas as I have not seen many Christmas Carol movies. So, I made up my mind and said “I have not seen any Christmas Carol movies but I like Iron Man.” I thought people would be laughing, but it was another round of applause and screams. I loved the energy of people at zulily. This is small but something I cherish working here.

One week later zulily went public and we celebrated that day in the Auditorium. I never had a chance before to experience the vibe when the company you work for goes public. It was epic. There was a countdown and people were cheering and later we heard Darrell’s (the CEO) live speech from the NASDAQ office. What a day it was!

Later I was involved in talking to a lot of people from the business. I was told about the fast-paced environment at zulily and “zulily time.” I didn’t really understand it until I released a new feature for vendors called “Vendor Inventory Update Automation” in my first few weeks at zulily. After that I never turned back….

What is different now?

zulily has grown a lot. But zulily still moves very fast and is very aggressive. The tech team has doubled in size, there are more people you would be able to work with and the development vision has changed from “Get it out now. We can think of the future later.” to “We need to do it right and make it useful for the future.” We also have PMs to help us to define the priorities and let us code more and attend fewer meetings.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I get into the office around 10am. By the time I come in most folks are here. I check my mail, look at my calendar and plan my day. I will be so engrossed in coding that I forget to eat sometimes. I generally keep reminders for that! I keep coding and attend meetings. I go back home when I feel that I have completed something concrete. I bike and bus to the office and I take the time on the bike to catch-up with what’s going on in this world. I go back home and spend some time with my family and then if I get some time I read something or else I go to bed… repeat.

What gets you excited about working about working at zulily?

I agree with everyone about how much of an impact your changes and work have on the routine of the people at zulily. As I work on internal tools for zulily employees I get a chance to meet my customers directly, talk to them, get accurate requirements and build tools that cater to their needs. This kind of customer interaction is something I love about working at zulily. Also, I own what I build and I support it, which motivates me to code better. Most importantly: all the people I work with are awesome.

Meet a zulily Developer: John

Each month, we’ll talk with one of our developers and learn about a day-in-the-life of a zulily engineer.

Who are you, and what do you do at zulily?

I’m John, a tech lead on the SHIPS* team.john-self

*The name of my team has changed numerous times during my tenure at zulily, and actually is about to change again. Other names for the team I am on have been: Supply Chain, FMS, PFOAM, SCS, “those folks that deal with shipping stuff to Mom”…

When did you join zulily?

I started in June of 2012, so it has been 2+ years.

What was it like in the early days?  Tell us a crazy story.

  • On my first day, I vividly remember Dan Ward coming up to me and introducing himself. He was wearing a neon orange shirt, white pants, a neon orange belt and neon orange shoe-laces. I remember thinking to myself, “This dude is really friendly, but that is a lot of neon orange!” 🙂
  • Later in the morning of my first day at zulily, I remember hearing “Good morning!!!” <CLAP>, <CLAP>, <CLAP>, <CLAP> over and over again. Of course this was Tatiana leading a conga line of folks who were telling everyone “Good Morning!!!” and giving them a high-five.
  • For lunch on my first day, I went to Pecos BBQ Pit in SODO and ordered a pulled pork sandwich with the “hot” BBQ sauce. I like spicy food, but not ghost chili peppers pureed with the tears of Satan…
  • Later in that first week, zulily announced that they were going to be the first company to integrate with SAP in 90 days (where most companies take 18-24 months to do the same amount of work.) My team did a lot of the heavy lifting on this aggressive project, and we pulled it off.  Even built a LEGO Galactic Empire Super Star Destroyer during the process. 🙂
  • A year later zulily had another aggressive project where I got to travel to London with Dan Ward and Neil Harris to deploy SAP into the UK portion of the business. Again we managed to pull off this aggressive project in “zulily time”, I also came away with a serious love for Brown Sauce, Bacon Butties, and Neil Harris’ ability to function at a very high level sans sleep.


What is different now?

zulily still moves very fast and is very aggressive. What is different now is the number of folks to help with the work, and the impact of the work has been magnified at least three orders of magnitude. I still cannot wrap my head around the growth.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I get into the office around 7am before most folks get into the office, grab some coffee and look at my calendar to see how many meetings I have. I then pound out some code or documentation till about 9am before the meetings start happening. Typically I will have 1-2 phone screens or on-site interviews a day, 1-2 meetings with sister and cousin teams a day regarding system integrations, in between said meetings try to write a line or two of code and hopefully sometime during the day try to remember to have some lunch. I do my best to catch the 5:15pm water taxi to West Seattle where I live. Have dinner with my kids and wife, put my kids to bed and then if I have any energy left write some more code before I head to bed. Rinse, repeat…

What gets you excited about working about working at zulily?

In a word, impact. It is very rare that one gets to work at a place where the requirement is to scale systems by orders of magnitude in hopes of keeping up with the demands of the business.  I would categorize working in zulily tech as “extreme engineering” with very high highs and very low lows.  It is thrilling to be able to triage, debug and resurrect a system that is cratering, or deploy subtle changes to systems that almost immediately start generating more revenue and see it happen on a pretty splunk graph.

In another word, trust. There are not many places where an engineer would be allowed to have the impact described above without backbreaking amounts of process and oversight.

Meet a zulily Developer: Trevor

Processed with VSCOcamEach month zulily will talk with a developer and learn about a day in the life of a zulily engineer.

Who are you, and what do you do at zulily?

I’m Trevor, a developer on the Relevancy team. Prior to that, I worked on our fulfillment and warehouse management systems.

When did you join zulily?

I started in August of 2010, so it’s been 4 years now.

What was it like in the early days? Tell us a crazy story.

Oh man, where to start….

  • My first desk was the classic startup cliché: a door blank on top of two filing cabinets. (We have proper desks now.)
  • My second day on the job, the director in charge of the Supply Chain team stopped by my desk and introduced herself like so: “Hi, I’m Lys. I hear you’re traveling with me to our vendor site next week?” At that point my manager leaned over and said, “Oh, uh, heh, I meant to ask you: can you go to our vendor next week?”
  • The following week consisted of Lys and me in a conference room with 10 folks in suits from the supply chain logistics company with whom we were gearing up to integrate. I had never worked on anything remotely related to supply chain logistics before, and couldn’t have told you what “GOH” stood for if my life depended on it (“garment on hanger”, if you’re curious). I spent most of that week furiously scribbling notes and wondering what in the world I’d gotten myself into.
  • About a year later, we needed to build our own fulfillment center in Reno. My understanding at the time was that a typical FC startup project took 6 to 9 months. We had 10 weeks to go from an empty building to shipping packages — and we got it done. To me that was a testament to what a small, tightly focused, extremely motivated group of people can do. It was a lot of work, with not a lot of sleep, but in the end it was worth it.

How is that different from now?

Things are much, much less hectic nowadays. We still move fast and set aggressive goals, but we don’t have to burn ourselves out to achieve them. The team is also bigger now, so there are a lot more hands to help carry the load.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I usually get into the office at around 10 am. First off, I usually grab a cup of coffee and check email. Then I give our API monitoring charts a look to make sure everything’s healthy.

99% of the code I work on nowadays is in Java, so once I’ve confirmed that everything’s humming along I’ll fire up IntelliJ and get to coding. Somewhere between 11 a.m and 1 p.m. I’ll take a break for lunch, then back to coding for a few more hours before our daily afternoon standup meeting. After that, more coding, till around 7 p.m. when I head home.

We’re definitely fans of the “ship early, ship often” mantra. It’s not at all unusual for me to push 3 or 4 different builds to production over the course of a day. Of course, there are also plenty of days where I’m heads-down working on larger changes, but we try to keep our changes small enough, and the barrier to releasing new code low enough, that we don’t go dark for long stretches of time.

What gets you excited about working at zulily?

There are so many things:

  • The team is absolutely top-notch. I’m surrounded by smart, talented people, both on my immediate team and across the entire organization. I learn something new from my coworkers every day.
  • We move fast and try new things. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but every time we learn something new.
  • The Relevancy team’s mandate is to figure out how to quickly and accurately surface the most engaging content for our members. We’re continually searching for ways to improve our systems, either by trying new and novel recommendation algorithms, or by increasing our capacity and reducing the time it takes our recommendations to update in response to user behavior. It’s a fascinating space that combines machine learning with hard-core engineering for scale. I love it.
  • I’ve worked at places building packaged software with 9-to-12-month release cycles. It’s disheartening to put that much effort into a project, just to see it languish on a shelf somewhere because the customer can’t (or won’t) deploy it. Our team is the polar opposite of that-we push new code to production several times a day. This creates an incredible virtuous cycle. The barrier to pushing code live is low, which means you do it more often, which means each change is small, which means it’s both easy to verify and easy to roll back if something goes sideways. With such low friction, we’re constantly pushing forward, constantly improving our service, creating a much richer, more engaging experience for our members.

Meet a zulily Developer, Adam K.


Each month zulily will talk with a developer and learn about a day in the life of a zulily engineer.

How long have you been with the company, Adam?

Nine months.

What is your exact role with the engineering organization?

“Software engineer” but my role is geared toward frontend development. I get the most enjoyment from working on customer facing code, so they keep me on projects like that. This typically means I am innovating on current features, prototyping new concepts, or evangelizing for new frontend technology.

Continue reading