Self-proclaimed “Groupon dinosaur” Nico talks about his interview experience in 2011 at the fledgling (and slightly chaotic) Berlin office and growing out a 24/7 response team across the globe.
What’s your favorite Groupon memory?
My favorite Groupon memory is when I spotted the frozen yogurt machine for the first time in our Palo Alto office. But if we want to keep it professional, it would have to be the grand opening of our Berlin office in 2012, where we blocked off the entire street in front of the office with food trucks and had several dance floors inside the office.
Tell us about your Groupon journey! Where did you start and how’d you get to where you are now?
I was hired to build out a solid monitoring solution for Groupon International to make sure the Citydeals platform was performing as expected. In my first week, I set up a monitoring tool to cover the basics and added alerting and graphs on top of it. After endless discussions with Engineering stakeholders, we set up very granular application monitoring and were able to detect problems before they became issues.
Three months after I started, the former Citydeals CTO and I had the idea of building a 24/7 response team to react to alerts the newly-built monitoring system found. We started hiring people and staffed the System Operations Center (SOC) which worked in three shifts around the clock to support all international countries and I became the manager of that team.
In 2014, together with the Unity and one platform initiative, we found that we could extend the existing SOC model to become a fully global team supporting all Groupon sites and different platforms around the globe, taking responsibilities from the SRE team which was doing similar work to ours. After 6 months of hiring and preparation, we launched the Global SOC in September 2014, doing a follow-the-sun rotation in 5 different time zones. In April 2015, we onboarded the last remaining piece to the global SOC, which was the needish platform in LATAM. Since then, SOC has followed a global and unified incident management process.
I also oversee the so-called “Berlin platform operations team” which supports all the remaining Citydeals components, as well as the extended monitoring tool I built in 2011. Nowadays, that tool is monitoring the two most important parts of our global platform: all network devices as well as all databases from GDS.
Tell us about your job! What do you love about what you do?
In general, my team is the first point of contact for all production related issues. Whenever there is an outage my team makes sure the right teams are on deck, helping them fix the issue, sending out communication to the business and upper management, and basically helping drive the incident to resolution in the shortest possible time. After the incident is fixed, they create incident reports and follow-up items to make sure we understand what happened and taking the right actions to prevent the same issue to occur again.
All of this on a 24/7 basis. We have 12 people around the globe: Palo Alto, Chicago, Boston, Dublin, Berlin, and Sydney, all rotating on shifts following the sun. There is always someone online watching the platform and making sure the company is able to make business. While doing so, you’re in touch with various people from all over the company—department- and location-wise—and that’s what makes this job so interesting. No day is like the other; every day you meet a lot of interesting people and work on different technologies.
What’s the most challenging thing you’ve worked on here?
The other day I read RVC’s story where he talked about his biggest work challenge being the huge data center migration from Switzerland to Ireland in 2016. I tend to say the same, even though it was my 3rd migration of that kind during my 6+ years at Groupon. But it’s always impressive how much you learn during such projects, how much other teams appreciate your knowledge as a “Groupon dinosaur,” and how much fun the cutover day itself is.
What was your first impression of Groupon?
“WTF, where am I?” My interview at Groupon was fun. When I first got into the office, I was stumbling over network cables crisscrossing on the floor. Then, the conference room my recruiter booked wasn’t free, so we moved the interview into a park near the office with a coffee to go. On my way home, I was thinking about what just happened and if I really wanted to work at such a chaotic company. I got the phone call from Groupon making me an offer shortly after. And yes, I accepted, so I’m here now.
Where can we find you outside of work?
Outside of work, I love to spend time with my kids as much as possible, doing a bunch of outside activities like geocaching. But I also love movies and good food, especially BBQ.
What do your parents think you do?
Mum: “Can you help me with my Windows Laptop, I’m not able to connect it to my printer”
Me: “Well, I can try, but I don’t know Windows very well, so it might be, that I’m not able to help”
Mum: “But you’re working the whole day with computers, why can’t you help with my Windows issues then?”
Dad: “Wife stop it, he is selling coupons over the internet, not laptops”
Me: “Ehhhhhh…. yeah”
What’s unique about Groupon’s Engineering culture?
I really like the diversity. We have folks from more than 20 nations in the Berlin office alone. Seeing everyone working on the same goal and adding different points of view is great. What makes it unique to work here is that you’re allowed and encouraged to make your own decisions and explore new technologies.
What’s your favorite programming language?
Since I’m not a developer but a systems person, I like Bash the most.
Tabs or spaces?
Vim or emacs?
Vim, because I like the syntax highlighting better.