In the latest of our #TechQA series, Richard Atkinson, Co-Founder of Third Republic’s CTO Roundtable talks to Marco Melas, VP of Engineering at EGYM, all about how the industry and the role of tech teams has changed in the past +15 years.
Marco also offers top tips for standing out during the interview process and mistakes to avoid during the hiring process.
Third Republic (TR): To start, could you tell us a bit about your career journey and how you got into a career in tech?
Marco Melas (MM): I knew that I wanted to work in tech from when I was in school. It was my dream, and hence the next step was to study Business and Computer Science. I suppose this was already an early sign that I am more of a hybrid, trying to bridge the gap between business needs and tech. With a few friends, I started my own agency directly after university at the end of 1998; today, it would be called a start-up, I suppose. We were building marketplaces for the packaging industry. But when the bubble burst in 2003, I decided to move on. I stayed in tech and went to “health tech” for hospitals to „working for love“ with PARSHIP in Hamburg and arrived in Berlin to work for zanox, now Awin, growing the team in adtech and supporting the merger of an acquisition. Now I am back in health with EGYM but working in “prevention” instead of “repair.” In a nutshell, I have worked for health, love, and money. “Health” and “Love” clearly outranked “Money”, for me. In all these positions, I always took leadership roles, slowly moving up the ranks and influencing the company to ensure we make healthy and sound decisions from a tech/product perspective.
TR: With +15 years of experience, what has been the biggest change you have seen in the industry?
MM: Moving to the cloud is the most significant change from my perspective. I also witnessed the SOA and microservice trend, but I would not say that having a Monolith is a bad thing per se.
Moving from on-premise bare metal infrastructure to VMs and containers and having them run on fully managed infrastructure has made many things so much easier for us. This is closely followed by the whole DevSecOps movement, which is raising the expectations towards engineers significantly. Finally, we are breaking down the silos, which means we engineers need to know much more than we used to. I would say that both topics are closely related.
TR: How do you think the role of tech teams has changed during this time?
MM: I can only talk about the teams I have witnessed myself, and I can happily say that their role has become much more critical in the overall product development process. While in the past, I experienced engineers being mere executors of what someone else thinks needs to be done, it has become way more collaborative. Marty Cagan was a big influence with his approach to a Product Trio. I always knew we had to go in a different direction than we were, but for me, he was the first person to give it a working format.
Also, the whole DevSecOps movement, observability, you build it – you run it, automation, testing, etc. All of this puts a lot of pressure on engineers, what should I do first, how should I do this, when should I do what? On the other hand, it opens up a great bouquet of opportunities for engineers. Finally, you don’t have to be stuck in one place. One can develop in certain directions and experiment and investigate where one wants to learn more and become more of an expert. I see myself as a guide in this process, a coach, and a mentor for my engineers.
TR: Could you also give us an overview of EGYM?
MM: EGYM’s goal is to make exercising smarter and more efficient. The company enables gym owners and operators to leverage a fitness technology ecosystem that delivers a fully connected workout experience for exercisers and drives measurable business and health outcomes on and off the fitness floor.
EGYM is headquartered in Munich, Germany, with additional European offices and a U.S. headquarters in Boulder, Colorado. We have an additional Engineering Hub in Berlin.
EGYM combines the latest machine technology, powered by German engineering, with an open cloud platform and the advantages of connected mobile applications to deliver intuitive and effective workouts with more fun and data-driven member support. By offering apps for members and trainers, EGYM simplifies operations and provides operators with all the necessary tools to support their customers on their individual member journeys. For better onboarding, greater workout success and, as a result, higher motivation and lower drop-out rates. EGYM offers an open cloud platform that integrates many connected partners like Matrix, Precor, Life Fitness, Fitbit, Polar, Inbody, and many others.
TR: On a personal note, after years working as a VP of Engineering at another company, what inspired you to make the move to EGYM?
MM: EGYM is a growing company in an industry that is changing. Gyms are operating very much as they operated 70 years ago. Digitalization has not been a focus. With our strength equipment and open Software platform that allows us to collect data from many additional devices and adding 3rd party services into the ecosystem, we face new challenges and opportunities every week. Being part of this journey and building something bigger than anyone has ever seen in the industry – who wouldn’t hop on this bus? It was an easy choice. I had multiple options back in the day, but whenever I talked about EGYM to my wife, she said my eyes were always glowing brightly. The rest is history, as they say.
TR: How would you describe the technical vision for the team at EGYM?
MM: Without going into too much detail, we want to become the de facto standard for integration and communication in the gym industry. We have created an open platform with publicly available APIs that allow potential partners to connect to our system. We are providing End-Users with one “EGYM ID” allowing them to collect and access all of their data in one place.
Our system runs in the cloud (GCP and AWS), and we are moving towards a microservice structure, making our Monoliths (!) smaller and smaller with every step we take.
Our software runs on so many clients that re-usability has become important. While we used the best-of-breed approach for each client in the beginning, we now want to go into a hybrid approach, using web tech more often and doing native things where it makes the most sense.
We use “common tech” to have a big pool of talent that finds it interesting to work in our ecosystem—Java, Golang, Swift, and Kotlin, just to name a few. We are currently experimenting with Rust to see if it can replace some of our Firmware and device software running on our strength machines.
From my perspective, we are only at the beginning of the journey, and the vision needs to be aspirational, right?
TR: What makes the engineering culture different at EGYM from other companies?
MM: This assumes I know what “other companies’ culture” looks like – which I don’t. Instead, I DO know that at EGYM engineering, we value the well-being of our people as much as building high-quality software. We aim to find the sweet spot of creating win-win situations for individuals and the department. We encourage autonomy accompanied by the necessary alignment. We provide learning days and a budget for personal development. We also request that people invest part of their private time working on their skills. This is easy as we have very passionate engineers either because they want to achieve mastery in their field and/or because they are passionate about the purpose and the products they work on. We are a growing department, and we acknowledge that with growth, this thing called “change” is a constant companion for us. I strive for our teams to learn how to accept change and make change a part of their everyday work life. So far, we are on a good path.
TR: What advice would you give someone looking to interview at EGYM?
MM: Nothing special, be yourself, be honest, tell and show us what you are really good at and what you think you want to learn and get better at. And of course: come prepared, check our website, read our tech blog, have a look at our tech-radar and last but not least: be able to walk us through your coding challenge (if applicable)
TR: Finally, what mistakes have you seen people make during the hiring process that have ultimately held them back?
MM: Two things:
1. If you don’t know something, say it instead of beating around the bush. Our interviewers intentionally ask hard questions. Sometimes it is more about your approach rather than coming up with the correct answer.
2. If you are applying from outside Germany, prepare for all relocation-related topics: Cost of living, salary request, etc. Do your research before applying; I assume you won’t just apply with us without making those considerations.
If you’re looking to source top technical talent or would like to be involved in our next Q&A, get in touch with us today!