Gumtree CTO: Giving Up Control Is Worth It To Foster Tech Responsibility

INTERVIEW: Gumtree UK CTO Bas Anneveld talks cloud, microservices, big data, security and the abolition of top down development

Gumtree UK CTO Bas Anneveld believes the eBay-owned company’s new approach to development will make it a better place to work and allow it to push out new services far more rapidly.

Gumtree is the UK’s largest classified ad website and was founded in 2000 before being acquired by eBay in 2005. Like other retailers, it is harnessing the power of mobile and Big Data to expand and ensure it attracts and retains customers.

This transition has seen a structural overhaul and the adoption of cloud and microservices to give developers the tools and environments they need.

Bas Anneveld Gumtree UK

Changing structure

Anneveld joined Gumtree from eBay, where he was CTO for Denmark, and explained this new team-led structure, rather than top-down approach, attracted him to the role.

“What attracted me to Gumtree was that we’re changing the way we work,” he tells Silicon. “A couple of months ago we kicked off a change where we moved from traditional roadmaps to objective led product development. We used to have long roadmaps that were top-down and [now] we’ve reorganised developer teams to cross-functional teams.”

Each team comprises designers and developers who determine their own goals by which their performance is measured. They work with data analysts, talk to customers and create their own list of things they hope to discover.

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Anneveld admits giving up control is difficult, but the transfer of responsibility improves results and reduces the time to market.

“If you empower the teams to do the right things, you get people who are much closer to the customer and make the right decision than a top down approach,” he says. “We think this will develop accountability as nobody is off the hook until they reach the goals of the team. We hope this makes Gumtree a great place to work.”


Empowering developers with the cloud

Teams work on the core functions of the site, such as buying and selling, communications, customer acquisition and retention (which includes the burgeoning area of adtech) as well as platform.

Gumtree’s platform allows it to create developer environments that can be replicated and disposed of in a dynamic fashion but the road to the cloud hasn’t been easy. Gumtree have an internal private cloud but signing up is the easy part, Anneveld says, it’s getting the application cloud ready that is much more difficult.

“The main driver for us to utilise cloud was to become much more flexible and make sure that every testing environment our developers are using is reproducible,” he explains.

As an eBay business, Gumtree has access to a centralised data science team to get “sensible” insights back that can be used to attract and retain users, improving the content that is presented to them.

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Social media and mobile have given eBay much greater, richer data sources to analyse and mobility is high up on Anneveld’s agenda too.

The rapid rollout of services makes it easier to fine tune Gumtree’s mobile offering, especially on the web where it sees significant amounts of traffic. Mobile applications are therefore a significant growth target.

“We’re trying to make small changes,” he says. “It’s easy to roll back a small change. Mobile is obviously super important but we were relatively early in our space with a responsive website.”


Security concerns

Security is an obvious area of concern. Data breaches can be catastrophic for a retailer and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks could damage its reputation for reliability and harm revenues.

Gumtree has a round-the-clock infrastructure team that deals with DDoS and several initiatives to limit potential threats.

“Security is every ones responsibility but we have a security group at Gumtree to create awareness,” he says. “All of our developers get a week of security training and an external company come in for a penetration test. A couple of times a year we have an internal bug hunt.

“We have a responsible disclosure programme. If someone finds something, we invite researchers to work with us.”

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