Introducing Technology's Zooport

by Enrico Hartung - 20 Aug 2013

Zooport - internal support for Zalando technology teams With a continuously growing Technology department and therefore a technology stack which is expanding with a steady pace, sharing knowledge becomes a real challenge. Thus the need for internal support is high. With the Technology Zooport we introduced internal support for all our engineers, testers and product managers working in the Technology department.

Before Zooport it was common practice to simply walk over and ask others for help. This was O.K. back when we were less than a hundred people working in software development. However we are now in the hundreds, and this became a denial of service attack against our more experienced employees.

In order to overcome the flood of support requests, prevent getting lost with helping others, and blocking work on projects or new features our teams started to look for ways out. As a result several mailing lists, ticket systems and group chats were introduced. Some teams even bought toy animals for labeling the employees people could go to. All this made dealing with the requests easier for the supporting teams, but caused confusion for those who were seeking support. It was unclear whom to call in which way for which kind of issue.

Hence we took all of these different approaches and brought them together in a distributed internal support where technology teams give support on particular topics to other technology teams. Due to the toy animals of some teams we named this project "Zooport".

All animals of the Zalando Technology Zooport

Meet the Zooporters

The first rule for participating in the Zooport is that each team has to name an animal as its alias. This animal is supposed to mark the team member who is on duty, can be contacted for requests and who is working on the issues in our Zooport ticket system. Everyone on duty is called "Zooporter". We started our zoo with four animals, but more are about to join. The Zooport toy
animals The Zooport toy animals The Zooport animals built with Lego The Zooport animals built with Lego

Elephant

The elephant represents the database administrator on Zooport duty It all started with the blue toy elephant from our database administrators (DBAs), which was inspired by the PostgreSQL logo. It represents our DBA on Zooport duty. Our database administrators are popular people and they used to receive a lot of support requests from chats, email or by direct approach. Each of these requests caused a disruption of the DBA's work and it wasn't that unusual that several DBAs were contacted with same issue if one didn't answer fast enough.

Now the DBA on elephant duty is the only one answering database requests and giving ad-hoc support on SQL queries. This allows our other DBAs to concentrate on their projects as well as on their planned development or consulting tasks.

Turtle

The turtle represents the platform engineer on Zooport duty Shortly afterwards other teams took up this idea and soon a green turtle was introduced representing our platform software team. In the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett the world rests on the back of four elephants which are standing on a giant turtle, in case someone wonders about the connection between a turtle and our software platform.

The developer on turtle duty is responsible for all kinds of support requests regarding our internal tools and infrastructure. This also includes central components of our production environment. Typical tasks are setting up services on our cloud infrastructure, granting access to our tools and giving deployment permissions. Besides this the turtle is managing the bug reports for our shared tools, components or libraries. Furthermore, all requests related to our continuous delivery infrastructure are sent to the developer on turtle duty.

Penguin

The penguin represents the system operator on Zooport duty The Zalando ZEOS platform runs on Linux, so what is more obvious than having one of our system operators (sysops) on penguin duty. Thus whenever a new virtual machine on our cloud infrastructure is needed, someone is lacking access to our networks or some configuration change on the production environment is needed the penguin is in charge.

He is also ordering new hardware and answering questions regarding the status of our technical infrastructure. Furthermore the sysop on penguin duty can be contacted on all issues concerning our environments on the operating system and network layer.

Koala

The koala represents the test engineer on Zooport duty The newest animal in our zoo is a friendly koala bear acting as the ambassador of our test engineers. Why a koala? Well, test engineers belong to our QA and are also called “QAlers” ... The koala duty spans support and administration of our test environments and test tools as well as support for our automatic system tests. Moreover, the koala is responsible for analyzing and managing bug reports regarding the tools developed by our test engineers.

He is the one, our testers and test engineers go to if they need help, but more and more developers have been seen in the waiting line at the koala desk, lately.

Since our Technology department is continuously growing more and more animals are arriving in our zoo, e.g. rumors about a German Shepherd giving support on security issues are already going around.

Zooport tools

Zooport view in team cube With a click on the paw icon in our team cube one can see who is currently on Zooport duty All our Zooporters can use a set of tools we set up to support them on their duty. The main tool is JIRA, our ticket system, in which we have defined several ticket types according to the main tasks of our Zooporters, e.g. create an account for our internal tools, request a new virtual machine in our cloud or the setup of a new component on a particular environment. For each ticket type we can implement a customized workflow in case extra steps like an approval are needed. We also provide dashboards, daily as well as weekly email reports on the status of open tickets and the possibility to escalate tickets. Our employees on duty can be contacted over a group chat and by direct approach, they can be recognized by the corresponding toy animal. Since not everybody wants to walk over to the team in order to check who's on duty, they are labeled in our Technology team cube, too.

Although the toy animals might provoke a different view, we are taking our internal support seriously. All task types have SLAs for the first response and the resolution time which we are monitoring with daily and weekly reports. We already have a lot of ideas for extending our Zooport and increasing the quality of our internal support.

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