Adam Mullen: At Vinted, by Doing Well You Are Doing Good
Adam Mullen

Meet Adam, Director of Engineering at Vinted. During our talk, Adam shared the ins and outs of his daily work, explained why diversity is key to successful organisations, and outlined the impact of Engineering at Vinted.

What’s your name and job at Vinted?

I am Adam Mullen — Director of Engineering at Vinted. During my year here, I’ve moved Product Engineering in our Marketplace unit to the Privacy team to reduce our risks in this field and make privacy a competitive advantage for Vinted. 

When and how did you join? Why? (Be honest!)

I come from an engineering background. But a while ago I got bored with computers because they always do the same thing and do what you tell them to do. So I’ve switched from debugging computers and systems to debugging people and teams — helping people be successful. Vinted gave me that opportunity in the product engineering space. 

When talking to Vinted, I was really intrigued by the people who already worked here. They were bright, and I admired the fact that the teams I spoke with were invested in learning. I liked the mission, but I really loved the people. So when they told me about opening a new office in Berlin and asked if I wanted to be one of the first people to build the engineering teams, it was definitely a yes.

How is Vinted’s mission important for you?

I joined Vinted for the people, but the mission is really what’s keeping me here. I started to find out more and more about the fashion industry and first-hand consumer goods. Just google the clothing dumps in the deserts, Africa, or South America. That is the problem we are trying to solve — reducing waste and improving the environment. It’s opened my eyes to my own behaviour, helping me make changes in what I buy, what I choose to do, and the impact that I have daily.

Tell us about your typical work day? Do you have a morning ritual?

My typical workday starts with a cup of coffee, checking my Slack messages, organising my day, and making sure that there isn’t anything urgent burning. It goes more in the direction of helping other people to change and solve problems. I spend plenty of time in meetings, co-creating and creating a shared product. That’s what I love doing. There’s hiring and recruiting some days, working on the risk management framework, there's product design, and so on. 

As a Director at Vinted, you can get into just about everything. There’s no such thing as a typical day. As a people leader and an enabler, you have to help the team and make sure that people can do their work.

I don’t have a specific morning ritual, but I have weekly ones. Every Friday, for example, I have my own retrospective with myself. On Monday, it is about planning and organising things.

Vinted is becoming increasingly international and diverse. What does it mean to you, and how does it benefit your life?

Internationality and diversity are delivered through people, their backgrounds, and perspectives. What does that mean for me? It helps me keep out of an echo chamber of talking to the same people about the same things. It means I get perspectives that enough people are comfortable sharing. It helps us create better services and products for our internal and external uses, as many different people bring their experiences and knowledge.

It benefits my life by just getting to connect and exercise my mental plasticity. It also makes it more interesting to do the work. But it also takes effort, like everything in life. Any organisation or company talking about diversity needs to recognize that it’s an investment at the organisational and the individual level. It’s about creating a place where people belong.

What impact does the internal culture have on you and Vinted’s success?

At Vinted, we live by our values and the internal culture. During the recruitment process, we make sure that people are aligned and understand things, but not necessarily by fitting in. At Vinted, you are not expected to fit in. You are expected to bring yourself to the table. I have a certain gender fluidity. For example, as a male, I don’t wear male clothing all the time. Those kinds of things are based on my gender and sexual orientation or life choices. At Vinted, nobody cares – in a good way. It helps me be successful because I am just going to be me.   

Even though it takes some time to negotiate and understand one another, everyone is interested and committed to doing that. We care about people, and we care about learning who they are. That is a very cultural thing because we are a socio-cultural organisation. It made us successful in the past — sharing ideas, communicating between people, and enabling one another. We wouldn’t have gotten to where we are now if we didn't have that.

How does working with diverse people who come from a different background than you helps you and your team to solve daily challenges?

I work in Privacy and Security in the Engineering domain at the moment. But there are not that many engineers on the team, as most people have a legal background, policy background, etc. Thus I can learn from the different approaches and perspectives of assessing things, new processes, and frameworks. From my side, I share delivery-type things and patterns that we use in Engineering. They are also applicable here, such as organising work, getting stuff done, and finding ways of managing our inputs and outputs. It engages me that people are receptive, and we bring all the things together and continually improve the stew that we are cooking here.

How do internal communication and the company’s values impact the final product? Is there any link there?

We rely a lot on personal networks and fast-moving communication. Now that we are almost double, triple the size compared to a year and a half ago, we focus more on documentation and knowledge management. There is a principle called Conway's law, which states that the systems an organisation develops are a direct reflection of its communication structures.

The Vinted app looks just like the organisation in that perspective. Different people work on specific parts of it. We are good at distributing the value proposition given to our members. We take this one thing and launch it in other places. What we are learning to do as an organisation is to help us create more mature ways of communicating and sharing so that we can bring new experiences which allow us to grow our network of members without having to launch new countries.

Tell us more about your job. What makes someone good at it?

What makes someone a good Director of Engineering here at Vinted are the Vinted values: aiming high, caring, taking ownership, co-creating, and growing. These things have to be embedded into you. It’s not about what you do but who you are. You can learn these things, train these things, and create habits over time. If you have those values baked in along with patience, compassion, latitude, humility, and learning, then you are able to take all these things and use them to help people get stuff done.

The element at Vinted that is almost universally important is to be biased towards trying to do and then figuring out if it could be done better. Make your best effort, work on getting it better and be comfortable with failure. It’s okay if things don’t go as planned. You have to be resilient. You have to provide fuel for other people’s resilience and help them to feel safe while doing these things.

What are the main principles you follow at work?

I have a couple of hard lines. I won’t ask someone to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself. If it’s something that I can’t do myself or don’t know how to do, that is different. Also, I always assume positive intent and that everybody made the best decisions they could in the situation with their skills and knowledge available at the time.

We are not a company of computers and software. We are a company of people. It's crucial to care, love, and treat people around you as people. When delivering feedback, I think at least about one thing that I really love about the person. If I don't find this thing, I am not in a good place to give feedback. 

What are the top things that you look for when hiring new Engineering colleagues?

The best way to explain is with an example. Some Senior Engineers that we hired and that have been successful did not know our library language and frameworks – Ruby on Rails. We hired them because, throughout the interview, we found out that they are educable and curious. They had solid foundational principles of how software engineering works or how engineering management works. 

We don’t focus on what you know, but on how you know it and who you are. People who join have the energy in their hearts. We are looking for people who can learn, who can grow, are adaptable, or can contribute to helping us build Vinted better. If you don’t like that, you won't like Vinted. If you love that, please come and apply. We need more people who see value in co-creation and collaboration. Not with just engineers, but with everyone at Vinted.

What’s special about working in Engineering at Vinted? How is it impactful?

What’s special about Engineering, especially on the marketplace side, is our decision-making structures. We have four, sometimes five, main competencies with four or five different people. The challenge there is making decisions with those people in a timely way. So decisions made as a group are from the outside atomic. There’s no division here. We move forward together. There’s a lot of strength in that if you work on it and get it right, it takes effort. It’s an extra investment at a team level. It’s a quality of decisions.

What’s your take on sustainability? Does it add a layer of meaning to your work?

It adds not only a layer. It adds a decision point as being about everything we do at Vinted. From strategic objectives down to the teams’ product plans – it is at the core of the organisation. We ask ourselves questions about how our work impacts sustainability. If you come to work at Vinted and do your job well, you are solving sustainability problems. By doing well at Vinted, you are doing good.

By the way, do you use the Vinted app? If so, what’s your way of using it?

Yes, I use the Vinted app. I love the size of the catalogue. There is so much to choose from, I find awesome things for myself, and it helps people clear out their wardrobes. Also, it provides a layer of protection for both the buyers and sellers, which is important. 

One fact about you?

I am a pragmatic pessimist. People think that I am an optimist. But I am a pessimist with enthusiasm and a smile on my face. 

Please pick one piece of media to recommend. Why do you think it deserves someone’s attention and what role does it play in your life?

I am going to recommend a book. Maybe that is another fact about me. I can’t listen to podcasts, and I love reading. The book is Systems thinking by ​​Jamshid Gharajedaghi. Why is it important to me? When I read the book, it made the world make sense. It’s about counterintuitive approaches to systematic problems. I read the book, reread the book, and things started to make sense. I could create models for why things happen the way they do, test the models, and it works.

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