Homegate turned 20 years old! As part of this anniversary, Homegate has conducted an interview with one of the longest-serving employees, as well as one of the newest additions. Markus Stutz, Head of Platform and Infrastructure, and Emin Filip, Product Manager, talk about their time at Homegate and the biggest changes they’ve experienced.
20 years vs. the year 2020
Can you tell us a little about yourselves, what you do at Homegate and what you did before?
Markus: I’ve been working for Homegate since 2001, and before that, I spent several years in operations at a bank, and in software engineering. As Head of Platform and Infrastructure, I lead a team that provides cloud-based services, supports the customer centre in technical matters and supplies Homegate employees with work equipment.
Emin: I’ve been at Homegate since August 2020. I’m a Product Manager, which means I work with our developers to implement new functions and improve existing ones at Homegate. I was at a start-up before I came here.
How did you come to join Homegate?
Markus: I started working for Homegate as an external employee in 2001, and found the area of online apartment hunting extremely interesting right from the beginning. I didn’t feel like an external employee, though, and it was easy for me to accept an offer from Homegate to join the company in 2006.
Emin: I found out about Homegate and realised that product development at Homegate, and at Tamedia in general, seems to work really well, and I was impressed by the progressive approach. This is very important to me, as it means I can develop and improve not only the product, but also myself as a product manager.
What was your first impression of Homegate as a company?
Markus: Homegate had just been set up at the time, so everything was being built from the ground up, and we started completely from scratch both in organisational and technical terms. It was a fascinating but also very challenging time.
Emin: I joined Homegate right in the middle of the coronavirus crisis. Although many of my colleagues were working from home, everything went smoothly right from the start, and this helped me to find my way around pretty quickly. Working from home wasn’t always easy, though, especially as the company keeps on growing. I really appreciate the working culture at Homegate – everyone works together really well, and people support each other with open feedback.
Approachability is Key
Homegate began as a start-up and has grown considerably since. How have you experienced this development? Is the start-up feeling still there?
Markus: In the beginning, we worked from early in the morning to late in the evening and had loads of ideas, which all felt a little like being in a start-up. At the time, Homegate had around 25 employees, which made us agile and flexible and able to make decisions quickly. As Homegate now has around 125 employees, decisions tend to take a little longer.
Emin: The fact that everyone is able to say what they think, and has a direct line to the CEO, still gives me the feeling of being at a start-up. The need to implement new features quickly is also typical of a start-up, and in this respect, we’re not quite where we’d like to be.
What sets Homegate apart as a company?
Markus: The whole management team and the CEO are available for everyone at all times, and you can talk to everyone, which I think is very important. This was always the case at Homegate, and hasn’t changed over the years. The CEO keeps in touch with us and works together with us when it comes to finding a solution to a challenge. In addition to this, I find the working atmosphere at Homegate very pleasant.
Emin: Employees are always highly motivated to improve things, and are open to new suggestions. Homegate employees are extremely versatile, and we have a high level of diversity, with people from over 20 different countries. Right now, we’re working actively on enabling more women to pursue a career in IT.
What do you see as the biggest challenges, and how have they changed over time?
Markus: The big real estate platforms we know today were already around 20 years ago. Search filters have always been a major issue, but from a technical perspective, the search process hasn’t changed much. ‘Search alerts’ that notify users of properties were a big development – whereas in the past users were sent simple mails with general property suggestions, today they can put together their very own search alerts with personal preferences. With our recommendations, we also take a proactive approach to presenting users with properties that may be of interest.
Emin: The digitalisation process in Switzerland is not quite as advanced as in other countries, which means for us that some people aren’t used to doing certain things online. It always takes a while for new products and technologies to be accepted.
What has changed the most compared to the past?
Markus: Our office has changed a great deal. We used to work in a big open space, which didn’t really feel like an office, and there was definitely a start-up feel. Today, we’re in a highly modern open-plan office – when we’re not working from home, of course! In the past, people also used to smoke in the office, which is unimaginable today.