Current Role: Software Development Engineer II
“Self-service checkouts are smart. Really smart. We use the very latest technologies and develop our own software to make them the best they can be: intuitive, fast and reliable. After all, we want customers to have a great experience, and we want to make our store colleagues’ lives easier at the same time so they can focus on serving customers better.
The scale of what we do is huge too: over 20,000 devices (including scan-as-you go handhelds) need to run without a hitch. But if there are any issues, we don’t rely on a third-party supplier to help – we fix it ourselves. It means we all feel a sense of ownership with our work.
It actually feels like a start-up sometimes, in the best possible way. It’s dynamic and fresh because we’re all eager to work and learn. At the same time, there’s a warm atmosphere: everyone’s friendly and supportive. It’s clear too that you have autonomy from pretty much the first day.
“We all feel a sense of ownership with our work.”
There are up to 30 specialist teams working together on one device, responsible for everything from cash payments to the User Interface (UI). My team is focused on loss prevention and reducing ‘shrinkage’. In other words, the software we develop helps to prevent stock being stolen from the store when people use the self-service checkouts. That might be down to theft, or genuine user error.
We look closely at the tech behind the bagging scales in particular. Once you scan something, the checkout identifies it based on the barcode. After that, you place the item on the bagging scale. Based on its weight, the checkout will determine whether it really is the item you just scanned. If our software detects suspicious activity, it’ll block your transaction.
It’s a delicate balance: we need to prevent stock loss, but we also don’t want to ruin customer experience with a clunky and lengthy checkout process. So we get to solve some really interesting technical challenges, and use ever-evolving technology like computer vision modelling. It’s very cool, very modern.
“We solve some really interesting technical challenges.”
We’ll look at the data in our transaction logs and get to know customer habits or spot frequent mistakes at the self-service checkouts. One of the most common issues, for example, is putting your own bag on the scales at different times during the scanning process. Some people do it at the beginning, some in the middle. That can trip up the systems we’ve put in place. So we’ve got to account for different customer behaviours and find ways to make the experience better for everyone.
We then feed all that insight back to the Product Managers in our planning sessions with them. Once we’ve agreed a way forward, I then write the software that implements the changes. I also work on deployment and support, so if there’s an issue with something my team’s worked on, I’ll be on hand to help our store colleagues. As a developer here, you don’t just write the code then pass it on, you’re involved in the whole lifecycle of the software you design.
One time, there was a bug we just couldn’t figure out. Everything seemed fine with the software and none of our go-to solutions seemed to work. We called out a field engineer to take a look at the checkout itself, and they found some wayward peas stuck under the bagging scale plate – which is quite an unusual problem to fix!
“You’re involved in the whole lifecycle of the software you design.”
What’s great is how we’re always encouraged to experiment and innovate. If we see a new framework or library that we’d like to try out, our managers support that. And if it turns out to be really useful, we share that knowledge with the other teams. It means we have super-talented technologists all learning from each other.
We’ve also got a lab in our Budapest office, where we have some of the in-store devices to test our software on. We’ll have a play on them, figuring things out and trying to trick our own code before it goes live. There are different test devices for different teams, so everyone can try out their own solutions and make sure everything works.
I love how grocery shopping is such an everyday thing, but we’re pairing that with state-of-the-art technology. The work you do here is tangible, these self-service checkouts are being used by millions of people. In many ways, we’re changing the way customers shop, and that’s really cool.
Being part of our Technology team means you get the time and tools to try new things. Like the ideas that make life a little better for our customers. And the career progression that makes life a little better for you, too.
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