Certainly that is an option. But rarely is it ever the correct one. Your new platform could be as riddled with bugs as the old one.
The truth is that finding good engineers is about knowing the right incentives. Retailers are losing the talent wars because they don't know how to compete. And while salary is one lever Target can fiddle with, it certainly isn't the only one.
Target needs to look at the right incentives for the people they want to hire. Is telecommuting an option? How about direct authority to approve changes? Or the chance to build your own team? These are the incentives that matter to engineers.
The problem is cutting through all the rhetoric in hiring. Target can say "we want to revolutionize the ecommerce industry" but do any engineers actually believe them? That's tough.
Debugging, instrumentation, refactoring and understanding "system integration" are going to be big skills in an environment like this. Making a whiz-bang social-media site on a clean slate is a valuable skill, but it's not what this problem needs solved.
Compensation can be non monetary as well. I telecommute a few days a week at my current position, and the hours are reasonable (important when you have a family!). My compensation is probably quite meager by Bay Area standards, but things are cheap in the Sacramento area.
I would argue set high enough it is the only lever. Many that play the start up game do so because first and foremost, there is the chance to earn far more than they can at an organization like Target. Sure it's a long shot but, there is at least the chance, if large organizations started to cross that chasm. I believe that they would indeed start to attract talent. If one could become moderately wealthy working for Target then a lot of people would choose that option, sure it's not the fame and fortune of making it in a start up, but a road somewhere in the middle is a road I would imagine that many developers would be willing to travel.
But what they almost definitely have is buckets of management and procedures preventing them from fixing the site. The kind of person who is afraid to reboot the server because it hasn't been rebooted in 6 months. Or who says if we do anything then we might make it worse.
20 devs * $200 K (loaded) / year = $4 M / year.
... Assuming they had a way to bootstrap an idiot-rejection-filter.
It's likely that retail will undergo another change such as when sears took over in the late 19th / early 20th century. Retailers arent going to lose the war they will simply be replaced by more nimble competitors who can properly leverage technology. Contrary to popular belief there are good developers outside of sv and some developers are motivated towards well paying 9 to 5 jobs instead of options and sodas.
The article also conveniently ignores the huge logistics infrastructure retailers have and focuses purely on websites, while the web is certainly important the reality of the situation is that currently retailers such as Walmart have huge competitive advantages due to its investment in logistics tech and infrastructure.
It will change if organizations like Amazon and Zappos prove out that it is a competitive advantage. It is just mainstream retail is not the proving grounds for such revelations.
History is filled with these kind of rock star failures.
Buying the company gets you a team that can verifiably build the product you want, because they already did. That kind of conservative risk management is worth a ton of cash in the real world.
You are correct that paying market salaries for competent engineers does not ensure competent engineers.
However it must be noted that not paying market salaries for competent engineers definitely ensures that one employes substandard talent. The market is working well right now and competent engineers have no problem receiving market rate. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever why competent engineers will not find a job paying the market rate for their talent, and that is exactly what happens. As for the companies that can not pay market rate, well they are simply not competitive and will fail. That's how the free market works and it is a very good thing.
Any company that requires being competitive in the tech domain needs to be willing to pay for key talent. Companies like Target definitely need to do everything they can. Arguments that incompetent developers are good enough are absurd. Obviously what they have now is not working.
Building a site that can handle a nationwide retailer the size of Target, second only to WalMart in brick and mortar stores, is completely non-trivial. The top 2 engineers there need to be paid at least $1.5 million annual salary. Sorry. I know many companies don't like this but there it is. Now obviously there are many levels below this, but this requires a pretty large development team and several below this level are going to be getting $200k-$400k. At the bottom, the losers that are just out of college and don't know anything, those guys are going to be making $75k to start. Because that's the starting salary. Companies don't want to hear this. Only the fatuous useless ignorant executives that have run the company into the ground should be paid these salaries, in their opinion. Well, they can keep thinking that and see where it gets them. Many will lobby Congress, that is a popular tactic. Pay a lobbying firm $25 million and maybe you'll be able to flood the market with cheap engineers from overseas who are willing to work for $21 an hour, and are able to do the same things that any other $21 an hour retail employee can do. Because the overseas guys that really know their stuff are not looking for $21 jobs, they are making the same salary as everyone else with their skill level. Because that's how the market works.
The number was just a straw man to get the discussion going. Find some value that attracts talent, perhaps between my wild guess and your numbers.
(Also as a reference a Sr. Architect at Walmart.com according to Glassdoor makes 120-130k)
Though why would it not be possible to hire a person with a track record of building the sorts of things you want, and let that person hire the team?
Buying a company may or may not get you a team, depending on whether or not they stick around.
I guess that's one way to solve the idiot-rejection-filter problem.
I've interviewed with several "luxury" retailers within the past year, and my idiot-rejection-filter was usually triggered soon after the beginning of the interview.
It was usually due to the perception of inmates running asylum, or a legacy technology I didn't want anywhere near my resume (VB). Either way, lack of technological leadership, planning, and execution was easy to spot with a phone call or visit to a store.
That level of awesome builds the product (show don't tell) and then sells it for $180m.
Given a sufficiently inefficient process, an infinite amount of labor can be absorbed, I suppose.
I would think a core tiger team could accomplish wonders simply iteratively triaging their existing operations.
But that's not what I have. I have a pile of legacy crud that has to integrate with ten other piles of legacy crud, not to mention the external crud with which I must integrate.
And did I mention that during holiday the site gets a little more traffic than most sites? Or that the site makes a few hundred million dollars, and can't just be rewritten on a whim? To solve these sorts of problems, I don't need ten good hackers, I need more like 50. Or more. And that's the challenge the article is talking about. Because good hackers have options like Facebook - or their own startups - where they don't have to deal with that kind of noise.
It's a serious challenge for any big company which relies heavily on the web, which in 2012 is every big company.
Why not? If the site is unstable and can't stay up, you can either throw 50 programmers at it and still have it crash regularly or you can take far fewer and re-write it from scratch.
You're right about programmers not liking the cruft, but we also don't like most of the management processes that occur in large companies. I don't know if things have changed, but back when I worked for a large brake corporation, web programmers were devalued and distrusted. All of our decisions had to be signed off (in triplicate!) by a manager who didn't know how to program or the implications of the decisions being made.
To give you on example, one of the official company-wide policies was that if you wanted to transfer files between company offices over the internet, you had to use FTP for "security purposes." We were technically not allowed to use SSH or SFTP because, when I asked, my boss said nobody had heard of it. This was in 2006.
The stakes would be incredibly high, you would need extremely skilled, experienced and passionate engineers and a management environment that would give them enough breathing space to be successful. Everyone's careers would be on the line. Besides the fact that no one is going to want to stick their necks out for Target.com (whereas someone might consider it for a site that improves lives in a meaningful way), that's going to be a lot more difficult than you're making it sound.
1) Check if the item is in stock at Store A, if so, send a message to take it off the shelf to the store -- access to system wide inventory management.
2) If it's not in store A, find the nearest warehouse and route item X to store A. Give the user an estimate shipping time + Alert Store A the incoming item is reserved for the user.
3) Update global inventory lists and decrement one item X from stocks.
4) Update sales/accounting to let them know of the sale.
The problem isn't in the ecommerce site so much as everything else it has to interface with and do. It has to interface with systems up and down the whole chain, and depending on how up to date and accessible those systems are, it could get real interesting trying to merge them together.
I'm a retail integration consultant (currently looking for my next gig, to any desperate Oracle Retail users out there :-).
1) Emulate stock control and routing rules in your app (flaky),
2) Hook the ecommerce app deep into the DBs of the other systems (now almost impossible to change those systems due to the level of coupling and the politics it will involve)
3) Go fully realtime with all systems running on a common bus (seriously heavy infrastructure and support requirements)
Ideally you should do 3 but most of the time you end up with some combination of 1 and 2. Then the next "must have" idea comes along, and before you know it your fancy new e-commerce solution has become part of the legacy establishment.
My experience, albeit only the last 2 jobs, with the concept of "Enterprise Service Bus" is that it becomes a magnet for "Architecture Astronauts" with little functionality delivered :-(
But it sounds a hell of a lot more impressive than "we will wrap simple REST or XML-RPC services, for which clients can easily be implemented in various consumer systems, around needed queries and updates, using the technology most amenable to the data store in question, documenting the interfaces, using proper configuration management policies", though.
But maybe that's about what you meant, in a nutshell.
Unlike most retailers, our e-commerce division operates on its own, and we have the agility (and capital budget) to move quickly and act on big opportunities. Yes, there's a lot of work and headache that's involved with dealing with massive retail systems, and they have about as much legacy stuff as you'd imagine a 150-year-old company with a history of giant acquisitions, but thankfully most of us never have to think about that stuff except at the edge of some giant diagram.
We have a whole bunch of floors in downtown SF that's just for dotcom--mostly engineers, some QA, some product/management, etc. We're reasonably up to date with new technologies--although we're a Java shop, some stuff gets done in Scala, there's an active Hadoop project, and lots of big, interesting problems in scalability, UX, big data, analytics, SEO, etc.
Example: I work on the internal-facing web product setup apps, primarily on product image stuff. Every product has to get photographed (including getting the physical sample from the manufacturer to the right studios, on the right model, etc), color corrected (we sell items in 60+ colors) mapped to products (is this the primary image? a swatch? a back view? which UPCs does it represent? what happens if the color sells out?). This all happens at scale: 130k physical samples trafficked, 150k products, 250k images.
Too bad this is on a weekend before new year's, otherwise I'd get all my favorite dev leaders in here to pitch you. We're growing (even in a down economy, we're posting significant growth year after year) and hiring like crazy (a current search shows 25 open FTE requisitions in SF, and our contract partners even more).
The work environment is a little BigCorp-ish, but it's relaxed (it's SF, after all), and they take work/life balance seriously, so if you're a hacker with a family you're definitely welcome here. I work with a lot of really smart people who get things done. Yes, we sell pants, but you get a 20% discount, and you get to find out when things go on sale beforehand ;)
Current openings: http://ecommerce.macysjobs.com/ Salaries are Bay-Area competitive, full benefits package, etc.
or if you want to know more you can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, with "Hacker News" in the subject.
NB going to bed now (11pm PST) but will be up in the morning to answer questions
1) It is very hard for the company to match market salaries even though its margins are pretty good for a retailer. The only retailer I know of that does well in the salary dept is Amazon.
2) The development culture: I think this is every large retail company, but I feel that you guys tend to favor anything coming out of Big Blue (or Big Company X) as opposed to something technically interesting (but no longer bleeding bleeding edge) in the open source world. You guys tend to buy stuff instead of building. There's definitely nothing wrong with that given the situation and culture, but I feel that it doesn't fit very well with the HN crowd at large.
That being said, Macys.com has some of the coolest, nicest people that you'll ever meet in the workplace; which is really great.
How long ago were you there, and working with what group?
What are your thoughts on this? I know you guys have a gang of products but I figure if you have to setup a photo shoot for 1 angel, might as well get every angel. I admit that I don't know what i'm talking about when it comes to this stuff (I'm just using Zappos as a reference).
A few reasons:
-- Zappos, to a certain extent, is selling commodities. Every shoe can get photographed exactly the same way, doesn't need to demonstrate fit, doesn't need to communicate a larger style vision. I think they do all their photography when the product enters the warehouse, and the photos don't get much of a touch-up.
-- Macy's, on the other hand, has a creative vision of the various customers and lifestyles we're selling to, and the photos generally have to communicate that. That means: model selection, pairing with pants/shirts, posing, etc. Same with home products like bedding or towels. It's a fine line to walk between making sure to show all the product's features and attributes such as fit, fabric, pattern/embellishment, etc, and communicating the aspirational style vision-- who the customer wants to be when they buy that shirt. It's a tradeoff.
-- Photography is expensive. It takes a lot of people and stuff to create a good fashion photo: model, photographer, hair, makeup, wardrobe stylist, art director, digital capture tech, retoucher, studio, lights, cameras, computers, catering, .. the list goes on. We're ruthless negotiators on this stuff and really efficient, but on a per-product basis it ain't cheap.
-- Macy's fashion is highly seasonal so we might not buy as deep into a given style since it's only good for 6 months or less, so that cost is amortized over a fewer number of sales.
All that said, we're working on it for sure. We're shooting a lot more views of almost everything going forward.
Compare to a cheap online-only retailer in Denmark: http://www.smartguy.dk/toej/skjorter/lange-aermer/Roed_Blend...
They have at least 2 photos of every shirt, no matter the price. This shirt is $32 which is dirt-cheap in Denmark (+$100 is the usual price for an average shirt).
Having a model doesn't help me in deciding what to by, smartguy's photos are plenty fine for me. Macy's might think otherwise, but sometimes 'creative visions' gets in the way of a sale.
There simply is no excuse for having only a single lowres photo. If you don't have very good photos online, you don't exist.
A few reasons, some good, some not. We have a large dev organization in many different groups, and there's a lot of cross-group coordination that has to happen to make things go. As a result there's a lots of quick hallway whiteboarding, conversations, stuff hashed out over lunch, etc, as well as lots of meetings. We do have a lot of contract developers and QA around the globe (Montreal, Austin, Brazil, Russia, and India, not necessarily in that order), but as someone who does work remotely (I've moved to contractor status after moving abroad), I can testify that the culture of distributed teams is still evolving.
The other reason is that corporate HR is wary. Which IMHO is somewhat misguided but given the first reason above I can see why.
Most of these companies don't have that many full time employees in their IT departments. A handful of full time employees will oversee an army of contractors and consultants. Most of these folks are specialized in SAP, Oracle, Business Objects, etc and don't know the first thing about building scalable web-based e-commerce.
The sites that do exist tend to be old, monolithic .NET or Java apps with antiquated processes to deploy them. An old boss of mine that went to work for one of these retailers said he had to get 5 physical signatures on a form to push out a CSS file to the site.
That is a huge issue that developers see when they see an established company. Then you add in existing technical ego's from other teams and you just have a recipe for a stagnant crashing every month disaster. It's a generalization, but we all make them, it is how we make semi-informed decisions based on loose facts. Some large companies are wrongly maligned in the process but it's the reality.
When I took over the web at Marriott, we separated it from IT all together and made it a business division, in doing so we could make decisions independent of IT approval and we I had an independent budget under my discretion. Many companies just don't get how these slight organizational changes can make a huge difference in a teams ability to deliver technology.
This post reminds, I should check in with him and see how things are going.
"What is this ''diff'' you speak of?"
So, I think places like Target will always have this problem unless they're willing to pony up the cash and offer more money than the interesting jobs. After all, there's no reason that some behemoth like Target can't compete with some SV startup in salary.
Fundamentally, it's clear that Target will never be a company that holds its tech people in awe - whereas at Amazon, you 'just' know that a single mop supplier is lower on the totem pole than a single DBA, for example.
Edit: Upon thinking about this a moment longer, I think that actually there would be (or could be) interesting work at Target, simply because of the scale of the operation. Though sadly you are still probably hitting the mark in the "bureaucratic drag" assessment.
For a decade, Target (TGT) outsourced its website operations to Amazon.com (AMZN).
I don't know about the other retailers, but Target's recruitment problem begins and ends in this sentence. Target lost the talent war a decade ago; it just took until now for the seeds of their destruction, which they planted and fertilized in Amazon's organization, to grow tall enough to be noticeable.
Oh, well, I'm sure the management genius who scored a short-term boost in profits by feeding the seed corn to Amazon collected a nice bonus.
Yeah if you want a cool job, or however you define the job you feel you deserve, you need to sell yourself and network. Period.
It'll be funny to see what happens if Target gets themselves a boat-load of H1Bs. Funny, except for the lost employment opportunities for locals, and the cultural miscommunication.
We shouldn't have to inveigle ourselves into a job in a convoluted networking game. Post the jobs on popular boards, with relevant informed requirements, proportionate pay, and a proper hiring process.
So answer the top poster's question: where are the job ads? Where's the outreach from these needy companies?
Apparently, nothing. Either the companies concerned are still in some recruitment stone age, or the whole article is a sham.
Where is the Wordpress for retail?
(Which makes me wonder if there is a Wordpress for ERP.)
The other way to look at it is that for the 2-3 top players in a sector, there can never be off-the-shelf. WalMart’s differentiation is incredible supply chain, which they had to invent. Being a big guy means you are doing something different, almost by definition.
Not trying to take away from your comment, I think there's definitely a place for a "Wordpress for retail" and would be surprised if it doesn't exist (though it's not something I've really looked into). But I'm not sure something like that would easily scale to what Target would need.
* Integration into their inventory systems and multiple warehouses. Do you want to be able to buy on the site, pickup in store? That means you need to tie your ecommerce site to your brick and mortar systems.
* Do you have vendors that dropship on your behalf? You need a way to import their catalog data and send them their orders. Did they mess up and not have inventory by the time your order arrives, better have a way for them to notify you, so you can notify customers.
* Gift cards that work online and in stores.
* Customer service systems that tie to your e-commerce so staff can help customers.
* Syncing all sales data to your finance, ERP, business intelligence and other back-end systems.
* Returns? A system for RMA, tracking returns, issuing refunds and exchanges. Want to buy online/return to store? better tie your store systems to your e-commerce again.
* Marketing? Have to tie your online store your e-mail software.
Building a full fledged e-commerce solution is much harder than many realize. There are great tools that solve parts of what retailers need but there is no all-in-one tool to get a large retailer online and just working out of the box.
GSI operates the ecommerce sites for Adidas, Calvin Klein, Marc Ecko, Levis, ToyRUs, RadioShack and many many more significant retailers (http://gsicommerce.com/clients/).
In addition to the e-commerce side of things they also look after warehouse and fulfillment which is why they also are able to setup and run Amazon Prime rival ShopRunner for the sites they maintain.
They're certainly "WordPress for retail" because if you look at most of the sites they run, they all look the same and have similar look/feel. It's all v cookie cutter - just set up the template, create an inventory, ship them the goods, and you're away.
Most interesting fact of all: EBay bought them in March for $2.2bn.
The tenets of wordpress that I think are applicable:
1. Totally free, open source, unrestricted license
2. Ability for developers to form strong community and share
3. Easy to hack, simple architecture
There's more to it sure, but these are on top of my mind.