Life as a software engineer in Co-op Digital

Software Engineer Nancy Richardson shares her thoughts about working in the Digital team.

(Transcript) Nancy Richardson: What I love about working here at Co-op Digital is I feel that at the end of the day that I’m making a difference. The products that we have are very well thought out and I’m also excited about the future as I’ve heard of some of the things that Co-op could be working on in say five years from now. Also I enjoy the diversity of the people I work with, we’re all different ages, different backgrounds.

I was attracted to the role because of its full stack and polyglot approach. This makes the work very varied, you could be working in the front end, back end, or on DevOps, and every sprint could be focusing on a different area of the stack, so this makes it very interesting. And I come from a Ruby background but now i’m learning Java which is really different from ruby but I feel very supported.

I’m learning from my colleagues on the job and there are also code show and tells. There’s even dedicated learning time. I think now is a really good time to join the Co-op because Co-op Digital is starting to expand so you have more influence in helping develop our standards, our ways of working, our teams stack and our practices.

Nancy Richardson
Software Engineer (Membership)

We’re looking for engineers at the moment. If you’re interested take a look at our Work with us page.

 

What it’s like working in Digital Engineering

Gemma Cameron, our Principal Software Engineer speaks about what it’s like to work in Co-op Digital and Digital Engineering.

(Transcript) Gemma: I love the variety of projects that we have going on and all the people that are working on them. So we’ve got not just amazing engineers, we’ve also have got some really great product owners, delivery managers, really amazing BAs and the designers are just incredible and we’ve got all the user experience team.

We’ve got some great people working on really innovative cool projects and, you know, what comes out of it is actually doing something good.

I’m supported in all the community stuff that I do outside of work. So I get to you know, Co-op are helping out with Hack Manchester so we support and sponsor Hack Manchester, I also get to run events here, we are sponsoring the Liverpool Girl Geeks Academy, so it’s great getting girls who are like 12-14 to get to some experience programming.

We sponsor events, we attend events, so we were at the Manchester Digital Skills Festival not so long ago and that’s great meeting some of the new graduates and people are looking for work and getting to tell them about the story of what we do here, that we’re bringing brilliant people in who are really good at collaboration, who really care about software quality and you know we’re doing all the good things like test-driven development.

We’re building these great teams but we don’t expect everybody to know all the tools that we’re using or the languages that we’re using. So we have got some people who showing all these great people and behavioural qualities, but they’re not so good on Java and we’re giving them time and space and we’re coming up with a syllabus to give them that training.

The same with test-driven development and looking at all that quality. We have community of practice and we get together as a group of engineers and work out what our, sort of, level of quality should be. I also want to try and see if I can get involved in some of the projects from inception so actually working together with people and talking to them about what their needs are, going to have discovery phase and creating like little alphas that would be awesome because I’ve worked in a start ups before and I enjoyed doing that experience and it would be nice to do it for a more worthwhile cause.

Gemma Cameron
Principal Software Engineer

We’re looking for software engineers right now. Join us.

Product management

Hello, I’m Andy Pipes and I’ve been working as a product manager here at the Co-op for nine months. During that time I’ve been helping Funeralcare rethink how we deliver our service to clients when a death has occurred.

Picture of Andy Pipes
Andy Pipes

I’m starting to take on some other responsibilities now and one is hiring more product managers to come and work with Co-op Digital on other amazing projects. This has given me chance to reflect on what kinds of product leaders might be required at a place like the Co-op.

Often, when I explain to people that I’m a digital product manager, I’m greeted with bewilderment (“Wow sounds complicated!”) or ignorance (“Oh, so you’re in IT then?”). It’s not surprising – the job title isn’t the clearest. Most people understand that products are designed, made, tested and used. But managed?

‘Product manager’ has gradually emerged in the past decade as the title to describe the person charged with fully understanding the problems that a product or service is meant to solve. But that’s not their only function.

As high-tech companies began to adopt Agile software development practices, the role of ‘product owner’ (the person responsible for making and prioritising the backlog of work in an agile team) started to be rolled into the product manager’s job profile. To complicate matters further, some organisations threw in design or technical skills into the “competencies” a typical product manager was asked to bring to the table.

It’s no wonder there are so many flavours of product manager these days. And also no surprise many of them describe themselves as “all rounders”.

The types of people who I think are perfect for product leadership roles come from all walks of life. Some might have been working as a “product manager” for some time but not have the job title to reflect it. Others may excel at an engineering, design or business positions and been asked to take on more general responsibilities. There is no one right “track” to becoming a product manager.

What’s most important is having the right mindset and attitude. (I’ve written about this before.)  When interviewing for a product manager role, I listen for people who just love to talk about real people, struggling with real problems that they want to solve. This is a good sign they’ve got a well of curiosity unlikely to run dry. And that they’ll have the energy to keep at it until the right solution is found.

These people tend to be straight talkers, too. They know business-speak or technical jargon gets in the way of understanding and empathising when explaining a user’s problems to a team whose job is to try and solve them.

The team often turns to the product manager for decisions, leadership and assurance. But it’s a fine balancing act. Keeping a multi-disciplinary team motivated and productive does not mean dictating answers. Nor does it mean an equal voice to every member of the team in every situation. Sometimes, you need to guide the discussion with a firm grasp of the “why”. Other times you’ll need to keep the team exploring new options until they get unblocked.

I’m not sure there’s a typical day in the life of a product manager. One morning you might be describing the problems a user has to a designer or developer. In the afternoon, you might be presenting a new opportunity to explore in your market to an executive. You could be called on to analyse some data that could provide evidence for a particular approach. Or sketch out for a stakeholder how you plan to tackle an upcoming theme of work. You try to keep your team energised, and motivated with clear, worthwhile goals. You talk a lot. You listen more.

Picture of Andy Pipes

What the product manager helps their team to achieve day-to-day will also depend on the type of project they’re tasked with leading. The Co-op has all sorts of projects – big and structured, all the way through to loose and lean. Large transformation programmes need product managers with strong communication skills and the ability to build solid stakeholder relationships. Service design projects like Online Wills need a clear product vision, and attention to detail and delivery. Experiments like Paperfree are in the earlier stages of development, and need its leaders to be more comfortable with some of the more nebulous problems they are trying to discover, and validate.

We need all these types of product managers for projects happening right now at the Co-op. Think you’ve got the mindset? Take a look here for all the details.

Andy Pipes
Head of product management

 

The need for digital talent

This is my first blog post, so a quick introduction; I’m Ian, and I look after the digital team’s corporate relations and partnerships, ensuring we have the right skills, resources and people to deliver our plans.

It’s no secret that finding and securing the best digital talent is important for many organisations, including the Co-op.

Simply put, there isn’t enough to go around. Addressing this is the domain of people like Makers’ Academy, who think the solution is to find a way for more developers to enter the market. They offer a 12-week intensive course, taking people through a curriculum which they believe results in job-ready junior developers. More than 600 people have completed the course so far. That number is growing. They’ve now introduced remote learning too.


A few of us from CoopDigital (myself,
Danielle Haugedal-Wilson, Paul Furley and new recruit Gemma Cameron) visited them in East London. We spoke about the Co-op, the journey we’re on and the opportunities we have.

I’m delighted that the 170 year-old Co-op was so well received by this group of Shoreditch based digital natives. They were interested not only in our digital plans and our ways of working but also in the Co-op business model, our values and the advantages of membership. We talked to them about some of the incredibly interesting problems we have to solve, bringing benefits to our colleagues, members and communities.

One of the founding principles of the Co-op is helping our members to help themselves, so we also need to determine what this means for us in a digital age. We hope the chance to help Co-op solve those problems attracts some great people. It certainly seems to be working so far.

It seems it’s not just us who are excited by these prospects, also new digital professionals looking for a challenge can see the potential in the Co-op. So much so that most of those we spoke to at Makers’ Academy are planning a visit to Manchester this week.

See our vacancies in Co-op’s digital team here.

Ian Dunnett
Head of Strategic Growth and Partnerships

Improving the experience for users

Hello. My name’s Rachel and I work in the analytics and optimisation team at CoopDigital. We’re passionate about turning insights into action in order to improve the experience for our users. Our work complements the qualitative insight provided by our user research team.

Picture of Rachel Rowe
Rachel Rowe

We continually evaluate the user journeys around the goals on our websites, such as registrations, downloads, shares and purchases. Then we simultaneously run experiments between two (or more) experiences to see which performs the best.

We’ve many experiments running at any one time across our family of businesses. For example, if you were purchasing a pre-paid funeral right now then your experience is likely to be subtly different to another user on the site at the very same time. Every user is unique and we strive to create an experience which reflects the context of the visit.

Our experiments have proven that content is more engaging on our Food website if it’s relevant to the time of day and location of the user. Visitors arrive at our Food site from across the UK and you may have seen that we made a nod to national pride during Euro 2016 by localising our homepage content.

If this sounds interesting then perhaps you’d like to join the team as we’re hiring right now. If you want to know more, you can find me on Twitter or send me an email.

Rachel Rowe

 

Testing Co-op Membership, an update

I recently joined the CoopDigital team as Head of Engineering for Membership. I’ve been working alongside the team for the last 10 months for PwC, so it’s been great to see the team develop and deliver the new Membership product and start testing Co-op Membership with our 68,000 colleagues.

Picture of Georgina Callaghan - Head of Engineering
George Callaghan

We’re learning lots, the team will share more over the next few weeks, but here’s some initial findings:

  • 69% of all colleague membership transactions were made with the new membership card
  • over half of our colleagues have used their new card
  • 50% of new membership online account access has been via mobile, 31% via desktop and 18% via tablet
  • over 2000 charities have completed an application form to be in receipt of the 1% for your community, and are now being reviewed

So what next?

Answering this question has been shaping my first few weeks within Co-op. The team has been working through the roadmap with the product owners, incorporating feedback from our colleagues, workshopping solutions for the market launch priority items, reorganising ourselves to enable agile delivery across the entire technology stack and also doing a bit of coding on the side.  

I’ve also been working with the digital engineering leadership team to plan our recruitment for the rest of the year. This means we’re hiring, if you are interested in joining this exciting team have a look at our vacancies.

Georgina (George) Callaghan.

Delivery in engineering

I’ve recently joined the CoopDigital team where I’ll be heading up delivery for engineering. I’m currently supporting the teams getting our new membership  ready for public launch in the Autumn.

Picture of the team working on new Co-op Membership
Some of the team working on new Co-op Membership

As you can probably tell if you’ve been following our blog, you’ll see that we are growing our internal capability to ensure we can support new and existing businesses with digital expertise.

I’ve worked in digital since 2000, but in the last 6 years have specialised in Agile delivery for media or retail applications. Most recently I was part of a BBC team that transformed ways of working for some key TV and mobile applications to ensure that value was delivered incrementally, enhancing the end user experience and reducing waste in getting there. This involved smaller multidisciplinary teams that were product led with the end user at the heart of all prioritisation.

The team here is in it’s infancy but with some exciting work lining up and an open culture where continuous improvement is encouraged I am very excited about being part of the team that can help set this up for success.

If you’re interested in getting involved and helping to shape our Delivery culture why not have a look at our existing vacancies.

Anna Dick