Woolworths looks to mobilise software engineers between projects, business areas

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Woolworths looks to mobilise software engineers between projects, business areas

Transforms developer tools and culture.

Woolworths is hoping to remodel the way it develops software so that engineers can move between internal projects and business units “with relative ease”.

Head of technology, cloud and platform engineering Josh Rogers told a GitHub webinar last week that although the retailer’s efforts are “relatively new”, it is starting to create some ‘elasticity’ in its workforce and to see the impact of those efforts.

He noted it was desirable for engineers to be able to move “between different projects and applications or even different business units”.

“Especially within Woolworths, we have different businesses that operate in different ways,” Rogers said.

“One of the great things that I know is up and coming is ephemeral development environments, so having a template, a development environment, that can be easily initiated [and] has all of the right software and tools integrated in [it to] solve or to deliver and develop against the specific business units' technology and stack.

“That is going to be another huge advancement and allow for our engineers to continue momentum as they transition between one project to another.”

Rogers suggested that mobility between projects could allow engineers to join projects they were particularly passionate about.

“It's so unfortunate sometimes when somebody is being asked to do something that they're not passionate about, contributing to a part of the business or a project that has been a business priority, but isn't their personal priority,” he said.

“But having agility provides a lot of opportunities [for the individual and organisation].

“As things are able to be picked up and put down, ‘fungible’ engineers are able to move between projects with relative ease because of the familiarity and the standard processes and expectations.

“The business can reprioritise, engineers can move, but it still feels relatively similar and you keep the momentum up.”

Woolworths is currently undergoing a transformation that is impacting both the kinds of tools developers use internally as well as the internal development culture, with a lean towards open source and ‘innersource’, a term used to describe an open source-like culture inside of organisations with respect to using software development practices internally that mimics an open source approach.

At NAB, for example, innersource was adopted to allow development teams to openly create and share code, breaking down internal silos.

Rogers said that giving developers the tools they wanted to use was important.

“Anything that's new and shiny is what they want access to,” he said.

“We want to try to provide them the opportunities to explore those technologies and see how, in those learnings, they are able to then reflect back and attach it to a business value.”

As Woolworths looked at new development technologies, it also needed to focus on how to “best prepare an ephemeral desktop or an ephemeral coding environment that [can] incorporate these new technologies and accelerate their adoption as well,” Rogers said.

On the open source front, Woolworths indicated its corporate support for tools like GitHub made it easier to attract talent.

“It definitely helps to accelerate the onboarding process, having tools and a culture that individuals are familiar with,” he said.

It also meant developers could lean on the broader open source community for support, and Rogers said he anticipated Woolworths “participating and contributing to those communities as well”.

He added that it was important that Woolworths “as an organization helps to support those open source technologies and platforms like GitHub to ensure that they have the means to grow”.

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