Product Engineering @ Target: Engaging with our 'why'

May 2, 2022

Nancy King

Senior Vice President, Product Engineering

At Target, we’re guided by one important purpose: to help all families discover the joy of everyday life. That quest to bring joy is at the center of every business decision we make and technology we build.

For our product engineers, this means empathizing with our product users – Target’s guests and team members – so we can design and develop the best possible experiences and value for them at scale. Our product engineering organization builds a large proportion of the applications that our millions of guests and 350,000+ team members use, from the mobile app and website to our point-of-sale software, to the HQ systems supporting our operations. These are the technologies that help bring Target’s purpose to life and grow our business online and across nearly 2,000 stores nationwide. The key to success is really knowing and supporting our users across the country.

We spend considerable time learning and understanding our users’ evolving needs, what they value, and how they’ll benefit from the technology we’re building. We dig into the nitty gritty of what we’re solving for and how our products fit into Target’s culture and omnichannel strategy. Our engineers shadow team members in stores and distribution centers as they test out the products we’re building so we can learn from early trialing. We also sit in on help desk calls with team members to gain deeper context into issues they’re running into and solicit feedback directly via focus groups, surveys, and other communication channels and forums. By working to understand the many layers and nuances of a product, we can better plan and prioritize our product development process. It’s an experience-centric approach that sets a standard for best-in-retail technology.

(It’s also particularly fun and impactful that Target’s engineers are our users. We see and experience our technology materialize online and in stores and this “real world” element brings us even closer to our purpose.)

Product teams at Target comprise product engineers from our technology team and product owners from business units. Most teams also include data scientists, user experience researchers and designers, and accessibility consultants. We strive to have no silos. Our engineers collaborate on comprehensive product strategies that leverage enterprise input and map back to our purpose. We debate product and technical tradeoffs. We explore new technologies as well as iterate with existing technologies.

It's been a transformative journey to this point. Target has invested heavily in our technology strategy and engineering culture over the years. We’ve brought top-notch talent and expertise in house, and we operate in an inclusive environment and leverage open source innovation. We’ve created a customized infrastructure that is scalable, stable, and secure for thousands of applications across our private and public cloud. We’ve engineered a unique technology ecosystem that leverages a microservices and event-based architecture that allows us to quickly build and deploy new platforms and products. We are able to pivot on a dime.

This agility has never mattered more than the past few years. Through the pandemic, guests and team members relied on Target for safety and convenience, alongside that joy, and we were able to swiftly and reliably respond. Between the scaling of Order Pickup and Drive Up to the launch of a virtual line app to the rollout of contactless experiences and an improved team scheduling app, tech-enabled products and services deepened engagement with our guests and team and helped fuel unprecedented market growth.

Our product engineers have learned a lot along the way, and we make it a priority to always do so. Join us for Target’s first product engineering conference on May 19 as we bring together a community of product engineers from across industries to learn, network, and knowledge-share. You’ll hear from innovators and thought leaders including Brian Muirhead, Fellow, CIT/JPL, NASA, Parker Harris, Co-Founder and Global CTO of Salesforce, and technology ethnographer Dr. Tricia Wang, along with experts from Netflix, Google, and more. It will be a great day of engaging content and networking as we bring together hundreds of like-minded product engineers shaping the future.