Redefining Traditional Pathways to Engineering Careers at Target

Nov 12, 2021

Alicia Henderson

Senior Director, Technology

This past July, Target tech celebrated the first 24 team members to complete our Emerging Engineers Program. It was an important moment in time to recognize that there’s no traditional way to start a successful engineering career at Target.

Behind the scenes

We believe that in order to build the best technology for guests all over America, Target’s technology team must reflect America and the diversity of our guests. We have prioritized diversifying our team at all levels. We rolled out external and internal programming to recruit and develop diverse engineers and foster an inclusive environment with equitable opportunities.

One of those initiatives is our Emerging Engineers Program, that launched in 2020. It expands the pipeline of and on-ramp for new tech talent from a diversity of backgrounds and varying career paths. We used learnings from focus groups with entry-level team members and best practices from existing tech talent programming to design a curriculum and environment that meets individuals where they are in their professional journeys.

The program consists of one year of customized onboarding and training for people interested in software engineering that chose a non-traditional path into technology. Non-traditional could mean someone who does not have a technical degree or experience or someone who earned a bootcamp certification rather than a four-year college degree. The program provides on-the-job, skill-based learning at Target versus in a conventional classroom. The cohort format allows for centralized educational and networking efforts. This format helps participants develop a community of support while they quickly get up to speed on technology at Target.

Day in the life

During the first three weeks, engineers learn the basics of how we run our technology here at Target. They then join one of our product engineering or infrastructure teams and partner with a mentor who provides day-to-day support through paired programming and other activities. About 20% of participant time is allocated for formal ‘Tech Boosters Training’ to deepen understanding of technology foundations.

Bri Smejkal is one of the engineers who recently graduated from the program:

“It’s so difficult to name a favorite thing from the Emerging Engineering Program,” Smejkal said “I’ve gotten to learn about Target, build my first API and deploy to production, and learn new technology like Golang, NoSQL, AWX, and Swagger.”

We had to ask again though:

“Ok if I had to choose just one thing to be my favorite, I would pick building a daemon because it was the most challenging. I had to learn about dependency injection, tickers, goroutines, and how to query MongoDB for that one seemingly simple task.”

Iterate and be agile

When we started the first program in April 2020, we were optimistic but had a lot of questions. Would one year of this type of training be enough? Three weeks before the cohort started, we transitioned to remote work as COVID-19 hit. Would onboarding and networking now be as successful when virtual?

Fast-forward to 2021 and the success and impact of this first program excites us – both the new engineers and our Target tech team. The inaugural program exceeded our expectations, and our celebration this summer was a meaningful way to recognize what this group of engineers has accomplished. Since cohort participants and mentors couldn’t meet each other in-person, relationship building was initially more challenging. Teams worked together to adjust to a new normal and the situation created an opportunity to be more intentional and creative about interactions.

In Bri’s words:

“My mentor and team set me up for success with a slow transition to what a full-time team member role looks like and requires following one year as an emerging engineer. I’ll be able to take on bigger tech challenges and work better with more people. It’s been a smooth leap into the tech industry that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Welcoming new faces

Bri joined our Emerging Engineer Program after completing a Target-sponsored Hackbright coding bootcamp in Minnesota the months prior. She is one of many team members that have navigated to Target through our bootcamp partnerships and/or more unique educational or professional path. Prior to Hackbright, Bri was a sculptor for many years after studying at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

The 2020 cohort also welcomed people who had studied psychology and environmental science as well as individuals who had worked as a line cook, barista, veterinary technician, and math teacher – and those are only just some. These diverse backgrounds expand our team’s thinking and improves the way Target develops technology. During the program, a few of the engineers identified a gap in a new mobile app offering we were building and helped develop a feature that made the digital experience more accessible and inclusive to all guests.

Bri summed it up well:

“I’ve learned that the reasons I love shopping at Target are the same reasons I want to work here. Yes, I love the beautifully curated collections and well-designed owned brands, but above all else, Target truly values people and it shows in the way they treat and engage with their guests, communities, and team.”

Looking ahead

We’ve kicked off our 2021 Emerging Engineer Program cohort of over 20 new participants, with several joining from Hackbright again as well as our newer bootcamp partnership with Dream Corps TECH. Many of the 2020 program graduates have become mentors for our 2021 cohort, passing along their insights and wisdom. It’s been amazing to see this community building in action at Target tech. This action of paying it forward and helping others early on in their engineering journeys goes a long way in furthering the diversity and inclusion of Target tech and the technology industry overall.