Alexander Altena

Front-end developer Alexander and his team bring Albert Heijn to life

A blue bus stops in front of your house, the door bell rings and a few moments later your fridge is full again: many people have long since stopped leaving their house for their daily groceries from Albert Heijn. Why should you, when you can order everything at the push of a button. But nowadays we often want more: to look around, try out new products and score special offers – just like in the physical shop. The good news: you can do that too with the Albert Heijn App. Alexander and his team make shopping via the app an experience in itself.

Surprising twist

‘Let me be honest: I never thought I would become a programmer. At that, I pictured someone sitting in the back of an office somewhere hunched over a screen all day. Not my cup of tea! I prefer social get-togethers with nice colleagues, and of course a place where I can be creative. So no, programming was a long way off. Until a friend asked if I wanted to help build websites. I had just finished my bachelor’s degree in marketing and needed to bridge a few months until my master’s degree. Fine, I thought, nice challenge. And the unimaginable happened: I was sold! I never did that whole master’s degree.’

Flying start

‘I joined a start-up and built complete news apps. Then you do everything yourself: from designing to actual programming. It gives a kick when, after endless trial and error, you have a smoothly functioning app. I learned a lot in a short time, but after a few years I was ready for the next step. Fortunately, I was in a lucky position, because all companies are eager for IT people. Of all the vacancies, one caught my attention: Front-End Developer at Albert Heijn. I applied and immediately knew it was a good fit. That turned out to be mutual.’

Imagery codes

‘The Albert Heijn App now has more than a million active users; totally different from the start-up’s small-scale apps. You need a huge IT team for that, in which everyone has his speciality. I am responsible for front-end, in the Assortment & Search section. Say you want to buy cheese. You search for “cheese” in the app and get 30 hits. To get pictures of cheese to appear, you have to translate data into visible information. That – in a nutshell – is my job as Front-End Developer. In this, I work closely with both back-end and the designer. Everything the designer comes up with, I translate into code. For example: ‘For the search term “cheese”, prepare these thirty images.’ My back-end colleagues provide the data with which I can make the images appear on your screen in the app.’

On the bookshelf

‘To pull this off, you have to get incredibly creative. Coding is an art that you can refine endlessly. You learn from each other in the process, because everything you create has to be tested by at least two teammates. If everything is okay, your code is added to the app. My colleagues inspire me with their new discoveries. For example, the other day I read the work of a colleague – he had written a new code for savings stamps. On the front, it looks the same, but everything works faster. Because he had written it down nicer – totally different from before. When I read that code, I can enjoy it as much as a good book.’

Room for new ideas

‘Of course, the app has to be one hundred per cent fast and smart, but that’s just the beginning. Because we always want to do something extra. You want to make people laugh, or inspire them. That’s why we put hidden features in the app. A big moving chocolate egg that appears when you buy Easter eggs, for example. Or you hear a Christmas song when you put turkey in your shopping basket. Then we really have fun together! And you can keep challenging yourself in other areas too, with our Tech Fridays. If you want to try out a new idea, you write it on the digital notice board and others join in to develop it together. That way you always have a project that has nothing to do with your daily work and you keep challenging each other. So I can totally unleash my creative energy here.’

Working for a living

‘And as for fun get-togethers: there are plenty of them here! We do all kinds of fun things with Young Ahold Delhaize, from pub quizzes to surfing. At Albert Heijn I feel free to be who I am, because everyone is themselves. My colleague is transgender and told the team about it the other day. It was such an open conversation of which I thought: wow, what a great club we have here together. I can sometimes be direct and that is dealt with so sincerely – also by the management. I also feel freedom in the way work is looked at. You can arrange your working hours flexibly and we have more days off than with other employers. Because my mental health comes first, I also enjoy building a nice app and new tools more. They get that very well at Albert Heijn!’