Charlotte van der Scheun

How Tech Lead Charlotte is building and implementing a brand new data platform

Grocery shopping at Albert Heijn, Charlotte van der Scheun always enjoyed it. That’s because of the tech: did you know, for instance, that you can create your list of lettuce, tomatoes and a carton of milk in the Albert Heijn App, tick off your items as you grab them from the shelves, and then pay directly at the self checkout? ‘Very cool,’ thinks Charlotte. But there is still plenty of work to be done behind the scenes. As Tech Lead at Ahold Delhaize’s IT department, she is now changing that.

Why data is so important

With over 1,100 shops, some 100,000 employees and millions of daily customers, you can imagine the pile of information Albert Heijn carries. Add to that the thousands of online orders, as well as Etos, Gall & Gall and the other brands of parent company Ahold Delhaize, and you end up with a staggering amount of sales data. All this has to be collected and processed by the data cluster within Albert Heijn’s IT department.

This is important work, explains Tech Lead Charlotte van der Scheun. ‘To predict when people will go shopping, we are always looking for new ways to collect data. This allows us to know how many delivery people we need to schedule, and how many people we need in the fulfillment center – the distribution center.’ Other teams look at what people buy, and use that information to make smarter stock management and promotions.

All data collected in one place

Sales data already provides Albert Heijn with a wealth of information, but there is still room for improvement. ‘Now we collect data in different sets, in all sorts of places. Some systems are brand new, others are up to 20 years old. It all works, but it takes a lot of time and money.’

‘So we are working on one platform to collect all data: Thor.’ As the new Tech Lead, Charlotte is at the center of that change. ‘We have completed much of the platform. The other day, for example, we delivered the Right To Be Forgotten application. That allows us to completely automatically delete user information from the system if someone requests it. Meanwhile, we are doing a lot of legacy work: transferring old parts to the new system. While sometimes we no longer even know what exactly such a part is, and what it is or was used for.’

Always evolving

‘Thor is a product rather than a project. The difference? A project ends, while a product is constantly evolving. That’s a lot more efficient, because you can continue to develop while also keeping the product in daily use. Does someone at Gall & Gall need certain information? Then he can immediately start collecting it himself. If new technology is available that is better than the old one, we implement it in the existing platform. Now, for instance, we are already working on streaming the data: no more fixed processes at set times, but real-time processing.’

‘Another advantage of the new self-service data platform: as data engineers, we are no longer the bottleneck. If someone wants to start a new dataset, or change something about an existing one, we don’t have to do that.’ Other IT departments will soon be able to write the configuration they need themselves, without the Data Engineers interfering.

Working with DevOps Engineers

Albert Heijn is developing rapidly in IT, and that requires a solid work culture. As engineers, Charlotte and her team are responsible for their own code: both its development and maintenance. This benefits quality and ensures that bugs are fixed quickly. ‘If something is not right, you make sure it gets fixed. And you can, because you developed the code yourself.’

But there’s also time for sociability in the IT department, for example at the ‘mini-hackaton’. ‘A few colleagues pitch a small problem they want to solve. Then we all get to work together. A fun way to work with other teams for a change and learn about new technology. And on Friday afternoons we sometimes just go and code a bit with a beer.’

A way in for tech talent

The new Tech Talent Track seems like the ideal way for Charlotte to get to know Albert Heijn as well as yourself a bit better. ‘I wish I had something like that when I graduated. I knew I liked coding, but there are so many directions. Do you really know what you want to do? This way, you have the time to figure this out and improve your skills at the same time.’