UK online coupon site, owned by RetailMeNot, hopes to relaunch on a new software platform this year that will give the traditional online discount codes website model a much-needed makeover. A top priority will be to improve the user experience for shoppers, but also to encourage retailers to to host exclusive offers on the site.

Before embarking on the major transformation project around 18 months ago, the company’s European head of engineering, Matt Wilkins, had to build a software engineering team that would be capable of working as one, on anything, from anywhere, on any of RetailMeNot’s six European brands.

Matt Wilkins, head of engineering at wants passionate developers who aren't afraid to push the boundaries of innovation. Image credit: RetailMeNot
Matt Wilkins, head of engineering at wants passionate developers who aren't afraid to push the boundaries of innovation. Image credit: RetailMeNot

To do this, he drew from his nearly seven years’ experience at search giant Google, where he was most recently global mergers and acquisitions (M&A) engineering integration lead. In this role, he was responsible for integrating - from a software perspective - companies that Google acquired into the parent company.

“When I started at RetailMeNot, the structure for Europe was a number of different entities. They were mostly a different set of acquisitions in each country with a very talented set of engineers, but without the processes in place to scale,” he tells Techworld.

“The first thing I did was - I do this with any company - is I get a really good sense of the employees and the engineering talents. I went to each of the countries and sat down with each engineer, to really understand where they’ve come from, what they’re interested in, what they’re working on.”

When he started, there were about 20 engineers, which has now grown to around 50 in Europe. RetailMeNot’s US division has about 100 software engineers.

“The first decision I made, in order to continue to grow, was that one platform was going to be the way forward for us. In order to have the growth, the tech innovation and the product launches I would expect and I’d like to push for in each of those countries, you’ve either got to build a team in each country, or you’ve got to find a way to leverage a broader European team with some things happening locally in-country.

“So, having local engineering, but also bringing a European team together that can work across countries so it doesn’t matter where they’re based.”

Understanding the leadership

After Wilkins drew up his plan for how the new platform and team would look in Europe, he took a close look at his existing team, in particular the leadership.

“It’s a very difficult one to address, but the best way to address leadership is to really spend time with the teams and to really dig deep into how they think about the organisation, how they want to manage their reports and employees, set them strategic-style organisation and see how they approach a challenge.

“Understanding the leadership you have really helps. If you don’t have a good set of leaders, you’re always going to find you’re spending a lot of time not going forwards.”

Learning from Google

He then embarked on finding the people to fill any skills gaps, which involved carrying out a big overhaul of the recruitment process at RetailMeNot, inspired by his Google background. As well as undergoing Google’s famously rigorous interview process - 10 interviews comprising two phone interviews, four interviews via video conference, as well as in-person interviews - Wilkins was also involved in recruiting staff.

“I learnt a lot from Google. I was involved in writing a lot of job specifications [at Google] and with hiring committees. So [at RetailMeNot], I sat with the HR team and said ‘stop hiring right now. Hiring is no longer a one-month push at a point, it’s a 12-month process’.

“We’re constantly going to be looking for candidates because we’re going to be constantly looking to hire great talent. So I brought the team up to speed on how to interview, and how to make the most efficient use of their time.”

In the first six months of the new hiring process, Wilkins also identified all of what he calls the “job ladders” or career paths for the roles in his team.

“That’s the best tool for any manager,” he advises. “If you don’t know what your job description is, how can you ever aim at the next level? So I put career paths in, so that people knew that this was a long-term company for growth.”

Wilkins is clearly dedicated to his recruitment responsibilities. He still does the last interview, a 15 or 20-minute chat with candidates, and even conducted one via Skype while on holiday last year. He also talks to his team about the candidates, getting them to provide feedback separately so they’re not influenced by each other.

What he looks for in a new software engineer is someone who is passionate about their work, as well as someone that the team is excited about working with.

“When I meet the candidate, I share the vision with them about the technology and where we’re going. I’m looking for engineers who want to push the technologies, asking the why and how, and who are excited about the [online couponing] space. I always ask them how the interview process went, to see if they are excited when talking about the company,” Wilkins says.

“Culturally, making sure they’re going to fit into the team is really important, someone who can jump into a team and add to the culture.”

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