11 reasons why you should join Ocado Group as a graduate software engineer

21 Jun 2023, 15:41

If you want to join a big tech employer and work on cutting-edge technology, look no further than Ocado Group’s software engineering graduate programme.

A robotic picking station and bots on the grid at Ocado Group

When you think of Ocado, you might instantly think of the online grocery retailer, but there is much more to this company than first meets the eye.

For example, did you know that…

  • Ocado Group is a technology-led software and robotics platform business?
  • It is a global business, with retail partners as far and wide as America, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Spain and Sweden?
  • It has developed almost all of its technology in house, from robotic picking systems powered by computer vision to advanced demand forecasting models?
  • It has filed over 450 patents for its technology?
  • It is looking to hire 1000 technologists in 2022?

So, if you didn’t think of Ocado Group as a leading technology employer before now, it might be time to change your mind. Don’t just take Ocado’s word for it, though. Hear from Abi, Ben, Davina, Faiz and Zifan – all graduate software engineers at Ocado Group – on the best things about working in the Ocado Technology division.

Ocado is not ‘just a grocery website’

‘There’s a common misconception that Ocado is just a grocery retailer and software engineers will only be working on the website, but that’s not true,’ explains Davina. So, while you might recognise the name Ocado from doing your online food shop or seeing delivery vans in action, this truly is the tip of the iceberg that is Ocado Group.

When you join Ocado Technology, you’ll find a 2,500-strong team of technologists working across Engineering, Product Management, Data Science, Robotics, UX and Advanced Technology in areas such as:

  • Hyperpersonalised ecommerce experiences
  • Bot software and hardware
  • Supply chain and logistics routing optimisation
  • Simulation and digital twinning
  • Robotic picking and packing
  • Autonomous mobility

Working with exciting tech

For Ben, one of the coolest things about working at Ocado Group is the technology the company is working on. ‘It is far more interesting and innovative than I could have predicted,’ he says. ‘For example, we’ve got bots, simulations that create entirely digital versions of Ocado and crazy data science stuff going on.’

Whether you join as an intern or graduate, you’ll be helping Ocado Group to solve some of the toughest challenges in the grocery space to achieve a positive impact for society (such as achieving the lowest rate of food waste in the industry). To do this, you’ll be working at the cutting edge of technology – in automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science and more.

Ben is currently working in the autonomous mobility team: ‘Ocado Group has an investment in and partnership with Oxbotica, an autonomous vehicle software company. My team is collaborating with them to explore the opportunities for autonomous mobility solutions around Ocado, from use cases in our warehouses and yards, to self-driving grocery delivery vans and kerb-to-kitchen robotics.’

You can watch some of Ocado Technology’s creations in action on its YouTube channel , including the AI-controlled bots, which whizz across 3D storage grids to fulfil grocery orders.

Rotations are your all-access pass to Ocado Technology

With so many different teams and technologies at your fingertips at Ocado Group, it would be a shame not to experience more than one. That’s why the software engineering graduate programme lets you complete four six-month placements before ‘rolling off’ to a permanent job.

It’s these four chances to try out different roles that fixed Zifan on applying to Ocado Group. ‘I wanted to assimilate new skills and learn the ins and outs of the company – something that a normal software engineer role would not offer,’ he says. ‘With each rotation, I am being exposed to more and more technology and discovering which areas I am most interested in.’

Freedom to pick the roles that you want

‘You can complete a rotation anywhere in the Technology division and you get a lot of say in where you go,’ says Davina. So, rather than following a pre-determined generic path, you can tailor the experience to your individual interests and career ambitions. Faiz and Abi – who joined Ocado Group in September 2021 – were both given their top choices for their first rotation.

‘My first choice was to join the team that works on the software that controls the bots on the grid,’ says Faiz. ‘It’s been really good so far and I’m enjoying writing the code. One of the things we do is plan routes for the bots to move around the grid to collect customer orders.’

Abi picked an automation and control role in the analysts' team. ‘We are providing data-driven insights to help different teams. One of my first projects has been to create a dashboard, looking at the downtime of machines at our different sites and how well our customer fulfilment centres are running.’

Meanwhile, Zifan is in his third rotation. ‘I’m currently in the ecommerce team, working on the front-end and back-end of the Ocado Smart Platform. One of the most exciting projects I’ve been part of was maintaining and building the underlying AWS infrastructure that supports all of Ocado’s websites, its applications and its bots.’

Developing your skills set with a unique tech stack

‘The size of Ocado Technology and the variety of teams mean that the company’s tech stack is much bigger than most,’ says Davina. ‘Different teams use different tools and languages, so you’ll add a broad range of skills to your CV as you move through your rotations.’

The Ocado Technology tech stack is a powerful set of best-in-breed languages and tools, including Java, AWS, NodeJS, Kubernetes, Google Cloud Platform and BigQuery. You can find more information about the Ocado Technology Tech Stack on the Ocado Group website .

No need to close the door on hardware

‘I was really pleased to have the option of both software and hardware roles at Ocado Group,’ says Ben. ‘Very few companies can offer you that and it’s also rare for software engineers to work so closely with hardware engineers. I think it’s brilliant.’ This unique aspect of Ocado’s software engineering programme means that Ben doesn’t need to limit his options at this early stage of his career. Instead, he has some valuable time to figure out whether he leans more towards hardware or software.

The mind of a start-up, with the weight of a global company

Ocado Group thinks of itself as a 20-year-old start-up, with innovation inbuilt in its DNA. In Abi’s opinion, this mindset is a key part of what makes Ocado Group such an exciting place to work. ‘It’s a really great time to join the company as it is growing and innovating so much. By the time I am ready to pick my next rotation, there could well be a new team to join, working on technology that didn’t even exist six months ago.’

However, with Ocado you don’t need to sacrifice this start-up mentality to work for a global company – or vice versa. ‘Not everybody realises that Ocado has teams, clients, warehouses and robots all over the world. It’s amazing to think that the company has grown to that scale in such a short space of time,’ adds Davina.

Freedom to innovate and take risks

Another thing that makes Ocado Group stand out to Ben is that it actively encourages its employees to experiment and take risks – something that not all companies and industries have the freedom to do.

‘It’s inspiring to see the ambition and vision that people at Ocado have,’ he says. ‘The CEO of Ocado Group, Tim Steiner, delivered a talk to the graduates and basically said, “As a business, we could easily make a profit now, but I’d rather reinvest the money in developing more technology that makes the technology we just worked on redundant”, which is really cool,’ he says. ‘I’m very lucky that my employer is willing to let me loose to try new things and see if they pay off.’

This attitude is at the core of one of five Ocado Technology values: learn fast. As Ben explains, ‘It derived from the term fail fast and is all about encouraging everyone to keep trying new things. If we fail, it’s not the end of the world as long as we keep going and learn from it.’ Ocado Technology’s other four values are trust, autonomy, collaboration and craftsmanship. You can find out more about these values on the Ocado Group website .

Opportunities to learn and develop

There is no shortage of training and support on the graduate programme and beyond. ‘During each rotation, I receive support from my line manager and colleagues,’ says Zifan. ‘I have weekly one-to-one meetings to discuss how I’m getting on and I am supported in setting goals for my personal development. I also have a graduate buddy from the cohort before me.’

The company will happily support you if there’s something you think you should invest more time in. Anyone can sign up for training run by the Ocado Technology Academy. There are also online learning resources such as O’Reilly and Linux Academy and weekly tech talks hosted by Ocado employees.

One opportunity that shocked Zifan was a one-to-one with James Matthews, the CEO of Ocado Technology, who himself joined the company as a software development intern in 2005. Zifan says: ‘As a graduate, this was an experience beyond my expectations for a company of Ocado’s size. I was able to ask questions and set goals for my future self.’

A relaxed, community feel

‘I really like how social the graduate programme is,’ says Faiz. ‘The company has arranged events to help us get to know the other graduates, such as quizzes, a scavenger hunt, bingo and going to the pub. It’s been a great way to make new friends after moving to a new city, which I think a lot of people have done.’

Abi agrees. ‘I really feel like I’m part of a community. There are so many networking opportunities available. For example, I joined a random lunch session and met people in Ocado Logistics whom I’d never usually come across.’

Beyond arranged socials, Zifan has found the teams he’s worked in to be very friendly and relaxed. ‘In my last rotation, my team organised team games and meme channels for us to have a laugh and blow off steam together.’

Hybrid working

‘The hybrid working scheme at Ocado Group is fantastic,’ says Faiz. ‘We have two days in the office, but can go in more if we want to, which I think is the perfect balance.’

‘The company is really good with work/life balance. It’s keen that you’re not stuck at your desk and that you have a life outside of work,’ adds Ben. ‘At Ocado, you’re given the freedom and flexibility to be as productive as you can be. You need to be at work between 10.00 am and 4.00 pm but any other time in your contract can be made up in any way you like.’

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