How I started my tech career at a retailer
Playing around with the family computer at a young age, I became really interested in how different people perceive and use technology. Due to this interest, I went on to study web development and design at university. While I was studying, however, I couldn’t help but feel I was always one step removed from the real world. I wanted to be able to explore complex problems in a practical environment, rather than from a text book, and so I jumped at the opportunity to do an industrial placement year.
Shopping around for placement and graduate employers
There’s a perception that, just because you do a technical degree, you need to work at a technical or IT business. However, in sectors such as retail, organisations are finding new ways to utilise technology and the internet every single day. I found the TJX Europe placement year online and was attracted to the opportunity to see how technology would directly affect people’s shopping experience. Reading the job description, I could see that I wouldn’t just be sitting at a desk all week, that I would be working with people from across the organisation and be involved in making business decisions.
A slight regret is that I didn’t look for opportunities outside of the big technology companies sooner. When I visited careers fairs in my second year, I focused mainly on computer science and technology employers. I’d advise students to make sure they have enough time free to fully explore any careers fairs they attend and to speak to as many people as possible. You never know what opportunities you might be missing if you don’t.
Assessment centre advice
The application process for the placement involved psychometric and situational judgement tests, a video interview and an assessment centre at head office. I had practised my interview skills with friends and family, so felt confident and relaxed. The most stressful bit of the assessment day was getting there in the first place. It had been snowing and my train journey was severely disrupted. When something like this happens, you need to let people know what is happening, so I frantically tried to let TJX Europe know that I would be late. It’s far from an ideal situation, but they were very understanding – and it all worked out in the end.
Getting experience... and a job
During my placement, my work involved updating older ‘legacy’ systems ‘behind-the-scenes’ of TK Maxx stores. I also assisted with the redesign of the organisation’s website, introducing a more responsive design that would work on mobile devices. My placement was initially meant to last for 12 months, but I wanted to see the project to its completion and asked if I could stay for two more months. Fortunately, everyone I worked with supported this decision.
At the end of my placement I was offered a position on the business technology graduate scheme. Not only did going back to the final year of university with a job offer mean that I could focus on my studies, but it also proved, to me, that the last year had been a success. Having more of an understanding of how businesses operated really benefited my university work. When working on projects, I spent more time considering the risks, how long something would take and how realistic our actions would be.
Moving and learning on the TJX technology graduate scheme
My graduate scheme was made up of three year-long placements. During the first year I worked in operations – responding to issues and making sure the supply chain ran smoothly, for example. In my second year I moved to a business analysis role, where I analysed how technology could be used to build businesses. Now, in my third year, I’m involved in a project management role in international store operations, so I help to plan projects involving any technology you find in store, from CCTV and tills to music players and lights.
The key skills throughout all these placements have been communication and relationship building. No matter how technical the work is, I need to be able to explain it to as many people as possible. Often, I’ll need to find a compromise between ambitions and reality. It helps that I know that, whenever I have a problem, I can rely on the support of colleagues – whether it’s needing insight on a certain area of the business or even asking where the best place for drinks is. I’ve learned that, whatever project you’re working on and whether you are working in a team or alone, your work will impact on the work of others.
Compared to the US side of the business, TJX Europe is still relatively young and is in a period of exciting growth – stores have only been open in Austria and the Netherlands for a few years. Because of the fast pace of the organisation, new opportunities to learn are always popping up. My career at the moment does not have a definite end goal, but I know that I can fully explore my current role and take advantage of the opportunities that arise in the future.