Love problem solving and digital transformation? Then you’ll want to hear about what Marks and Spencer’s tech team is up to. Who better to hear from than Maebh, Senior Head of Engineering at M&S? In this exclusive interview, we get into the tech trends M&S are adopting, how to move past a career plateau, M&S’s values and more. Let’s get started!
Maebh has been in Software Development for over two decades, first starting with Johnson and Johnson where she was part of building a shop app for their employees. By rewriting the old, outdated system to make it more efficient and user friendly, she got her first real taste of working with customers and seeing the impact of her work. This love of connecting with customers continued throughout her career, and after a 16 year stint at Yell connecting businesses with their customers in innovative ways, and modernising their tech stack, she was ready for a change and made the jump to Marks & Spencer, where she’s applying her expertise in a fresh way.
What does a Senior Head of Engineering do, and what are you focused on now? (Strategy, team building etc)
As a Senior Head of Engineering I play a crucial role in shaping an organisation's technical direction, ensuring the delivery of high-quality products and services, and driving innovation to maintain competitiveness in the market. My responsibilities encompass both strategic planning and technical leadership, helping to ensure the technical success of the company. This role typically involves managing a very large team of Software Engineers, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, and requires exceptional leadership, communication, and strategic planning skills, as well as a deep understanding of the business and technology landscape.
I'm specifically responsible for building internal developer platforms that make it easier for the Engineers building customer experiences to do their work. I'm also responsible for building the tech in our stores to set our in store colleagues up for success in the most cost effective way.
When managing large teams at scale, I've found it to be imperative to set your team up to succeed. To do this, you need to foster a culture of collaboration, innovation, and continuous improvement within the team so they can strive to be their best. I think Marks and Spencer does this really well.
What would you recommend to move past a plateau in a software engineer’s career? How could joining M&S help this?
There's no such thing as a straight career path. Mine has had a lot of twists and turns, and not always in an upward trajectory like you might expect. But here's the deal: if you're not learning, you're not growing. So, check in with yourself regularly, "What have I learned lately?"
And let's not forget about curiosity. Being curious about the tech and the people you work with is key. Getting feedback from everyone, from your boss to your team to your stakeholders, can help you understand how far you're reaching and how others see you. Always remember that feedback is a gift, and it's just as important to focus on enhancing your strengths than it is to solely focusing on improving your weaker areas.
It's also really important to understand what is expected of you, and at M&S we've been working on a career framework that makes it really easy to understand what's needed at each level and what the path between levels looks like. This is a great tool to help development conversations, ensuring that our team is clear on where they need to concentrate to get to the next level.
At M&S, we're building a diverse mix of tools and projects such as in-store tills, colleague devices, websites, banking systems, loyalty programmes and customised shopping apps. Each of these projects offers interesting and different tech to learn, giving our Engineers the opportunity to continuously develop their skills. We have a number of learning programs in place to make sure there's lots of opportunities to grow. There's always something new to learn, and some really fun Engineers to work with. I'm a big fan of reverse mentoring where an Engineer who is solely focused on building great stuff can spend some time explaining what they are building to me, and why. This helps me stay in touch but also offers them some experienced advise on approach, and critical thinking that you gain with years of experience.
M&S is going through a big tech transformation. What challenges and tech trends do you think we’ll see M&S adopting this year and how do you stay ahead of the curve?
At M&S we're extremely committed to maximizing developer productivity and creating an environment that's free from distractions so our employees can do their best work. Our goal? To become one of the top 10 places to work in tech.
We're at the forefront of the industry's latest and greatest, like AI. Whether it's using Co-Pilot or Chat GPT to speed up tasks, or personalizing website experiences with customized tailoring options, we're always pushing the boundaries of what's possible.
We're not afraid to experiment, either. We're using cameras to detect inventory gaps and optimize work patterns, all in the name of getting better and better. But we make sure to focus on value-added initiatives, not just blindly following trends.
To stay ahead of the curve, we encourage our Engineers to attend conferences, conduct research and build prototypes using cutting-edge technologies, participate in hackathons, contribute to open source projects and lots more...
What excites you about the work you do?
Marks and Spencer might be a household name but that's not the only reason I joined the team. It's the thrill of working alongside brilliant minds on cutting-edge tech and game-changing innovations that gets me pumped. Seeing our hard work come to life both in stores and online, and hearing customer feedback firsthand, is the cherry on top.
And while we do have some legacy projects, we're always pushing the boundaries with new, exciting ventures. Meeting all the talented Engineers that work here is always really exciting – absorb their knowledge and experience and deliver things that I get to use myself in store and online.
Aside from the tech, what is your favourite thing about M&S and how do you align with their values?
I think the favourite thing about M&S is the flexible working approach, and how it really caters for the working parent. They have policies around working anywhere for 2 weeks a year, support hybrid working and remote working, and have some really good family-friendly policies. The business has recently launched a neonatal policy providing up to 12 weeks’ fully paid leave to any UK employee whose baby requires specialist neonatal care.
Marks and Spencer is all about diversity in the workplace, which is why they support hybrid and remote working. And let's not forget their ethical practices – fair trade, ethical sourcing, and a commitment to reducing their carbon footprint. It's no wonder I'm onboard with their values and policies. I get to make a difference in-store while the company makes a difference in the world. Plus, the flexibility they offer means I can juggle my family and work commitments.
Last, but certainly not least, I’m a big advocate of charity work. I volunteer as a Treasurer for a pre-school in my spare time and I coach kids’ rugby at the weekends. Marks and Spencer makes this possible with a charity volunteering day, offered to all colleagues to support a cause they support.
Check out some of the links below!