Black Friday may mark the biggest shopping event of the year, but it also marks the biggest tech event of the year for associates at Walmart Technology.

Here are four behind-the-scenes looks at what the technologists are up to while millions of people take advantage of Walmart’s Black Friday sales.

Team members dressed in video game costumes.
Teams were encouraged to dress up in a “video game” theme this year and participate in a costume contest. From left: Paul Antony, Jeff Butler, David Morales, Brent Sperry and Cord Leonhardt

1. We’re already counting down to next year.

The event only lasts a few days, but preparation for Black Friday begins far in advance. “As soon as November is over, we’re starting on next year’s event,” said Joshua Orozco, senior programmer analyst for point-of-sale development. He and his team members are responsible for making sure every transaction goes seamlessly at the registers.

While a year seems like more than enough time to get ready for what’s known at Walmart as “Annual Event,” the months of preparation give technologists time to innovate and test their ideas. They can dive into analytics and anticipate customer expectations for the next year.

“Walmart Tech has introduced many new features between the last Annual Event and this Black Friday,” Orozco said. “It’s exciting to look back at all the different obstacles that have been overcome. We’ve gone from a traditional point of sale where customers had one way of checking out to a pool of available options: Pickup Today, Grocery Pickup, Scan & Go, Walmart Pay and more. The opportunities to expand and grow in technology are endless as new experiences are innovated for our customers.”

2. We’re working in the cloud.

This Black Friday doesn’t mark the first time Walmart has used the cloud for e-commerce, but it is the first year that other business areas are running workloads in the cloud. Joshua Cox, staff systems engineer in cloud technology, said the new workloads presented several challenges to the cloud team.

“The hardest part was not knowing what all our consumer workloads were, but still being prepared to host all of them,” he said. “We provided what appears to be an infinite capacity for applications to run on. Whether it’s our least busy or most busy time, it needs to work.”

To prepare, the team dove into testing and systematically addressed bottlenecks, ensuring that, Black Friday or not, the applications would be reliable and perform as well or better than before they were moved to the cloud.

“We have OneOps to quickly deploy resources to scale out an application,” Cox said. “In the event there’s an anomaly to our test results, we have the tools to respond quickly. Walmart is set apart by the speed we can operate and the scale we can deliver. We usually think a large organization is slow to move, but when it comes to making changes in our application environment, we aren’t slow. Once we have a plan in place, we can execute quickly.”

In fact, Walmart can do more than 65,000 deployments a month, and currently has more than 220,000 cores of cloud capacity.

Eugene Cook, vice president of application operations, discusses Black Friday events with Catherine Garner, senior director of technology enablement.
Eugene Cook, vice president of application operations, discusses Black Friday events with Catherine Garner, senior director of technology enablement.

3. We’re getting inspired (and geeking out).

On the day of the event, we’re focused on the numbers—transaction rates, utilization, connectivity and more—but we also get real-time feedback from our customers in the stores via social media that can inspire enhancements for next year.

This year, the point-of-sale team is excited about enhancements it made to the item restriction process, which flags purchases limited by age or quantity. Restrictions are especially important for Black Friday, when certain items can’t be sold until the sales event begins.

“The process has gone from a keyed file that served as a database in a 4690 operating system to a service on a decision engine,” Orozco said. Not only that, but the team is already working on ways the service could be used outside of the legacy POS system, such as in a cloud POS or Scan & Go.

“As a developer, this is a place where you can code quickly,” Cox said. “You don’t have to wait months to get from your local development environment to production. We build tools internally to improve your productivity and let you focus on making great applications, not learning how to build the infrastructure for the application.”

4. We’re working as one team.

Walmart Technology encompasses thousands of associates worldwide, but Black Friday brings those teams together more than anything else.

“There’s a lot more to retail than you think,” said Cox. “There’s a lot of large-scale, cutting-edge technology that it takes to operate retail at this scale, at our size. We work together to make sure everyone’s ready, not just one team.” There’s not a “your code versus my code” mentality; instead, teams are prepared to jump in on any issue, making sure not a single customer experience is impacted.

More than 600 technologists joined the Black Friday activities in the David Glass Technology Center in Bentonville, Arkansas, over the weekend, either in person or remotely, to make sure the holiday weekend went off without a hitch. As Walmart Technology’s CIO Karenann Terrell said before the event, these are extraordinary people doing the impossible, and we don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Photo credit: Guillermo Garcia-Quintero, director of international relations at Walmart Technology

Comments

  1. I was born in the ’50’s, and my first glimpse of a computer was when I registered in 1973 for my college freshmen courses. The computer spanned from the left side of the room all the way to the right! It was as though I had stepped into a science fiction movie. And look at what we’ve done and where we’ve come! I had no clue that tech people were involved in the day-to-day operations at Walmart and any company. As far as we’ve come, I can only imagine what’s in store for us in 2017 and beyond.

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