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What is it like to work at SOK as a developer?

26 Oct 2020 by Maija Sangi

From time to time, we hold Q&A sessions for the members of the Talented Developer Community Slack, where techies can ask questions from different software companies’ developers. This time the session was held with SOK (Suomen Osuuskauppojen Keskuskunta, The Central Finnish Cooperative Society).

Kim Grönholm, VP of Engineering, from SOK was there to answer the questions. Kim has a long history with Nokia, where he enjoyed working about 10 years. During that time, he got to wear many hats, such as Tech Lead, PO, Scrum Master and R&D Manager.

“My last project at Nokia was OZO, the virtual reality camera which was originally my invention – I bought Oculus VR dev kit 1 with my own money and started thinking how to bring real world content into it. That was supposed to be a hobby project, but I coded a proto renderer and showed it to the execs and Nokia wanted to do it for real”, Kim says.

Working at SOK

“Is SOK a bit of an unknown great in software development? Seems like the people inside the house like it a lot, but how do you see the company positioning as an employer for those that might not know you so well?”

I believe SOK is a bit unknown but that’s due to us having the in-house R&D unit for such a short time. The people really like working here though. 

“SOK might not be known as a big development power house, but you guys do A LOT inhouse. What is it that you guys do over there?”

About 2,5 years ago I joined SOK to build an in-house R&D unit there to support their digital service/business development. There were 4 of us who joined the SOK’s Strategy department to pilot a totally new (for SOK) way of R&D. The pilot was Sokos Hotels Mobil application. We got the job done and people loved the way of doing things together with developers, design, biz all in the same room. And how that enabled also agility and better outcomes. Since that we have grown the dev unit to ~50 people and also grown a design unit that’s 10+ people and counting. And this is just in-house. We’re working with great external talent as well in hybrid teams creating service. 

“Would you have some examples of “conquering” bureaucracy?”

One example is the syokotona.fi service. Coronavirus challenged our restaurants (i.e. they had to close doors) and with a team of business, design and dev experts we were in 2,5 weeks able to roll out the service that sells and home-delivers restaurant food. That is from idea to production and covers developing the processes and logistics etc. not just the “website”. That’s simply not possible without conquering bureaucracy.

“Is remote work ok?”

Remote work is totally fine. We’ve been in full remote mode since the spring. Before corona, we were already fine with remoting, but encouraged people to meet and co-locate with each other as that usually helps with communication & culture.

“What would you say are the best things about working at SOK?”

The best things are probably (in no specific order): Autonomy, impact of work – millions of Finns using our services, great people to work with, modern tech stacks, wide range of employee benefits in our restaurants, hotels and markets.

IT department

“The rumors say that the IT-department is basically a company of its own within SOK and you can work there quite freely with a lot of autonomy. Is this true?”

I wouldn’t use exactly those words.. But we do believe in empowering experts and minimizing bureaucracy. Sometimes we are very successful at it ;). However we also believe that developing a digital service is not an IT-project. The best results come when business and design experts work in closest possible cooperation with developers.

“Do you have a big difference in development operations inhouse vs outsourced, or for example all inhouse operations?”

It’s not anymore a clear cut between what we do in-house and what out-of-house… but what we do in general are for example: sokoshotels.fi, raflaamo.fi, syokotona.fi, sokos.fi, prisma.fi, foodie.fi, kauppa.foodmarketherkku.fi, S-mobiili-, Abc-mobiili-, Sokos hotels mobiili -applications and also stuff like self service kiosks into Sokos hotels lobbies. We don’t think 100% in-house is a goal or would be at all smart. We believe that those things where we want to differentiate are prime candidates for increased in-house development. And as a bare minimum we need to have the competence in-house to understand what we’re buying and why.

“If you could, what kind of expertise and people would you hire right now? What are the major projects that would need more coding-power?”

I think we still need more coding-power in the Retail side, so food & utilities web stores. Obviously we want full-stack all-rounders and relevant ecom experience but it’s equally important to have a great attitude (hungry to learn new things, be nice to other people, independent problem-solving and -finding, no need to always do everything my way, etc.). And people generally have more experience in backend- or frontend development and that’s just fine. We surprisingly need both :). One example of more specific things that are currently topical for us would be SSR (server-side rendering) expertise and experience.

“Does SOK sell turn-key solutions to food vendors? Kind of ready-to-start web shop type of things”

Not as of today. We’re primarily doing omni-channel business where brick-and-mortar is one of the channels and goes hand-in-hand with our digital channels.

 

Read also:
What is it like to work at Starship as a developer?
What is it like to work at Gofore as a developer?

 

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