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Digital Transformation in Retail: Analysis of the Principal Engineer Talent Ecosystem in Retail

Digital Transformation June 9, 2021
Digital Transformation in Retail: Analysis of the Principal Engineer Talent Ecosystem in Retail
Kishor Venkatesh R

Content Developer


In 2013, almost 200,000 identified themselves as retail associates on their LinkedIn profiles. In 2017, the number came down to 116,000, indicating a shift.

In early 2018, Walmart closed over 60 Sam’s Club stores and converted them into distribution centers for their online shopping orders. Fewer stores meant that they needed fewer salespeople. With retail evolving quickly, the need for software talent is increasing.

As AI and ML are figuring into the industry, it predicts customer behavior, identifies target markets based on real data and indicators, and analyzes everything from purchasing patterns to social media interactions. Other benefits predictive analytics has brought are:

  • Customer segmentation,
  • Churn prevention,
  • Predictive maintenance,
  • Risk modeling,
  • Quality assurance, among others

Changing Talent Equation in Retail

At 29%, sales still form the biggest function in retail. It is still twice the size of operations, which is at 13%. Engineering and IT talent are the third most wanted in retail, representing 9% of the industry.

While sales professionals’ numbers shrunk from 33% in 2013 to 29% in 2017, engineering and IT grew from 7% to 9% during the same period. Retail associates who left their jobs moved into administrative, customer service, and food service roles, their three most desired job roles.

On the other hand, the skills software developers need in retail revolve around the web and user experience. With the boom in engineering and IT roles, retail is yet another industry competing for tech talent.

Digitalization across industries has led to resource allocation speeding up project delivery. In addition, with workloads getting more complex with emerging technologies, we have seen the emergence of various senior-level tech jobs these past few years like Product Manager, Principal Engineer, and others to establish agile methodologies and practices.

Skills Analysis of a Principal Engineer

After conducting a comprehensive analysis, Draup’s analysts have identified the below skillsets typically required for Principal Engineers:

  • Technical skills include large-scale systems engineering, building complex distributed systems, system architecture, database handling, and software development.
  • Functional skills include business analysis, pricing strategy, competitive analysis, enterprise resource planning, team management.
  • Agile management, including SCRUM, RUP, Extreme Programming (XP), and product life cycle management.

Due to the multitude of workflows and differing organization archetypes, the skills fluctuate among enterprises. Sometimes, the experience level required to qualify as a Principal Engineer varies.

Skills Analysis of a Principal Engineer
What Role Does a Principal Engineer Play in Retail?

A Principal Engineer is one of the most experienced individual contributors in an organization. This person improves processes and mentors new engineers.

He/she is trusted by an organization to ship complex software, self-direct in line with the company’s objectives, foster team spirit, offer division-level impact, and increase brand awareness by participating in events and sharing helpful content.

Recognized as engineering authorities, he/she facilitates internal discussion and inspires other engineers by directing their work in a commonly agreed-upon way. They serve as a role-model and a mentor to every single member of the technical team.

They have extensive practical experience gained from working as an engineer and answering the company’s senior management. In addition, leadership and communication skills are crucial in their work.

Typical job responsibilities

  • Work with several teams and conduct strategic planning.
  • Take ownership of complex projects, set goals and task the teams to implement them.
  • Share expertise and insight with other engineers.
  • Provide technical guidance and support in all phases of the software development life cycle (SDLC) and ensure delivery of high-quality products.
  • Assist in risk assessment and mitigation activities.
  • Recommend technologies to ensure quality and productivity.
  • Work with the quality analysis team to prepare test cases, plans, and procedures.

One of the most critical competencies of a principal engineer is to become a force multiplier. A valuable Principal Engineer makes his/her team better by advocating for best practices, training teams about existing processes, and help inexperienced engineers ‘level up.’

Rethinking Tech Leadership in Retail

There will be well-known technology that retail leadership will have on their agenda. For example, Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), robotics, 3D printing, drones/autonomous vehicles, digital traceability solutions, and blockchain will follow AI, ML, NLP, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

As IT becomes a center of innovation, retail IT leadership will change. While ERP and point-of-sale systems are still essential, IT leadership skills will expand to include digital and online, omnichannel, data, and analytics.

Depending on the size and technology, organizations will create an IT leadership team with specialists in different technology areas. The highly collaborative teams could include CIO, CTO, Chief Digital Officer (CDO), Chief Information Security Officer, and the Principal Engineer.

As companies create cohesive strategies for execution, Principal Engineers must make sure that product, design, and business are aligned. They should speak and communicate publicly and should be visible doing AMAs, all hands, and demos.

There will be multiple projects happening simultaneously, some slow, some fast, some stalled. Principal Engineers will create a strategy, anticipating future problems. They research to understand priorities and their impact.

  • They must think strategically, manage complexity, make decisions with incomplete and ever-changing information.
  • They must attract technology talent required to translate and execute an ambiguous tech agenda.

We analyzed the talent hotspots for Principal Engineers and deep-dived into 100+ locations, including Hyderabad, India, and Gdansk, Poland. We identified the top companies employing Principal Engineers in these two locations.

Draup has analyzed more than 4,500 job roles across 8,000 sources to help understand the talent ecosystem with insights around talent cost, skills, career paths, demand for roles, including Talent Engineers. To learn more, download the whitepaper.

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