BuildDirect is an online marketplace for home building materials founded by Jeff Booth (CEO) in 1999. Being a builder himself before founding the company, Jeff understood the pain and complexities that both sellers and buyers have to face in the home building industry. He wanted to build a platform where sellers and buyers could seamlessly interact with each other and not worry about anything else apart from buying and selling. BuildDirect is the world’s first company to have a supply chain for shipping heavy building materials from anywhere to anywhere.
Before joining the Master’s program in Computer Science at SFU, I had the experience of five years as a software engineer working for two large multinational software firms. I was very nervous in the beginning, as I had to leave the comfort zone of my job to pursue my graduate degree. Then in my second term, I got offered a co-op position in software development for BuildDirect. I was very excited about the offer, but as days passed and the joining date approached, I became a bit tensed. Even though I had plenty of experience in this field, this was going to be my first job in Canada. After starting my co-op with BuildDirect, I immediately felt at ease because of the warm welcome. All my team members greeted me well and treated me as if I was a permanent employee, rather than a co-op student. My team tech lead sat individually with me and discussed the work I would like to do in my co-op term. As it is an eCommerce company, the work environment is very flexible at BuildDirect, which is different from normal software companies. Like other software companies, the tech managers do not pressure the employees too much. This helps employees to be creative, to work passionately and enjoy every bit of their success. In what follows, I discuss the areas my co-op with BuildDirect helped me in my career.
Working Closely with Different Teams
Every product built at BuildDirect is used by customers. Thus, all the new features need to be validated by the users. For this reason, we have to work closely with the different teams such as operations, inventory, sales, merchandising, etc. This allowed me to create a good network in the company with different people from different backgrounds.
In the previous companies I worked for, we followed a waterfall model, which is a sequential design process that involves conception, initiation, analysis, design, construction, testing, implementation and maintenance. After each of these steps is completed, the developers move on to the next step. There is no moving back to the previous step without scratching the whole project. Working at BuildDirect helped me to learn the agile and scrum methodology of working, which is widely followed in Canada. They gave me some intensive training in the agile methodology where I got to learn the flaws of the waterfall model and why it doesn’t work in most projects. Agile development starts with a simplistic design on a very small module and goes on implementing it in an iterative model. At the end of each two-week or end of the month, the deliverables are put into production and the next set of priorities are identified. It allows the developers to go back to the previous steps and make changes. The waterfall model, however, relies heavily on the initial requirement gathering. If that is not done meticulously, then the project will not be successful. Additionally, the waterfall model does not take into account the evolving need for clients.
Before joining BuildDirect, I had technical knowledge in Java, but I never worked in .NET Technology. I learnt the C# language and mastered it in my co-op term. Besides that, I worked on creating a lot of restful web services. I also learnt to use no SQL databases like MongoDB and DocumentDB. Another important technical knowledge I gained is the proper usage of the git version tool. It is a distributed version control tool that allows me to keep my current work for a project in sync with the team. With my previous employers in India, I didn’t have to work too much in git, so I had a very vague idea about how to use it properly. While working at BuildDirect, I learnt about the proper usages of this version control tool.
BuildDirect as a company is going through a massive change. The technical design is getting revamped from old legacy systems to microservices. After it emerged as an online marketplace platform in February 2016, the number of suppliers who want to sell their products through BuildDirect has almost tripled in a month. The number of SKUs in the system is estimated to go up to hundreds of thousands from the current seven thousand. Huge development projects are already in the queue for different teams to support this influx of data in the system.
Vast Knowledge in Supply Chain Process
Prior to working with BuildDirect, I had very little and vague ideas of how the supply chain process works. But being a developer in the core supply chain team gave me ample opportunities to learn different process flows, new terms and terminologies. I got to know the different problems that most of the eCommerce companies face and had opportunities to learn how to tackle many of those problems. Most of these problems are related to inventory placement, shipping cost, delays in shipping, claims management, after-sales satisfaction, etc. Not having proper inventory or having high freight charge can largely affect the conversion rates. Currently, I am focusing on building a new freight engine, which takes into account the inventory location of the product and minimizes the shipping charge.
Fun at Work
The motto of BuildDirect is to work hard, party harder. Though there is always constant pressure to keep up with the ever-changing environment, there are always social events that lighten the mood. During my one-year tenure as a co-op student, they conducted two Hackathons, a TechPong (ping pong) tournament, a lip-sync battle, a Christmas party, Valentine’s celebration, a barbeque at their warehouse in Richmond and many more.
Having worked almost one year at BuildDirect, I can say that it has the best work environment among all the companies I have worked with. As the company is going through massive changes for system improvement and upgrades, there are lots of opportunities to learn. My co-op at BuildDirect has given me a platform to prove myself as an employee in the Canadian workplace.
Beyond the Blog
For more opportunities like Joydeep's visit the SFU Computing Science Co-op page