NRF Foundation Student Program highlights tech roles

By Lottie Watts
Published Jan 10, 2020

As the founder and CEO of a tech company, Skip Howard of Spacee admits it may sound a bit odd that he’s an advocate for tech students to work in retail.

During his presentation at the “Future of Retail: Powered by Technology” event at the NRF Foundation Student Program, he noted he’s hiring for his company, which builds customized, augmented reality experiences for retailers. But his recommendation to the undergraduates – many who are studying computer science – is to go work for a retailer directly.

“The amazing thing about retail is that if you are able to shape the business with your tech ideas, you’re literally influencing the economy,” Howard says.

Technology solutions are needed to solve problems facing retailers – but the transformation has to be painless, he says.

 “When you work for a retailer, you already know the constraints,” Howard says. “You know you cannot interrupt the shopping experience.”

And as retailers expand into e-commerce, demand is increasing for people with tech experience.

 “The apps are very complex,” says Joshua John, lead systems engineer for Kohl’s. “It is hundreds of thousands of lines of code.”

The job opportunities are available at a wide range of retail companies, including some of the largest.  

 “My team has a mixed bag of skills,” says Jon Downey, director of software engineering for Walmart International Innovations. “I need a robot, but then that robot needs programming.”

Other “Powered By Technology” presentations included a walkthrough from PetSmart on how to optimize shopping for the web, a look at the tools Macy’s is developing to quickly identify fraud and insight from Zulily (a part of Qurate Retail Group) on how to personalize the customer experience.

This event, along with company Tours & Talks, kicked off the first day of this year’s NRF Foundation Student Program, the largest to date with more than 1,100 students from universities across the country in attendance. The annual event in New York City gives college students a unique opportunity to launch their future in retail.