Meet Sloan & Haebin — Engineer couple at Coupang
There is the old saying that “Happiness begins at home.” At Coupang, there are office couples who have found happiness in both their personal and work lives. Today, we introduce the story of one of these couples, Sloan and Haebin, who joined Coupang from the U.S. and are now leading different engineering organizations.
Hello Sloan. Haebin. Thanks for taking the time for the interview. First of all, please introduce yourselves.
Sloan: Hi, I’m Sloan, and I oversee Pricing Engineering here at Coupang.
Pricing Engineering is one of the core pillars of the customer journey. When customers shop for something online, they first ask, “Does this platform have what I’m looking for?” Their next question is, “Do they sell it at a price I’m willing to pay?” Finally, they ask, “Can I get it delivered when I want it?”
Pricing Engineering ensures that when customers visit Coupang, the answer to that second question is always yes. Our systems, through a number of mechanisms such as machine learning, complex business logic, and price forecasting, help ensure that Coupang maintains attractive prices that customers are willing to pay.
To accomplish this, I’m lucky enough to lead an organization of talented managers, developers, and data scientists located in Seoul, Seattle, and Mountain View.
Haebin: Hello, I’m Haebin, the manager of the Coupang Eats Merchant Engineering Team. Our team creates and supports the applications necessary for store owners who sign up for Coupang Eats. I'm in charge of the team that does the back-end work needed to implement these features.
I joined Coupang in September this year, and after joining the company, I’ve been focusing on identifying the pain points that the team has been struggling with and making plans to improve them. In addition, we strive to find and implement the necessary improvements to the process so that our team members can carry out projects more efficiently. One of the main tasks is to establish a culture within the team that can improve code quality by following the development process.
I heard that the two of you joined Coupang together. Can you tell us about your career journey before coming to Coupang?
Sloan: I originally began my career as an engineer, graduating from a university in Pennsylvania. After working as a principal engineer in several companies, I decided to transition into management as I wanted a new challenge.
Before Coupang, I joined one of the largest retail website companies and performed a number of roles for them over the years. Through running Localization Engineering for the company, I got to learn about natural language processing, translation processes, and the intricacies of many languages. From there, I helped launch the developer toolkit for one of the most popular smart home devices and really dove into how people wanted to write applications for a whole new medium. Lastly, I got an amazing opportunity to learn about autonomous guided vehicles as part of a team bring AGVs into warehouse management.
Then, an opportunity arose to help launch a new office for one of the largest U.S. point of sale and credit card reader companies. Returning to my experience with launching developer toolkits, I helped deliver new SDKs, websites, and API platforms that handled millions of customer credit card payments and point of sale interactions.
Haebin, your career journey was a bit more off the beaten path. Can you tell us about it?
Haebin: I was a humanities student who studied aesthetics, philosophy, and art history at university. I think I used a computer for the first time while writing my graduation thesis. After graduating from college, I got a job at a famous cultural foundation. In the meantime, a new project launched to create a website for an art museum, and I was assigned the project because I was interested in the Internet. I learned about HTML while playing a role similar to that of a project manager, conveying requirements and providing necessary support between outsourced developers and art galleries. From there, I was able to do simple editing tasks by myself, and I wanted to learn more about building websites.
Around that time, I began to think that I had to go abroad to advance my career, so I went abroad for a master's degree in arts management.
The school I went to was famous for computer science, so I had to take basic programming, database, and information management classes as required courses to graduate from art management. I chose that school because I liked the curriculum, and all the computer-related classes were fun, so I ended up taking many courses there.
Luckily, around the time I graduated, I was offered a full-time position at a research center where I worked as a web programmer intern, and I changed my career. After that, I continued to work as a web developer, front-end developer, and worked for various companies for nearly 20 years, developing features mainly implemented on the web.
Before joining Coupang, I worked at a department store website team in the U.S., implementing various components related to the shopping experience, and also led a team at a cloud computing company.
In the early days of my career in the U.S., I had to meet and communicate directly with clients and receive their requirements directly to carry out the work. It was important to create a solution that clients who were unfamiliar with technology could easily understand and use.
That experience has influenced my work style as a developer, as I was always focused on providing clients what they needed in the simplest way. I think that focus and simplification are important in an era when everything is changing quickly.
You were both successfully building your careers in the U.S. What was so special about Coupang that made you two join?
Sloan: I really love to obsess about the customer. And while I did that for a number of years, it was usually developers who were the “customers.” I missed that opportunity to influence everyday people and the choices they make.
Coupang allows me to do that, as we always strive to “Wow the Customer” in everything we do. We are always asking ourselves, how could we have done that better? And what would the customer want us to do? Leading the Pricing Engineering team allows me to ask those questions, and ensure that we wow the customer in one of the most important decisions they make when interfacing with Coupang: do I want to buy this?
Lastly, to be honest, I’m a bit of a K-pop and Korean culture fan. So, the ability to work from Seoul and really experience a culture I've always been fascinated by was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
Haebin: The biggest factor in my move to Coupang was my plan to move to Korea from the U.S. Since my husband is American, we had discussed living in Korea someday. When he received an offer from Coupang, we could realize this plan. Fortunately, I also got the opportunity to interview with Coupang and was offered a role as a development manager. I decided to change my job as I wanted a new challenge. My current goal is to support team members and establish team processes so that we can show the best performance.
Still, I think it was a big decision for the two of you to come to Korea.
Sloan: As my wife is Korean and her family lives in Korea, I've visited Seoul and a number of other cities multiple times over the years. Each time I came back, I kept thinking to myself how much I wanted to live here and really be a part of the Korea’s culture.
When I got the chance to work for Coupang, I didn’t have to think hard about it. But, I had to consider my wife’s career. It turned out that once Coupang saw my wife’s background, they wanted to interview her immediately. And sure enough, she got the job.
We both joined and ensured we wouldn’t be in teams working too closely with each other. The last thing I want is project prioritization discussions with my wife at home. She’ll always win (laugh).
Then, what are the advantages of being a couple at Coupang?
Haebin: It's not the first time we've worked for the same company. We have worked together for about three years previously. The good thing about working with my spouse is that I can talk about the company to some extent, but sometimes it's a downside in that we talk about the company too much (laugh).
Coupang’s flexible working system is very helpful in finding harmony between home and work, and I think there are significant differences between a place that gives you the option to work from home versus places that don’t.
The two of you are leading different development teams. Please introduce a little more about the teams.
Haebin: The Merchant Management Engineering team works within the broader Merchant Engineering group to perform the necessary roles for merchants to accept and process orders. For example, it provides the merchant onboarding process, contract and store information management, food menu and option information management, and various back-office functions required by the operations team. The role of our team is to design and build a back-end system that can efficiently and accurately store and use data from these various areas. We also have the role of implementing a scalable system that runs smoothly even when the number or type of merchants increases.
The three axes of Coupang Eats are the customers who order food, restaurant owners (merchants), and our delivery partners. Working on our team allows you to get direct feedback from merchants quickly and build experience from working closer with the customers.
Sloan: As I mentioned earlier, my organization focuses on determining what is the most competitive price Coupang can sell something for. To accomplish this goal, we deal with billions of rows of data every day. We bring all the data and logic together to update prices for our customers in near real-time.
This means you get to work on a lot of different technologies at a large scale, which have a very high impact on customers and Coupang’s actual revenue figures. You are at the center of a lot of what Coupang does and how we win sales. Tie this in with a great bunch of dedicated and talented individuals, and it’s just a lot of fun.
Could you tell us about a goal you want to achieve at Coupang?
Sloan: My main goal is to ensure that customers who shop at Coupang always get not only a fair price, but the lowest price we can reasonably offer. To achieve this, it’s all about helping the individuals who I’m privileged to lead to grow in their careers. The more they grow and accomplish their career goals, the better our software becomes, and the better the overall customer experience.
I’m really looking forward to seeing where they go and how we evolve along our shared journey.
Haebin: I will do my best for the Coupang Eats Merchant Engineering team to improve the merchant experience and increase customer satisfaction. I will also continuously help our development team members to grow in this journey.
What are the three most important competencies needed for those who want to become Coupang developers like you?
Haebin: I think the three most important competencies for those apply to Coupang are Dive Deep, Think Systematically, and Demand Excellence, which come from our leadership principles.
“The devil is in the details.” It's a famous saying, which means that while something may look easy at a glance, the complexity when you look closely at the details requires far more time and effort. I've often seen developers in the field work on projects and miss details that lead to unforeseen problems later. So, I actively tell developers to get into the habit of documenting the details. I think you should always dive deep so as not to miss any details. When a problem arises, we are not satisfied with just solving the problem, but also diving deep into the root cause of the problem.
The second is to Think Systematically. In problem solving, it’s important to think about how to prevent similar problems from recurring, and to find a process and solution to do so. I think this ability becomes more important the larger and more complex whatever you’re developing is.
I would say the final competency is Demand Excellence. As a developer, you should strive to ensure that the code you distribute or the system you design is of the highest standards. As a colleague, I must actively help my team members as well as myself to pursue that level. Developers who faithfully follow the development process to produce the highest level of development results and actively participate in improving the process will be able to build a successful career at Coupang.
Lastly, do you have any advice for those who dream of becoming a developer at Coupang?
Sloan: We hold a high bar for ability in my group, but we have fun and work in an environment where we can have a significant impact on Coupang and our customers. We operate at large volumes with tons of data across many technology stacks. It’s really interesting, and everyone I work with is deeply invested in doing the right thing for our customers.
Haebin: I think a good developer is not just a developer who is good at coding. One of my senior developers once told me that, “The best code is no code.”
This means that before changing or creating any code, you should consider whether it’s really necessary. Because when you add code, there are always maintenance costs and additional costs for things like tests, logs, and storage. Therefore, developers must add only necessary code.
Many developers become developers because they love coding, so they tend to try to solve all problems by coding. However, some problems may be solvable with existing code and systems. This is possible only if you fully understand the existing code and system.
Of course, developers who are good at coding are needed. However, at large companies like Coupang, especially ones with existing systems, it’s helpful to have the ability to identify and understand the existing code and system and the creativity to find alternatives to adding code.
We wish Sloan and Haebin all the happiness in the world in their lives together as co-workers and spouses.
There are diverse stories and lives at Coupang. If you are interested in creating your own story and life at Coupang, please apply.