‘We don’t engineer makeup’: life on Sephora’s tech team
By Kylee McIntyre18-Dec-2018Views 2892

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Sephora's Singapore office solidifies my belief in magic about five minutes into my visit; while waiting for my appointment with company developer and technical recruiter Fazri Sapri, melodious chimes filled the air, and a fairy in a blue dress pirouettes across the floor, complete with a magic wand. A focus group watches the screen behind her, which is introducing Sephora's holiday collection for 2018.

I am however not here to witness the launch of the makeup line - the day I came here was sheer coincidence. I'm here to talk to Fazri about the company's tech team, which covers Singapore and various other functions in Southeast Asia. It's a juxtaposition that can challenge traditional gender roles when Fazri's trying to hire.

sephora fairy

Fairies: just another ordinary day in the Sephora office.

“We're fighting this idea of engineering in Sephora," Fazri says. He changes tone to mimic a job searcher. “[There's] Facebook, Google - Sephora has an engineering team?"

Sephora, based in Paris, has luxury brand LVMH as its parent company. It is the number one specialty beauty retailer in the world and helped pioneer stores permitting customers to try the makeup on before they purchased it, which is now common practice across brick-and-mortar cosmetic stores.

There's Facebook, Google - Sephora has an engineering team?

Since 1998, the company has committed to staying relevant, developing its ecommerce platform and in-house team to support customers on web and mobile devices. While over 2,000 brick-and-mortar stores closed down in the US in 2017, Sephora is still going strong worldwide.

Gender-wise the company's not going too badly either, with 62 percent of Sephora's IT employees identifying as female. Meanwhile, 40 percent of LVMH's board of directors are women.

So what does hiring for a female-marketed brand look like, when the hiring gender split in Singapore still skews predominantly male?

How to Work at Sephora

“So, for the engineering team - number one, we don't engineer makeup," Fazri laughs, a nod to a misconception he's gotten from outside the company before. “We develop a lot of internal cues - our warehouse management system, shipping tracking, checkout pages; all these things are handled by us."

Basically, Sephora's tech team acts as a bridge, connecting the company's retail stores to its digital platform. Translating those concepts online can be tedious, especially when explaining the concepts to retail-minded management, but everything comes back to the same end: customer experience.

Fazri hires a combination of developers, data team members, and employees who work on product. The team - over 40 people - currently is split about 50-50 gender-wise, with developers making up most of Sephora's tech team.

We don't engineer makeup.

If you're a developer looking for a job, you can find openings through Sephora's jobs page, LinkedIn, a handful of other free job boards, and at Singapore Ruby Group meetups.

The hiring process for tech talent includes a CV review, an initial call, a take-home tech skills assessment, and an in-office assessment. If there's time, the engineer will meet with a panel of Sephora team members to get an idea about culture. Then, the candidate will have a conversation with the CTO. That's usually when the offer comes about.

The culture conversation will depend on the role. “The questions depend on seniority too," Fazri details. “For senior roles, it's like mentoring question or how do you mentor. What's your approach? What's your plan?" For product managers, in contrast, questions may have more to do with timeliness and schedule management.

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The initial call is just to make sure that the candidate's expectations line up with the role, while the take-home test is the big divider. “The majority don't make it past the take home stage," says Fazri. Out of 10 people, he estimates, six don't pass. Two will drop out to take other offers, and maybe one or two individuals make it on to come into the office.

Candidates may also not pass the in-office test, putting the chances of landing a job on Sephora's tech team at around less than 10 percent.

The time to initially review a candidate's CV may take one to three weeks, while Fazri estimates the whole process might take around one to one-and-a-half months, provided they find the right candidate. If they don't, they will keep CVs on file for future reference.

The Perks

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The perks at working at a makeup company owned by a luxury brand are about as good as you can imagine.

When I enter Sephora's office, Fazri meets me with a few samples - they have boxes of these things hanging around their offices. Additionally, each employee gets S$300 to spend at Sephora every quarter. They will also occasionally get discounts on LMVH items like champagne.

The company hold regular hackathons - around once every two months - to act as a bit of a brainstorming session for employees, who have created everything from apps that point customers around retail stores to show them where brands are to virtual makeup simulators. Not all of the projects are implemented, but it keeps the tech team thinking about real problems customers experience in brick-and-mortar stores and online.

Meanwhile, the tech team culture involves a lot of bonding. They can work from home if need be, and every second week of the month's Friday is a half day to do as they please.

For the Sephora tech team, that often means going after work to hang out together, whether that translates into laser tag or just drinks.

“Recently, for engagement [...] we were just doing silly things like “Guess My Cat's Weight" - everyone just jumped in and started guessing," says Fazri. Just because it's work doesn't mean that things can't be fun.


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Kylee McIntyre
American tech, science, health, and environmental writer. Lover of scifi, fantasy, travel, and coffee. Find her on Twitter @ejkyleem.
Category: Company Stories
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