For Flipkart, data scientists are as critical as software engineers

Walmart-owned Flipkart introduced around 100 robots in one of its delivery hubs in Bengaluru this year to help sort packages and streamline its supply chain.

And this is just the beginning of the journey into the future for one of India’s largest e-commerce players, also its largest homegrown one.

Phanimohan Kalagara, senior vice-president of product and engineering at Flipkart Online, believes innovation and experimenting will play a major part in the firm’s success. “Intelligence in the software we are building will continue to become our key component,” Kalagara said.

In a conversation with Quartz at the fourth edition of the TIE global summit, in New Delhi, he spoke about new technologies and jobs of the future in the e-commerce field. Edited excerpts:

What is that one job in tech at Flipkart which will be most critical in the near future?

From a technology perspective, the data scientist.

Previously tech was all about software and product managers…A data scientist is one who focuses more on data engineering and data mining…So it is a new job family itself. This job has doubled (in number) in the past decade and will be critical, along with software engineering and product management.

What will be the most important e-commerce technologies in future?

Blockchain will be essential. For instance, people are buying so many things and they don’t know whether they are getting the best quality, starting from very important things like medicines to perfumes. What are you getting? Is it from the right place? Blockchain tech will solve that problem because you…kind of track it from the point of origin all the way to the customer.

Similarly, internet of things (IoT).

Then we have augmented reality. Today, the conversion rate of people at a retail store is between 20% and 30%. But online, it is between 3% and 4%. The reason is the ability to feel something in its entire form, to feel the whole story behind (the product). This can become a very interesting trend in future. You bring in…virtual reality where people are able to make choices based on that. Today, through this tech, you can actually see if a particular piece of furniture will fit your house or not before buying.

Does having Walmart onboard give you an edge?

Interestingly, Walmart looks at us for technological edge in certain places.

What are the skills you look for hiring for Flipkart?

Companies look for someone who has a long career curve, who can come and grow with the firm. The most important thing is learnability…What becomes important is mental agility.

This applies to freshers too?

This goes for freshers. Companies like Flipkart…have a very diverse customer base. That means we have as many women shopping through e-commerce as men. We have as many from a tier-3, tier-4, or a village shopping as a metro. The same sort of diversity in our employee fabric becomes critical for our success.

Do you think there is enough talent available in India?

I have spent 20 years of my life in the US…15 years in Monterey, which is known as the capital of tech talent. Even there, it is not easy to gather specific desired talent.

There is talent (in India) but companies are not built for two or three years. They are built for the next few decades, which means they need to bring people with learnability and then (let them) grow with the company. So when you try to find the best people to solve problems, you always experience the supply-demand problem.

In Jobs of the Future series, Quartz writers speak to CXOs at some of India’s biggest companies and ask them about that one job that will be critical to their companies in the coming years.





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