A Q&A with Leho Nigul, our first VP of Engineering, Catalog, and Tools
Instacart has the largest grocery catalog in the world, with nearly 5 million unique products, spanning over 25,000 locations across North America. To keep it up to date, we update over 500,000,000 lines of data every day. To set us up for success as we grow, we just welcomed Leho Nigul, an e-commerce veteran, as our first VP of Catalog and Tools. We sat down with Leho to talk about building teams and tech.
How’d you get started as an Engineering leader?
I started on the technical path at IBM. For a while, I was moving up through technical ranks at the e-commerce division. IBM’s known for middleware, so the e-commerce division was a different animal. Our team was pretty independent and functioned as more a “startup” within a giant company.
While at IBM I eventually became a senior technical staff member while also managing some teams. And then my mentor came to me and said “Okay look, you really need to decide — do you want to take the pure technical path towards becoming a Distinguished Engineer? Or do you want to build and manage teams?” I always want to learn and hone new skills, so I went with the management path.
After I left IBM, I went to a much smaller Vancouver-based company — Elastic Path — where I built out their product development org from my home base in Toronto.
Why do you like building teams in Toronto?
I love Toronto — it’s one of the most diverse cities in the world… and it’s a city that’s allowed an immigrant like me to thrive. Then there’s this harder-to-describe quality — there’s not a strong sense of entitlement bubbling up here. Everyone I’ve worked with in Toronto has this humble, collaborative spirit. And I value those qualities so much in the teams I’ve worked on here. Instacart is no exception.
What got you excited about building out Instacart’s Catalog and Tools engineering division?
Instacart’s catalog is a backbone of an incredibly complex four-sided marketplace. All of the mobile development and infrastructure work we do on the Customer and Fulfillment side would be worthless if the grocery catalog was unreliable. On the Enterprise side, you can onboard incredible retailers to our platform, but if there are hurdles for them to upload their grocery catalog data — if you don’t have a simple integration — it just won’t work, right?
So many teams depend on Catalog, so to be successful, you have to really understand not only just how the catalog works, but you have to understand how the catalog works across our tech portfolio. You need to understand what data is most relevant to customers (nutrition info, pricing, imagery, item descriptions, etc.), what data is most relevant for shoppers (availability, in-store location, imagery, etc.) and what data is most relevant for our Care team (pricing, availability, etc). There are so many different dimensions to the catalog, and we need to be able to not only build superb and robust catalog functions but also provide other teams with intuitive and easy tools to use and manage the catalog data. It forces Catalog Engineers to become company experts!
What excites you most about the months ahead?
Oh and one more thing. I’m a huge cheese person. So on my first day, I was ecstatic to find that all of the conference rooms in our Toronto office were named after cheese. I can’t wait for my next meeting in “Mozzarella”. ??
Want to scale our massive catalog with Leho? Our Catalog Engineering and Product teams are hiring! Check out our current openings.