On the Go With Amazon
June 07, 2018
Andrea Dean BA ’17
At the Amazon Go test store in Seattle, shoppers scan a code from an app on their phones, pass through high-tech turnstiles, and enter what many are calling the store of the future.
With no carts or cashiers, the Just Walk Out Shopping experience allows them to literally grab and go.
The 1,800-square-foot store is stocked with familiar convenience store items—prepared and frozen foods, beverages, snacks, and other items found at Whole Foods (also owned by Amazon). Sophisticated cameras and shelf sensors keep track of what customers pick up and what they put back. When shoppers exit the store, they receive an itemized digital receipt on their smartphones.
Nearby on the Amazon campus, software development engineer Andrea Dean is working behind the scenes like a master magician. She maneuvers large amounts of data and writes problem-solving algorithms that simplify and enhance the shopping experience.
“Amazon keeps its teams small enough to feed with two large pizzas,” says Dean, who is part of a six-person work group. “We have a great deal of responsibility. We design, deploy, test, and maintain our work.”
Dean earned her bachelor’s degree in computer science and mathematics at Lewis & Clark before applying online for one of Amazon’s new college graduate positions. After a series of technical, behavioral, and on-site interviews, she joined the company in September 2017. Given the option of choosing a team, she opted for Amazon Go. “I wanted to focus on a product that uses computer vision and machine learning,” says Dean. “I’m interested in seeing how new technology impacts people as it’s being developed.”
Though the store doesn’t hire cashiers, employees do prepare foods, restock shelves, check IDs in the wine and beer section, and help customers troubleshoot technical problems. “For the foreseeable future, people will be needed to teach machines what and how to learn,” she says.
While at Lewis & Clark, Dean took advantage of many opportunities to cultivate her leadership skills. As a resident advisor in Akin and Copeland residence halls, she developed “teamwork, conflict resolution, and clear communication skills.” Being president of the Student Alumni Association and a member of the Pamplin Society broadened her reach.
But it was a discrete mathematics class taught by Associate Professor Iva Stavrov that captured her heart. “It was so beautiful,” she says. “It changed the way I see the world.” Her epiphany led to a summer working with advisor Peter Drake, associate professor of computer science, as part of the John S. Rogers Science Research Program. Together they studied Computer Go, a field of artificial intelligence dedicated to creating a computer program that plays the traditional board game Go. “Peter helped me get funding to attend the Grace Hopper conference. He is a great advocate for women in technology.”
New York City beckoned after graduation, and Dean accepted a fellowship at hackNY, which pairs quantitative and computational students with inspiring NYC start-ups. During the day, she worked on a computer vision project at Dia&Co, a women’s fashion start-up. In the evenings, hackNY presented renowned speakers and opportunities to work on social good projects.
Now living in Seattle with “only one job,” Dean finds herself with extra time in her schedule. She’s exploring hobbies like photography, guitar playing, hiking, bouldering, cooking, and pastry making.
Moving forward, Dean plans to continue collaborating and solving problems with computers. “Ultimately, I hope to help ensure we’re using technology to create a more just society.”
—by Pattie Pace