TechBrew: Q&A with Luke Tingley of Hy-Vee

TechBrew (From left) Luke Tingley talks with Brian Waller Friday morning.

On the second Friday of each month the Technology Association of Iowa hosts an informal networking event at West End Salvage in downtown Des Moines for entrepreneurs, educators, technologists, business leaders and government professionals.

During each event, Brian Waller, President of the Technology Association of Iowa, does a sitdown Q&A with a local tech executive. After each interview, Waller presents them with a vinyl record of their choice for, “Vinyl Friday.”

On Friday Waller spoke with Luke Tingley, the Vice President of Information Technology at Hy-Vee. Tingley discussed his 23-year career path at Hy-Vee—which started pushing carts and taking care of customers—then moved into how Hy-Vee utilizes technology in 2018.

Tingley selected the 1994 album “Dookie” by Green Day and was presented with it after the 14-minute interview. The album was released the first year Tingley started at Hy-Vee.

He said he does not own a vinyl record player.

Their Q&A is below and has been edited for conciseness:

Hometown and high school…

LT: I grew up in Indianola and went to Indianola High School

Talk about the Hy-Vee footprint and the growth

LT: We are a $10 billion company and privately owned. We are in eight states with 247 stores and we continue to grow. We’re fairly conservative but we grow every year. Minneapolis is our big market right now.

Talk about your journey through Hy-Vee

LT: I started like a lot of Hy-Vee people, working in the store. It started when I was 16 and in high school, pushing carts, taking care of customers. Then went to college and decided I liked IT a little bit. I started as an intern with Hy-Vee, did some projects during the summer when I wasn’t working in the store.

From there right out of college I helped implement out payment switch on the backend. It’s interesting when you come out of college you think you got this and it’s no big deal. Then you get into payments and realize it’s a crazy world. You have no idea unless you are involved in payments. Usually, you just swipe the card and it works.

That was a big area that I had no experience in, so I learned a lot there. From there I moved into networks and systems then into management.

Have you always been around the Des Moines area?

LT: I worked at the Indianola Drug Town which is closed now, but that was the only store I worked at before moved to corporate.

People don’t think of tech and Hy-Vee, talk about how Hy-Vee utilizes IT

LT: It’s interesting when I started at the stores we had one server in the back office and if it went down you had to call in sales, no big deal.

Today, IT is prevalent in everything we do and if we don’t do our job the company can’t run. We are so much more than a grocery store, we have a supply chain, pharmacies, food service, restaurants, fuel locations, technology powers all of that and without it, we couldn’t do business the way we do today.

Talk about cybersecurity and how that fits into what you do

LT: I’m responsible for cybersecurity as well, which is a big topic. It keeps me up at night.

Really, how do we protect our customer data and how do we protect our credit card information and keep ourselves secure. The number of hits we get daily from people trying to get into our web firewalls is pretty significant. It’s something we spend a lot of time and focus on, trying to stay out of the news with that.

Hy-Vee captures a lot of data, are you making decisions based on that data?

LT: Data is a huge piece of every business anymore, you can’t operate without data. It drives a lot of the decisions you make, how you evaluate things and where you decide to go. The data paints a clear picture if you take the time to analyze it.

It’s a big focus area and one of our three pillars in IT, we put a lot of focus on it.

Hy-Vee opened a tech headquarters, talk about why Hy-Vee invested in this space…

LT: As a lot of you know the market here in town for good labor or employees is very tight. We were finding it’s hard to attract the type of talent we wanted when you are sitting in a 3×3 cube wearing a tie and looking uncomfortable. We had software developers come in and immediately say they weren’t working here.

We are so much more than a grocery store but if you never get beyond that first level you never see that.

So that was a challenge for us, but about that same time the industry is changing a lot and we felt we needed to shift and adapt. IT always functions as a supporting role in the past and we needed to push it to more of a driver, so we decided we needed to make some big changes. And fortunately, we have the senior leadership who recognized that.

When folks from corporate come over, do they get jealous that you get to work in this environment?

LT: It’s a unique environment, we’ve got ping pong tables, a bar, gym, all kinds of stuff It’s interesting because we are conservative, then you walk in and people are playing ping pong, you’re first thought is they should get back to work.

So you have to temper that and roll with it a little to adjust to the new way of doing things.

What are they working on and why are people saying yes to work for Hy-Vee?

LT: We’ve hired a lot of people and are continuing to hire a lot of people. Our major areas of focus are data and data science. Aisles online is a huge initiative so we are hiring a lot of software developers and software engineers.

I’d say we are doing a lot more web and mobile now that we weren’t doing, we brought all that in-house. We’ve changed a lot of the methodologies that we use.

We’ve made a lot of changes in the past year, we look different than we did six months ago and in six months we will different again.

Why does Hy-Vee look like in 10-20 years?

LT: It feels like it changes for me daily. 20 years is a long time I don’t know how you can estimate beyond three years in tech because it changes so quick. Likely in three years, we will be talking about something that’s not even invented yet. It’s moving so rapidly and changing so fast, I think you just have to embrace change and roll with it.

In 20 years, IT is going to continue to grow and beef up. At some point we are going to hit the point where the transition isn’t going to be as much because kids coming up through school will be infused in it nonstop. There will be something else that’s the new big thing.

What were you passionate about as a kid?

LT: Big into wakeboarding and snowboarding, I’ll still do it today. We go to Lake Panorama, Table Rock and Okoboji.

Rumor has it you are into photography, is that true?

LT: It is. I’ve been a photographer for about ten years, I shoot landscape photography. I go on backpacking trips for a week in the middle of nowhere but I don’t know how I got into it.

I went to Hawaii for my honeymoon and wanted to take some pictures, then one thing let to another.

Advice to 18-year-old Luke

LT: Don’t procrastinate and don’t expect to end up where you think you’ll end up.

Star Wars or Star Trek?

LT: Star Wars

Favorite curse word?

LT: I say ‘Frickin’ sometimes when I get upset. I get a hard time for that.

Favorite caffeinated beverage?

LT: Coke or Pepsi

Out of town, crashing at a friends house or staying at a hotel?

LT: Probably depends where we are at, when we go to Okoboji we camp around the lake.

Backpacking trip, favorite place to go with your camera?

LT: I like the Canadian Rockies a lot, but anywhere West.

Favorite word?

LT: Inconceivable

Your least favorite word?

LT: Irregardless

Going out, dance or comedy club?

LT: I would probably decline

Sound or noise do you love?

LT: Silence

Sound or noise you hate?

LT: We have this alerting mechanism that all our managers subscribe to, so if something goes down they get an alert. And it’s different from a text sound, so you just dread that sound and it happens pretty regularly. So when you hear that sound, you know your day is going to be derailed.

What profession other than your own would you like to try?

LT: Mountain guide

Which one would you not like to try?

LT: Teachers don’t get enough credit, they have a hard job and influence a lot of people, don’t get paid enough and I think that would be a hard job.

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say at the Pearly Gates?

LT: It’s about time.

Previous TechBrew interviews

Nicole Chesmore, Grinnell Mutual – Feb. 9

Terry Rich, Iowa Lottery CEO – Jan. 12

Linc Kroeger, Pillar Technology –  Dec. 8

John Bertran, Kreg Tool – Nov. 10

Ben Milne, Dwolla – Oct. 13

Rich Schappert, Casey’s General Store – Aug. 11