Exploring for (Amazon) Treasure

Alex Peters in the office with coworkers

An ice cream truck—but for adults—is how Alex Peters ’12 describes it.

He is a software development engineer at Amazon’s Treasure Truck in Seattle. Launched in February of 2016, Treasure Truck is available in 25 cities, and growing. In mid-December 2017, Peters said Amazon had just launched two new locations in the United Kingdom.

It’s pretty much what it sounds like: treasure you pick up from a truck.

“[Amazon Treasure Truck] sells one item per day,” Peters explained.

You purchase your “treasure,”—such as technology, gourmet food, and other various items—through the Amazon app, meet the truck where it’s parked, and pick up the item.

“Offers are a surprise. Once or twice a week [the truck] stops in 2-5 locations around the city it is in [at the time],” he said.

Alex at his computer

Peters, who was a physics major and computer science minor, is the definition of a Gettysburg lifelong learner. His curiosity led him to explore new paths early on in his career—and now at Amazon.

Soon after graduating from Gettysburg, as part of a graduate program, Peters held an internship where he helped with software and coding for an engineering lab “and just fell in love with the hands-on engineering aspect.” He reached out to one of his former mentors, Physics Prof. Sharon Stephenson, who reminded him that even though he had graduated, it wasn’t too late to take advantage of Gettysburg’s Dual-Degree Engineering Program with Columbia University. So—having the opportunity to change course and discover new possibilities—he left his graduate school program to pursue a second bachelors in computer engineering at Columbia.

Because of, and not in spite of, his physics background, Peters said the problem-solving skills he’s developed are top-notch.

“People asked when I decided not to pursue physics [in my career], ‘So all that time you spent learning physics was a waste?’ and my answer was ‘absolutely not,” Peters said. “Breaking a problem into smaller pieces, that no-fear approach I bring to the table every day—I wouldn’t be able to do what I do now without my physics background.”

Luckily, Peters has the frequent opportunity to flex those problem-solving skills. He is responsible for ensuring a seamless customer experience, from the moment customers use the application to when they receive notifications about new Treasure Truck offers, and beyond.

Alex in a meeting with coworkers

One unique challenge he’s faced is ensuring Treasure Truck has the appropriate structures in place to support a spike in customer traffic. When a new offer becomes available, customers receive notifications that drive them to the Amazon app.

The result? “Everyone comes all at once and then things settle down,” Peters explained. “So from a technology perspective, it’s challenging to implement efficiencies so that customers have a smooth experience during those traffic spikes, but also not over provision our server resources.”

Other challenges include building an equitable notification system (so customers receive news of offers at the same time), for example.

Peters said that although he doesn’t know where his career will take him next, Amazon provides opportunities to learn and explore new things. And Gettysburg has provided him with a strong foundation of open-mindedness—for example, he played music through the Sunderman Conservatory in addition to pursuing physics, computers, and engineering.

“The liberal arts mindset is really neat,” he said. “I [came to Gettysburg] thinking I knew what I wanted to do.” But keeping an open mind, he continued, has opened up more lines of thinking and connections than he originally thought possible.