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Amazon Development Centre Edinburgh devising and growing global innovations

Judy Law
Amazon employs a crucial team of people at its Development Centre in Edinburgh (Source: Amazon Development Centre Edinburgh)

More than 4,000 miles from its global headquarters in Seattle, Washington, the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon, employs a crucial team of people at its Development Centre in Edinburgh.

The hundreds of software engineers, machine learning scientists, designers and managers harness the latest technology and computer science to build features that help customers discover the products they want from the hundreds of millions available.

Graeme Smith, managing director, Amazon Development Centre Edinburgh:

Edinburgh University is top-rated for computer science, delivering world-leading and internationally excellent research...We’ve found that people want to come from all over the world to live and work here.

“We’ve invented major websites and features, serving hundreds of millions of Amazon customers all around the world,” explains Graeme Smith, managing director of Amazon’s Edinburgh Development Centre. A big theme for our inventions at our Edinburgh Development Centre is personalising the customer experience, helping customers discover products they’ll love.”

“The size of Amazon’s business is uniquely challenging – we’re dealing with hundreds of millions of items, millions of customers and multiple different natural languages. The only way you can tackle that is with automation – and so we make use of the latest techniques in natural language processing, machine learning and cloud computing,” continues Smith.

Tradition of invention

Based in Edinburgh’s city centre Waverley Gate office development, the Development Centre was Amazon’s first outside the US when it opened 13 years ago.

Today the company has development centres all around the world, but Edinburgh is credited as the epicentre of where a lot of the foundations were laid for learning how to make remote R&D teams work in other time zones.

“We learned how to really enable those teams to move fast, innovate and run experiments without being overly tied to our headquarters in Seattle,” adds Smith. “Ultimately, we’re here for talent access. Scotland has a long tradition of invention and Edinburgh University is top-rated for computer science, delivering more world-leading and internationally excellent research than any other university in the UK. We’ve found that people want to come from all over the world to live and work here and – for those who want a major dotcom career – we offer a really compelling proposition.”

Since arriving in Edinburgh, Amazon has rapidly grown across the capital and Scotland as a whole, with a customer service centre, two fulfilment centres, three delivery stations and a Prime Now site in Glasgow. The company now has 2,500 employees across Scotland and over 19,000 across the UK.

Talent development

“Scotland is a great place to hire and develop the best talent,” Smith says. “With Edinburgh University, we established our Women in Innovation Bursary programme, aimed at increasing the number of young women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers through financial support and mentoring. We deliver guest lectures at universities in the central belt. One of our managers chairs the mentoring branch of Girl Geek Scotland, a network for people working in technology. We are members of ScotlandIS, the trade body for the digital industries and every year, we help to judge the Young Software Engineer of the Year awards," says Smith.

This year, Amazon is creating 5,000 permanent full time jobs across the UK, taking its total UK workforce to over 24,000 by the end of the year. Specifically, they plan to have over 1,500 high-tech innovative employees across Amazon Web Services and their three UK development centres in Edinburgh, Cambridge and London by the end of this year.

The company is continually growing and has a range of positions at the Edinburgh Development Centre.

“We’re always looking to hire and develop the best talent and doing that helps us continue and build on the work we do here,” Smith says. “We have positions for internships and graduates, right through to people with valuable experience in fields of software development, research and innovation. It’s an exciting place to work for anyone who wants to be at the cutting edge of their profession.”

Home comforts

Smith himself previously worked software engineering and management roles in the investment banking, retail banking, consulting and start-up sectors.

“I’ve lived all around Scotland, but Edinburgh is home,” he says. “I love the city and the people here. I have worked for Amazon in Edinburgh for 11 years, almost as long as we have been open here, and I really enjoy it. I get to work with fantastic people and on exciting projects with experts who are constantly pushing the boundaries of what we can achieve.”

“Edinburgh is just the ‘right size’ city – big enough to satisfy in terms of culture and things to do, but small enough that our people can live in easy walking distance to the office. Easy access to the outdoors is a major plus too. Where else can you run around an extinct volcano on your lunch break?”