Amazon opens Ottawa tech office with ambitious hiring plans

Work on the next generation of Amazon’s voice-activated products will be taking place in Ottawa.

The Seattle-based tech giant opened a new office in Ottawa in August.

The team there will be working on Alexa, Amazon’s voice platform, says Francois Boisvert, a software development manager at Amazon who will be heading up the local development team.

Alexa powers Amazon’s Echo device, a “smart” voice-activated Bluetooth speaker.

“It connects to home automation, it connects to web services, so it can do anything from telling you a joke to telling you facts about the weather,” he says. “But it can also turn on lights in your house, unlock the doors.”

Mr. Boisvert says his team will be helping Amazon develop new features and new abilities for the next generation of the Alexa platform.

He says he can’t go into the specifics of what the team will be working on but says he’s hiring mobile developers "as well as people with voice-over-IP and real-time communication expertise."

He plans to do a lot of hiring, he adds.

“The sky’s the limit,” Mr. Boisvert says, pointing out that Amazon’s team in Toronto started with just a handful of people but now employs hundreds.

Mr. Boisvert says Amazon was attracted to Ottawa because of the city’s history as a technology development hub and the fact that there’s less competition for talent here than in major cities in the United States.

“In Seattle, the job market is really tight and very competitive, because all big players are in Seattle, like Facebook and Google,” he says. “In order to get the talent you need, you have to be very creative.”

Ottawa also has a deeper bench of talent than many other cities.

“At one point, we were the Silicon Valley North, with companies like Nortel and Cisco establishing big development centres here,” he says. “When we looked at the various cities, I think Ottawa became an obvious choice, because we know the talent that we needed is here in Ottawa.”

While Amazon is expanding its Alexa development team in Canada, that doesn’t mean the Echo itself will become available here. Mr. Boisvert says that’s in the works, but no timelines have yet been released.

Mr. Boisvert says his main goal right now is to recruit developers. He says working at Amazon has a lot going for it.

“Amazon at the core is an innovation company,” he says. “We’re reinvesting a lot to map uncharted territory in terms of technology. That’s what I enjoy a lot about working at Amazon – it feels like I’m working at a very well-funded startup.”