Boomerang in the Steel City
Matt Choate fields questions from lots of engineers who are curious about joining his team. "The first thing they always tell me is: 'I didn't know Amazon had an office in Pittsburgh,'" Matt says with a laugh because Amazon's arrival in Pittsburgh was a surprise to him too. A happy one.
Matt worked at Amazon about a decade ago, back when he and his wife, Holly, were living in Seattle. "We loved it," Matt says. "We had a great time there." But when they started their family, they decided to move back home to Pittsburgh. In the Steel City, their three kids are growing up surrounded by relatives.
Last summer, when Matt heard Amazon was hiring in Pittsburgh, "it was a no-brainer to apply. I started going to the Amazon jobs website, probably every month, looking for a role that was right for me." Today, Matt is back at Amazon as a senior software engineer, and he's savoring the chance to use his skills in a space that's brand new to him: programming computers to do translation – German product listings into English, for example. He is far from the only engineer at his office who's getting the chance to branch out.
"A lot of companies say, 'If this engineer doesn't have five years of Java experience, we're not going to even bring them in for an interview.' Amazon's more open," Matt explains. "We know that if you have the requisite experience and technical skills, and are capable of thinking big, you can pick up additional programming languages in short order. We hire really competent engineers who build great software."
Matt's path started about a dozen miles southwest of Amazon's new office along the Monongahela River. He was a 10-year-old kid growing up in Upper St. Clair when he got an IBM PC Jr. for Christmas. "It was like the size of a small refrigerator sitting on my desk," he chuckles. "I had a lot of other interests besides computers back then, but I just took to programming. It was kind of a natural thing for me."
The work here is exciting. There hasn't been a dull day. I'm just really glad to be back.
With his own oldest child now the same age as he was when he started coding, Matt is excited about what investments like Amazon's will mean for local young people. "There has been a problem in Pittsburgh where some of the great tech talent isn't compelled to stay here because some of the bigger companies didn't have a presence. I think Amazon is going to give graduates from our excellent universities a great reason to build their careers right here in town. The work here is exciting. There hasn't been a dull day. I'm just really glad to be back."
Matt is finding that he enjoys being an Amazonian today for the same reasons he did the first time. "You can really move fast," he says. "That's one thing I always thought was great. Even though we're part of this huge network and we have access to all the technologies and all the vast knowledge, we're not encumbered by red tape or bureaucracy. You can really make your own decisions."