What Amazon's hiring spree says about Vancouver's tech scene

Andrew Seale
Amazon, whose Vancouver office is seen on the left in this composite image, is hiring a substantial number of people from the area. (Wikimedia/Reuters)

Amazon’s impending expansion in Vancouver is yet another boost for the city’s growing tech sector comprised of both multinationals and startups alike.

A cache of 300 job postings in Vancouver on Amazon’s Canadian website suggest a growing footprint in the city for the Seattle-based e-commerce and cloud services company.

The roles range from software development engineer to research scientist, according to the Vancouver Sun, and relate to areas like development of Amazon Web Services’ cloud-computing business, operations at the company’s warehouses and building systems for recruiting. The company has been building out its team in Vancouver since it opened an office in the Telus Garden on Georgia Street in 2015.

“It was the big fear of all the big tech companies ‘oh Amazon is going to come and steal all our talent,’” says Andrew McLeod, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Vancouver-based Certn, which develops risk management solutions for credit issuers and property managers. 

But more recently, McLeod says local startups and key players in the tech scene have warmed to the idea of the big multinational tech companies setting up shop in the city.

“(Amazon is) bringing in all these talented developers and engineers who at some point or another are going to come across an idea or startup they really like and jump ship, cross-pollinating in the startup community,” he says.

In step with other Canadian cities like Toronto and Montreal, Vancouver is becoming a bastion for technology talent. 

“We’ve seen significant expansion amongst all the multinationals whether it’s Intel, SAP, Microsoft… Amazon is by far the most aggressive, but it really is a hiring binge right across the board,” says Bryan Buggey, director of strategic initiatives and sector development for the Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC).

According to the VEC’s latest Labour Market Partnership report, of the roughly 12,000 listed jobs in Vancouver right now, more than 3,000 are in tech. The VEC is forecasting continued expansion with up to 47,000 tech workers required between now and 2021.

“There’s no ignoring the reality that the future of the economic situation in Canada and practically every country in the world is an increased push around new economy jobs,” says Bill Tam, president and CEO of the industry-funded BC Tech Association. “People are recognizing that if you’re not in the tech game, you’re not going to have solid footing on the future economic landscape.”

Success comes from within

Tam points out that another key player in making Vancouver a tech powerhouse are the homegrown success stories, startups like Slack, HootSuite, Vision Critical, and PlentyOfFish that have thrived and scaled-up within the ecosystem.

In March, the Startup Genome Report ranked Vancouver as Canada’s top startup hub and 15th globally.

“(These scale-up success stories) provide not only an allure for the local talent but a magnet for people to actually come to Vancouver and say hey there’s viable really exciting companies that I could join,” says Tam.

Sana Kapadia, chief impact officer at Vancouver-based Spring, a global startup school for entrepreneurs looking at starting positive impact and social-focused endeavours says she’s seen a heightened volume of interest from the community.

“In the past three and a half years we have worked with over 430 entrepreneurs,” says Kapadia. “About 250 of their companies are still active, over 220 jobs have been created and (they’ve raised) close to $9 million in early stage funding – we’ve definitely seen consistent growth and uptake.”

In April, Spring acquired the Seattle-based Kick startup incubator program, which has a presence in over 30 cities worldwide. Spring founder Keith Ippel told Business in Vancouver: “We don’t have companies and programs from a support perspective that take the best of Vancouver to the world and bring the best of the…world back to Vancouver.”

But multinationals have already proven to have an appetite for the city’s tech talent. In June, Intel announced they were acquiring Vancouver-based Recon, a competitor to Google Glass targeting outdoor recreation enthusiasts. It’s the type of startup that seems well-suited to Vancouver’s sea-to-sky lifestyle.

If the proximity to Silicon Valley’s timezone or the generous government support for tech company’s offered across Canada won’t woo these tech giants north, VEC’s Buggey says maybe the Vancouver lifestyle and the effect it has on people – and their ability to identify new opportunities – will.

“These multinationals are identifying innovators that don’t necessarily exist in other parts of North America,” he says. “Up and down the west coast, Vancouver is the same quality of talent (at) one-third to one-half (of the price) – so it’s a pretty good deal for those multinationals that have the ability to scour the planet and locate those talent hubs.”