Investing in engineering talent is customer critical

Viewpoint

Andrea Argentieri explains why a key part of Amazon’s recruitment programme is for talented engineers and technicians to support its fulfilment centres, from construction through to operations and facilities maintenance.

Amazon announced earlier this year that it will grow its European-based workforce from 50,000 to over 65,000 by the end of the year.The company has a rich history of developing and introducing cutting-edge technology into fulfillment centres to assist employees in their roles and continually improve the delivery experience for customers.

Amazon robots Dunstable
Robots at Amazon’s fulfillment centre in Dunstable

The technology we use ranges from random stow and pick through to box sizing algorithms and software that determines the shortest, most efficient walking route from one place to another.

The introduction of Amazon Robotics into our sites is the latest example of our commitment to innovation in logistics on behalf of our employees and our customers. Robots help speed order processing time and reduce walking by employees by moving the shelves to employees and reducing the time taken to stow items for sale or pick them for new customer orders. They also save space, allowing for 50 percent more items to be stowed per square foot in our buildings.

An Amazon Robotics building has its own challenges and fundamentally requires a different design for our buildings to ensure we improve the flows through our site to maximise the efficiency of processes, from scanning through to conveyance systems.

Across Europe, we are planning to open 15 new fulfilment centres in 2017, including several equipped with Amazon Robotics technology.

Amazon engineers and technicians are essential to supporting this growth and our continuing focus on innovating in our operations. During 2017, we will be hiring more than 600 engineers across Europe. They will be responsible for launching new sites, introducing new technologies, designs and processes and ensuring our systems work as effectively as possible – a key force behind the success of the business in delivering for customers.

Our engineers all possess an ‘innovation’ mind-set – an innate desire to invent and simplify processes and technologies that will deliver the solutions required to create, maintain and develop our fulfillment centres. They are curious about possibility and undeterred by the hurdles to overcome pursuing innovation. They constantly draw on new thinking and technologies in order to create solutions that drive Amazon as a technological innovator.

Our engineers are effective operators. They are believers of speed in business. Our engineers are decision makers, calculated risk takers. They never compromise safety or values, but are able to act decisively despite there often being imperfect information or ambiguity. Amazon engineers thrive under this pressure, adopting a solution based approach in order to drive progress and ensure delivery while working alongside other functions to navigate situations and deliver results.

Ultimately, we want to ensure our engineers are given real responsibility. They are responsible for large scale, high investment projects immediately. In other organisations, people may have to wait several years to work on the projects we ask them to support or own on day one. And this gives them access and interaction with senior leaders they might not enjoy and benefit from in other businesses. This experience of project and team management means they also drive forward our culture of innovation, simplification and customer obsession.

We value technical mastery, both in technology and in project management.  The role of an engineering project manager is to deliver an end-to-end project safely, on schedule, on cost and meeting all project performance criteria.

Our core engineering teams are supported by technicians, engineers and engineering departments at each Amazon location. These innovative engineering departments design, implement, and maintain our fulfilment centres. This encompasses different work areas – process engineering, capacity/demand planning, material handling equipment design and implementation, project management, construction management, packaging engineering, reliability and maintenance.

Of course, there are pressures associated with this, but what is unique at Amazon is the acceptance of mistakes in the pursuit of innovation. We recognise the need for trial and error, we recognise that it doesn’t always work first time around and that technological innovation is a journey rather than a destination.

This culture helps us stay ahead of the competition and deliver innovation which improves the customer expectations. Our engineering talent sits at the very heart of those efforts.

Andrea Argenitieri is Amazon’s Director of Operations Engineering,