BSc, Computing Science, University of Alberta
As an Amazon.com software engineer, Jeremy Handcock works on the software systems that manage the data flow from merchants selling their wares on the Amazon website. The systems he develops allows merchants to post items for sale onto the website within minutes. He is one of more than 9,000 people working for the website, which has been an explosive e-commerce success since its launch in 1995. He works out of the head office in Seattle.
Handcock says one of the perks at Amazon is rubbing shoulders with extremely intelligent people who have come from all over the globe to work for the company. And now that Handcock is an Amazon insider, he can reveal the lesser-known trade tricks of the company.
For example, Amazon sells competitors the software it has developed for selling products online. Helping competitors compete might sound like bad business practice, but as it turns out, selling the technology is a great way for Amazon to capitalize on the software it has perfected.
Then there’s the Mechanical Turk website. Its tagline is ‘Artificial Artificial Intelligence.’ As much as computers have advanced, they still have a hard time recognizing images and performing other tasks that people can do effortlessly. So, Amazon pays people small amounts of money to do the tasks and answer the analytical questions that computers aren’t good at. Software developers incorporate the results into their software, infusing the software with a human intelligence of sorts.
Studying computing was a natural choice for Handcock, who had long been intellectually fascinated by software programming and interested in building software. He says he chose the U of A both for its reputation and for the 16-month internship program. "The length of the internship isn’t very common. They’re usually shorter. In 16 months you get a real exposure to how things work, and you can actually make a real contribution."
Handcock completed a software engineering internship at Red Hat in Toronto, working mostly on developing software engineering tools for Linux operating systems. Linux is open source software, which means that it is free and anyone can use it, change it, or share it. It makes a perfect fit for Red Hat, which sells subscriptions to its constantly improving open source software.
Handcock cites his internship as the most valuable thing he got out of his degree. Not only that, he did such an excellent job on the internship that he won the Dr. Brian Pinchbeck Memorial Industrial Internship Prize. "Winning was very rewarding, because I did put in a lot of time and extra effort."
His computing science degree has given him the foundations he needed to establish a career in building software, he says, and he continues to be rewarded by computing science. "It’s pretty satisfying to build a great piece of software and deliver it."