With ping-pong and pool tables, an open floorplan, a fully stocked breakroom, and dedicated spaces for collaboration and quiet contemplation, JPMorgan Chase’s engineering center in Seattle feels like a time warp to the heyday of the tech boom.
But the real throwback is the fact that the office is growing steadily.
Five years after opening in Seattle, the company’s tech hub in the downtown business district has now surpassed 320 people. The nation’s largest bank has benefitted in part from greater availability of engineering talent in the region over the past year as Amazon, Microsoft, and other tech companies have cut jobs.
Engineers based in the JPMorgan Chase tech hub work on technologies including cybersecurity, cloud technologies, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.
“Even though we are a big bank, we’re working on all the latest and greatest technologies like any other tech company, with the scale that very few technology companies can offer,” said Rao Lakkakula, senior director of security engineering, who oversees the Seattle tech hub, during a tour of the site earlier this year.
While there’s still plenty of competition for top tech talent, the changes in the broader tech market have helped with hiring, acknowledged Lakkakula, who worked at Amazon for eight years before joining JPMorgan in 2018.
“Two years back, we were fighting with big companies in Seattle,” he said in a follow-up interview. “We are seeing more candidates applying to JPMC from other big companies. It’s gotten easier for us to hire.”
New landscape for remote tech hubs
It’s a new twist on one of biggest trends in Seattle tech. The growth of tech engineering outposts helped to fuel the growth of Seattle as a tech market for much of the past decade. Many of these engineering centers were established by tech companies from outside the region, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Salesforce, and others.
The boom in Seattle-area engineering outposts all but stopped with the rise of remote work during the pandemic.
More recently, over the past year, layoffs by a wide variety of tech companies have put a new wrinkle into the job market. The cutbacks have slowed in recent months, but they’re still ongoing. In recent weeks, for example, job cuts have impacted Seattle-area tech hubs operated by companies including Flexport and Epic Games.
Amid this upheaval, more engineers are considering roles outside the traditional tech industry.
“We’re seeing some of that shift — really talented engineers moving into these non-tech-specific companies,” said Eric Crawford, co-founder and managing partner at Seattle-based recruiting firm TalentReach.
In some cases, companies in other sectors can provide more stability than tech companies do now. And some of these companies are still making big tech investments, creating opportunities to tackle complex problems in data science, cybersecurity, and cloud technologies at a scale that appeals to top engineers.
“To attract the best people, you’ve got to have the problems to work on, and then the compensation to match,” Crawford said. “We’re seeing increases that match or mirror what you would see in a tech organization.”
Small- and medium-sized businesses are also benefitting from increased availability of tech talent, said Megan Slabinski, Seattle-area district president for Robert Half, the talent solutions and business consulting firm.
“Companies of all sizes and from all industries are now able to compete for tech professionals for various reasons, notably now that wage growth has come down,” Slabinski said via email, adding that the playing field has also been leveled by a less-frenzied environment for signing bonuses, stock grants, and other benefits.
Whereas non-tech companies might not have been on the radar of top engineers in the past, the tech layoffs have changed that to some degree, Slabinski said. Technical specialties in high demand in the Seattle region include cloud and DevOps, digital transformation, artificial intelligence, and automation, she said.
Long-term shift to the cloud
JPMorgan Chase has been able to strengthen its position amid the broader turmoil in the financial services sector this year, including the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank in March, and JPMorgan’s acquisition of First Republic Bank in May.
The size of JPMorgan’s global tech operations makes it a tech giant in its own right, with 57,000 tech employees as of May, according to a presentation at the time by Lori Beer, its global chief information officer.
The company is still in the midst of a major transition to the cloud.
“Unlocking the full potential of the cloud and nearly 550 petabytes of data will require replatforming (putting data in a cloud-eligible format) and refactoring (i.e., rewriting) approximately 4,000 applications,” wrote JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon in his letter to shareholders this year. “This effort will involve not just the 57,000 employees we have in technology but the dedicated time of firmwide management teams to help in the process.”
JPMorgan made headlines last year with its plans to continue growing its tech workforce as the tech job market softened. Nationally, the company has made cutbacks this year in areas including technology, but it has continued to grow overall despite the turbulent economy for much of the year.
As with many things in tech these days, the growth is driven in part by the rise of artificial intelligence. The company had more than 300 use cases of AI in production as of May, up 34% year-over-year, according to Beer’s presentation.
JPMorgan Chase is “actively evaluating opportunities with large language models” and sees “great potential in that space,” Beer said at the time, according to a transcript of the presentation at the company’s 2023 Investor Day.
The bank’s Seattle tech hub has long included a focus on machine learning, which dovetails with new AI applications.
“We’ve been investing a lot in AI/ML, and that includes these large language models,” said Lakkakula, the leader of JPMorgan’s Seattle engineering center. “We believe with that additional toolset, we can better predict what customers want, so that we can more easily offer them services,” leveraging the large amounts of data that the bank has amassed over the years.
However, he added, engineers are taking a careful approach and focusing on implementing AI responsibly, keeping in mind that JPMorgan operates “systemically critical infrastructure.”
A major focus of the Seattle engineering center is cybersecurity, representing about 100 of the more than 320 positions in the tech hub.
What about remote work? Dimon has been outspoken in advocating a return to the office, and the bank has drawn attention for its “Workplace Activity Data Utility” tracking tool.
In the Seattle tech hub, employees are required to be in the office 60% of the time, or the equivalent of three days a week, but Lakkakula said that’s assessed on an aggregated basis over a longer period of time, and individual teams are given flexibility to choose which days of the week they’re in the office.
Engineers in the Seattle center also take on philanthropic projects as part of the bank’s Tech for Social Good initiative. Last year they worked on a signup, mentoring and contracting system for the Sloane Stephens Foundation. Their current project is for Seattle-based Civic Commons, building a customer-relationship management system to help the nonprofit to track its work.
As a group, many of the engineers in the Seattle tech hub are relatively new to the company. About 200 of the more than 320 tech employees in Seattle have been with JPMorgan Chase for less than three years. That has made the engineering operations a melting pot of approaches from JPMorgan and other companies.
In other words, it wouldn’t be a surprise to encounter Amazon-style PR/FAQ documents in a JPMorgan Seattle tech meeting, or traditional approaches from other tech companies with operations in the region, given the experience of some employees with those practices. But ultimately that’s up to the individual teams.
“They’re bringing in some of their own culture. And we’re trying to embed our JPMC culture,” Lakkakula said. “It’s a good mix of both.”
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