Kam Bancil helps build the future of entertainment by working backwards
The software development manager and 10-year Amazonian innovates for Amazon’s customers while advocating for fellow women in tech at every step along the way.
When Kam Bancil joined Amazon in 2012, there wasn’t a quality assurance (QA) team in her department, so her first task was to build one.
Amazon had just acquired Pushbutton, a smart TV/connected device app developer, and LoveFilm, a European streaming service. The three companies—and their respective technologies, processes, and cultures—were migrating into a single entity, and there wasn’t a single QA engineer on staff. The challenge appealed to Kam, who’d previously spent six years in senior QA roles with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
“I was very familiar with the types of challenges Amazon faced in testing streaming devices at scale,” Kam said. “There were no industry tools to run automated tests at the time, which meant running manual QA processes on more than 20 code bases across a fragmented set of devices. I was responsible for assembling a team and establishing processes to build automation tools at scale.”
I naturally fell into taking responsibility at an early age, which is what leaders do. We take ownership.
Kam inherited a team based in Bangalore, India, that was focused on legacy device testing, and she recruited QA engineers to staff the division’s first data center in London. “I hired people we needed for application playback testing to ensure our content played seamlessly without buffering or audio glitches,” she said. “As we extended service to more devices, we brought on more engineers.”
The global launch of Prime Video in 2016 moved Kam into a senior technical program manager role.
“We worked backwards from the problem, which was that we needed to invest in and build automation tools to run tests in continuous deployment pipelines for faster feedback cycles,” she explained. “Our engineers needed to be able to build and release high-quality software, and to access customer devices remotely in under 60 seconds.”
Building a career by constantly improving for customers
Kam is a leader of leaders. At Prime Video, she managed a team of 35 software and system engineers, data center operators and technical program managers who built “a product I love.”
“I’ve come full circle,” she says proudly. “I helped stand up a data center that holds just over 600 devices representative of what our customers use in their living rooms, which our engineers can access in under 15 seconds to troubleshoot while continuing to build Prime Video features.”
As Kam prepares to rotate into a new role as Senior Manager, Software Development at Amazon Music, she says that Prime Video empowered her multiple transitions since joining Amazon as a QA manager moving to senior technical program manager, and then to software development manager, picking up countless lessons along the way. Kam credits the company’s writing-focused culture, foundational processes, and cross-functional mentorship opportunities with keeping her engaged, curious, and eager to keep honing her skills.
Take a toolbox approach to mentorship by picking up skills from others, and always write things down.
Her experience as a Bar Raiser–a unique program that empowers Amazon employees to bring objectivity to the interview process and “raise the performance bar” with every hire–has broadened her knowledge of Prime Video and taught her strategies to lead by example and encourage her team to exhibit deep ownership over their work.
“I’ve been able to ‘skill up’ and learn about so many areas of the business, striving for continuous growth and improvement,” Kam said. “I’ve also gotten to travel to incredible places such as Japan, Hong Kong, and Spain, where we set up device labs to get closer to the Prime Video experience customers will have on their local networks.”
Engineering a path forward for other women in tech
Kam is particularly passionate about helping women build careers in tech. As head of the London chapter of the Amazon Women in Engineering (AWE) affinity group, she organizes monthly networking events.
“We create a safe space for women to share learnings and experiences, with the goal of empowering other women,” said Kam, who recently helped represent Prime Video at the European Women in Tech Conference in Amsterdam, Netherlands. “Thankfully, people are more in tune with the challenges women in our industry face, but we still have work to do to break biases.”
Kam was born and raised in London, UK, where she has lived her entire life. Growing up, she was inspired to pursue an engineering career by her father, who worked for Ford on the auto production line. Her competitive drive on the soccer pitch, combined with an interest in creative problem-solving and attention to detail, helped guide her on this career path, as well.
“I naturally fell into taking responsibility at an early age, which is what leaders do … we take ownership,” she said. “These traits have helped me advance in my career, especially as it relates to hiring and developing others. Many women engineers that I’ve hired have seen me grow, and I want to see them do the same.”
When asked what advice she gives women interested in working at Prime Video, Kam points to an appetite for learning, growth, and independent thought.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions, speak up, and bring ideas to the table,” she added. “Take a toolbox approach to mentorship by picking up skills from others, and always write things down. Finally, exit your comfort zone and know when to move on to your next challenge.”
It’s precisely this type of ingenuity and dedication that’s helping Kam and her colleagues at Amazon build the incredible technology that delivers unparalleled entertainment to our audiences each and every day.