Set up for success: How Prime Video apprentices get to learn hands-on about software engineering
Three students share their experiences about being SDE apprentices at Prime Video in the UK.
More than one year into her apprenticeship with Prime Video, Raya Pastukhova feels like part of the team. Training to be a software development engineer (SDE) with the Video Quality Analysis group, Raya chooses tasks to work on from the latest two-week sprint, in addition to other projects. Recently, she developed a dashboard to analyze costs for her group’s services, which detect video anomalies across thousands of channels and live events.
“My colleagues view me as just one of them, so I always get involved in meetings and discussions,” Raya says. “It’s really fun for me to be able to pick a task from a sprint just like all the other developers and not have something assigned to me as a student.”
Everyone at Amazon knows that the way forward is by ensuring that those who have less knowledge are continuously developing and getting better.
Raya is one of several students who work at Prime Video while earning a bachelor’s degree as part of Amazon’s apprenticeship program. Every week, she spends four days as an Amazon employee and one day studying at the University of Roehampton, London. At the end of the 36-month program, Raya will have earned a BSc (Hons) Digital and Technology Solutions degree — and also gained invaluable work experience.
“Apprenticeships are a great way to invest in early career talent and help us diversify our workforce,” says Samantha Dicken, the senior program manager for tech apprentices at Amazon. “We give individuals the opportunity to earn while they learn and develop key knowledge, skills, and behaviors that help set them up for success.”
Another SDE apprentice, Abby Aldridge, joined Prime Video’s Device Orchestration Services team in the fall of 2020. Her team helps connect other developers to living room devices (for example, televisions and game consoles) so that they can test video on them and make sure it runs smoothly. Abby values not just the programming experience but also the exposure the apprenticeship brings to the software development process.
“It’s definitely different to learn about software development in a book than to actually do it,” Abby says. “Every time I brave a code review, my code improves, because I learn all the things that my colleagues teach me — the best practices of coding.”
Abby became interested in machine learning (ML) during her classes and asked her manager at Amazon if she could take on an ML-related project. Since then, she has developed an experimental algorithm to predict how long a session on one of the team’s internal systems might be.
In addition to regular meetings with managers, Prime Video SDE apprentices also have mentors who coach them and answer technical questions. Apprentices are also encouraged to attend training or conferences that help advance their knowledge and skills.
But you don’t have to be an expert to become an SDE apprentice, just willing to learn.
“We are looking for the next future technologists,” Samantha says. “The great thing about apprenticeships is that we don’t hire based on experience. We hire based on potential and a passion for succeeding.”
Apprenticeships can evolve based on ongoing conversations between apprentices and their teams. Maisha Motlib-Siddiqui, who has been apprenticing with Prime Video’s checkout workflow team since September 2021, says that when she first started, her manager asked about her interests— cybersecurity was one—and found her projects based on those interests.
“More recently, I’ve been working more on projects that other people on my team would be working on, like adding to our code base,” Maisha says. “In our one-on-one meetings, we both thought it would be good if I started trying to sort of work at the level of an SDE I [so that] once I’ve finished the apprenticeship, I’d be able to find a role within Amazon.”
Maisha had applied for several apprenticeships at different companies. She chose an apprenticeship with Prime Video because she felt that Amazon’s work attracts the best. Maisha says that she also knew Amazon’s size and culture meant it would be a diverse workplace.
“You have to have diversity to create these groundbreaking ideas,” she says. “If you’ve got too many like-minded people who come from similar backgrounds, it means that you are always going to get the same sort of ideas being presented.”
Maisha, Abby, and Raya have been able to grow as SDEs during their time at Amazon.
“Looking back, I notice how much I’ve grown and how much knowledge I’ve gained in multiple different areas—not only the technical ones, but also in the workplace environment and the relationships between people on my team and outside of my team,” says Raya, who is looking forward to more new projects and activities that will continue to broaden her experience as she continues in the program.
Maisha echoes the idea that team support has helped her learn. “Everyone at Amazon knows that the way forward is by ensuring that those who have less knowledge are continuously developing and getting better,” she says.
For Abby, the apprenticeship has not only confirmed, but strengthened, a career choice.
“This apprenticeship has made me want to become an SDE even more. I’ve just really enjoyed it,” she says, adding that the biggest advice she has for someone considering the program is to set any fears aside and apply. “You have to remember that to start an apprenticeship, you’re not required to know everything. You’re there to learn.”