Blog

May 18, 2016

[Engineering Spotlight] Amazon Audible: Changing the Way We Communicate

Today, we have Amazon's Audible division featured in our Engineering Spotlight series. Audible is the world’s largest seller and producer of downloadable audiobooks and other spoken-word content. They're giving us the inside scoop on what their engineering team is up to!

Audible is hiring! You can check out the company's job openings on Audible's BIZZpage.


Engineering Overview

The Audible Cambridge office was established in 2013 as an outpost of Audible’s Newark HQ with the goal of tapping into the diverse and talented pool of tech professionals in the Cambridge/Boston area. Since then our office has grown significantly and now takes up an entire floor at Amazon’s Cambridge facility. We are responsible for four significant pieces of Audible’s technology and product portfolio:

Audible on Alexa, including Amazon Echo, Dot, and Tap and third party devices like Triby.

Whispersync for Voice, which lets our customers take their reading on the go, synchronizing their Audible listening and Kindle reading. (Hyperlink)

Audible’s app and store on Amazon Devices, which is anything running Amazon’s FireOS including Amazon Tablets and FireTV.

Fraud & Trust, where we protect both all of our business and our millions of customers from malicious and fraudulent activity

Our teams are small and autonomous, ownership is strong and our goal is to improve our products, our people, and our work environment every day. In addition to working together in Cambridge we work very closely with Audible HQ and Amazon to unleash the power of the spoken word. Our diverse team cares deeply about each other, our work, and happy hour! Our office is mostly Software Engineers, with a few Managers, Designers, and Product Managers in the mix to keep us honest. More importantly, we are rock climbers, mandolin players, sailors, ex-NASA engineers, fanatical runners, moms and dads, PhD’s, RV’ers, rowers, collectors and gamers. It’s a really great bunch! 

We are a Java shop with Spring+MVC powered websites and RESTful Java Services supporting Android and iOS Apps. We take full advantage of all the development tools and infrastructure Amazon has to offer. Our teams use almost every AWS technology and our websites and services run in a VPC.  Additionally we use RDS to build our feature sets and our teams build on top of SNS, SQS and DynamoDB.


Engineering Culture

The engineering culture at Audible encourages collaboration that reaches beyond the workstations and conference rooms.  Our open floor layout promotes knowledge sharing and makes it easy to conduct code-reviews and approach fellow co-workers for impromptu discussions.  Audible also has an outstanding mentorship program that has proven very effective for on-boarding new team members and individual career growth.  

Leadership is engaged, transparent, encouraging and available. They encourage and enable a diverse work environment and many of us work on such initiatives and volunteer for groups like: AmazonWomenInEngineering, WomenWhoCode, TechnovationChallege, etc.

Thinking big, respectfully disagreeing, innovation & invention and taking calculated risks are all principles that are not only valued and supported but expected.

Not to mention, our daily free lunch brings many people into the dining area every day and interesting conversation always ensues. A lunchtime discussion about similarities in book interests one day spawned the monthly audible book club!  Foosball matches, board games and Magic the Gathering are a regular occurrences. Happy Hour is every Friday afternoon and usually consists of either themed food/drinks/music in the office, or a trip to a local venue. 


Cool and Interesting Problems

Audible is working on a variety of interesting problems, some we can tell you about, and some that are still secret! Because leveraging Amazon’s products and services is critical to our continued success & growth

We are always designing and building architectures for products that deliver Audible content to users in all sorts of new application domains. Both on back-end services as well as our content on end-user devices and platforms such as iOS, Android, Web, Alexa devices like Echo and more.

Working at Audible also means collaborating with data scientists, machine learning engineers, product managers, GUI and voice UX designers as well as content specialists to make the written word come alive!

On Amazon's various Alexa devices (such as the Amazon Echo), we are busy making it easy for Audible customers to find new content to listen to as well as allowing easier navigation of their own library when limited to the use of only voice commands as opposed to a traditional user interface. Additionally our engineering organization is utilizing voice to allow customers to interact with Audible content in novel ways (pun intended). Stay tuned for more on that in the near future.


BIOS

Christine Chapman

Describe your role at audible?

  • I'm an Android developer working on applying immersion reading to help people struggling to read (new readers, reluctant readers, people learning a new language, etc.)  

What book are you listening to?

  • A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn

What do you like about audible?

  • The involvement and support of senior leadership, the benefits of Amazon's tech stack and knowledge base and the friendliness of everyone I've worked with 

 Outside of work interests?

  • I participate in a few book clubs, attend lots of diversity events, blog about the tech industry and watch way too much TV

If not a programmer what would you be?

  • A writer or maybe a diversity coach 

How did you end up at audible

  • I used to work for Amazon's Kindle group and transferred after hearing so many great stories about the culture and projects here.

Favorite accomplishment?  

  • Recently, I'm most proud of speaking at Amazon's global celebration of International Women's Day and founding then growing Amazon Women in Engineering in our Cambridge office.

 
David Levine

What was first computer program you ever wrote?

  • I had the good fortune of being in an elementary school class in the Philadelphia public school system back in the mid 70s where we had access (through a daisywheel printer terminal) to a University of Pennsylvania mainframe (via suction-cup dial-up modem!), and were taught BASIC in second grade. We saved our programs on punch tape. Besides school assignments, I'm certain the first computer program I ever wrote would have been a game of some sort. Within a few years, the school had upgraded to an Apple IIe, and I was writing computer games in 6502 assembly language.

Describe your role at audible?

  • I'm a software development engineer working on customer's access to Audible content through Alexa devices (such as the Echo, Tap, Dot, and FireTV). My team works on new features to make the customer's access to Audible content easier, and we work on new creative ideas on how audio books can be made better through use of the customer's voice.

What book are you listening to?

  • I recently finished "The Magician's Land" by Lev Grossman, and I'm just about to start "As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride" by Cary Elwes.

What do you like about audible?

  • We have a product that customers love, a work environment that is collaborative and supportive, high standards and highly intelligent co-workers. We have the resources of Amazon (and my team works closely with Amazon's Alexa team), but we have our own culture and identity.

Outside of work interests?

  • I create "found material" puppets. My wife and I create LEGO mosaics. My son and I like to play (and sometimes create) unusual board games.

If not a programmer what would you be?

  • My degrees are in Naval Architecture, and in Civil Engineering, and before I got into software I worked on the ISS project at Johnson Space Center. I suspect if I were not a programmer, I would be an engineer in the space or shipbuilding industries. Alternatively, when I was in high school and college I used to work weekends and summers at science museums and aquariums as floor education and demonstration staff – perhaps I'd be a teacher.

How did you end up at audible

  • Most recently I was a software development manager at Amazon (my team worked on the "Firefly" feature of the Fire Phone, and which is also available on many Kindle Fire tablets), and I was looking to get back to being an engineer myself. Audible was an opportunity to change my role and my project at the same time, without leaving the high standards of working at Amazon.

Favorite accomplishment?

  • Personally, my family! As a hobby, I'm proud of being (quite seriously) accused of covering up alien contact (it's a long story)! Professionally, there have been many things I'm proud of doing… perhaps most recently would be working with a terrific team getting Firefly out to customers.

 

Avinash Shetty

What was first computer program you ever wrote?

  • A game of tic tac toe, such that the program can never lose.

Describe your role at audible?

  • I am a senior software developer at audible. I work on the audible app (android based) available on Fire OS devices like fire tablets, fire Tv etc. Major part of my role involves design & implementation of modules required for the application and co-ordinating with external teams within audible and amazon.

What book are you listening to?

  • Hunger Games

What do you like about audible?

  • It has a nice startup feel but at the same time it has backing of amazon. Audible maintained its own culture which is a plus. I am part of an amazing team, where I get to learn new things and I made some good friends. The fact that the product I work on, is a hands on customer product also excites me.

Outside of work interests?

  • Hiking & going on treks, game of pool anytime/anywhere, bowling, traveling to new destinations.

If not a programmer what would you be?

  • A Wildlife Journalist

How did you end up at audible?

  • I graduated from Northeastern in Dec-2012 and Audible had planned to create a Boston team around the same time. It was 9 of us who started Audible Boston, fresh out of college

Favorite accomplishment?

  • Launching Audible in Australia marketplace on Fire Tablets
     

Armaghan Behlum

What was first computer program you ever wrote?

  • I don't remember my first computer program because it was probably something simple like "Hello World" but the first program I remember writing was written in GWBasic and played the Mario theme song while lighting up LED lights on a circuit board. We had made the circuit board and soldered in the LED lights and we just had to write a program to do whatever we wanted with whatever circuit board we made. I had eight lights on the circuit board and each corresponded to a note in the Mario theme song. Running the program would cause a light turn on when it's note was being played by the program.

Describe your role at audible?

  • I'm a software development engineer, which means I code the features that we want for our app and fix any bugs that we find. The development process can take a while but it's really cool to see something you worked on for months finally reach the hands of customers. It's even cooler to see people like a feature that you created.

What book are you listening to?

  •  I'm going to start listening to Station Eleven for the office book club.

What do you like about audible?

  • I like that Audible feels like a family. One of the biggest reasons I came back (twice) from my internships was because I knew the people here, they were my friends, and they had already helped me grow so much that I felt like my career and life were in good hands.

Outside of work interests?

  • I enjoy reading books and visiting historical and beautiful places. Boston is a fantastic city to live in if you have all those interests.

If not a programmer what would you be?

  • I'd likely be a reporter. You get to go to interesting places and spread information to people.

How did you end up at audible?

  • Audible hired me to work part-time as an intern during my junior year of college. That lead to a summer internship which lead to a full-time offer.

Favorite accomplishment?

  • Fixing our foosball table!  We've gotten a lot of mileage out of it.