Amazon’s HQ2: go where developers are, or where they want to be?

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LAS VEGAS — Amazon.com’s search for a second headquarters is, in part, a hunt for software developers.

Tech workers populate the teams that keep Amazon’s retail site running, build the tools that route goods between the company’s warehouses, and keep music and videos flowing to Amazon Prime members.

They also make up the majority of the rank-and-file at Amazon Web Services, the cloud-computing unit whose annual trade show, re:Invent, took place in Las Vegas this week.

The division is among the fastest growing at Amazon. And though the company hasn’t said what teams or units it hopes to plant in its HQ2, it’s likely that Amazon’s second home will include many workers under the AWS umbrella when the first buildings open in 2019.

So, where does the software developer crowd want to live and work?

An informal survey over the first few days of re:Invent found a wide range of opinions. (Though not as many as the 238 applications that Amazon received from places that hope to land HQ2). Here are a few:

Eric Thomas, director of cloud product at analytics firm ExtraHop: “Look at the developer density, where are the colleges churning them out?” That favors Boston or Raleigh, North Carolina, he said.

A developer at a cloud cost-management firm: Dallas or Chicago, to poach from big AWS customers and competitors.

A salesman at a firm that builds tools for software engineers: Washington, D.C. “People think it’s all government,” he said. “That’s not true. There is a ton of tech.”

The lack of consensus is testimony to the decentralized nature of cloud computing.

The San Francisco Bay Area, home to the largest consumer internet companies, and the Seattle region, which hosts AWS and its chief rival, Microsoft’s Azure, boast plenty of expertise in the field.

But so do cities around the country. Web-based computing services like AWS allow developers to manage their systems on a laptop far removed from the servers controlling them.

“They’re all over,” said Chris Wegmann, director of the AWS practice at consulting firm Accenture. “It’s a myth that all of this is [happening] on the West Coast.”

As Amazon evaluates bids for HQ2, it is said to be weighing two major gauges of the labor market among its range of data points: the number of highly educated workers already in a city, and Amazon’s assessment of how many young computer science and engineering graduates it could convince to move to a particular area. If Amazon prioritizes the latter, that could weigh in favor of a city with a better cultural scene, or quality of life, or lower cost of living.

“They have enough money to throw at this,” said Abby Kearns, executive director of Cloud Foundry, an open source cloud software platform. “I’m out of college … yeah, I can go to Google, but hey, this major enterprise company in Kansas City is throwing cash my way, maybe I’m willing to do that.”