Continuing the discussion about the intentional consumption of quality content, I will definitely include streaming platforms that provide the content that is relevant today. I was curious to know how one of these streaming platforms operate and do we have someone from Kazakhstan who works there.

Thanks to my new friend, Islam Temirbek, who introduced me to Nursultan Amir who is a software engineer at HBO. And just FIY, Nursultan is the only Kazakh who works at HBO in Seattle. Nursultan shared with me how his project is used by millions of HBO subscribers, what he likes the most working at HBO and his favorite shows 😁

Nursultan Amir - HBO
Source: Nurs’ personal archive

When dreams can lead you far beyond

I was born in Almaty, but most of my life I lived in cold and windy Nur-Sultan (previously Astana). After finishing Kazakh-Turkish high school, I went to IITU in Almaty to do my bachelor’s. That’s where I started coding. I dreamed of studying at a university in the US when I was in high school and I dreamed of working at an international company when I was an undergrad. These two dreams helped me carve the path to where I am right now. I earned my master’s degree in Computer Science at the University of Washington and I am working at HBO as a software engineer.

From an Internship to a Full-Time

I had an interview with HBO for a summer internship at the beginning of 2019. The first round was an online coding challenge with several algorithms and data structures problems. After passing it successfully, I was invited to a phone call with a recruiter, where the recruiter asked me about my resume and my previous experience. This phone screening round is aimed to test soft skills by asking behavioral questions such as “why you want to intern at HBO?” and “tell me about your strengths”. The third round was a technical video interview with an engineer that involved solving an algorithmic problem and chatting about my resume and technical skills. A month later, the recruiter called me to congratulate me on my internship offer.

HBO Office - Kazakhstan
Source: Google

Plant more than one seed

After successfully completing the internship, I was offered a full-time position at HBO. As my manager pointed out later, the internship was a comprehensive 10-week long interview where I was tested as a software engineer and a team member in the real-world settings. I was extremely happy to receive the offer, nevertheless, I started exploring other opportunities. My goal was to get several offers that way I could negotiate the best options. I applied to about 100 companies, had 45 interviews in total, and managed to land 5 job offers including HBO’s offer.

You can make an impact even being an intern

I was working on a project that makes HBO’s search functionality more Google-like. If you make a misspelling while searching on Google, it usually understands what you were searching for and shows relevant results. For example, searching for “Amazno”(misspelled) on Google will get you results for “Amazon”(correctly spelled). This is called fuzzy matching. In this case, Google is fuzzily matching “Amazno” to “Amazon”.

My internship project at HBO was to implement fuzzy matching on HBO’s search. It would be a terrible experience for a user to get no search results if he or she just simply mistyped “thrones” as “trone” or “game” as “fame” while searching for “Game of Thrones”. I was really surprised and excited to be assigned such an impactful and challenging project and I was happy to finish the project by the end of my 10-week internship. My fuzzy matching implementation was published to HBO’s streaming platform and millions of HBO subscribers have been enjoying more versatile searching functionality from then.

Launch of HBO MAX: What is it?

I am a member of the Search team which is responsible for developing search functionality both on the HBO’s streaming platform and on partners’ streaming platforms: Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, Google TV, or where ever you can watch HBO. Everything related to typing in a search bar and finding the content you want to watch is what my team and I are working on. Currently, I am working on ensuring that we deliver HBO Max successfully to our customers. HBO Max is a new product that was launched on May 27th by WarnerMedia, HBO’s parent company. It is anticipated to land a firm spot in the arena of current streaming wars.

Nursultan Amir - HBO
Source: Verge

The main competitive advantage of HBO Max is that it will have premium content from WarnerMedia’s affiliated companies such as HBO, Warner Bros., DC Comics, CNN, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network and many more.

HBO Max’s $15-a-month price matches the cost of HBO Now and of HBO’s regular channel when you get it through most pay-TV providers. By comparison, Disney Plus is $7 a month and Netflix’s most popular tier is $13 a month – Cnet.

Friendly and inclusive environment

One of the major reasons why I decided to join HBO is the great culture in the company. Firstly, HBO has a very friendly and inclusive environment in the company. People are very welcoming regardless of their position and role in the company and are open to answer any questions. I was very surprised how easy it is to have a casual chat with very high-ranking people such as directors of engineering and vice presidents.

Nursultan Amir - HBO
Source: Nurs’ personal archive

Secondly, HBO’s tech office has a very fast-paced environment with lots of opportunities for early-career engineers like me. Although HBO is a large worldwide corporation, HBO’s tech office is fairly small compared to other tech companies. This creates a unique environment where software that millions of people use to watch beloved HBO shows and movies is developed and supported by a fairly small number of people. This is a great opportunity for me to get challenging hands-on experience early on in my career by working on highly scalable software products.

What’s your most favorite show on HBO? Do you watch Netflix?

I watched and enjoyed several HBO shows. My favorite ones are Westworld, Chernobyl, Succession, and Game of Thrones. I am currently binging the third season of Westworld. (No spoilers) It is a great science fiction series about technology, robots, and artificial intelligence in the future.

I do watch shows on Netflix. My favorite show on Netflix is Peaky Blinders. Actually, I use most of the major competitors of HBO such as Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, Apple TV+, and Disney+. I watch shows and movies on all of these platforms and analyze their apps from a tech perspective. It is very interesting to compare various features of competing streaming platforms.

What’s the lifestyle in Seattle vs Almaty?

I like Seattle a lot because it is like Almaty, my favorite city in Kazakhstan. It is an always green city that has great natural sites, mountains and bays. Seattle is located in the northwest of the US close to Vancouver, Canada.

From the tech perspective, Seattle is the second biggest tech hub in the US after Silicon Valley. Not only it is home to tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft, but also most major tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple have their offices in this area. I always wanted to be in a place that attracts top talent from all over the world, so that I could learn from the best engineers and be in the melting pot of technology. I already have three senior engineers in my team that came to HBO from Microsoft, Amazon, and OfferUp (a unicorn startup founded in Seattle area).