For much of Seattle’s tech workforce, a Friday at 2 p.m. is when things start to wind down, but not at Hulu. On a recent visit, a rotating cast of Hulugans — the company’s name for its employees — were staffing a conference room dubbed the War Room, flanked by screens tracking social media and site usage. Hulu had just released its updated interface and live TV service on the Roku box and wanted to make sure everything went off without a hitch.
“We gather for 24-hour shifts to keep tabs on usage, issues that arise from viewer experience or that we see popping up on the Hulu subreddit, and we staff it until we are ready declare all clear and resume normal business operations,” Richard Irving, Hulu vice president of product, told GeekWire during a tour of the company’s growing Seattle office.
On a return visit a couple weeks later, Hulu had just launched an app for the Nintendo Switch hybrid console.
These situations arise every time Hulu puts out a new app or service, or to mark a big streaming event, such as the start of the NFL season. When it launched its Live TV service back in May, War Rooms throughout the company were activated for weeks on end.
The Seattle office plays a big role in spreading Hulu to as many devices as possible. All third-party apps — for smartphones, connected TVs and more — are developed in Seattle. There are separate teams for Roku, Android, iOS and every other platform.
Hulu’s goal is to create a seamless experience across platforms, but to also celebrate unique features. On the Roku for example, Hulu built the app so the signature remote can skip a few steps and jump straight into a show versus scrolling through multiple screens to get there.
Hulu is one of more than 100 out-of-town tech companies to establish an outpost in the Seattle region. Just looking at the local leadership, it’s easy to see why companies are coming here in droves. Last year, Hulu snagged Irving away from Microsoft, where he had worked for 18 years, 12 of them on Xbox. Seattle is the perfect spot for a company like Hulu, which is constantly working to expand and refine its apps for a variety of devices, Irving said.
“The talent in the Seattle area, you’ve got Microsoft with Xbox; you’ve got Nintendo here; and you’ve got other video apps here,” Irving said. “There is a wealth of specifically client app experience, as well as a lot of mobile app experience centered in the Seattle area.”
Compared to some of the other recent arrivals, Hulu has deep roots in Seattle. It first opened its office here in 2010 at the historic Fourth and Pike building in downtown Seattle.
Barry Steinglass is Hulu’s senior vice president of engineering and the Seattle site lead, also serving as Hulu’s interim CTO. He, too, is a former Xboxer and also founded IT automation startup Chef. Steinglass has watched the Seattle office grow from a group of 20 on part of one floor when he arrived about three years ago to a rapidly expanding workforce of 155 in Seattle spread across four floors in the building, totaling 28,417 square feet.
The company has been hiring about eight people per month. As it has grown, the office has become a more central piece of Hulu’s overall operations.
In addition to building apps, teams in the Seattle office work on user experience data analytics, and a growing share of Hulu’s cloud team is based in Seattle. Hulu recently said it is using Amazon Web Services to provide the computing power for its Live TV service.
“It’s really rounded the office out into something that’s more full-fledged than just one or two teams. With me and Richard here, there’s definitely a feeling like we are a little bit more the center of gravity,” Steinglass said of the Seattle office.
Every company has its little cultural quirks, and Hulu is no exception. From a fully Game of Thrones-themed work station for one employee, to individual portraits on the wall for each employee, to a giant elephant looming over a desk, it is clear that individuality is encouraged. Steinglass, for his part, trucked the equipment from his hobby as a DJ into the office for his portrait.
Individuality is also a top priority for the products Hulu offers to its customers going forward. Hulu’s redesigned interface emphasizes displaying shows users actually watch, as well as those marked as favorites and then recommendations.
“From May until today we have continued to make this more and more personal, to try and increase the likelihood that what you see in position 1.1 is actually the most likely thing that you are going want to watch,” Irving said of the Hulu interface.