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Todd Hrycenko, center, who leads JPMorgan’s Seattle engineering center, speaking at an internal event this week with Jennifer Steffens, IOActive CEO, left, and JPMorgan VP Christie Chaffee, right. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

JPMorgan Chase is building a major technology engineering center in Seattle, quietly growing to 100 people in its first year alone, and it has just signed a new lease to expand the operation by hundreds more, GeekWire has learned.

  • The engineering center is part of a major bet on the cloud by the financial services giant, which is now spending $11 billion a year on technology overall.
  • It reflects a growing trend of financial institutions working with public cloud services, as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and others improve their security and compliance for sensitive financial data and apps.
  • In the eyes of some Seattle tech leaders, it’s a sign of the region’s potential to leverage its cloud prowess to become a larger hub for financial technology.

“When you think about Microsoft, Amazon, Salesforce, Google, Facebook, all the huge tech companies, especially those that are very active in public cloud and cloud environments, they’re all here,” said Todd Hrycenko, the head of cloud, application and platform security for JPMorgan Chase, who joined the company from Salesforce to build and lead the cloud engineering center starting last year.

“There’s very few places where those skill sets exist outside of Seattle in such density,” Hrycenko said. “Dublin and Hyderabad are a couple of other examples, but it became very clear early on that Seattle was the center of gravity for much of this.”

JPMorgan’s cloud operations in Seattle focus on its work with the major public clouds, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, as well as the bank’s own private cloud platform.

Inside JPMorgan Chase’s Seattle engineering center. (JPMorgan Photos)

“We are partnering with all three of them in different ways,” Hrycenko said of Microsoft, Amazon and Google. “What we’re trying to do is create a multi-cloud architecture, which allows us to drive best of breed and choose the best options for our business. We’re not trying to lock ourselves into one specific cloud provider, but rather pick the best for our particular business use cases.”

In addition, JPMorgan is building a new cybersecurity team inside the Seattle engineering center, and its global technology infrastructure team recently added a key leader in Seattle, who will also run a significant team focused on delivering infrastructure as a service for internal use at the company.

These additions are translating into major growth. JPMorgan’s engineering center occupies a floor in the Russell Investments Center in Seattle, and it just signed a lease for another floor at the nearby 1201 Third Ave. building, the former Washington Mutual Tower, with an option for an additional floor there.

All told, the space will create room for as many as 350 more people in addition to the current team, Hrycenko said.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon was initially skeptical about the cloud. (JPMorgan Photo)

It’s part of a major change in JPMorgan Chase’s attitude and approach to using cloud technologies as part of its business.

“We were a little slow in adopting the cloud, for which I am partially responsible,” wrote JPMorgan Chase CEO and Chairman Jamie Dimon in his annual letter to shareholders in April.

Dimon added, “My early thinking about the cloud was that it was just another term for outsourcing. I held firm to the view, which is somewhat still true, that we can run our own data centers, networks and applications as efficiently as anyone. But here’s the critical point: Cloud capabilities are far more extensive, and we are now full speed ahead.”

Artificial intelligence is also playing a growing role in the bank’s operations. Dimon explained in the letter, “Across our company, we will be deploying virtual assistants (robots driven by artificial intelligence) to handle tasks such as maintaining internal help desks, tracking down errors and routing inquiries.”

JPMorgan isn’t alone among financial services companies in adopting public cloud technologies.

“What we’ve seen in the financial services industry, especially, is it is a very conservative set of people,” said Steve Schmidt, the Amazon Web Services chief information security officer, in an interview with GeekWire. “They are very concerned about ensuring they meet the regulatory requirements that they have to operate under. What we’ve seen is some examples, some proofs, that you can operate financial services organizations securely in the cloud.”

This week at Amazon Web Services’ inaugural re:Inforce security conference in Boston, for example, both Capital One and Liberty Mutual made appearances during Schmidt’s keynote address.

Capital One closed its Seattle engineering center earlier this year, impacting 150 jobs in the process, but several startup and tech leaders familiar with the situation said they believe the closure was specific to Capital One and not an indication of a broader trend in the Seattle region.

Instead, some longtime Seattle tech leaders cite JPMorgan’s growing presence as an example of how the region’s cloud prowess could make it a powerhouse in financial technology, even though it’s not a major financial center.

In the meantime, Hrycenko is marveling at the growth JPMorgan’s Seattle engineering center has experienced in just its first year of existence, drawing from the region’s pool of cloud and technical talent. He recalled walking into the office when he first started, into an empty space with blinds down.

“A year later, the place is literally full, bursting at the seams, there’s engineers all over the place, there’s tons of conversations happening,” he said. “For me, it’s really been a true rebirth. It feels like something really, really interesting is happening.”

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