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Exclusive: American streaming giant Roku on its “ambitious” plans and new Manchester office

Circle Square - Bruntwood - Roku

American streaming giant Roku recently opened its new Manchester office. One of the Directors steering the direction of the new base details why it was an “easy decision” to set up in the city and how recruiting top talent is key to building out a “foundation” in the region. 

The streaming platform, founded by Manchester-born Anthony Wood in 2002, serves around 60 million households and is America’s number one TV streaming platform by the hours streamed, according to a study by Hypothesis Group.

The company opened its new Manchester office in February, based at Bruntwood SciTech’s No.1 Circle Square, which has the capacity to take up to 500 staff.

“We want to go fast, we want to grow and be successful, but we’ve got to do it in the right way to make sure that it’s a sustainable pace and that we do it in the right way,” Alastair McGeoch, Director of Software Engineering at Roku, told Prolific North.

As Roku celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, he explained how the company “pioneered streaming to the TV” and shipped the first Roku player in 2008 which was the “first device to stream Netflix in the world”. 

The company is initially recruiting for more than 50 software engineering roles, with a vision to increase the size of its Manchester team over the next four years.

McGeoch is heading up the new Roku office in Manchester and is currently building out the new teams alongside his colleague, and fellow Director of Software Engineering, Michael Hartley. 

He will also be responsible for coordinating the recruitment for other Roku teams who are hiring Manchester-based staff.

Roku’s Manchester office is the company’s fourth location in the UK alongside offices in London, Cambridge and Cardiff.

“We considered a number of options as part of that strategic process.

“When we looked at Manchester, if you look at the engineering history that’s in the city and the cultural impact that the city has had across the world as well in terms of audio, TV, music, it was just the natural fit for us as an organisation for what we wanted to do,” he said.

Pointing to Roku’s founder, who launched the company on the “belief that all TV will be streamed”, he highlighted how TV streaming is viewed as a “global phenomenon – but that didn’t happen overnight”.

“We are the number one streaming provider in the US. We have the ambition and want to be the TV streaming platform that connects the entire TV ecosystem around the world.

“Strategically in order for us to continue to execute our vision to be that ecosystem globally, then we need to have the best talent that we can get to help us achieve that,” he explained. 

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Roku Manchester office
Viewer using Roku’s streaming platform.

The tech ecosystem in Manchester

The Manchester location is strategic for Roku, as it will be placed next to “top world-leading academic institutions” as well as being in the centre of “digital innovators” in the city.

Tapping into Manchester’s tech ecosystem is also on the company’s radar, with the new office designed to help Roku continue with its ambitions to “lead the industry” and focus on innovation.

He pointed to the opportunities to build relationships with Manchester universities, to access emerging talent, and to engage in research and development opportunities. 

“The intention of that whole area is to be a collaborative space where well established companies like ourselves and incubators are coming up and having students and graduates mixing and creatives are mixing in sharing ideas,” he said.

“That will be something that will present opportunities no doubt as the community continues to be established there.”

As Roku is headquartered out of California, a benefit for its incoming staff in Manchester is its cohesive culture but it also presents an opportunity for the wider region.

“They will be interacting with the other development teams across the company, regardless of where they’re based. It exposes talent within Manchester to other ways of thinking, other approaches, other tech communities on a global basis.

“Then they bring that thinking and that DNA back into the Manchester ecosystem and help make that more richer and vibrant so we can kind of bring that back in and input into the ecosystem.”

Roku Manchester office
Roku’s Manchester office.

He suggested that Manchester is renowned for its tech ecosystem and software expertise, which made it an “easy decision” for Roku to select Manchester as its next location.

“We have got ambitious plans and we have got really great tech as well, collaboration is part of our culture and we will reflect that in how we operate within Manchester,” he added.

Establishing a foundation and contributing to the region

Whilst the company has “an eye” on medium to long-term goals in the region, he explained that the initial focus is on the 50 roles in Manchester. Once the company is able to “get that foundation in” it will be an “incremental process over the next four or five years”.

“Our initial focus is to set up two initial product teams in Roku TV, the one I’m leading and the one that my colleague Michael Hartley is leading. 

“Once we get that foundation established then we are working with other engineering leadership within the organisation,” he said, on the next steps for the Manchester office.

“My role is being responsible for Manchester within Roku’s arm,” he explained, adding that he will be tasked with ensuring the Manchester team fits into the “DNA” of the company.

“That’s quite an important job in terms of making sure that as we scale, we hit those points in terms of how we build the culture,” he said. 

Company culture is crucial at Roku, which he believes is one of the key reasons why the organisation is successful and sets it apart from other platforms. 

It is this belief, he said, which is why the company is keen to hire the right people at the right time. 

Alastair McGeoch, Director of Software Engineering at Roku
Alastair McGeoch, Director of Software Engineering at Roku.

McGeoch has worked in the industry for almost 22 years, with his previous role based at broadcasting equipment manufacturer Grass Valley, formerly known as Miranda. 

When a former colleague called him with an opportunity to work at Roku, “coming in and landing in the centre of Manchester’s tech, digital ecosystem and everything that is going on here now, and is planned for the next 10-20 years, it was too good to turn down”.

Since joining the company in October last year, part of his role includes engaging with the ecosystem in Manchester and looking at the opportunities available to Roku.

“We don’t want to set too many ambitious targets in terms of immediate short-term, we want to grow our business but we need to do it in a sustainable way,” he explained.

Attracting top talent

“We want to get that foundation in so we can then start to look at how we build out the team with either more junior early careers talent and graduate talent,” he added.

Starting out with an experienced team will help the company to build its foundation up to ensure it has the “right support mechanism in place” to encourage talent or aspiring software engineers to join the company’s Manchester office.

“Ultimately we want to build out a team that is diverse, different backgrounds, different perspectives, different ways of looking at things because that will help us to continue to innovate and lead on what we do,” he explained.

Three budding software engineers will also be joining the Manchester office as part of a three-month paid internship at the start of June, once the teams at the Manchester office are established.

“We are really excited about the interns that have agreed to come and join the team for the summer. We were really impressed with the caliber of the junior talent we were talking to through the process and it’s going to be quite exciting for us when they join the team,” he said.

The internship programme and current recruitment drive to hire engineering talent is just the start for the company in Manchester.

“The plan from a Roku perspective is about attracting that top talent so that it can continue to execute on our vision for the company from a global perspective. 

“That’s the overarching ambition and that’s the same for any location whether it’s in the UK, Europe, US or Asia,” he said.

On whether Roku has been scouting other locations in the North or if Manchester will become Roku’s primary Northern UK presence, “you can never say never but when you’re scaling you’ve got to make sure that you get the pace right”, he said. 

“For now, I would say we are not looking at that but that doesn’t mean to say that we won’t when it’s the right time for us to look at it again.”

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