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Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace (nytimes.com)
708 points by IBM on Aug 15, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 424 comments

I'm so glad that this is getting more visibility. I spent 5 long years at Amazon Web Services from 2008 - 2013 as a Software Development Engineer, and was at some point promoted to SDE II ;)

It's a shark eat shark environment. I never cried, but I saw others (specially female colleagues) do. After 2 years of waking up in the middle of the night for bullshit on-call pages (wack-a-mole with production issues) and increasingly heavier deadlines, I developed stress related medical issues. That was a wake up call for me, and as soon as I realized the shit place that I was in, I started showing up at the office detached, practicing interview questions and doing phone screen interviews from work. I eventually got offers from Facebook/Google, and moved on. It was only then that I realize I was actually paid at the 50th percentile for my position's level and experience all along.

Since I left, I've helped multiple other friends/colleagues detach emotionally from the need for approval, practice for interviews and get job offers from Apple/FB/Google for substantial (> %75) raises.

I get Amazon recruiters contacting me all the time, and I'm always nice to them because I know the shit environment they're stuck in. Though in the back of my mind I'm thinking "there's no way in hell I'd ever go back"

Fuck Jeff, fuck Amazon, fuck AWS, and fuck their leadership principles.

I heard few stories from friends/colleagues who worked there

- There was a production outage once at Amazon and my friend's manager and her team (including my friend) gave a post-mortem to a large audience. Port-mortem sessions are open for everyone to attend. He mentioned, it was a free-for-all. Execs were hurling F-bombs every sentence and the team was publicly humiliated. The manager was in tears and was later demoted. I could see how my friend was feeling for her as a person/human being.

- One employee asked about possibility of providing free food ala Google/FB in a org level all-hands. Exec pooh-poohed Google for being highly irresponsible and that they can never sustain themselves spending so much on free food. Lazlo Block says it is one of the best things at Google.

- Frugality - I heard you don't even free get pop at Amazon. No paternity leave. Maternity leaves are much shorter compared to what people take at Google/Facebook out of fear. Poor health benefits and 401K matching compared to Microsoft/Google/FB.

- Sweatshop - People are over worked and are working on weekends/holidays a good chunk of time. 70 hr weeks seem to be the norm. Get only one day-off for Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Many Amazon execs are probably laughing their asses off looking at companies in the valley one-upping each other with great pay, quality free food, extending maternity/paternity leaves, generous health benefits and 401K contributions. "Look at these losers in the valley, and look at us, we pay employees pea-nuts, treat them like garbage, don't give a fuck about their well-being or families but still get a ton of shit done. Our stock is soaring! "

A good chunk of their engineers who are willing to take this kind of abuse are H1-Bs waiting for greencards. All new college grads wisen up after looking at their friends from Google/Facebook/Mircosoft, jump ship after a couple of years. Only people who stay there for a long time seem to be people who really like this kind of confrontational/psychopathic environment or incompetent engineers who rose into management, and cling onto their jobs.

22 days ago, you commented:

"For a 25-30 year time frame AMZN will beat S&P and Walmart by several X. AMZN, GOOG are companies which will have a huge impact on how we live. I have put some money into them. They are Berkshire Hathaways of our time."

So you seem fine with whatever (exaggerated and imaginary) evil things the execs are up to, as long as you profit from that as well.

Thanks for bringing this up. I want Amazon to take better care of employees precisely because I have money invested in them; because I believe in a knowledge economy, the greatest asset a company has is its people, and in the long-term this will matter. Amazon can be a lot more valuable, if employees can build long-term careers there and are better cared for.

I am rational. I want my money to work hard for my family. If I believe, I can provide a secure future for my family by investing in AMZN then I will do that. Through all the mutual/index funds, I am probably invested in a lot of companies whose practices I disagree with. Examples: Avoiding taxes (double irish with a dutch sandwich), super low minimum wages and expecting public to pay for their care (walmart and food stamps use of their employees), abysmal working conditions (foxconn deaths/suicides), shipping manufacturing jobs to China/Malaysia/Philippines and exploiting low-wage workers there, advertising and selling unhealthy/processed and getting kids hooked to high-{sugar,salt,bad fat} diet. We have practically proved that the best engine to create wealth is capitalism. The dichotomy you have provided is a false one. I love all the good properties of capitalism but I am also aware of its acute shortcomings, if there is no government or regulation. This doesn't mean that I will stop being a rational economic actor.

Things I mentioned are what I heard from current/ex Amazon employees. What I wrote about benefits are facts (else people would have refuted them right away). Only exaggeration was about Execs laughing their asses off; I was just making a point.

You really should look at the PE and grwoth of Amazon vs BH.

Amazon is a shell game, it is not really growing. It's a boring retailer... yet it is using PR to pump up its stock.

No way to know how long it can do this, except to know it can't do it forever.

Meanwhile Berkshire is a well managed company that actually turns an operating profit.

This seems like a common misconception. Amazon's PE (and earnings in general) are terrible because they don't care about earnings at this point in their life; they are growing far too quickly in far too big a market to stop to take earnings. Slides 45-47 from this A16Z presentation illustrate this pretty well: http://www.slideshare.net/a16z/mew-a16z

Also, your assertion that Amazon is 'not really growing' doesn't really make sense or fit with any publicly-available data I can think of.

Considering the expectations implied by Amazon's stock price, are you sure it's a common misconception? Surely if the misconception was common, the valuation metrics would be much lower?

Amazon will never have the same impact on our lives like Walmart did. Simply because retail won't grow as much anymore as it did when walmart became big. We're moving into a digital economy (ironically to a small extent thanks to amazon and their elastic cloud) and there simply isn't as much revenue in a digital economy as there was in the traditional (physical) consumer goods economy. people earn less nowadays and consume less. walmart rode the heydays of consumerism in the US and I doubt retail spending will ever return to those heights: http://wallstreetexaminer.com/wp-content/gallery/economic-ch... amazon seems to me like the emerging, dominant player in a shrinking market. furthermore - looking at the digital consumer goods market - we see that in this market amazon is again playing second fiddle. this market is dominated by Google and Apple (which have much better offerings with respect to apps, music, etc.) and maybe EA and Valve for games (origin and steam respectively).

All companies are 'evil' in that they extract value for themselves at the expense of others. Amazon is probably less evil than Walmart though, since they are doing much more to reduce labor costs to distribute goods. Not that Walmart is necessarily evil either. Usually entirely a matter of perspective since large businesses have a huge effect on the ecosystem and have internal ecosystems there will always be many that see them positively and negatively.

Would you say Amazon is more Berkshire Hathaway or more Carnegie Steel, at a time intensely innovative with extreme work expectations?

"Reducing labor costs" is what is making them evil, in part

>So you seem fine with whatever (exaggerated and imaginary) evil things the execs are up to, as long as you profit from that as well.

As long as the evil is easy to ignore and the profit large enough, I would dare say this is common among most people. Especially if you don't have to admit it (and thus take the hit to social reputation).

The correct response to being chewed out this way is "If I suck so much you must have been a fucking idiot to hire me."

How the heck does AMZ avoid hostile work environment lawsuits? Good lord.

When you try to transfer, your boss puts in a report to HR about how you're such a bad employee (clearly the bosses are incentivized to do this, to keep employees from internally transferring.)

Once that happens you're on the clock- you're going to get fired, and they are just building a case against you.

Your boss and HR will become increasingly hostile (while HR pretends to be there to "help" and "mediate" but actually is working against you filling your file with bullshit that comes from your boss)

HR will start actively gas lighting you. The negative reports that are suddenly appearing in your file (eg: a previous boss who gave you a good review suddenly has criticized you in the file that only HR can see... why would he lie to you?)

They want you to think you're at fault for anting to work for a non-abusive boss.

Eventually they fire you and give you a meager severance check which is attached to a contract you sign where you promise to never sue them.

I think it's only a matter of time.

But it is a hostile work environment, my rights were violated regularly, and as far as I'm concerned, the company should be shut down.

No engineer with self esteem should work there. But people seem to think that it's glamerous because of the name and they don't know that it is better elsewhere.

I think their hiring process is tuned to find people who will fall for their mantras.

The culture is VERY cult like. Much more than Microsoft or Apple in this regard.

This is absolutely right and I have first hand experience with this.

I came back from my country after a 3 week vacation and during my 1:1 with my manager, she started criticizing things which she hardly ever mentioned. And then, a few weeks later, she and her manager pulled me aside and put me in a program where I would have to do much more difficult work (PIP) to save my job.

The PIP document was this scandalous piece of paper. Things which were a complete non-issue a few months back were made a huge deal. I had a seizure attack a few months before all this and my manager was well aware of my mental situation. Inspite of all this, she instrumented all this. I wouldn't blame here. She did this to save her own ass I guess. You've got to eat someone else's career to move yours ahead.

Bottom line is I wasn't able to cope up with the PIP work. I was made to resign and being an H-1B worker, I had to find a job to save my status. My health issues made me spiral into a depression and today I'm in a substandard job.

Sorry to hear about your experiences there. But I think it's good that you've realized that it wasn't your fault and you have a good perspective on the whole experience.

"Hostile Work Environment" != Miserable working conditions.

From blm.gov,

"A hostile work environment is actionable in the EEO process when it is based on allegations of discrimination; e.g., race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability or sexual orientation1, or reprisal."

So if a manager only shouts insults at women, it is illegal; if he shouts insults at everyone, it is completely legal?

Not a lawyer, but that seems pretty spot on.

The public humiliation you are talking about happens only with AWS team, their dev's are scared to check in stuff.

Disagree. Merchant Tech used to do it, too (circa. 2010)

All teams do it, it's part of the stack ranking, my-team-vs-other-teams culture.

I'm curious about one thing: what exactly was the source of your work-related stress, apart form the on-call pages? This is something people rarely elaborate on and I think is very important to get a good picture of the place.

I see two different sources of stress in engineering work: large volume stress and "hostile dev environment" stress (sorry, I wish I could come up with a better term). The first means just that you have a large load of things to do. Personally I am not that much bothered by it if my environment allows me to execute on that volume of tasks. What often has me going into mad rages is the second type of stress: IDE slowness, random unexplicable build crashes, inefficient engineering systems, poorly designed code that makes it really hard to test it quickly. You get the idea. You have a task to get done and you could get it done if it depended on your competence alone, but the development environment is so fucked up that you constantly battle it when trying to make the smallest of changes. That builds up a ridiculous amount of stress because now you feel like you're lagging behind, and it's not because you don't know how to do something, but simply because the very thing that should enable your work prevents you from doing so.

What of those kinds of stresses did you have at Amazon? I'm genuinely curious.

I'm not the OP but I've worked at Amazon for four years as an SDET. I think "hostile dev work environment" is a good description of working here but it's different from what you describe. What you describe is more like just dealing with a culture of pervasive incompetence.

Just a couple of examples. There is an immense amount of pressure to perform and deliver results. A lot of the time I don't even know what we are supposed to be delivering but I can tell there's a lot riding on delivering it. I've seen multiple managers demoted to individual contributor roles for, well I'm not sure what for. Presumably not delivering.

As for my own personal experience, there is the expectation that you as a developer will perform the work of several developers. I am expected to keep up with sometimes a thousand email messages a day, many of which require some action on my part, work on JIRA tickets assigned to me, attend meetings, answer questions from coworkers and fix bugs. But that is not nearly enough. One needs to "deliver results". So on top of the full time job described above, it is expected that I will conceive, plan, organize, and implement new features and new projects that deliver value. And I have to organize meetings so everyone knows about the new project and is aware of the value our team is delivering.

And yes, as you described, we also have to deal with figuring out how to get things done in spite of the incompetence of other teams we are working with.

Not the OP, but I worked at amazon for a year. I didn't want to pay back the signing bonus and relocation fees, or I would have quit earlier. Seattle has tons of way better opportunities for software developers.

Honestly, the stress originates from both. There was a lot of pressure to work ridiculous hours during the week and come in during the weekends (wtf??)

On top of that, the tools sucked. They give you a shitty laptop (frugality) that would go to the "locked" screen after x minutes if you were idle, and logging in could take 10 minutes because it was attached to an AD network and sometimes decided to use the server in China for authentication (seriously?) If your keyboard broke or something of the sort you had to wait in line for hours to get another (crappy) working one. They force you to use homegrown tools and plugins that are crashy and frustrating. I was soo tempted to just spend all the time fixing the tools, but I'm sure that would have gotten me into trouble, though it would have probably improved every software engineer's productivity. This was a few years ago. Maybe someone has fixed all this by now :)

I think you can specify the VPN server. I do it all the time and never let it auto-pick.

Keyboard and other minor equipment acquiring process is also fixed/streamlined now. Its much more self-service and does not require standing in queue or getting manager approval.

And on top of all, the one thing I really respect/revere at Amazon are the builder tools. They are probably the best I've seen so far! And yeah, this is probably today and I've heard it was bad a few years back.

But I can relate to working on weekends though. That still remains.

A bad carpenter blames his tools.

When you can choose the tools you want to work with and still complain about them, then yes, you are at fault. But when you are forced to use a set of really bad tools and there's not much you can do about it, it's legit to complain about them.

It's one thing being able to choose to use e.g. Emacs, git, and a language of your choice vs. working on a project that requires you to use an outdated version control system, a clunky IDE and more of that sort.

What on earth are you even talking about? Most people at Amazon I know use IntelliJ or vim, its their choice. The languages teams use are also that teams choice. The whole company uses git. I don't think you ever worked there...

I've never said that I work or have worked there. I was not talking about their tools.

Oh right, having a shitty laptop that locks up when I have chrome and intellij open is my fault.

I'm curious - does this quote have a source?

My wife works there as an SDET and her experience so far is vastly different from yours and from what the article says. Most days it's a 9-5 job. The only times she has stayed late were because she really wanted to finish something that day i.e. she was never told to do that. Maybe there's less pressure on SDETs? But she says the devs seem to work about as much, at least from her perspective.

Can definitely see how different parts of the company operate differently but no paternity leave an minimal maternity leave speaks a lot to the general philosophy of the overall company.

It's interesting - all (I think?) the people interviewed in the article sounded like they worked in non-dev roles. Might not be the case, but it might explain why your wife hasn't had the same experience.

I think the article is really exaggerating on negative points. Get a handful of people who had really bad managers and extrapolate their stories to the rest of the company - I'm pretty sure one can do that for any large company.

A co-worker's wife also works there as an SDET and her experience is the same as my wife's. A guy I went to college with works there as an SDE and he also says it's pretty much a 9-5 job. He doesn't work on a service though, so his team doesn't have pager duty and that contributes a lot to it not being a stressful job.

It's a 9-5 job if you check out or are on the way out. Many people are on the way out and don't even realize it.

Then everyone in my wife's team must be on their way out. We're talking about 10+ people here.

My wife worked there in a non-tech role and from the stories she and her friends told me I have to say that the article just scratches the top of the iceberg.

I think this is a very important point. While I have heard of very stressful orgs where SDEs are under high pressure, I think that the work environment for non Deve is vastly different.

Amazon treats SDETs much nicer in my experience. I can't really say why or how that is, but that's my experience. They seem to be shielded from the bulk of company politics, and don't seem to be common targets for throwing other people under the bus.

My job is 10-7, only because I take an hour off playing ping pong every day. My major complaint is that they don't have enough ping pong tables. Also, having to decide which food truck to eat at on a particular day is annoying. I'd much rather have free cafeteria food.


As others said, Software Development Engineer in Test. She's a dev that writes test automation code.

Software Development Engineer in Testing, I think.

That's right.

Funny how Bezos has disdain for Microsoft, but then steals all their jobs titles. MS first coined the term SDET for that role.



Since I left, I've helped multiple other friends/colleagues detach emotionally from the need for approval

Literally cult de-programming. Kinda amazing we let companies go so far.

Fuck Jeff

Always good to re-read Steve's platform rant (https://plus.google.com/+RipRowan/posts/eVeouesvaVX):

  7) Thank you; have a nice day!

  Ha, ha! You 150-odd ex-Amazon folks here will of course
  realize immediately that #7 was a little joke I threw in,
  because Bezos most definitely does not give a shit
  about your day.

I interviewed there once and made it through the entire gauntlet only to stumble on the salary. They asked me what I was looking for and talked about how the vesting of stock grants worked. At the time I was making decent, but not great, East Coast money, and I figured that the cost of living is about the same where I lived and in Seattle so I asked for about the same.

I've never seen a recruiter's eyes fall out of their head before, after a moment of stammering he said..."you realize that's more than what the senior directors, maybe some of the C-levels, earn?"

It seemed kind of a bizarre statement, because I knew a couple SDEs at Amazon and their total compensation package had been far in excess of that figure, but a big piece had been due to stock grants that had, over the vesting period, exploded in size due to Amazon's stock growth. I have no doubt many of the senior management made some tiny salary, but it didn't matter because they made multiples of that every year in stock grants.

I definitely came away with a very weird feeling about the place and was kind of glad when they called back a week later and said they just couldn't do it and thanked me for coming in.

I'd much rather work for places that pay me a lot more to develop cool things using Amazon's infrastructure.

Base salaries for execs top out at something like $175,000. Is that what you're defining as "decent but not great"?

My base at the time was in that ballpark, but not that high.

My total compensation from the job I was leaving was within spitting distance, and I knew that number was under what my friends working at Amazon were making in their total package.

I live in a major metro, so it's surprising sometimes how far that doesn't go.

It worked out in the end though, that money was also tied to an incredible workload and ultra-high stress. I ended up someplace much less stressful for a few years, and now have taken a position and paycut in exchange for a much improved work/life balance at a non-profit.

My stuff is not as fancy, but I live much better, though I wonder what would have happened if I had switched coasts, moved to Seattle and settled there instead.

It also turns out all the people I knew at Amazon have all left for other places as well.

In NYC, that salary would probably earn "decent but not great", if that, depending on your social circle (read: social class).

IMO Even if you love your current gig, you should interview elsewhere at least once or twice a year to estimate your market value. Do not let your HR department establish your value for you, they will always sell you short.

I can't agree with this; does nobody in the software industry regularly just network? Networking correctly done is all the positives of a job interview without the immediacy of a vacant position being filled.

And yes, most of us are probably at-will employees. But I know if word got back that I was interviewing--like when incompetent HR called my current boss for a working reference--I'll be more than just "estimating my market value."

Much safer to ask recently promoted people in my network what they used to make; people often share this information easily, versus never sharing what they make now.

I can't understand why your comment would be downvoted. User group meetings, conferences, dev get-togethers are all ideal for talking to people about what OP suggests: "estimate your market value". Please job interviewing just sucks the life out of anyone - it is absolutely no fun for all parties. Why make 1-2 days of your life suck per year just to "estimate your market value" when there are more fun ways to do it?

For me, it's only "no fun" when HR sends an absolute fool with the right keywords on their resume to me (which is what they usually do). It's a lot like dating unfortunately.

In an age where variants of "FizzBuzz" are too hard for most interviewees to answer, it's an absolute joy to meet someone competent and make them an offer. YMMV.

Neither conferences nor meetups have ever worked that way for me. They're great for getting intel on the competition and catching up with friends, but we don't talk compensation much.

Serious question: It feels a little weird to interview somewhere with little intention of accepting the offer (unless it is a huge pay boost / much better position).

I've been at my job just over a year, and enjoy the job / believe I am paid fairly well, but I'd like to see what else is out there (as I'm very flexible on locations, etc). Do I just apply for a few jobs in different areas, and only accept if it's a huge pay boost? Is it wrong to go into the interview like that?

Are you an at-will employee? I'll bet that you are one.



"An at-will employee can be fired at any time, for any reason (except for a few illegal reasons, spelled out below). If the employer decides to let you go, that's the end of your job--and you have very limited legal rights to fight your termination."

Now after reading the above sentence, do you still feel weird about this?

There are still issues of regular human decency and courtesy.

How would you feel if a company interviewed you with absolutely no intention of hiring you, even if you did really well, and was just experimenting with their interview process or training interviewers?

a) You are not a company. The incentives and the amount of relative power each entity has in this relationship is skewed.

A job to you is life changing. To a large enough company, you're just a conversion or churn metric.

b) That happens all the time. For instance, in order to get an H1B, a company has to document that they can't fill a given position in the local market. Which you accomplish by putting out hyper specific job ads.

If you want to be nice about it, don't pull that game on small startups but that's about it.

I'd feel I had learned something important about that company and why I should never work for them. And then I'd move on in life rather than dwell on it.

with little intention of accepting the offer

Protip: please only waste interview time at large companies.

I've been on the receiving end of having people interview just to "test the waters" at a small company and it's a big drain. We didn't have a formal hiring process or interview pipeline, so your interview process would get a lot of attention from at least 8 different people in a 50 person company. When we send you an offer and you say "lol, nope, just wanted to show an offer so I can negotiate a raise where I already work," it's a big let down for the small team who invested time having 5 people interview you and discussing you and sending all the paperwork through the system.

Counter pro-tip: don't expect someone to leave their current gig unless it's in their best interest to do.

IMO unless someone is absolutely miserable, they shouldn't take a chance on a new and unfamiliar team unless the benefits (at least seemingly) outweigh the risks. Remember, you can fire them at any time, with or without cause.

Also most recruiters suck (all IMO of course). To which I'll add one final tip: don't ask me my current compensation and don't ask me what it will take to make me move. Instead, just tell me the salary range of the position during the initial phone screen. Problem solved, no?

Remember, you can fire them at any time, with or without cause.

People keep saying that around here. It's technically true (the best kind of true?) but it's not exactly how the real world works.

In the real world (meaning: actual companies, not startups with 2 weeks runway), to fire an individual (mass layoffs are different), you first put them On Notice (a Personal Improvement Plan saying "we, the company, believe you are not a good employee. you have X amount of time to improve"). Next, you wait 6 months. Then you review their progress against their "plan," you find any excuse for them not meeting their plan (plans can be subjective), then you say "Sorry, you're fired, here's a severance package."

So, firing an individual involves interdepartmental paperwork, getting legal potentially involved, and a (hopefully not trivial) payout.

Mass layoffs are essentially the same except you don't give 3-6 months notice and just immediately unload lots of people at a company, but hopefully still give them a payout.

In either case, I think why people throw around "at any time" is they want to convey you should have zero-loyalty towards any employer since they can unilaterally act against you. That is quite true. Never trust your employer to be benevolent towards you and always lookout for yourself before sacrificing things for the benefit of only the company.

That sounds great, but most of the time I haven't seen it that way. I work for a large, mutual insurance company. We just fired a "manager" without doing a PIP etc. Just told him his job was gone in 30 days, do your best to transition responsibilities and you'll get a decent severance (9 months IIRC).

This was someone who IMHO should have been canned 5 years ago, but until 6 months ago had a powerful ally shielding him. Now that the ally has moved on to greener pastures, the ax has fallen.

Two years ago, we fired a VP in IT basically for not filling out his TPS reports. Someone who had worked for the company for over 30 years. Fired him for "cause," meaning he'd lose out on his pension. That lasted for about 45 minutes until his lawyer made it clear that he wasn't going to go quietly into the night without a pension valued at over $5M.

So sometimes the niceties of HR policies are enforced, but if they want to fire you, you're gone.

Prior to this I worked at a small startup that had been around for 2 years. Got cancer, was told that I'd be employed til my treatment was completed. I worked every day, made a point of not being a burden to my team members, and was fired the week of Christmas (with 4 months of chemo to go). The company was being acquired, and didn't want any dead weight on the payroll. (Get it?)

Didn't get severance, but luckily I didn't need COBRA due to my wife's coverage. Screw them. Look out for yourself or you'll find out how loyal they really are to employees.

> Prior to this I worked at a small startup that had been around for 2 years. Got cancer, was told that I'd be employed til my treatment was completed. I worked every day, made a point of not being a burden to my team members, and was fired the week of Christmas (with 4 months of chemo to go). The company was being acquired, and didn't want any dead weight on the payroll. (Get it?)

Jesus Christ. Do you mind sharing who they are?

I think we see eye to eye here? I personally believe a lot of my engineer friends do not realize that they need to manage their career as much as they manage their technical skills. And that's why I suggested getting an outside opinion about one's market value annually (and if turns out to be a compelling valuation, take it).

You don't need to interview with a bunch of other teams to find out what your market value is, though. You can research average salaries for the job in a given region. The reason tech people interview without intention of taking the offer is to negotiate a raise with their present company (I agree that's not a good idea, and anyway, it's better to leave and get a new job if you want a raise).

Nice job generalizing, you wouldn't work in HR, would you?

IMO the answer to whether you leave or not is "it depends."

I've taken the counter once for a 25% raise as I was in the middle of a project and I cared about finishing it, but I usually leave if I find out I'm significantly (20% or more) underpaid (twice).

Glassdoor and meetups do not give personalized information about one's value. They only give average compensation data. The only way to get what you personally are worth is for you personally to get offers. Feel free to disagree.

I suspect most of this is about unemployment insurance and being able to deny a fired employee insured benefits.

You're giving them a chance. There's nothing wrong with saying up front you want a pay boost and/or a better position. If you tell them this and they proceed, then they're inherently saying such a thing is on offer (or why are they wasting their time?) And if they can't close the deal, that's on them. I think a big chunk of "engineering shortage" (note: no such shortage exists) is companies pissy that they may actually have to exert a tiny bit of effort to hire rather than tossing out a job posting with a long list of desiderata and having qualified engineers flock to them.

Companies frequently put out job postings with no intention of hiring anyone. Is that wrong?

I worked at Amazon for 2 years and it was literally nothing like this. I feel like the article is talking about a completely different company.

Why didn't you change teams?

When you have a toxic manager at Amazon-- and I did-- you can't change teams. I had an offer from the manager of another team, but was fired when I attempted to change teams.

The idea that you can change teams is kinda a fallacy... sure it happens sometimes but it's more like horse trading than anything else

This sounds like something out of Mike Church's blog.

In the real world, I knew plenty of people who switched teams. Sure, there are pathologically bad managers and it may not be possible all the time. But it's definitely the rule, not the exception, for internal transfers to be possible.

Yeah it's a big enough company that I wouldn't be surprised if some middle managers are forcing the devs/employees to do a lot of work. It's kinda like Microsoft, I heard there were just a few good teams or departments that were really good and the rest were meh.

For me I quit rather than switching teams because I felt like I was in a lousy position to switch. Level 1 SDE, didn't want to lengthen my time before promotion and didn't want to go be the ops bitch on another team. Decided to look outside the company and wound up getting a job with higher pay, promotion, and a nicer company overall.

Right, that's basically why I left. Amazon is bad to mediocre in my experience, but it's nothing like what this article describes.

It was more poor business decisions, boring projects, and laughably bad tools/environment compared to other famous "big league" software companies. I worked 40h weeks and got along with everyone. Only one time in two years did my manager ask me to work on a Saturday, to finish a project that had VP level visibility, and he felt extremely awkward and apologetic about it.

I am curious. If work environment was so toxic, why did you stick around 5 long years? What was your thought process? I have had similar happened to my friends who somehow get stuck at one place for one reason or other and don't realize what they are missing out. Right now, I am trying to help another friend who is stuck in similar situation (not at Amazon).

That's a very good question! I should have left after 3 years. I did not know any better. Specially when it came to compensation, I only knew about my promised stocks' grown value, and not what other companies would have offered me.

Year 1: learning, excitement, keen to prove myself, also economy had just crashed

Year 2: under pressure, but feeling ownership and hopeful that we would "fix our problems"

Year 3: jaded, but waiting for the growing stock to vest (Amazon's RSUs start vesting in the 3rd year)

Year 4: over-stressed, extremely unhappy

Year 5: detached, not really working, interviews, exit.

RSUs vesting at year 3 gives a good indication of what they expect the tenure of a drone to be.


Amazon discussed an offer with very backloaded RSUs. They must think engineers are idiots: if you offer 5/15/40/40 vesting (those may not be the exact numbers but they're not far off), it's a giant flashing sign with a klaxon on top that you expect the majority of your eng to churn inside of 2 years.

I replied anything but 25/25/25/25 wasn't even worth discussing and that was that.

People stick around in toxic environments mostly because of social reasons. Adversity breeds camaraderie. When you commiserate with people on a regular basis about the shitty work environment and terrible company policies, you build mutual trust tend to become really good friends with them. Leaving those people behind can be tough for a lot of people, especially if it is their first job out of college (and they don't know what they are missing out on).

This is a great point. I worked at such a company in a satellite office. A favorite activity was to get drunk and bitch about corporate, etc. Everyone loved each other, but _hated_ the company.

There's a right way and a wrong way to do this. The military make boot camp/basic training tough in part to build camaraderie amongst new recruits, the experience binds them to everyone who has been through the same ordeal. But that is in service of some higher ideal than "shareholder value".

It doesn't end after boot camp, though. We frequently referred to the Green Weenie, which was the omnipresent malevolent force that made everyone miserable. It's the main reason why I got the hell out.

I've found that a lot of other companies seem to have Green Weenies, and I do my damndest to avoid them. Five years of getting fucked was enough for me. At least buy me dinner first.

A danger with Amazon since they are not based in California but in Seattle, there is non competition clauses enforced by contract. Amazon has sued ex engineers leaving the company. http://www.geekwire.com/2014/amazon-sues-employee-taking-goo...

I choose not to choose Amazon. Quote from the movie Trainspotting "But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin' else"

I wonder how much mental illness and poor decision making this culture has caused. Staying up days in a row or working 80+ hour weeks is not a recipe for good decision making.

Not even considering the human angle, this makes me very concerned for Amazon's future business prospects. Disclosure: I'm an AMZN shareholder.

I work for Amazon and this has not been my experience. I can't speak to what others have said, but in my org it would be extremely unusual, and considered alarming, for people to work more than 40-50 hours per week. The only times I've really worked over 40-50 hours would be while I was on-call, which occurs about once every two months for a week, and even then only during major issues (maybe once or twice a year?).

The culture, once again, at least in my org, is actually pretty chill - I had a doctor's appointment last week, I just sent an email the morning of saying "Hey everyone, I'll be in around 1:00, cya then, here's my status for standup" and it's cool. My boss actually chided me for checking my email too aggressively during my time off.

So yeah, I can't speak to everything mentioned in the article, I can only say that my experience has not matched up with this.

So, let's see...

1. You check your email aggressively during your time off.

2. You think that 50 hours a week is normal.

3. You think 1/8 weeks of _unpaid_ on-call is reasonable.

How many sev-2s and sev-3s do you get during your one week on-call? If more than 10/week, can you think about how many are outside of business hours?

1) I do that regardless of where I work - that's part of my personality - I did that at less intense jobs - I've done that since college - my boss actually threatened to lock me out of my email if I didn't stop

2) I think 40-50 is acceptable, I would ask you to find anywhere salaried that 40 is the true upper limit - I'm telling you I can't remember a week I spent more than 50 - 40 is definitely the norm though.

3) I get paid for my time in the office, work outside of the office is highly unusual for my on-call rotation - it happens maybe once or twice a year as I noted.

Far less than ten - almost none outside business hours. Last time I was paged outside of business hours it was because someone messed up who they paged :)

I appreciate your reply, and it's certainly true that not all teams or managers are bad at Amazon.

I'd suggest that you're on a lucky on-call rotation, and seem to have a good manager!

If I were still there, I'd say get on VPN, head over to tt.amazon.com and see the stats of other teams' on-call rotations, and estimate how many of their pages are outside business hours ;)

Thanks! And sure, I appreciate other teams have different on-call situations, I had a friend in an AWS team that was decidedly more busy on weekends than I was...

For 3, that is really how it should be. Pages should be unusual and happen for real and immediate production issues.

But instead you get services built where dozens of pages a week is the norm.

I am also a current amazon employee (SDE-II) and on-call is certainly paid.

I'm not sure why you use going to the doctor as an example of a chill environment; that seems like a pretty minimal standard of decency to meet.

Aside from the on-call bit, this seems pretty standard for a dev. job, and seems to echo some of the other devs who have posted here.

I wonder whether the people quoted in the article where mostly working non-dev roles?

I can't speak to non-dev roles, but it's personally possible. As far as developer goes, it varies a lot by team I think, but overall it has been a pleasant experience for me - no one here wants me to fail, everyone around me wants me to succeed it seems like. One of the best jobs I've had, actually.

It is interesting to read some of these accounts. We have several hundred clients who sell on Amazon. I can probably say we hear horror stories on a daily basis.

If I were to summarize the stories and reach a conclusion it would be that Amazon (retail side) exists as a set of silos characterized by incompetence mixed with a solid dose of indifference and total lack of consideration for sellers.

I've seen sellers damaged to the point where they lost everything. Business, home, cars, everything. Why? Well, in the one case I can think of we heard from this seller who had been doing millions of dollars per year on Amazon for about four years. One morning he wakes up to an email from Amazon telling him that his "Selling privileges have been revoked permanently". And, in the true style of a lot of large internet companies there was no way to engage with someone at Amazon to try to solve the problem that led to the permanent suspension. In fact, apparently he was only given one opportunity to send and email. It was rejected. He was told they do not discuss the reasons for these decisions.

This person lost everything they built over four years of hard work and had to file for bankruptcy when the commitments made by the business to support a multi-million-dollar-per-year supply pipeline caught-up with what had happened. If you ask me, that says a lot about Amazon and the people who work there. They are willing to make decisions that can destroy families and don't seem to care enough to engage in a proper business-to-business discussion aimed at solving problems. Instead it's "off with their heads" and that's it. Businesses are not machines, they are people. What Amazon is doing to families with businesses is sick and disgusting.

The latest trend we've been hearing has to do with their ads platform. Apparently click fraud is rampant and Amazon is doing exactly nothing about it. And, if what I am reading is correct, it is entirely possible they aren't even equipped to deal with click fraud at all. A number of our clients are reporting click through rates that are 10x to 60x historical rates and no sales whatsoever out of thousands of clicks per day/week. Their experience isn't far different from that of the people who face suspensions: Amazon refuses to discuss what is going on. Advertising on Amazon, for some sellers, has turned into the equivalent of throwing dollars into a bonfire.

I could go on but I don't think it's necessary. My conclusion based on what I've read here and experienced through our clients is that it almost makes sense that the third party seller side of Amazon seems to be as messed-up as it is. If portions of their operation are as caustic and abusive as some of the accounts on this thread relate nothing good can come out of that. As I said before, business, ultimately, is about people. And if the people who are the business are not happy, the business isn't going to run well. That's what our clients are seeing out of the side of the Amazon monster they face every day.

Substitute eBay for Amazon in your post and it's a likely parallel. You might even be able to swap out "Apple App Store" for Amazon and come up with a fairly close-knit venn.

Wow.... it sounds like the software side of things isn't too much better than the warehouse side of things. I know it's not a direct comparison, but... amazon warehouse workers seem to be treated on the low end of warehouse worker jobs, and from what you're saying, the tech side is in a relatively similar position.

Also... unrelated, but re: recruiters - I've had a friend who's been pinged... 5 (6?) times over the past 8 years for Amazon - was flown out and interviewed and at least once that I know of, and went through a separate phone screen process as well - both times was rejected, but... they still keep calling. He's asked that they stop calling, but 10 months later some other recruiter will call up and try to start things rolling again...

That happens to me too. I don't think there's a good central system of information on past candidates there. I just tell them that I previously interviewed there and look up my file, but that doesn't seem to get anywhere, so I just tell them I'm not interested at the moment (it's always better to keep more doors open).

>>Since I left, I've helped multiple other friends/colleagues detach emotionally from the need for approval, practice for interviews and get job offers from Apple/FB/Google for substantial (> %75) raises.

Is that 75% number normalized for the area's cost-of-living? Seattle isn't nearly as expensive as the Bay Area (which is where those other companies you mentioned are located), so of course the nominal salaries will be substantially lower.

All of the friends whom I helped, and myself included have transferred from Amazon to Facebook/Google/Apple located in Seattle.

I went from ~$150 total comp to ~$260 after a couple of rounds of negotiations with the companies who gave me offers. This was a couple of years ago, and I was happy to see another friend who left Amazon for Google get offered over $300k recently at the same SDE II level.

Damn, 260k and 300k?

Why are these so high? Do you and your friend have some valuable speciality?

Total comp, I assume, includes presumed vested stock payout. Even as a FE developer (sr level) these numbers aren't unfathomable when they include stocks.

Why are FE devs paid lower? I'm not a FE dev but I don't see why they deserve any less..

That's nice of you to say, but I think a few things play into it:

1) I've found most FE devs are not classically trained software engineers (most don't have CS degrees)

2) There's still a stigma that all FE is is writing HTML, CSS and JS (when, in fact, there's now entire build management layers, and the frontend stack is as complicated and nuanced as that of any OS' SDK). This is a holdover idea that is starting to diminish.

3) Because of 1, the market likely has more FE developers available to it. I'd be curious to see what your typical self-taught Java, C#, Python, Ruby or DBA makes.

4) I've also noticed a trend of BE engineers showing interest in front-end work, given its new challenges and such, further saturating the market. This is completely anecdotal though.

When one bedroom apartments cost $5,000 per month, you need a minimum salary of $200,000 to even qualify at the low end, but then over half your take home pay goes towards rent. A safer salary is easily $250k to $300k. Those levels of salary get you above the line of working just to pay for your overpriced apartment.

I live in Seattle, as does the person who mentioned the salaries, and I would be hard pressed to even find a 1BR that cost $5,000/mo. I recently lived in a very large 2BR for $2200, full of amenities. Even if you want a really nice place in a great location I'd have no trouble finding a 1BR that was absolutely fantastic for $2000.

This ain't SF.

It might be that some companies offer near-SF salaries to make it a slam dunk for the new hire. From the point of view of a Valley giant, they probably churn higher-salaried people in SF/SV all the time, so one more located elsewhere is not a biggie. At 10% less it's still a win, and because of the differential from local prices, the new hire will be super excited to join and stick around, so why not? The more you push down towards average local salaries, the more you have to compete with local businesses and the more you risk getting average performance out of the hire, all for a relatively small cash saving.

doh. It didn't occur to me people would stay in Seattle after getting Google jobs.

Perhaps Google should COL-adjust SF employees up to about $500k/year.

There's a weird life trap where you're making what most people would consider "a lot," but over half your take home pay is eaten by rent and food that costs 3x what it would somewhere else. So your "a lot" turns into "can't afford a car" or "can't save up enough to get out of the cycle" without moving to less desirable places.

Better to serve in hell (SF/NYC) than reign in flyover country?

Be glad you don't live in Vancouver, where the average house cost is the same as the bay area, but the average income is the same as reno nv. Rent although seems to be almost half the price of a house mortgage, so there is strange business going on in vancouver.

Food in SF is cheap. So are car costs. Actually everything except rent was considerably cheaper when I lived in SF vs Toronto.

> It didn't occur to me people would stay in Seattle after getting Google jobs.

It's actually pretty fantastic.

It cost half that in most south bay cities. For $5k you can easily get a 2000 sq ft 4 bedroom independent home in most south bay towns (except palo alto, los altos etc)

Note that a $5k/mo mortgage means a $1.2m+ selling price, for ~2000sqft. That's still insane (and doesn't include property tax, maintenance, utilities, or any of the other homeowner costs). Imho, anyone is crazy who thinks spending half their take home on a mortgage is acceptable.

Let's say you make $150K salary, plus 15% bonus and $75K per year of FB/Google/Apple RSUs.

That gets you to $247K.

At these very successful companies they almost always pay out your full annual bonus and the stocks are outright grants, not stock options.

This is not captured by salary surveys, which only ever talk about base salaries.

Don't quote total comp. Everyone has a different formula for total comp, with recruiters and HR departments being the masters of padding that number, so it's useless. Just quote salary.

I normally agree with this, but I think it's ok to make an exception when bonuses are paid out in full each year and stock is grants, not options.

curious to know how many years of experience do you have?

I think I probably should have done more negotiating.

All three have offices in Seattle.

My experience with working with people from Amazon and visiting them is that it is the same as any other big corporation: hard work or initiative does not get you anywhere. Just make your boss happy and try to work as least as possible and you will be fine.

If you are ambitious and you want to grow or something - I do not know. I'm not aware of any big corporation where hard work or new ideas/initiative will get you somewhere.

You can say "fuck Jeff" - but that is because you were naive and Amazon is not red cross.

(I have to make a note about initiative: my previous company sent us to some management classes and on these classes they told us that "Initiative is the key to becoming a star employee" - and we all were laughing since real-world experience thought us that "initiative is easiest way to get yourself sidelined".)

>hard work or initiative does not get you anywhere. Just make your boss happy and try to work as least as possible and you will be fine.

I would say that's probably the least true thing here. Amazon is many things, but unrewarding to hard work and initiative is not one of them.

One of the most prized traditions at the company is writing "one pagers". Many new services and product offerings come out of people writing and championing these.

So, you haven't ever worked for Amazon. And yet you're telling an Amazon employee what they should have made of an environment that they lived in, and that you've never experienced.


So what's your coaching strategy?

Read cracking the coding interview and solve every single problem in it.

Then start with the leetcode.com problems and solve every single one.

Hen do 5 practice interviews with companies that you don't care about.

That's all. It's simple but it takes determination and time to do.

So many similar stories like this - Amazon sounds like a place without humanity which originates from the highest leadership roles. However, what does this say about those who support and buy from Amazon?

Do you think Amazon will continue to do as well as they do in the long run? Will they run out of talent?

Perhaps I should abandon AWS.

I've worked at Amazon for the last 3 years as a Software Developer both on AWS and on the Retail side and I can answer any questions people have.

Most of the things I see in this article are bullshit, at least as a software developer is concerned. Maybe the business side is way worse, but I doubt it.

I've never seen anyone refer to "Climbing over the wall" when hitting it. People talk about "working hard and making history", but what major leading software company (Google, Facebook, anything in Silicon Valley) doesn't talk about changing the world?

The internal "anytime feedback" tool is geared towards giving people unprompted POSITIVE feedback when they do something you think is worthy of recognition. It is not meant to undermine each other's bosses, that's laughable.

Yes, once you reach a high enough level (Senior Manager (ie manager of managers), Director, VP), you hear stories all the time of your bosses emailing you things on Sundays and expecting a response the same day, but again, at the level of responsibility that we are talking about, where you are paid six figures multiple times over with additional six figures worth of stock, that's common expectations from most leading software companies that are in a cuthroat business.

I've never seen developers or senior developers be expected to respond to emails on Sunday or after midnight. In fact, right now, because of StageFright, most developers don't even have access to work email on their Android devices.

> "workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings"?

Don't make me laugh. If anything, the emphasis on "Leadership principles" emphasizes that as leaders we are more than our ideas, we are meant to build relationships, and not act as assholes where the idea is king.

> "Secrecy is required; even low-level employees sign a lengthy confidentiality agreement".

NOPE. Just a standard boilerplate NDA and non-compete clause the same as at every software company I've worked at before - small and local, or large and multinational. OF COURSE there are teams that are under stricter security (e.g. the Kindle Fire team before it was announced), but again, that's not unorthodox.

I've never seen anyone cry at the office, not even close.

> "Within Amazon, ideal employees are often described as “athletes” with endurance, speed (No. 8: “bias for action”), performance that can be measured and an ability to defy limits (No. 7: “think big”)."

NOT EVEN CLOSE. "Bias for action" simply means that when faced with a choice to either try something and fail, and ultimately risk wasting that time, versus sitting around and trying to analyze the tradeoffs, we want to err on the side of trying. It's kind of like Facebook's "Move fast and break things", only without the breaking. It just says that we want our people to experiment, attempt moonshots, and figure out quickly if something will work or not.

"Think big" means that every decision we make needs to be considered at Amazon scale. If you build a caching library, think about what happens if every team at amazon started using it. If you build a feature to solve some problem for Amazon.fr, consider if every single marketplace needed it, and then 10 more regional marketplaces showed upworldwide. Would the same solution work?

>"Workers are expected to embrace “frugality” (No. 9), from the bare-bones desks to the cellphones and travel expenses that they often pay themselves. "

Typical standard per-diem when travelling like I have at other companies. Frugality isn't supposed to be "be cheap". It's "consider before spending". There is a whole Amazon legends about how you get a door for a desk, and it's not supposed to be literal. The point isn't that Amazon makes you use a door for a desk. It's that at some point in the company history, they realized they could get doors from Home Depot for cheaper than a simple office desk and thought "hey that's a good idea". These days desks are not doors. If you request you can get an adjustable ergonomic sit/stand desk. And no, if you're a developer, you don't have to buy your own second monitor. The company provides 2 monitors just like anywhere else, and reasonable developer-friendly specs for the machines.

>"Instead, Amazonians are instructed to “disagree and commit” (No. 13) — to rip into colleagues’ ideas, with feedback that can be blunt to the point of painful, before lining up behind a decision."

The bullshit just won't end. Disagree and commit isn't "Disagree and be aggressive". It's "If you disagree but are overruled, make your point AND MOVE ON." Don't sabotage the chosen approach if you were overruled. Don't make passive aggressive comments. Don't celebrate if it turned out you were right after all. Make the best argument you can, but if it's overruled, you go with the decision, and be a team player.

It's not "bullshit" if other people's experiences are not your own, unless you can claim to have worked in every job role and every team at Amazon.

You should really consider that as a SDE in AWS, you probably have one of the most prized roles in the company and therefore are perhaps treated the best.

Not every team is in the cloud services business. Retail orgs have to necessarily run with as little expense as possible.

I don't think the description of people's experiences is bullshit. I can only speak for what I've witnessed in the company, which is a fair amount. However, there are cases where the writers clearly misconstrue things or take things out of context. See, for instance, their treatment of Bezos' Princeton commencement speech, highlighted above. So I don't see the article as an even-handed description of Amazon's corporate culture. When I look at the totality of David Streitfeld's reporting, I think he has an agenda when it comes to Amazon.

While being in AWS is "prized", it also comes with a LOT more pressure.

I now work on the Retail side and if anything feel less pressure, but do not feel any less appreciated.

> reasonable developer-friendly specs for the machines. Nope.

The frugality principle is a disaster. It's a bad joke and the company uses it to justify the stupidest things.

I do most of my work on my Macbook Pro with 16GB RAM and a 256 SSD.

The frugality comes from the fact that it's not Retina. Big whoop.

On the other hand, laptop is a 2011 model and I'm not allowed to upgrade until next year. My desktop has a "huge" 1 TB drive in it that I had to get my manager to approve, because Amazon apparently doesn't work with large datasets, and the desktop is just barely creaking along.

And I know what you're thinking. "Well your stuff is old, so you could obviously go in and get an upgrade!" Nope, went in the other day, literally, and was told I had to wait another year.

Frugality is absolutely widely misapplied at Amazon. Nearly every developer I've met that has been at Amazon for more than a year is dissatisfied with the hardware policy.

"Manager approval" is no big deal. It's a rubber stamp. It's not like you have to write a report justifying why you need it. A good SDM should rubber stamp it, at which point everything is clear.

My first director at AMZN explained this to me early. Don't ask if you can have something. Establish that you need it, confirm with your manager that you need it, then go to people and say "I need this. I have manager approval." Don't ask, tell.

You should not be doing regular development on a laptop the trade offs are to great when compared to a proper i7/i5 desk top with 2 or 3 screens.

And that's not counting the H&S aspect RSI is not fun

I have 2 monitors that connect to the laptop so I have 3 screens.

I have a standing desk.

What am I missing?

A full fat processor instead of a mobile, less ram,a real keyboard and mouse your also not making best use of the company's capital - for the relative performance mac books are over priced

Just in general: I've always found it easier to work on my laptop.

I can walk around, go to meetings, sit on different floors, sit on couches, work from home and still be developing the same as I would at my desk.

All I'm trying to say is: Slightly faster builds on a powerful machine, or flexibility and consistency on a laptop. This might just be a matter of preference, and ideally companies should accommodate either preference.

Fuck, I also have an extrenal keyboard and mouse - of course I do! That goes without saying! (all company-paid)

The reason why I use a mac is because everything I build is deployed on Linux. Coding on a WIndows laptop means I wouldn't be able to compile anything, and coding on an Ubuntu laptop...well...I still like having a first world OS experience.

So why are you developing on OSX if your deploying on Linux - why don't you have a duplicate development and test server to work with

On windows Just use an X server or run Hyperv and run VM's

Why are you telling me how to do my job?

OSX is a fantastic development machine. Most developers use it. It completely fits all my needs and is provided for me by employer so that I can be happy and productive and effective. Which, as you remember, was the original criticism. That Amazon DOESN'T do that.

so..... why does cpan not mange to install standard packages like the MySQL DBD on my mac mini at work?

Also I spent a good deal of time building carrier grade software for major telco's (using map reduce I might add).

Serious developers develop on Identical hardware to the live system and I mean identical as in came of the line in the same batch.

Its all about removing risk

Nice try Amazon tech recruiting team!

A lot of this sounds a lot like Google, but with a completely different management style driving the ship. I prefer Google's method, but Amazon's sounds way more "normal" and comparative to any large enterprise. I was an IT senior director at a large multinational until May and managed a large team of devs/SQA/DBAs/analysts and most of the stuff I've read here resonates with my experiences.

If you're sincere, I think your response would be much more valuable, and prone to be taken seriously, if you stayed on the factual side, instead of deriding the article with comments on how "laughable" and "bullshit" it is.

My wife is an SDET there and the article doesn't resonate with her either. Most days it's a 9-5 job. Sometimes she'll work a bit late until 7 or 8pm, but only because she wants to.

Maybe SDETs have it easier? :)

I worked at Amazon for 3+ years, leaving just under a year ago. "It’s the greatest place I hate to work" pretty much sums up how I felt about the place. The crazy thing is, I kinda want to go back! The scope and scale of the engineering problems is simply unmatched, especially if you're like me and you don't want to work for a primarily advertising funded company.

I worked in AWS, which I'd always understood to be culturally a bit different from the retail site. It sounds like most of the people interviewed for the article were on the retail side. In AWS, I never felt any sort of competition with my peers, nor did I feel like people were trying to sabotage me with the anytime feedback tool. In fact, it really felt like there was a refreshing lack of office politics there. Everybody worked very hard and there was mutual respect among all my peers. The workloads are heavy, for sure, but never really unmanageable, and the work is almost always interesting.

Ultimately what finally ended it for me was the complete lack of paternity leave. Amazon offers, to the letter, the bare minimum family leave that they can legally get away with. If the company isn't interested in my health or that of my family, should I really be putting effort into helping them succeed? I think policies like that really run counter to their "hire and develop the best" principle. How exactly do they plan on doing that if they don't treat them with respect?

> I worked in AWS, which I'd always understood to be culturally a bit different from the retail site.

I'm an SDE on the retail side, and the funny thing is, there seems to be a consensus among the engineers on the retail side that it's much harder to work at AWS, because of poor management. Glad to know that's not the case.

My engineering team at least is pretty chill. The business teams have the harder job, but not nearly as hard as the article suggests ("cancer? screw that!" -- sure, that's how it is). Totally agree about the lack of paternity leave, though. One of the guys on the team who has a two-month-old hardly gets any sleep at all. Perhaps all this bad PR (and all the customers saying "I won't buy Amazon anymore!") will make Amazon address this issue.

So many new accounts defending Amazon here! Nice try Amazon!


> Re: Paternity leave, I was able to take as much as I needed - it depends on the team/org I guess.

Yeah, I'm sure the teams have some ability to be flexible, and if I'd pushed I could have gotten more time. Managers understand very well how difficult it can be to hire a new engineer, and they recognize the importance of keeping the ones they've got, but the company-wide policy literally is zero paid family leave for fathers. Regardless of available workarounds, I wanted to express my dissatisfaction with the policy.

How many hours per week did the engineers work in AWS when you were at Amazon?

Typical tech hours. 40-50, maybe more during crunch time right before a new feature launch or something. Not really any worse than any other place I've worked. Hours were flexible, too; I'm the type who arrives at 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning and leaves after 6 PM, but I had co-workers who worked 7 to 4 or something.

A close friend of mine was recently -- as in a week or two ago -- recruited by Amazon. The process did not get as far as an offer, because the hiring manager told my friend that the expected hours would be around 80 per week on average. This was a non-starter for my friend, so the process concluded. (At least the hiring manager was honest up-front, and understanding when my friend said this would not be possible.)

Based on this, I think we can conclude two things. First, a lot of current Amazonians are unaware of other teams working insane hours, and second, those other teams are apparently doing so anyway.

You could't pay me enough to work in such a sweatshop. It's like Bezos read Karl Marx and figured people are stupid enough to exploit. And yes no matter the pay working people voluntarily as if they were slaves on plantation is still exploitation.

Of course the article might be hyperbole and people venting but I don't doubt there is truth in it.

100 years ago titans such a Carnegie and Rockefeller worked people to death and didn't care as long as they made money. The only difference today might be more money. Sometimes.

Amazon would never hire me anyway no matter my long skill set as I would never put up with such crap.

I worked at Amazon right out of college - I wouldn't do it again, but there's a reason why Amazon continues to hire a lot of people despite their growing (and already rather notorious) reputation as a workplace.

Amazon is considered one of the big AAA-tier companies, at the same venerated level as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, et al. Having Amazon on my resume opened so many doors like you won't believe.

I think a lot of people join Amazon knowing the toxic workplace culture out of necessity - our industry doesn't have a fucking clue how to hire people and leans heavily on "signals" like working for specific famous companies.

As long as we continue to not be able to interview people effectively, and instead rely on things like "having worked at Amazon" as a positive hiring signal, the Amazon hiring machine will continue to function.

When a friend relocated to London for a well-paying job to "move data around" at Google, I couldn't help to think how similar it seemed to banking. When I read you post about "paying your dues to be in the club" I think the same thing.

Hey! Just a heads up - you seem to have been shadow banned. I'm not sure why - possibly posting a link to an article about the HN rules?

>>our industry doesn't have a fucking clue how to hire people

The software industry isn't special in this regard. There are many industries where having a Harvard degree, for example, is a very strong "signal" that you're a top-tier individual.

I'm curious what you think about a piece I published a couple days ago on the topic: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alanjohnson/were-hiring-engine...

I'm not a great expert or anything, but it's basically my thoughts on engineering a better interviewing system than we had before.

"I worked at Amazon right out of college "

They count on finding people who want that on their resume and don't care about how awful it is for a couple of years. But once you get beyond that point you realize how terrible it is.

Most jobs "right out of college" are grunt work jobs. My first job out of college was for a big consulting services company. At this time their clients were still all mainframe shops; there was no internet at least not that the general public was aware of, and certainly no web dev jobs yet.

So I worked 60 - 70 hours a week writing COBOL code. It was crap work but the salary was good and having that employer on my resume was worth it.

I knew in less than a year that I wouldn't be there long-term, and their business model actually counted on it.

Amazon is doing nothing new or unusual here.

No matter the pay? That's nuts.

If you're on 200k you can save up and quit with a hell of a comfortable cushion. If you refuse to right size your life to be able to do that, you have nobody else but yourself to blame.

If you're on 20k living paycheck to paycheck, doing so is impossible.

I'm not normally of the persuasion to get all social justice-y, but I feel that there's a massive blind spot around here for the struggles of the poor, because the average user of this site can trivially get a high paying job (even if they choose not to).

Some things, like death, sickness and love, hit the poor and the rich alike. Career trouble is not one of those things.

Is it reassuring that Amazon treats its white-collar office workers just as terribly as their blue-collar warehouse workers? http://gawker.com/amazon-warehouse-workers-are-treated-like-...

No, they don't.

They treat the FC workers horribly on another level. Refusing to install air conditioning in a hot warehouse and just having ambulances outside instead. Having people wait in line 30 minutes coming and going and refusing to pay them for it.

Do you know of any distribution warehouses that have air conditioning?

No, the no-AC thing is old news, from when they were still mostly selling books. Books don't really mind the heat, so Amazon didn't give a shit.

Now that their warehouses have a bunch of other shit in them too, to my knowledge, they all have AC.

I don't think Amazon pays well. I turned down an offer from Amazon recently. It was to work in an area that was nearest and closest to my heart. Unfortunately their offer was 50 to 100k behind other offers.

Amazon does _not_ pay as well as Google/FB/Apple/Twitter/Netflix/LinkedIn/Salesforce/etc.

I don't know. When I made the decision to leave Amazon, my offers at Facebook and Apple were less than what I was making at Amazon. Google was only slightly more.

I encourage you to learn to negotiate better. Just like hen companies go from round A to round B, their share price should jump up. ;)

This is very true, it's something that I've never done well, and have always been really uncomfortable doing. When being a hiring manager, I always expect the candidate to make significant counter offers, but it's not something that I've ever been able to do effectively on my own behalf.

check out 3 and 4. read all of the links.


hope they help!

I followed your interviewing guide. It is very useful.

But seriously, 50 to 100k more? That sounds like a huge differential. That means going from 100k to 150-200k.

amazon pays even their college grads more than 100

And at least for Google, their salaries, except for the top tier maybe cannot be considered as 'pays well'

Really? Whenever I see people talking about Google they always say "pays really really well." Care to elaborate why you are saying that?

Evidently they pay well enough to hire the talent they need.

They have 4,500 open positions in Seattle alone.

>And yes no matter the pay working people voluntarily as if they were slaves on plantation is still exploitation.

I don't follow this. I would certainly put up with a lot for one billion dollars per hour pay. I assume you would too. Would you really not take a job there for one billion dollars per hour? I know it's boring, but I think the simple calculation workers make of tallying salary vs working conditions still applies here.

I have worked all over Amazon as an SDE and Manager, and still do (11 years and counting.) I have certainly seen parts of the company that resemble parts of this article, especially OLR backstabbing, which I especially despise. As someone in a technical job family, it has always been easy for me to transfer internally to better-run corners of the company.

I stick around because I find that I like the low-fat culture, and working with extremely high achievers. Most of those top-tier people that I know in the tech families that have left end up coming back within a few years because they get bored on the outside. The exceptions overwhelmingly are those who left for Google, they never look back.

I cannot imagine literally crying about criticism in a meeting, and have never seen it myself. Working in a place with high standards and honest criticism is preferable to the alternatives. The real danger is inadequate mechanisms to deal with toxic org politics, and especially jackasses who think 80 hour weeks are not a sign of a problem. This definitely needs to change.

If you've been at Amazon for 11 years, your stock has grown from $40 to $500. I can see why you stick around in addition to the other positives that you mentioned...

I've been at Google for a few years now in Seattle, and know of exactly 1 person who left Google to go back to Amazon for a title boost. In contrast, I know dozens of SDEs who have been coming from Amazon to Google.

to be fair there are way more amzn employees than googlers in seattle so the ratio is not as far

Google is the new Microsoft, its where talented engineers go to retire.

I think that would still be Microsoft.

Amazon is so stingy with RSUs ( and base salary and 401k and benefits ) that 10x growth doesn't make it worthwhile.

Ok since we are talking Amazon, let me share my interviewing experience with them. I was talking to an AWS team.

Had a phone interview scheduled. They forgot about me. Ok, it happens in a big company. Had another one, went pretty well. They invited me over.

I show up and my contact person (my future manager) wasn't there that day. They had me wait for 30min, I guess until they scrambled to find a replacement. Except 2 people I talked to that day, everyone else seemed like they didn't expect to be interviewing anyone and were pulled in last minute. Needless to say that made for a pretty bad experience.

Oh and they promised lunch, ok, I wasn't hungry but they actually forgot about me during lunch. I was just sitting there in the conference room by myself.

I thought, ok, this is pretty bad. But no, that's not all, they promised "we'll get back to you with an answer in 2 days". Took almost 3 weeks. At that point I was just curious how long they would take and just waited.

So anyway, I hear people like working there. But judging by me experience, there are some red flags. I think it points to how things are run internally.

My experience was polar opposite. I interviewed with AWS. The entire process was very well organized and very professional. The recruiters were very professional, everyone showed up as promised, manager took me to lunch - overall a very pleasant experience. The HR rep took me thru the benefits, comp. package etc before the interview.

The only thing I hated was the "bar raiser". He was a guy who came in made up his mind for sure. I could see it in his face. He was not pleasant, did not smile. And he started with "I have a lot of questions to ask, and I want to get through all of them in our time. So give me short straight answers and dont take too much time". At that moment I knew I was a goner. Just to compare, I have 12 years of experience in areas of open source, big company, big university research on large systems. A few patents and a ton of publications. Either he walked in feeling insecure and wanted to crush me with his power or feeling that I am full of shit and he is going to let me know about it. The bar raiser has veto on the candidate and I think it was abused severely. He did not like any answer I gave, and keep in mind that the questions he asked are not the kind that have black and white answers but the answers vary on your background and experience. Since I signed an NDA saying I wont reveal any questions, let me give a simple example:

What have you ever done for a customer that was not planned?

Now if you come from a hardware product development background, there is nothing you can do without it being POR. Engineers cannot randomly decide to change specs or features without the entire supporting organizations knowing about it. If an engineer decides to add some feature to help some customer, who is going to test it, document it, train the support organization, tell the factory about the changes in the process etc? You can't do stuff without anyone approving it. yes, you can affect change and try to get buy in from the rest of the organization but thats all you can do.

If you come from a web dev company, maybe there is more leeway in what an anyone can do individually.

So there is no black and white answer here and he just said "thats not satisfactory". Shortly after that the hiring manager came in and said the process wasnt going well and basically told me to go home.

One would think someone who is given that much veto power is more professional and objective and unbiased.

Someone seriously said: "that's not satisfactory" in an interview? That's so unnecessary. The strongest language I've ever said when interviewing is "I think there might be some perspectives that you've not considered". Interviewing is a two-way street. You'd want to hire good candidates and usually good candidates have multiple options, so you'd also want to make the candidate want to work for you too.

> you'd also want to make the candidate want to work for you too.

My interview experience with Amazon tells me they don't give two shits about whether you want to work there or not. I can only assume they have a line of candidates that goes around the block. To make a long story short, they made it feel like I was inconveniencing them by even being there. It worked out well, confirming that I did indeed not wish to work there.

They do have such a line. There are a couple of big recruiters I got contacts from which advertised nothing but Amazon positions. Those same recruiters were still calling me over a year after I took a job somewhere else. They were also totally useless so I can only assume they had piles and piles of candidates.

Wow. Yeah, I hate interviewers who treat the process as a one-way process. When on an interview, I am interviewing them as much as they're interviewing me.

surprisingly, I got 5 or 6 callbacks after that and I rejected every single one of them.

I work at Amazon, I interview a lot, in fact I teach an internal course for conducting interviews. What you experienced is 100% against our policies, and what we teach interviewers. You don't give candidates negative feedback like that.

And you never ever EVER end an interview loop early. EVER. You finish the day. You collect as much data as you can. And you let the recruiters reject candidates if and only if everyone has submitted their feedback into an internal tool (without being able to see other people's feedback first), and then discussed it.

I kind of want to see if I can reach out to you another way to find out your info so that I can find what bar raiser/hiring manager you had and have a word with him.

I am curious on your choice to post this on a throwaway account. From the details - works in AWS, interviews a lot, teaches internal course for conducting interviews I would imagine that it would be easy for people within AWS to reasonably guess your identity.

I think you underestimate how many thousands of people work on AWS

Wow, didnt realise the division was that big.

Amazon has 150,000 employees. Granted most of those aren't in IT, but it's a pretty big place. Take a look at all the services they provide, and think about what it takes to deploy and support them. Their cloud computing As-A-Service effort offers load balancers, SQL clusters, VMs, archive/backup storage, DNS, network topologies, AV transcoding, Hadoop, machine learning, etc. Each of those paid offerings has a develop, test, deploy and maintain effort associated with it, as well as effort to maintain the authentication & authorization components, and provide consistent user interfaces across technology designed by a plethora of vendors.

When you factor in management overhead and unreleased products, it seems like a few thousand is reasonable.

Plausible deniability is a beautiful thing.

Seems unlikely. Based on what he revealed, there are probably at least a few hundred possible candidates.

this was few years ago and I still remember all the names. But no, I am not interested in sharing their names or mine.

My own Amazon interview experience went smoothly, but when I showed up in Seattle for my first day of work, they were all like "Your manager's not in today and nobody booked you into orientation, so we decided your start date is actually next week, can you just pause your life for a week while we don't pay you?"

The next week happened to roll over to the next month, which meant that my benefits were postponed. They direct-deposited my starting bonus for the original month, and then yanked it out of my bank account without notifying me. Then they deposited it again at the end of the next month.

I had a similar experience. My new manager (not the hiring manager I was supposed to work for, it was a bait-and-switch they announced on my first day) was on vacation for 2 weeks and unreachable via email. Since no one else could give me the access permissions I needed to do anything, I had to literally twiddle my thumbs for the next 2 weeks--I couldn't even complete the SDE bootcamp. It was a comically terrible onboarding experience that made me seriously question my decision to join.

Something to keep in mind here is that while history is written by the victors, hit pieces like this are primarily sourced from the sad tales of the losers. While there is truth in this article, it exhibits the same sort of inaccuracies as _The Everything Store_. It's nowhere near as bad it sounds from this article, but there are real problems - just like anywhere else. One's ability to prosper at Amazon is a function of one's personality - just like anywhere else. People who need strong guidance will do poorly. People who can survive criticism and thrive in chaos will prosper.

As for me, I worked at Amazon for several years as an engineer. The frugality is what eventually made me leave because too often it gets implemented as dirt cheapness. But in their defense, I had opportunities to do things there none of the other big 4 would have granted. And I got the chance to do them by being confrontational and confident. The downside is that if one interviews at other companies with one's Amazon personality, one will frequently come off as a total a$$hole.

Amazon will change you. Some of those changes are great, but you really have to keep your Amazon ego in check outside of the place.

Yes. The frugality here is ridiculous. I work on device hardware/software. We need a lot of devices for testing. We have to buy them from the retail website.

And yesterday they sent out an email asking for help testing FireTV device on TV with certain specs, with a snarky comment about how you cannot expense a TV. It's completely ridiculous. If they need to test with particular hardware they need to buy the hardware and not rely on using their employees personal TV.

That reminds me, they are always asking to use employees cars for bluetooth testing with device as well.

Is that...legal? I mean I feel like requiring employees to source hardware you need to do your job would violate some statute, somewhere.

No, it's not illegal, as long as nothing in one's employment agreement prohibits it. What's more, many category of umreimbursed work expenses are tax-deductible for W-2 employees, for precisely the reason that they commonly arise.

I keep hearing people talk about how inaccurate the everything store is.

In what ways is it wrong?

Keeping your ego in check? They

Worked in AWS DevOps in Dublin, Ireland for 8 months. Totally agree with the article.

- 12 - 16 hour days. Conf calls with the States in the middle of the night. Was expected to respond to emails/txt/calls even when not on-call.

- Low pay, cr*p health insurance, minimal pension contribution. Cheap PC, dirty, overcrowded office, expected to pay for parking outside of office.

- Colleagues never saw their young children. My friend's wife filed for divorce as he was always working.

- When my 2nd son was diagnosed with a lethal condition before birth, my boss showed zero tolerance to what i was going through and expected the same level of commitment as before. This was when i decided to leave.

Three years on if i have to summarize what AWS felt like i'd say "It's a mad scientist's experiment to find the limits of human beings until a more efficient replacement (drones, robots,etc.) is found."

Shit, I have just being offered to start there on SDE position and I'm considering to reject the proposal after reading the article and many other related opinions on the net.

Jeff Bezos has always been a bit of a dick.

This just codifies his dickishness, this kind of crap a century from now will be written about like Dickens wrote about 19th century London.

Appalling in every way, I think I'm going to shop elsewhere in future.

So were Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Like Henry Ford or Andrew Carnegie before them. It's part and parcel of being aggressive, creative and demanding. You can't build an industry that goes against the grain of established practice and drag 10,000 followers with you unless you're a big of an egomaniac. There's probably 1000 people out there smart enough to envision an Amazon-like business, but they are content to enjoy what they have and not stress themselves out by building a giant corporation.

I think there's a big difference between "a bit of an egomaniac" and "a controlling, abusive asshole".

Also, it's worth considering whether "look at all the successful assholes" argument is basically circular. It sounds a lot to me like saying, "well of course ISIS should be like that. Look at how well Stalin, Mao, and Hitler did."

I can't deny that there are many prominent assholes. But does that mean that they were the only ones who could have created successful companies? Or just that, by being horrible people, they managed to exclude the other competent and effective people who could have done as well or better, and without the same sort of collateral damage?

Some systems reward sociopaths (and punish altruists), some don’t. War obviously does; so does capitalism. Some perceptive people I know keep telling me their boss is foolish for being cruel; yet the boss is clearly winning, making millions hand over fist.

(Obviously, there’s latitude; one can certainly lavish comforts on lieutenants and elite troops for example.)

The amount this is true depending on what one means by "capitalism" or "war". Ditto "politics", where there are also plenty of examples of sociopaths succeeding. All of those are systems we build, not mysterious natural things beyond our control.

Ugh, the term sociopath being applied to capitalists just dilutes its meaning. You really just mean narcissists. People with unreasonable amounts of self-esteem and confidence in their decisions. They frequently fail to consider other people's feelings, but it doesn't mean they are incapable.

He said capitalism rewards sociopaths, not that capitalists are sociopaths. Simply competing without empathy for other people has been shown be rewarding in many cases. Look at the "robber barons" of an earlier era or "vulture capitalists" who break up companies to sell off the pieces at the expense of the workers who are left jobless.

Larry Page (my boss's boss's boss's boss's boss's boss's boss) seems like a pretty decent human being, to me.

I wonder if you counted out how many levels are above you.

I did.

If you really meant there are 6 persons between you and Larry, that is a lot of layers in a tech company.

Henry ford was one of the first people to investigate industrial efficiency - he codified the 8 hour (7 for white collar) workday. Along with paying his workers enough that they could afford his product.

I don't buy what you're selling.

I am not sure if agree with Bill Gates. I am defitely sure that though if the company becomes big and understands importance of people this will change if it does not change or not realized by leaders then amazon cannot survive that is sure. I worked with Microsoft, DuPont and the likes and all of them seem to support workers as respectable as possible. May be as worker (blue/white or whatever) we should look for and go to companies which care for the employees than other companies. Just think about key folks leaving to competition not for themselves but citing how others are treated.

I was watching a talk from Richard Karlgaard [1] recently where he argues you can run a company in either a rough or nurturing manner, but you should not vacillate between the two. He suggests that constantly sending mixed signals to employees is even worse than just being a full time jerk.

Personally I agree with the opinion that a company can get away with being more pushy toward its employees if it has top5 or even top10 status. I think there will always be people out there willing to accept 2-3 years of this in exchange for the doors it opens later.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjGmf9vgp6I

> "Appalling in every way, I think I'm going to shop elsewhere in future."

Same here. This article convinced me to stop shopping at Amazon. I'd even consider avoiding services that used AWS.

> I'd even consider avoiding services that used AWS.

AWS customer support already did that for me.

David Streitfeld has written a number of strident, highly-critical articles on Amazon. What he's writing here doesn't reflect my experience as an SDE in a couple of different divisions in the company. I can't speak to what people in marketing or vendor management experience.

Take the first paragraph for instance:

> They are told to forget the “poor habits” they learned at previous jobs

I don't recall anyone telling me this

> When they “hit the wall” from the unrelenting pace, there is only one solution: “Climb the wall,” others reported

I don't recall hearing either of these phrases used.

> To be the best Amazonians they can be, they should be guided by the leadership principles, 14 rules inscribed on handy laminated cards. When quizzed days later, those with perfect scores earn a virtual award proclaiming, “I’m Peculiar” — the company’s proud phrase for overturning workplace conventions.

The leadership principles are repeated pretty frequently, although I think most people take them with a grain of salt. The quiz is called 100% Peculiar, not "I'm Peculiar". I don't recall it being about leadership principles at all. I recall it being about things like how Amazon doesn't delete negative customer reviews because the company sees it as being in its long-term interest for reviews to be trustworthy. The other thing on the quiz I remember is that Amazon likes to use informal language with customers, like "Where's my stuff". [Edit: I should also point out that it's not a mandatory thing and nobody cares if you don't do it or don't do well enough on it to get the little badge on your page in the company directory.]

I have heard repeatedly that potential workers are asked behavioral questions during their interviews about the leadership principles. I wouldn't call that "taken with a grain of salt." Anecdotally their turnover rate is high and a larger proportion of tech workers have to be on call than other large tech companies-- this could be due to the nature of tech, clouds and probably the largest web portable on earth. Different divisions are going to be different, and the article focuses on more extreme cases, true, but Amazon is a "tough" place to work, no question about that, at least compared to Google or Netflix.

If Amazon is not a nice place to work, honest people writing good journalistic reporting on it are going to write negative stories, no way around that. As negative stories, this particular article isn't bad. At least it puts a leadership-principle spin on it.

> potential workers are asked behavioral questions during their interviews about the leadership principles.

Interviewed for AWS. Got asked "behavioral" and "leadership principle questions". There were very few technical questions except for some stupid whiteboard "sort this thing..." questions. (Read more about my experience in a top-level comment) But it was all "tell me about your worst failure". "Tell me about a time...". Basically you are supposed to learn their leadership principles than parrot those back to them using your own experiences.

That sounds like standard affairs. I read your interview experience, it is almost funny. Amazon has a body-shop quality to it. Once someone told me he failed an interview, then changed his email address and phone number and got another interview and failed again, and on his third try he finally got an offer. I don't remember whether he accepted the job, probably did. He is a foreigner needing visa sponsorship, so he would be gone after a couple of years.

That's exactly how my own AWS interview loop went. The individuals were pleasant and professional but it was all about asking the canned questions to see if I parroted back the leadership principles correctly. A big yuck.

> "tell me about your worst failure".

What a fantastic way to trigger self-esteem issues in the middle of a high-pressure environment! It sure weeds out the people to weak to work there! /s

Yeah I was asked that question. I answered honestly and it wasn't a happy or pleasant memory, but I guess they wanted me to somehow integrate it into their "leadership principles" and show how I applied those principles learned something or "risen above" or other such bullshit.

Yes, it's true that as part of the interview process they ask behavioral questions to try to use the leadership principles to evaluate a candidate. An example might be, "can you tell me about a time when you had to build something but you had very vague requirements". So I think the leadership principles are taken seriously, but I don't think they're treated as gospel. Bezos usually says something in the all-hands meeting like "these are our leadership principles unless you know better ones". People usually roll their eyes at the "frugality" leadership principle - the term "frupid" is used pretty frequently.

The high on-call load is a pretty frequently complaint.

I haven't worked at Google or Netflix, so I don't really have a basis for comparison.

In general, I think Amazon is a pretty demanding environment, but I think if the environment was as Streitfeld describes it, I wouldn't do well. I don't think I have that great a work ethic and I don't think I handle stress or workplace conflict particularly well, yet I've managed to be successful at Amazon.

> but I don't think they are treated as gospel

Sorry, untrue. Literally several examples of offers turned down because of this even when apart from this 'raise the bar' person everyone were strongly in favor of hiring. This happens all the time and employed engineers are none to happy about this. BTW from the number of your posts here, would that be an unofficial job requirement ?

Calling them behavioral questions makes it sound like a psychology experiment. What it actually is is a way to get candidates to talk about specific situations they've encountered in their careers and how they handled them. Different interviewers have different principles to focus on, so it prevents them from covering the same territory.

Amazon has its problems, but the interview process has always felt pretty fair to me, and I've been on both sides of it.

That said: I would never, ever, ask a candidate to tell me about their biggest failure. Jesus fuck that's a landmine. What happens when you expect them to say "I championed the use of TCL as our primary systems language", but they actually say "I got drunk, crashed the car, and killed my fiancee". Yikes.

It's formally called "Targeted Selection" and is a superset of behavioral interviewing, with some additional structure wrapping it. It works well and is much better than what most companies do.

That's why you ask for "Biggest /career/ failure"

Interviewed twice with Amazon, had an offer the first time decided to not continue the second. I don't recall any particularly blatant behavioral questions. The one I do recall (and was part of a writing sample) was writing about one of the hardest challenges career-wise and how I handled/approached/etc. the problem. It could have been technical, but I went with a non-technical issue (delivering for a customer when it was out of scope). It was actually one of the better parts of the interview -- in terms of back and forth.

Both times I've decided no on Amazon was due to commute and flexibility first, narrowness of the role in the first occasion was the other issue.

raises hand

What's a behavioural question?

Typical interview questions often take the form of 'imagine the following hypothetical situation X. what would you do?' Candidates tell people what they want to hear, and all the question does is establish that the candidate knows what the interviewer wants to hear. Psychology research shows us that people assign themselves better positive traits than their behavior would indicate.

Behavioural interview questions have the interviewer ask a question of the form 'Tell me about a time when X happened, and what you did.' By asking for a personal anecdote, people are less likely to bring that positive trait assumption with them to the interview, and interviewers get a more honest appraisal of future behavior.

Of course, psychology also fundamental overattribution bias, which says we attribute behavior far too much to the person than the situation. For example, somewhere in this thread is an interview question asking about doing something for the customer that wasn't planned, and that the interviewee worked in hardware design, where unplanned features results in unplanned testing, unplanned Bill of Materials and ultimately an unplanned cost to your customer. When we learn that the candidate never did anything unplanned, we learn more about the situation -- customers bear all costs of design and production -- than the candidate.

I would define it as a question about how you handled a particular type of situation or how you would handle a particular situation.

I think it's primarily used in contrast to a coding question.

I guess it comes down to your personal anecdotes versus those of "more than 100 current and former Amazonians — members of the leadership team, human resources executives, marketers, retail specialists and engineers who worked on projects from the Kindle to grocery delivery to the recent mobile phone launch". Strictly on the weight of the evidence...

(Not that everything NYT prints is true, but your can be certain that a front-page story trashing one of the most successful companies and founders in history has been vetted and fact-checked to a fair degree.)

I've had the same experience as the commenter your replying to did, as has most everyone on my team. I work at AWS, though, and no one from web services seems to have been interviewed for this article.

I interviewed with AWS and had a terrible experience. See my other top level reply.

Sounds like you just had one bad interview experience. Sorry - it happens!

Could be. I just shared my experience, hopefully it is interesting to someone. It was at least to 10 people who upvoted it so far. I understand Amazon is a huge company and others' experiences might vary.

The author clearly had this format in his mind: illustrate Amazon's cruel environment by cleverly tagging each anecdote with a couple of leadership principles.

I'm a deeply frustrated engineer at Amazon on the verge of quitting, but even I like and respect the leadership principles. To me, they mostly represent what's good about Amazon.

What's bad about Amazon is better illustrated by the experiences shared in this thread than by the article.

Agreed, I noticed all those things as well. The article seemed to invent a lot of the new hire orientation stuff. Either that or it's changed quite a bit since I went through it a few years ago, which is certainly possible. And the "100% peculiar" thing really is just a game. It's a toy to add a little icon to your internal profile, and literally doesn't mean a thing. Other such awards are for things like having participated in broomball in 2002 or something silly like that.

The more I read, the more I get the feeling that Amazon has a divide between technical (dev) roles, in which is it's largely similar to any other large somewhat "hip" company, and non-tech roles, in which it sounds like something of a sweatshop.

I'm not surprised to see you disagree with the commentary on the "leadership principles" -- they (at com/principles) seem to me almost totally generic.

I'm a former Amazonian - things are definitely worse for non-tech roles, but I wouldn't say that on the dev side things are "similar to any other large somewhat hip company".

To put in context - Amazon's typical engineering tenure (when I was there) was 18 months - that's engineering roles only. I've worked many jobs since and by a wide margin Amazon still has the highest engineering churn rate I've ever seen.

My personal take on this article is that it seems a bit exaggerated based on my experiences at the company, but otherwise largely accurate. I haven't seen anyone cry, but definitely a lot of shellshocked people wallowing at their desks after being openly reamed out by managers in front of their peers. The general culture is extremely dog eat dog, and in my 2 years there I saw a whole lot of behavior lacking in basic human decency/empathy, justified under the notion that "we're doing hard work with hard technology and have high standards and if you can't keep up you can wash out".

In all my jobs since Amazon I have never once encountered the level of hostility routinely and openly displayed between manager/subordinate and between peers that I saw there. I didn't think much of it at the time - that whole type of behavior was normalized - but it's only once I got out and worked at much friendlier, more collaborative places that I realized how insane and aberrant it is.

There's also sometimes this curious notion that this sort of culture is a requirement for doing meaningful things, and that ditching Amazon for a place with less toxic workplace culture necessarily means you won't be able to achieve great things. This is laughably false of course, and makes me wonder if the people perpetuating it have seen what other companies are doing.

Oh okay, well scratch that then, that's interesting.

Yes I'm all for being "pushed to limits", but I don't think making employees feel like shit is the right way to do that.

I can't find it now, but what struck me most in the article was a quote about being pushed and pushed, finally achieving something great, but then it being nothing - like the best performance you can hope for is "acceptable".

Over-working for a crazy deadline is I think motivating, and an enjoyable sense of achievement for people that are in a position to do it (without dependents, etc.) - but that achievement at the end of the sprinted-marathon needs to be celebrated, and there needs to be a break before another. Otherwise it does just sound like a sweatshop.

> being openly reamed out by managers in front of their peers.

that's pretty unprofessional, does that happen a lot?

Not every day - but it happens often enough that it's no longer surprising or shocking to see it.

> I've worked many jobs since and by a wide margin Amazon still has the highest engineering churn rate I've ever seen.

This is probably because it's much easier to find a well paid engineering job elsewhere than for a non-tech role.

It's worth remembering that Amazon was very choosey in who was able to contribute to this narrative, so you need to take that into account as well.

> > They are told to forget the “poor habits” they learned at previous jobs I don't recall anyone telling me this

Maybe one of those poor habits is remembering information like this and you got so good at it that you forgot this :)

Did you see people crying while in work?

I don't work at Amazon, but I have a friend who is on the vendor management side and whenever she talks about how stressful her job is and how terribly they treat people (not just their employees but also their vendors), she's on the verge of tears. I'm not exaggerating.

Yep, I work there and I absolutely have seen coworkers upset and crying.

I didn't, but a coworker did when I wasn't in the office. Someone had just come out of a 1:1 with her manager and was sobbing at her desk, and no one was paying her any attention (this was an open plan office).

I worked there for many years and never saw anyone cry.

i did.



Not over anything work related.




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