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Jeff Bezos Responds to the Amazon NYT Article (geekwire.com)
95 points by anirudhgarg on Aug 17, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 54 comments

Reposting my comment from Geekwire:

    Notably, no one else on this comment thread is
    willing to attach their real identity to it.
    I've been contacted by Amazon recruiting many
    times. I'm a Seattleite with 10+ years of
    software engineering experience. And I'll say
    the same thing here that I say to every AMZN
    recruiter who contacts me: no way, no how.
    Amazon is a sweatshop, and anyone who thinks
    otherwise—especially Jeff—is deluding themselves.

    I wish that Amazon featured *anywhere* on my
    list of 'prospective employers that I'd consider
    working at someday,' but given the reputation
    that they have with my friends, there's
    absolutely no way I'd ever consider working
    there under any circumstances.

    If my feelings are anything like other
    prospective senior and principal-level
    employees here in the area (and I assume
    they are), then it concerns me deeply about
    Amazon's future.

Agreed, I did 3 months at Amazon and ran screaming for the hills. To this day I am stalked by recruiters trying to get me to come back, even after explaining to them that only people with deep, neurotic lack of self worth would ever do that. Amazon does not hire just the best, they hire the brilliant geeks who don't realize they are brilliant and have personality problems such that they don't understand when they are being screwed over. Well, except for the aws team. They are pretty ok from what I recall.

I was advised to take a 3 month summer internship because I'd learn a lot while I was there. I was also advised that my life would be miserable during those 3 months and that I should not work there full time.

A wise tradeoff for the right person, imo.

What's funny is that people started making specific accusations and then all the rest of us started having flashbacks to our Amazon interview experiences.

Jeff if you're reading, how about a new leadership principle?

Work Hard; Live Hard

Description: Have a good work life balance. When you're able and its appropriate, work hard. If you're not able, for whatever reason, or if it isn't appropriate to be working, please don't be working.

What is deemed able: If you're sick, you're not able. If you're tired, you're not able. If you're grieving, you are not able. etc.

What is deemed appropriate: Work <strike>50</strike> 40 hour weeks on average. While working regular hours, work hard. There may also be weeks you need to deliver, there may be weeks you need to be oncall: please work hard (i.e. more). However, if you constantly "have to deliver" or are consistently fighting fires, then something is wrong. This shouldn't be happening. Consider: are you setting bad dates for yourself? is your manager/team setting bad dates for you? Either way, fix that tomorrow. Meanwhile, quote this leadership principle and go home.

Scared your manager wont like your new attitude shift? Just quote "Its in Amazon's blood, Work Hard; Live Hard, I have a Kelly Clarkson concert to go to!"

P.S. Please realize I haven't given this much thought, every idea requires refinement, and this post is 40% in jest. Meanwhile, if you'd like to help Amazon potentially find a new leadership principle on the internet, constructive criticism or humor are my favorite types of responses ;).

Amazon's attrition rate is among the highest in the industry. So, despite how he makes it sounds in the memo, the news should not have been of much surprise to him.

In a nutshell, he fails to acknowledge that there is a problem, and passes the risk of reporting to employees.

I read his response as an open confession that he's out of touch with his own company.

I'm not sure how he intended it to be read. I'm waiting to see if his "you'd be crazy to work at a place like that" actually results in improvements, or an increase in attrition.

My experience there (also 3 months) was that there were all these young kids who had no idea what a healthy work environment looked like and so they didn't know what they were missing out on.

Sadly, that is how I read this memo too.

Great to see that the HN community is quite aware of the terrible work conditions in Amazon. I do wonder, though, how many of you still buy in Amazon, nevertheless.

Its important to note that when you buy a product, you are essentially voting with your wallet, saying "yes" to a company, its values, ways of operation, impact on the planet, etc etc. Its easy just to pass this as an internal amazon problem, but if you still buy there, you are supporting it anyway.

I've stopped using Amazon 2 years ago, dont miss it, and dont think I will.

I see this argument come up a lot in these kinds of discussion, but the problem with 'vote with your wallet' are numerous, including (not all might apply to the HN crowd):

1) market competition: if there's no (better) competitor and you need the services provided for whatever you need, how can you vote with your wallet?

2) Price: I'd love to buy ethically sourced-everything, but I simply cannot afford it and will never be able to (on my current income) as long as unethically sourced remains this much cheaper and the norm. Income and market prices adapt to each other.

3) Knowledge & time: It is incredibly time and energy consuming to find out all these things. Amazon has now made the news, but how do you know which competitors are better? Look at food, even with all the labels we have these days there is still a lot of misleading information out there.

4) All of the above and more applied to everyone: As I mentioned, the above probably doesn't apply to most of the HN crowd, but any of these reasons (and probably a lot more I missed) would be enough to stop someone from voting with their wallet. In order to do so you must have the knowledge, time, energy and availability. Something not everyone has. If but a small minority can (and wants) to vote with their wallet, it will almost never be cost-effective for companies to change.

Whatever happened to good old fashioned legislation? One can make a similar argument for voting (time & knowledge limitations mostly), but they should be less severe barriers.

Those arguments are valid, but apply to only a fraction of the cases.

Really, how many of us need to buy office supplies, diapers, or groceries from amazon? How many times do you need to have a book delivered to you in less than X hours? We have these fabricated needs and companies that provide services to fulfil them, which really says a lot about the power of their marketing.

Again, not disagreeing with your arguments, I just think they dont apply to the majority of the cases, where you can avoid amazon and just shop elsewhere (slightly less convenient, I must say - its a matter of values, and voting with your wallet)

The HN community? What's that if it isn't the readership which I'm guessing is not what you mean. The subtext appears to be ' <We> have shared values and these include being aware of the terrible work conditions at Amazon but unaccountably, some of us don't seem to recognize this - v. bad!'

Article about Amazon working conditions pop up every few months. Thus, you can assume the average HN reader knows about it.

This is a culture problem, not a customer one.

Amazon seems to be informed by Bezos' time on Wall Street in many ways. The most prominent of these to me are the expectation of overly arduous hours, a highly contingency based compensation structure (annual bonuses vs back loaded RSU vesting schedules), and knowing which buttons need to be pressed in Analyst calls and the bare minimum amount of information that needs to be given.

As an AMZN shareholder, these are big benefits. As an employee, I would expect things to break down a bit.

Out of the very few people I interviewed from amazon, I had one candidate who didn't like his job since he had to do be alert (pager) during the nights (not mentioned when hired), and his boss ocassionaly gave him work on friday evening to be finished till monday, so he had to stay on the weekend to finish it. When he talked to human ressources about this situation, HR actually fired him, and that's why he applied to us at the end. I actually didn't believe him at that time, but I guess there was some truth to it at the end after all.

That request to email him sounds farcical as hell to me.

The CEO of a gigantic company, who's most likely already absolutely swamped in email, is asking people to email him at his direct, known-to-public address, which is most likely managed by a team of secretaries, instead of providing a specific target address along with instructions on how to send mail there anonymously.

I don't think anyone would dare take him up on that offer in the first place, and if he's really this deluded about it, he might end up taking zero incoming mails on this topic as "proof" that everything is fine.

That remark about contacting HR is also a little funny, since it seems like employees already consider HR to be enemy agents.

The email was [redacted]. We don't know what it is.

But in a way it is a time for action. Pushing your people to the extreme and caring about them are not mutually exclusive. Depending on Mr. Bezos' actions in a few days we will understand if the amazon toxic culture is policies stripped from a lot of nuance when made into soundbites or got that way by design.

And a CEO could indeed be somewhat isolated - at that level you see reports that have already passed a couple of levels of sanitation.

> The email was [redacted].

Please clarify. The article does mention an email address. Twice.

Sorry. It was removed in the topic here on HN that quoted it. And i thought we were in it.

Ah. Happens. Have two upvotes from me for standing by your mistakes, no matter how tiny. :)

“But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly at jeff@amazon.com. Even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero.”

This seems a bit "Closing the barn doors after the horses are gone".

Alternately, this rings a bit hollow given the turnover rate: I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company.

For as much as there's an emphasis on data, that seems like a worthwhile value to track.

Perhaps Bezos has convinced himself that the higher attrition rate reflects the willingness of other companies to retain under-performers. At least I can see how he could choose to believe that interpretation in the face of the data that must have been known to him.

> But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly at jeff@amazon.com

Really, and who's going to stick their neck out? I would rather get off than wasting time trying to fix things which I don't have control on.

I seem to remember hearing rants of working as a developer at Amazon 3 years ago. Here's a link to Steve Yegge's diatribe and Bezos's web services mandate: https://plus.google.com/+RipRowan/posts/eVeouesvaVX

Here's an excerpt:

His Big Mandate went something along these lines:

1) All teams will henceforth expose their data and functionality through service interfaces.

2) Teams must communicate with each other through these interfaces.

3) There will be no other form of interprocess communication allowed: no direct linking, no direct reads of another team's data store, no shared-memory model, no back-doors whatsoever. The only communication allowed is via service interface calls over the network.

4) It doesn't matter what technology they use. HTTP, Corba, Pubsub, custom protocols -- doesn't matter. Bezos doesn't care.

5) All service interfaces, without exception, must be designed from the ground up to be externalizable. That is to say, the team must plan and design to be able to expose the interface to developers in the outside world. No exceptions.

6) Anyone who doesn't do this will be fired.

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.

it doesnt seem like such a bad idea to me. generic communication between services? yes thx ill take that.

and thats why so many use AWS.

People use AWS for the same reason people buy from Amazon. Because it's bloody cheap, not because it's good.

> Those that choose to work there do so out of greed (rising stock price)

Seattle is full of tech workers who retired young from their appreciating stock options, from Microsoft and Amazon and presumably other companies. At one point I read that Microsoft had minted 10,000 millionaires in the Seattle area. I don't know what the corresponding Amazon figures are, but I suspect they are similar.

Note that AMZN is up about 60% just in the last year.

He seems out of touch, given the comments I've heard from current and former AMZN employees here in Seattle.

His email is in "CEO English". It doesn't mean anything and it doesn't help anyone. Standard Corporate America practices. Nothing to see here...

He's offering people to report cases as described in the NYT article directly to him, that's a good thing - unless of course he's just saying that for the media.

What would be a better way to respond as a CEO? What would you have done?

First thing they should recognize they have an issue. When this many people are complaining there is an issue

Second they could have offered an increase in benefits like paternity leave to show they want to improve things.

He did neither of those

Ending stack ranking would be a good start at reducing the toxic environment at least.

Enforce max hours per week / max on call time / minimum mandatory vacation of 4 to 6 weeks / 1 year maternity and paternity leave...

Stuff that's actually, you know, real.

Dig in and figure it out, rather than wait for people to tattle to HR who definitely are not advocating for you.

Something "while I don't recognize this as a description of the company I have built, if it is even partly true it is horrifying and wrong. I have hired an independent firm to come in and blah blah...".

I think saying 'my door is open' is both nice and important, but it is a pretty limp response if that is the beginning and end of what you are doing. All you have to do is read Glassdoor, or talk to people, to know the reputation of Amazon.

> He's offering people to report cases as described in the NYT article directly to him, that's a good thing

Where I work I actually had reason to e-mail the CEO once ( it was for a C-level presentation ).

A few minutes later his PA rang me to ensure that I actually meant to e-mail him. I confirmed it and she sent the invitation on to his actual internal address.

I would assume that Amazon utilises a similar screening system.

What a PR nightmare for Amazon. One can only speculate about the damage done to their ability to hire best candidates but considering that the CEO himself responded it must be pretty substantial. Will it be enough to mitigate the damage though?

There will be a slow trickle of AWS employees (working in a pretty isolated, high-margin sector of AMZN) showing up on tech blogs saying "hmm, everything's cool here, what's the problem?". It's already started on HN.

I've already read a couple of "the NYT storiy does not reflect my experience" posts from engineers, both very senior (Tim Bray) and not so senior.

My take is that engineers (much in demand, can leave and pick up new work anwhere in this sellers'market) are going to live in a different work culture than anybody else (the general job market is still bearish, they can't transfer any specialist skill so easily).

>...still sounding exhilarated months later about providing “Frozen” dolls in record time.

At the risk of a very lame pun, this leaves me cold.

Denigrating someone else's work isn't good reporting.

They may just be "Frozen dolls" but it's what Amazon does, they sell everything to everyone.

Should an Amazon worker be more exhilarated by supplying much needed medical supplies in record time? Perhaps, but in essence - the company's ideals should (and clearly do) run through its entire business.

Working people to breaking point (which is what the article is about) can be reported on without making a value judgement on what the company sells or how important they think it is.

This has of course hit the mainstream press in turn. Amazon Chief Says Employees Lacking Empathy Will Be Instantly Purged http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/amazon-chief-...

Amazon has appeared unsustainable for 20 years, both financially and in terms of business practices. That might be Jeff Bezos' one key strength; how to make people, both investors, partners and employees, tolerate endless amounts of abuse.

It would be great if LinkedIn also responds to the NYT article with data on attrition rates at Amazon vis-a-vis other tech-companies. That would be irrefutable evidence.

This is not suppose to be a insult to people who work hard in Amazon, but I am really interested to know,

Apart from AWS, ( technically a well defined and ran technology platform ) what exactly is Amazon doing to make it a sweat shop. If something similar were to describe Apple or even Google / Tesla . Then i could understand as they are constantly innovating, pushing hard at everything on a tight deadline, while Amazon.........

Don't pay enough and a shit working environment.

The rest make larger gross margins, so they can afford not to treat their employees like a massive cost center.

Sure, it might be the case that some employees are having the time of their life and enjoying their jobs. However, all that talk about the sweatshop work conditions of Amazon employees can't be all hearsay. To the very least, Jeff should act and investigate the issue instead of completely refuting it.

IMO, investigating the issue and acting upon it is a better move for Amazon's employees and PR.

I have been contacted by recruitment from Amazon and Friday's article got me thinking.

This story is really pushing me to walk away from the process.

I guess he also doesn't recognize the industry-worst Maternity/Paternity leave that their HR department has apparently had in place for years?

There were many truths in that NYT article (and probably also many stretchings of the truth as well), but to try to sweep all of that aside seems extremely disingenuous. What a nutcase this Bezos guy is.

i'm no expert in this manner, but jeff bezos strikes me as a classic sociopath. that goofy smile, that deliberately saccharine and smarmy facade that he constructs whenever he speaks in public... it all just seems so ridiculous and fake. he doesn't seem like a normal person. to me he seems like a prick trying to imitate what he thinks a nice person would act like.

and through my own professional experience, i know for a fact nobody with a cutesy demeanor like that builds a company like amazon. i don't buy it for a second. i don't buy this little emergency damage control email either.

also, just one little detail from the article that jumped out at me - any company that specifically designs and defines a mechanism for anonymous reporting (snitching) on your coworkers to your manager, knows how it will be used - as a manipulative backstabbing tool. these people aren't naive, they're professional assholes designing their own little lord of the flies workplace.

it's like someone took the gervais principle and optimized for it.

A lot of CEOs are classic sociopaths. E.g. the following has been attributed to Steven Anthony Ballmer:

   "Fucking Eric Schmidt is a fucking pussy.
   I'm going to fucking bury that guy,
   I have done it before, and I will do it again.
   I'm going to fucking kill Google."
But that's bush league. I'm sure that many people would agree that Lawrence Joseph Ellison would easily win any "sociopath contest".

I struggled a lot with this in my business. I would look at and hear about other successful businesses who were getting their employees to put in 18 hour work days, assessing them on every single thing, and asking them to work on vacations, birthdays, and other things.

I would feel like a failure because I couldn't push myself or my employees to work that way. I wanted everyone to have a good time, to work, but also to have fun with their work. It felt like I was doing something wrong.

Today, I've given up on that "18 hour workday" dream. I'm not built like that. I don't care about maximizing efficiency or increasing profitability. I want everyone to be happy, and I've realized that that's anti-thetical to the way businesses usually work across the world.

I don't care. I'm happy. My workers are happy. The clients I have are certainly happy. Others can work their 18 hour days and buy six figure cars they can't drive. I'll stick to my 7-8 hours, read my favorite authors and spend time with friends.

i don't know. i think ellison and ballmer are at least extremely honest with themselves and others about their true personalities. they don't have a face they show to the public and a face they show in private.

i.e., when you go to work for microsoft or oracle you pretty much know what you're dealing with. interestingly, i haven't heard nearly as many stories about shitty work environments at those companies.

Can we stop with the responses to the nyt article already? Boo hoo amazonians are offended by that piece.

Jeff Bezos does not usually respond to this sort of article. It's quite new and the Amazon-the-horrible-place-to-work theme has been growing for a number of years(as I've been researching). I guess it's time to pop.

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