I'm not saying Amazon is a great place to work -- but its clear this person isn't a great person to work with.
I am aware that I don't work as well as I could with others, especially those who hold lots of power but little technical aptitude. Its not out of a smug sense of superiority...I recognize these people are very much my superior in other ways. It is probably limitations of my vocabulary and inexperience at conveying complex ideas with common language. I have no problem claiming to possess numeric and analytical intelligence, but social intelligence is a daily struggle. I even recognize that I was probably hard to manage from a higher-than-direct level, especially when I let my frustrations get the best of me.
Regardless, I find that to be beside the point I am trying to make.
I was sold on a meritocratic position under a boss who believed in a meritocratic ideal, and I thought I could do that job well. As the job was described to me, and as I was told of my criteria for promotion, I actually did do that job well. However, I was judged by a standard that was opaque, never communicated clearly (in fact, some internal rules prohibit a more clear explanation), and I languished for several years in absolute naivety and ignorance while believing every line they fed to me hook, line, and sinker. It took someone who actually cared about me as a person to open up and explain how it all really worked before I got it.
My story absolutely is one of being hard to work with, having naive expectations, and going about things all wrong. But it is also one about being lied to repeatedly about how to do my job right, destroying my quality of life in the pursuit of the game as it was communicated to me, being cast aside for people who played the deliberately obscured game better, and getting burnt out by it. And given the recent statements by senior level executives about how Amazon is so meritocratic, it is a story of how even those who rise to the high performance meritocratic expectations that they talk about can get obliterated by aspects of the company culture that those same executives claim do not exist.
I'm not perfect, but I knew well before I started that political intelligence was a weak spot for me...and if I had any indication of how insanely political the promotion process was, I probably would have never accepted the offer. I wanted the meritocratic Amazon that was sold to me.
Anyway, sucks that middle management sucks and lives to only forward their existence.
Have a good one and thanks for the read. Hope it was cathartic for you.
The best thing that ever happened to me was that I was fired. I did a few critical things during that transition for their IT, but in the end I didn't really matter, even though I could claim hundreds of billions of dollars in new transactions.
Wells wasn't wrong and I wasn't either -- we were just wrong for each other.
I've found in the places I've worked there's a ceiling on a meritocracy in the workplace. Being the smartest, fastest, best worker doesn't get you through to those high level promotions.
You need to play the game. If you refuse, then be happy you are getting as much pay and good work as you are getting. Or, work for yourself.
There's a lot of books out there on corporate and office politics. Might be a good idea to read at least one.
Everything he writes will resonate with anyone who has worked in large bureaucracies.
They seem to be writing about the gap between the reality for promotion Amazon and how they thought they thought they had fit the expectations - the latter of which involves talking about themselves and establishing why they think they qualified for promotion.
Since we are saying "this person isn't a great person to work with", let me say the same about you. If you can't read someone else's accomplishments without the need to put it down/skim, then you probably have self-esteem issues. Consequently, you are probably not that great to work with. Additionally, you seem to support propping up "team work" at the expense of actual work (so you tend to favor status quo when it collides with competence), so that's a double no :)
Ah downvotes. I guess I am the only one.
So often engineers and quants take it on themselves to define "results" but is that fair? As an engineer these are lessons hard won over my career. I am a component in larger system. What if the alternator in my car took it on itself to improve engine efficiency, fuel economy, or safety at the expense of the job I expect it to do?
One of the most important things an engineer can learn on the job is humility. Understanding that the don't have all the information and accepting the tasks they are given. The author admits this is not what they did and they deserve poor marks as a result. No promotion? ... color me surprised.
Why are you ignoring everything else that has come up about amazon's culture?
Why are you advocating being a sheep? The dude did what he thought was his job description and what he was told was what would help the company at the macro not the micro level I guess his job description should have been: "do what your manager says" ?
Are you maybe going to say that's everyone's job description? Well maybe that would be ok if you are hired for a job that doesn't require initiative etcs. But. Since we are hired to use our brans, we do use our brains :(
>Why are you ignoring everything else that has come up about amazon's culture?
I've read the articles, but its important to remember that if you've had a bad experience you are 10 times more likely to be vocal about it(that shit is some straight science - http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/24/your-money/why-people-reme...).
> guess his job description should have been: "do what your manager says" ?
I'm not a scientist but I am pretty sure that is the definition of a job.
Having been both an engineer and a manager and an engineer again I can honestly say my smoothest projects were composed of folks that were great followers. They understood when they needed to take initiative and when they needed to follow instructions to the letter. When intentionally adding a leak to the abstraction was necessary to get something out the door and when their code needed to be bullet proof.
Alpha programmers are different animals. If they are truly an Alpha programmer then I use them like a flamethrower loosely directing them at tough, solo/small team problems. But I've encountered my share of C/D players that labored under the delusion they were an Alpha programmer. These folks lashed out, constantly questioned my judgement, and eroded the team's cohesion. Somehow they managed to do this while also not being capable or qualified to tackle my big picture problems. I afforded them every opportunity to be successful, but in several cases they were just too smart for me I guess so I had to set them free. This article sounds like a my many meetings with the latter.
As for advocating being a sheep. Some things are bigger than one person. Is the defensive end on a football team a sheep for following the play the QB/Offensive coordinator has chosen? He may not be put in the best place to make a tackle or a sack(very prestigious stats) because his role might be more subtle than that (containing the quarterback). This is what you do when you are part of a team. Why are you advocating going rogue?
What I read was someone who was frustrated with their position in Amazon. Someone who made a bad bargain, not someone who necessarily would not be a great person to work with.
What I found most curious was the need to anonymize. I imagine for upper management at Amazon, finding employees
The author clearly states that their smartness did not extend into the social realm. He cites the friend he referred to Amazon, who got hired and quickly started rising in the ranks by kissing ass, sucking up and going so far as to show fake data in meetings to make his superiors look good.
So, either his feedback loop was lengthened because it was input that didn't match his past experience.
Or, maybe he wasn't/isnt that great on picking up social cues (something he eludes to).
If the author is capable of developing systems that save the company hundreds of millions of dollars per year, why the fuck does it matter if they are a "great person to work with"?
If the author is a narcissist, they would be mistaken about saving the company hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
Remember, this is from the author's point of view. Allegedly, he was working with PH.Ds and others who disagreed with his metrics. A man who within his own rant claimed to be smarter than everyone else in his team.
Dunning Kruger effect is real. A man who says nothing good about his own team (that he admits has PH.Ds that were disagreeing with him) is hard to believe. The author is probably honest about _believing_ that he was saving millions of dollars per year. But perhaps he was an idiot and his metrics were wrong.
And based on my experience, when a rant begins with:
> I love to solve real world problems, and in many ways am the perfect type of person for Amazon's culture
You can almost certainly believe the guy is on the "Illusory superiority" side of the Dunning Kruger effect.
But, maybe you can try to recall all the other people saying pretty much the same thing about working for amazon? Does that help you judge this post a little more favourably/give it more credence?
Anyone who has worked in this industry knows that middle management can make or break a team. All that the news has told me is that some middle management at Amazon sucks.
Which is true for all companies. Some middle managers are absolutely awful at their job. The engineers then blame the company in its entirety, not realizing that it was their direct supervisors who were messing up.
I'm sure Amazon has their fair share of awful managers. But all companies do.
Honestly, a professional would write up specifics beyond "My analysis says that I saved millions of dollars but no one else on my team believed my numbers".
Which is the crux of his entire argument unfortunately. I don't see anything here about awful bosses micromanaging him. I don't see him mentioning the turnover of his team (My sister had an awful boss. Her entire team left within 6 months. She was the last one to get out about a year later. The entire team took a paycut to leave for another company)
I know what awful bosses sound like. Failing to give a promotion to one dude who self-thought he was doing good is not necessarily indicative of a mistake.
Tell me the numbers. How many team members (or what percent) has left the team in the past 6 months? How have _other smart_ team members been ignored?
When a team is awful, it effects more than just you personally. The people who complain with true vigor are the ones who see it in their coworkers.
If its 100% personal anecdote of a self taught self-described polymath... sorry, I'm chocking it up to the Dunning-Kruger effect.
In fact, their continued employment at a company that routinely cuts the lower performers is probably evidence against them having dunning krugers.
If he wasn't a narcissist, he'd have managed to fit at least a few words about how a coworker was mistreated.
Not writing stories about your co-workers qualifies you for NPD now? Why are you splitting hairs?
The fact that he has failed to account for how his management effects his team is very telling about the guy's personality.
I'm not asking for much, just a paragraph or two that proves that this "throwaway" account isn't 100% narcissistic.
But again, nearly 3000 words and nothing about teammates or coworkers in there. That's pretty telling honestly.
This is an important note. _Everyone_ has the Dunning Kruger effect. It is a glitch that occurs in virtually all human brains, including myself and yourself.
That's why its very important to keep coworkers in mind. You can be a lot more objective about other people than you can be about yourself.
Its like the eternal joke goes. If you ask a team "who is the best programmer", everyone will probably say "me" or "myself".
However, if you want to _really_ know the best programmer, ask the team who the 2nd best programmer is.
Cause no one wants to work with an asshole, no matter how smart they are. There's plenty of other engineers out there that can build systems and save money, maybe not to the specific degree that OP claims to be able to, but unlike OP they'll work with their team.
I guess thats why HR should work more to find people with different mindset, ability and should create working environment for them, where is the equality then? Not everyone succeeds in social terms, not everyone is good at amusing their peers, there are some people who do better in academic/virtual stuff, but not so good in other terms, so what? should they die? should they always live in dirt?
My small brain suggests me that's the problem of HR
What? Who suggested that.
>> Not everyone succeeds in social terms, not everyone is good at amusing their peers, there are some people who do better in academic/virtual stuff, but not so good in other terms.
No one claimed that everyone/anyone needs to better in social situations. However, there's a clear and obvious difference between lack of social skills and being an asshole.
>> so what? should they die? should they always live in dirt?
Or they could stop being an asshole? They could try to resist their urges to consistently alienate and discredit the work of their team mates. Maybe give that a shot.
Everyone has their own opinion on that topic, but if we rely on Wikipedia 
Human resource management (HRM, or simply HR) is a function in organizations designed to -->maximize employee performance<--
another topic tells
Organizations will engage in a broad range of human resource management practices to capitalize on those assets.
If your HR cannot capitalize assets, if your HR cannot maximize performance, if your HR hired asshole, who is the responsible? HR
 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_resource_management
 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_resources
I definitely agree that HR should use other measures of accepting an applicant other than possible performance. But that doesn't mean that someone being an asshole is HR's fault. You're basically saying that there is consistent negative correlation between performance and social skills - which is not true.
I am not claiming any correlation between performance and social skills, I want to say, if performance is good but employee sucks social skills, then HR should help them in some way, maybe guy has a vision for future, but because he lacks social skill, he shouldn't be suppressed.
Among the local tech scene in Seattle, there's a quiet view that Amazon is kind of a boot camp where young workers get experience then move on.
That's the common view of digital agencies too; the turn-over will always be high and people are there just to gain experience because the projects are between 2 to 6 months long so within 1 year you're going to be working on at least 2 projects that will launch and be visible to the public.
It isn't a bad business model for the execs at the top; but eventually someone's going to eat your lunch. If you look at agencies, much of those short-term projects don't really increase revenue: I've yet to see any agency that does a retrospective with a client in the room and proves that they helped increase their revenues. In Amazon's case...well they're lucky they have a lot of cool projects to work on but others will eat their lunch eventually.
> and making no efforts to retain them.
If talent is so plentiful they can dispose of it without care, they don't need to be importing it.
Like in any relationship, first one needs to prove that one is trustworthy. Then, if there are these great projects they need to be sold to ones boss before moving forward.
While I appreciate the fact that Amazon might not have the best employer culture I think the OP would have been burnt at any big corp.
It's great to have vision and initiative - but the thing is, either you do those on your own time or then get management backing first.
I have the highest sympathies for burning out - it sucks. Perhaps there should be a "How to live in a corporate culture for dummies" book somewhere.
That is a damning statement that unfortunately has the ring of truth to me.
Even the incentives are kind of the same: Great pay and looks great on a resume. The latter allows one to move over to things with much more reasonable hours if desires, albeit for lower (but still very decent) pay. Not sure how interesting the work is for an entry level position at Amazon, but I can say at large firms, the work for first years is mind-numbing and useless, basically reviewing documents for minor things.
Suck it up and kiss ass, suppress information when necessary, make allegiances, and whatever else is if you want to move up in that structure.
If all this is beneath you, then time to work for yourself.
In my case, the key was to stop actively pissing people off. Maybe just a change of perspective but it has helped me a good deal.
People who say they don't play politics just reveal themselves as unable to perceive and react to the daily goings on.
But to double down and claim nothing is wrong is just inviting a flood of anecdotes from current and ex-employees, like this one and like the one from an Amazon spouse yesterday.
At a former job as a software engineer at a smallish (~250 employees or so) enterprise, I sat down quarterly with my manager to sketch out "my" goals for the quarter. I did my best to set my sights high, and I outlined technical goals (underneath most folks' radar but my own) that I wished to accomplish.
Ultimately, though, I didn't have the authority to set my own priorities. Generally speaking, I was assigned work to execute, and it was my job to complete that work; I was not supposed to choose, as the OP did, that my goals were ever more important. But I did. I still tried to make progress on my goals, either by delaying completion of assigned tasks, or by staying late and hacking away after everyone else went home.
Looking back, it would have been better for me (because you do get judged on this stuff in reviews) to just write down goals for myself along the lines of "do the work that is assigned to me", "keep management informed whenever I am unable to do the work that is assigned to me in the timeframe expected", and "report to the office during business hours."
It's great to have employees that are passionate about making your business succeed. But you need to wield that passion during normal working hours -- don't hope that it somehow seeps out of the cracks during evenings and weekends.
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There you go buddy.
The bigger the company gets, the bigger the conflict, because as a company grows, your contribution is known to a shrinking subset of the company and your distance from the people at the top (whose compensation is most benefited by overall company success) increases to the point that you become invisible to them.
Your promotion will almost always be determined by your immediate subtree of superiors. If you want your contribution to the company overall to count for more, you have to work for a company where your personal subtree and the company itself differ less, e.g., a smaller company.
i.e. the managers goals are not in line with Amazons goals. If we believe the OP. this dissonance is costing Amazon billions of dollars.
I know corporate politics are bad, but that takes the cake.
The silence with which moderation on HN is wielded has been frustrating me of late.
Every knows that in any workplace, corporate politics is expected, but not to an extent where someone gets sick, or frustrated after contributing so much. There is a reason meritocracy is needed, and amazon is an extreme case where meritocracy is not present, and will lead to its own collapse if not checked, which is exactly what he states.
The author clearly acknowledges that they're not only ignoring politics, but actively "alienating" themselves from their peers to achieve the best performance they can.
>> "So why was I not promoted? There are fair criticisms of my personality that I'm willing to accept as legitimate, but my performance was real and measurable."
Despite these characteristics the author still expects and insists that they deserve a promotion because of the 'merit'.
Hence the TLDR.
It could be "I was working with dangerously incompetent buffoons, and they got upset when I demonstrated that their projects where bug-ridden / physically impossible".
Or the OP is nuts.
Or it's somewhere in between, the OP had reasonable points but the managers struggled to understand them (or the OP had trouble getting them across). In this case, there's a fair bit of management / communications incompetence on both sides.
I'd agree in most situations, however, given that it's not uncommon for many at Amazon to move to Google, Microsoft, et al. we can make a general assumption that the average engineer isn't a "dangerously incompetent buffoon" (outliers can occur, but a whole team of such is very unlikely).
Also, OP is probably not nuts, more likely a narcissist as other have commented. Of course there's many posts out there stating that management is not functioning as it should - OP paints the same picture, however, the statement provided by the author also tells of continuously combative attitude.
Which is utter bullshit.
All progress is subjective. You can make up all the charts and numbers you like, but its not necessarily his / her job to decide on the priorities.
Honestly, there's no real point developing metrics if you can't convince upper management that the metrics you've developed are in fact superior. Selling metrics is part of your job.
It sounds to me like the anonymous github post assumed that everyone would agree with his/her math, and was pissed off that they didn't. Even if we _assume_ this "self-made" learner who couldn't work with PH.Ds or whatever did his/her math correctly... part of the job is indeed making sure everyone is on the same page and understands exactly what you're doing.
Lets look at the github post.
>> I am an autodidact (my formal education only tangentially describes what I can do), and a polymath (capable of holding my own amongst PhD-level Operations Researchers, Statisticians, Econometricians, Data Scientists, Computer Scientists, as well as Software Engineers).
That is factually false. If he/she was truly holding his own against the other researchers, then upper management would trust his/her numbers and metrics.
There's almost no point to "winning" hypothetical chatter debates by the water cooler. The important battle is convincing everyone else (such as upper management)
I always prioritized my work based on a cost/benefit estimate. Amazon
culture always places higher priority on work that direct-line superiors
consider higher priority. If I had a billion dollar project in the backlog,
I could still have my time redirected towards a Senior Manager's pet project
or a Director's pet peeve. [...] I had to directly refuse to work on a VP
I've worked at companies where meeting major customer deliverables fell through the cracks. The managers simply didn't notice, and didn't care that the software was late and/or non-functional.
What is an engineer to do?
a) say he knows better, and get called "difficult to manage" by your criteria
b) give up, and let the managers run the company into the ground.
So then maybe it wasn't important?
(I don't know, i'm just suggesting maybe this goal was not as important to the business as you think it was. :P)
"let the managers run the company into the ground."
Look, if you escalate stuff up your chain, and the answer comes back "no, please do what they are telling you", then either do it, or find another job.
Otherwise, yes, you are "difficult to manage"
The fact that you think it's running the company into the ground is an opinion, and one apparently not shared by the people responsible for directing work. So while you are welcome to shout such a thing from the rooftops, if you don't actually do what you are supposed to be doing (and note, very carefully, what you are supposed to be doing is not what you think is the right thing, but what the business thinks is the right thing), you are difficult to manage.
This was for a small company (<100 people) with good visibility from sales to engineering.
The main customer who comprised a good chunk of sales had hard requirements for the software. Both in terms of functionality, and in terms of deadlines.
They came close to being missed because the managers spent their time focussing on "fun" and "pet" projects, for 1/10 of the revenue.
What I find most disturbing about your comments is the implicit assumption that managers know best, and that engineers should shut up. There is no question that incompetent managers exist.
A knee-jerk response of "maybe managers know best" is perhaps best answered by "maybe they don't".
The politics are important. If the politics are wrong... you've got to fix the politics. Otherwise any technical change will be washed away within the next 6 months or so.
In the best case, you do the correct work behind everyone's back and the wrong managers get the wrong promotions due to your hard work that went unrecognized. Everyone worth a damn starts hopping off the toxic boat using your case as an example. Things get degenerate very quickly... and you don't want to be the "last sane person" steering the ship.
b) is much better, especially since "giving up" is not nearly as bad as it looks. You can transfer to another manager within the company. You can transfer to another company all together, or pivot elsewhere.
after reading that post, my prob that the author is a very difficult person is 0.995. Or maybe higher.
And the managers at amazon appear not to be running the company into the ground by, say, measures like company success.
True, but the converse is not necessarily true either.
Not necessarily. My sister is in a position with horrible office politics. Honestly, office politics is often much lower to the ground than you'd think and is maybe only related to one boss or two bosses above you. (Affecting ~50 to ~200 people).
Middle Managers have a tough job, and too many middle managers fail to do their job at all. A completely epic fail middle-boss can break a team apart.
Even just an "adequate" middle manager will fail to reward the proper behaviors consistently (or punish poor behaviors consistently).
Honestly, if you're in a dire situation... its best to GTFO. But not necessarily out of the company... maybe out to another management chain is enough to get away from toxic team politics.
Eventually the tide goes out and reveals who's been swimming naked, but that can take decades.
The point is- you definitely cannot look at a successful company and infer that all (or even most) of management knows what its doing.
Oh, quite possibly. That doesn't negate the idea that perhaps their managers goals were opposite to Amazon's goals.
a) Do it anyway. The company will judge you as incapable of being managed correctly and will leave you with no responsibility because you haven't displayed it.
b) Don't do it. Everyone will be happy. You may be right, but people won't care. If you want it done in the future, bring more evidence and suggest it again. Work out what people's objections are. Bring it up without implying everyone was stupid for not doing it in the first place.
c) Leave. If you really do know best, why aren't you running your own business?
That's not a good answer. A person staffing an assembly line making widgets may know how to double through-put. They do not know how to sell widgets.
It's unreasonable to expect them to "start their own business" because they're competent at their job, which is probably one out of 100 jobs in the company.
As for (a) and (b), I also find those outcomes unsatisfactory.
There are people who manage to get promoted in corporate hierarchies precisely because they can solve problems. By your choices (a) and (b) above, doing anything is bad, and will result in bad outcomes.
c) Leave: there are plenty of good middle managers who protect you from toxic politics from above. Find one, and stick with them.
In fact, that is almost explicitly the job of a middle manager. They provide you (and the rest of the team) clear direction when upper-level politics get toxic, and weather the storm by providing a good "face" for your project. The middle manager worries about the politics while you the engineer work your ass so that the middle manager doesn't have to take a fall.
As I've stated in other posts in this topic, you don't necessarily have to leave the company. And its often very possible to find another manager close by who can be a positive influence on the team. It may take a few tries though...
That's great. It's not your company :)
It seems you don't want to accept that it's someone else's choice what work should be happening and that you don't want to start your own business so it can be your choice.
You want some magical third option where your intrinsic brilliance is magically recognized.
This will never happen, and surprise, the average person thinks they are above average :)
Everyone thinks they know better.
That doesn't make them right, despite how much they really want to believe they understand everything.
Maybe some of them do. But you can't help those who don't want to be helped, and you should just go where you are actually appreciated
No, what I meant was your explanation of the outcome is unsatisfactory. All of the outcomes you described are negative.
I don't believe that all choices result in negative outcomes. Companies succeed, and so do people inside of companies. Therefore, your description of the problem and/or outcomes is wrong.
For b, life is too goddamned short to waste hours making other people feel like their fuckups weren't fuckups. Once you get the deep-in-your-bones acceptance that a company doesn't care what you're doing (as is clearly the case if the winning strategy isn't to, you know, do the optimal thing for the product), then it's a question of, "How I can exert minimum effort and get maximum return?".
That's fucking toxic.
By what standard?
"benefitted the company"
By whose measure?
By their own?