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My Amazon Burnout Experience (gist.github.com)
120 points by amzn_throwaway on Aug 19, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 101 comments



It seems obvious that this person is aware they don't work well with others, and actively refuses to try to do better -- while writing a self-aggrandizing story about how he is both the smartest person in the room and most everyone around him was an idiot. He seems to believe there was no one else smart at Amazon either, and all projects that 'got in his way' were created my simple minded peons. This type of retrospective naiveté smacks of narcissism.

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 wasn't planning on responding to anything, but your comment has enough truth that the criticism is worth responding to.

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.


For what it's worth, I completely believe your story. Probably because I went through pretty much the exact thing. The only diff would be: I learnt "managing up" when I missed my first raise and so decided to play the game for fun and profit.

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.


I've been in an identical position, at a more tradition place. I worked on the Wells Fargo/Wachovia merger and I couldn't figure out if everyone around me was an idiot or if I was.

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 was sold on a meritocratic position under a boss who believed in a meritocratic ideal

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.


At large companies like this there will always be politics you need to play to get ahead. It sucks but that's the way it is. The meritocratic ideal will remain an ideal unless you're in there on the ground floor.

There's a lot of books out there on corporate and office politics. Might be a good idea to read at least one.


I stopped reading a few paragraphs in when all the author had managed to convey was how great they are. I also find it strange that someone so competent who wants to remain anonymous would reveal so much information about their situation in the company. What little I read seems like it would be enough to pinpoint them within the organization.


You should read the whole thing. The author may come across as a narcissist at the beginning but that wanes rather quickly - he is also quite honest and forthcoming about his own shortcomings.

Everything he writes will resonate with anyone who has worked in large bureaucracies.


Touché!


Hopefully enough has been altered that they can't be identified too easily. That said, it looks like they can, maybe should find better elsewhere.


That's a pretty bold psychological assessment based on an anonymous post.

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.


Surely I'm not the only one who can see that section for what it was? That is: letting us know that pure competence wasn't the issue? FOllowing from that: if pure competence isn't what works in a meritocracy, then what does? Maybe your answer is: "team work", whatever that is?

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.


What if merit isn't defined by "technical competence" but the "ability to deliver results in a defined context" and by "results" we are talking about "what the company(e.g. managers) defines as results".

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 treating this as a binary answer?

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 :(


How exactly have I treated this as a binary answer?

>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?


The impression I got was, he tried to be manager before being promoted. This gave his managers a convenient scapegoat when he axed his coworkers projects and they needed someone to be angry at. This reminds me a little of The Gervais Principle. This person is a de facto clueless manager (by The Gervais Principle's terminology) who takes the fall for upper management's decisions, and his managers didn't even need to promote him.

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


It's surprising that someone who is so smart would be so complacent with accepting slotted into a low rank and accepting of it after two years of that situation not changing.


Not sure why it is surprising. Analytical intelligence (the type that can build systems that save the company hundreds of millions a year) is different from social intelligence.

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.


Smart and intelligent are different things. If a person has succeed up until a given point by just being intelligent/workign hard, and relying on higher ups to notice to get promoted, I don't see why s/he wouldn't continue that previously winning strategy a little while longer. It's easy to fall into the trap of "I just need to work harder" when working harder has worked before.

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).


Your post is a prime example of what is wrong with Amazon - I'm not sure if you were aware of the irony when you wrote it.

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 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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

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.


Sure.

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?


Nope.

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.


There is absolutely no evidence here that they have dunning krugers.

In fact, their continued employment at a company that routinely cuts the lower performers is probably evidence against them having dunning krugers.


The guy's entire 2794 word anonymous rant is 100% about himself.

If he wasn't a narcissist, he'd have managed to fit at least a few words about how a coworker was mistreated.


The 2794 word post is 100% about his experience at Amazon.

Not writing stories about your co-workers qualifies you for NPD now? Why are you splitting hairs?


He's talking about his management and how it affected himself.

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.


It's not a disorder, like something that someone "has". It's a logical fallacy that affects most (all?) human brains to varying degrees.


Good read.

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.


>> why the fuck does it matter if they are a "great person to work with"

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.


Cause no one wants to work with an asshole, no matter how smart they are.

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


>> I guess thats why HR should work more to find people with different mindset, ability and should create working environment for them

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.


What? Who suggested that.

Everyone has their own opinion on that topic, but if we rely on Wikipedia [1]

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.[2]

If your HR cannot capitalize assets, if your HR cannot maximize performance, if your HR hired asshole, who is the responsible? HR

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_resource_management

[2] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_resources


ok so i misunderstood your previous comment, i took "should create working environment for them" as segregating employees based on things like social skills.

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.


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.


I'm familiar with a high-level executive assistant at Amazon, and they are well aware of the "burnouts". It's very intentional. Amazon is acquiring young talent, extracting as much value from them, and making no efforts to retain them.

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.


>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 you retain them, their RSUs will start to vest, and they might even approach the ‘total compensation’ dangled in front of them when they were hired.


Cheap labor and nothing more. In my career I've learned "experience" 9/10 means experience working at that specific company. Different organizations use different tools, processes, and division of labor. I find time at non-prestigious X is as valuable as time at prestigious Y.


Cut off their H1B access, then. They clearly don't believe in a shortage of tech talent since they make no effort to retain it.

If talent is so plentiful they can dispose of it without care, they don't need to be importing it.


Great text for all the green geeks moving into corporate world: not prioritizing the things your boss wants to prioritize is precisely the wrong thing to do. It's not evil, it's called building trust and trust is the key glue in all orgs.

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.


"Amazon hires intelligent people, and they retain the sociopaths"

That is a damning statement that unfortunately has the ring of truth to me.


Sounds just like the world of large law firms, actually. They hire top people from top schools, most burn out within 2-3 years and leave, occasionally someone is sociopathic enough to make it to about year 7 where they're made partner. No efforts are made to retain the people, they're just worked crazy hours until they either crack or, rarely, make partner.

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.


To me this also rings of "I'm too morally superior to engage in corporate politics."

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.


Agree, ya. I have a hard time kissing ass but I realized what I needed to do to advance was a little different.

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.


If deceit, politics, and treachery are what's required to "get ahead" in a company, it should be no surprise that anybody who has an alternative (e.g., put skill points into engineering instead of sociopath biz bro) will look elsewhere.


... Which perhaps is a big part of what's wrong with that structure, culture, and way of life. Not the least of which is that it consists of sociopaths.


I know Bezos had to come out and say "gee guys, nothing's wrong here, I've never seen any problems", both for the sake of positive P/R spin and for his shareholders who would rather not see a brain drain happen.

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.

http://qz.com/482080/dear-jeff-bezos-i-wish-you-had-asked-fo...


> If I wanted to accomplish my goals (which I am ostensibly judged on for promotion), I had to do it on my own time.

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.


I get

"Whoa there! You have triggered an abuse detection mechanism. Please wait a few minutes before you try again."

When trying to visit the page. Can anyone post it in the comments?



Thank you!



Ditto. They seem to be triggering off the referer header -if you either copy/paste the link into a new tab or right click + "open in private browsing" it then loads for me.


Same. I guess sudden inflow of traffic triggered it. Considering it's on front page of HN on a sensitive/popular topic, I'm convinced.


Same, gists are rate limited?


me too


Good grief, this is the first time I've seen Github rate limit anything.


Glad it wasn't just me. For a minute there I thought that I had done something to get rate limited personally.



I had to laugh at how familiar this all sounded. I've observed again and again how there was an inherent conflict of interest in a hierarchy of ambitious people trying to climb the ever-narrowing tree between serving the company and serving those few who are responsible for your own promotion.

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.


FTA: 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.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.


As a lower level employee, you often lack the context to understand what the most important priority is. Even if you do have that context, you need to be able to convince management. Simply doing "what you think is right" is not a path to success in any company. So I'm not surprised that this turned out poorly for the OP.


The author definitely did not consider that there are goals outside of saving Amazon money that could be important from a strategic perspective that they would have appreciated his/her help on.


What a shame that someone flagged this article (who knows why?). I was finding the comments rather interesting enlightening. Then 'poof!'


Aye, this is the second time today a post that's interested me has gotten tanked.

The silence with which moderation on HN is wielded has been frustrating me of late.


It only takes a few people flagging to kill it. Say, a few heads at Amazon. Quite annoying when there is lively discussion, I agree


Link is down due to Github's rate limiting. Mirror anyone?



Polymath? Pshhhaw. And I thought referring to oneself as a "genius" was the pinnacle of self-aggrandizement. Sorry friend you are not a genius, you are not a polymath, and given amazon's volume a 6 or 7 figure savings is likely indistinguishable from a rounding error. And while we're on the subject. Why doesn't he share the nature of his advanced degree in a quantitative discipline that puts him on equal footing with the world's leading econometricians rather than pulling the old neo bullet dodge?



I think it's weird that's not on the home anymore - 110 points in 6 hours as for now.


our job is not to find the most efficient way to solve a problem. far from that. its to make the customer look good to his boss. - some previous workplace


Amazon called me up one day trying to recruit. I haven't shuddered like that in a very long time.


Don't bother. At first you look at your inbox and think "Amazon? me really?" I responded only to find out this was a mass spam campaign. They found me via LinkedIn, said "Our senior management as indicated your experience is exactly what we are looking to hire", then proceeded to ask me what my experience was. Hashtag this company has become a joke.


Yeah, absolutely it's obvious. These days though it seems they send out "Your experience is exactly what we're looking for........... Come visit our hiring event in <bigass city>". I don't even read them anymore. Just straight to the trash.


[flagged]


Over generalized and inane comment. He/She clearly states that their progress was objective and benefitted the company.

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.


>> "I accomplished my goals, but I didn't gain peer support...partly because in order to accomplish my yearly goals I had to alienate my peers. I had to tear down their pet projects that were inhibiting progress, I had to inform them of misinterpretations of data that they held dear, and I had to make specific types of failures as obvious and clear as possible, whether that was with a bug report or a published analysis. This does not bode well for a promotion process that ultimately relies on having people like me. In order to do my job, I had to destroy my own political capital."

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.


Without specifics, it's hard to tell.

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.


>> Without specifics, it's hard to tell.

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.


While reductive, I do agree with your TLDR here. The sub-text for me reading that, and I admit this may say more about me than OP, is that she sounds like she helped to make a culture that would have made _me_ develop kidney stones. I find OP's view of what the workplace "should" be a pretty insular an inflexible one.


> Over generalized and inane comment. He/She clearly states that their progress was objective and benefitted the company.

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)


yeah about that last line you quoted, something rubbed me in the wrong way. OP was articulate and does come across as intelligent but people who say shit like they are autodidacts, polymaths who can hold their own amongst PhDs, etc... the people in real life whom i've heard say similar hot air stuff often ends up not as good as they claim, when challenged by someone who is truly an expert.


author also wrote

   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
   escalation
So basically, (s)he was difficult to manage and assumed, at a relatively low level of visibility, to know better how to allocate his or her time than the relevant management chain. And stunningly, was not well rewarded for this behavior.


Or to put a positive spin on it, this person was hired to do a job, was good at it, but was prevented from doing so by internal corporate politics.

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.


" The managers simply didn't notice, and didn't care that the software was late and/or non-functional."

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.


> 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."

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".


a) is certainly wrong. Not only are you "difficult to manage", but no engineer that follows you will be able to work with your "toxic" code.

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.


yeah, difficult people always scream politics

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.


> yeah, difficult people always scream politics

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.


In my experience large, successful companies can be harboring a very large number of incompetent or irrelevant managers. The parts of the company that work often do so spectacularly and sometimes carry the bulk of the company that's broken.

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.


> after reading that post, my prob that the author is a very difficult person is 0.995. Or maybe higher.

Oh, quite possibly. That doesn't negate the idea that perhaps their managers goals were opposite to Amazon's goals.


Yeah, that was the bit that struck out for me. Fundamentally, an organization is impossible to manage if everyone thinks that they know best. If you argue to your line that you think that the company should do X (or more precisely, the company should pay you to do X), and lose, then you have three options:

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?


> 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.


Honestly, c) should read

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...


"As for (a) and (b), I also find those outcomes unsatisfactory."

That's great. It's not your company :) Seriously.

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


> That's great. It's not your company :) Seriously.

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.


So, I'll just put on my angry hat here, and say what a lot of us are probably thinking:

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.


"He/She clearly states that their progress was objective and benefitted the company."

Objective? By what standard?

"benefitted the company"

By whose measure? By their own?


agree, this guy likes the smell of his own farts. Would not want to work for or under him.


"there is"...




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