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Everyone is quitting (sites.google.com)
599 points by po1nter on Aug 10, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 327 comments

Last time there negative press about Amazon's culture, Bezos wrote an email encouraging people to contact him directly if they suffered abuse.

Apparently if you actually try it, you get fired:


> Bezos wrote an email encouraging people to contact him directly if they suffered abuse.

> Apparently if you actually try it, you get fired

Apparently, firing ensures that there is no further "abuse".

The white-collar version of "beatings will continue until morale improves"?

More like "Beheadings will continue until morale improves."

Operation success; patient died.

Probem solved.

Strictly speaking, that is true.

"Death solves all problems." -Stalin

Let A Hundred Flowers Bloom.

Could you please explain what it means ?

It refers to the Hundred Flowers Campaign in China.

Excerpt from the wikipedia article [1]:

> The first part of the phrase is often remembered as "let a hundred flowers bloom". It is used to refer to an orchestrated campaign to flush out dissidents by encouraging them to show themselves as critical of the regime, and then subsequently imprison them. This view is supported by authors Clive James and Jung Chang, who posit that the campaign was, from the start, a ruse intended to expose rightists and counter-revolutionaries, and that Mao Zedong persecuted those whose views were different from the party's.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundred_Flowers_Campaign

Mao's Hundred Flowers Campaign from the 1950s. Citizens actively encouraged to share their opinion on their regime in order to help improve their country and "let a hundred flowers bloom" with different schools of thought.

Many who expressed critical opinions ended up under investigation and in prison labour camps.


It's a reference to the Maoist Hundred Flowers Campaign: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundred_Flowers_Campaign

The short version is that Mao encouraged people to openly express non-communist political philosophies and then killed or imprisoned those who had done so.

First google result, and it certainly has similarities to the situation.


It's a reference to the Chinese cultural revolution. Use your internet machine for more details.

This Hundred Flowers campaign actually started 1956, about 10 years before the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966) though it of course was a part of the development leading to the latter.

Just as an (offtopic) add-on, Guy Kawasaki uses the term "Let a Thousand Flowers Blossom" in a positive way to describe letting people use your product however they see fit, instead of trying to corner and limit it to a specific use, "let a thousand flowers blossom" and let people discover new uses for your product

It's frustrating when a nice symbol or metaphor is co-opted, like someone spitting in your beer.

As a former student of Chinese history, this comment is right on target.

"Let a hundred schools of thought contend"

Ah, how history repeats itself.

We still have a lot to `learn ` from the great chairman.

All other stories are sad, but this one is ironically funny.

>>Bezos wrote an email encouraging people to contact him directly if they suffered abuse.

That is to identify dissenters so that they can be eliminated before they create some damage in the news. Not to solve any of their problems.

Whistle blowing never works. Its a mechanism to identify dissenters and eliminate them.

*non-anonymous whistle-blowing

Exactly. I exclusively encourage anonymous, evidence-based whistleblowing to reduce odds of damage to whistleblower. It's a ridiculous notion that whistleblower should suffer negative consequences if it's illegal or harmful activity they're revealing. Let those doing the harms own up to it.

Treating whistle-blowers well can be a commitment device.

> if you actually try it, you get fired

Of course! What more efficient way could there be to identify and weed out potential troublemakers in the organization?

If that is true, I'm surprised I haven't seen a follow up in the NYT after they got somewhat tarnished by Amazon's response to their initial article.

My guess is they couldn't confirm it... or they're in the process of reporting a follow-up story, who knows :)

Sounds more profitable than quitting.

Apparently if you actually try it, you get fired

Well, of course you get fired. You're obviously a malcontent, and clearly not a team player. But, in fairness to Bezos, this is pretty much SOP at many companies.

1-2 years ago, before all the public coverage, I was interviewing one person from amazon. He was not happy with his former work situation (pager duty pushed on him, requests in the evening, ...) and he was terminated in the trial period because he brought it up to HR. I didn't believe him at that time.

What is a trial period in US terms? Isn't employment 'at will' ?

The main thing about trial periods in the US is that benefits and perks generally don't kick in until after. For instance, at my old job, people didn't start accumulating vacation days until they were 90 days in.

It's another one of those inventions that heavily favor the employer at the expense of the employee.

we call it "probation" in Canada. Its usually 3-6 months

The maximum length of this kind of probation is, afaik, set by provincial labour law and is 3 months in all but three provinces (nb, pei, and the Yukon). Employers can go lower, but not higher.

Though I think they can withhold benefits for longer than that separately from the probation period, but that's kind of rare I think.

Really withholding benefits in Canada is pretty different than in the us, though, since here it means you don't buy glasses for three months and there it means you'd better not break your legs.


That's interesting. With the exception of retirememt contributions, I've never worked at a place that withheld any benefits. I have had trial periods where I got a raise after proving suitability for the role.

I don't think (most) benefits are withheld in canada (or in europe). The point of probation there is to provide an initially relaxed (labor protections wise) 3~6 months "at will" to check for actual suitability since you don't really know whether things work out until work's actually been done. Breaking the relationship later is a more involved and expensive process and the thinking is that within the early 3~6 months the employee would know whether they want to stay, and the company whether they want to keep.

agreed. I got my benefits (stuff that the province doesn't cover - like perhaps some $$ prescription or eyeglasses) day 1 of new job, and probabtion is 6 months (i.e. can be let go without the whole "improvment plan"). Other places will have shorter probation and maybe full benefits after 30 days

edit: I am in Ontario and I know a guy in the medical feild that had a 1 year probabtion

It makes more sense where it's not "at will" employment

For the US, it makes more sense if you see it as the company nickel-and-diming employees.

That's not necessarily why employers do it, I'm sure some do though.

It costs a lot in terms of productivity, time, and dollars to bring someone new into the company. As an employer I don't know if you've completely misrepresented yourself or not- especially as a developer. I've hopefully done my best to make a good hire and be forthcoming in helping you make your best decision as well, but just like in dating, we're not necessarily sure how this thing is going to go at first.

In the tech industry I've never come across an employer that withheld insurance during the first 90 days, and most I've come across have you accruing your vacation immediately as well. I've seen employers in other industries (like manufactring) withhold all benefits until the 90 day mark though.

All my discussions with new hires on the 90 day trial period go something like this: "We're going to meet more frequently than we normally would, I'm going to give you more frequent feedback than I normally would, and I'm going to review your work much more often than I normally would in order to make sure that you're not getting lost in how we do things and that I can help you out with anything as fast as possible."

If you're a smart employer/manager you're going to use that arbitrary trial period to aggressively make sure your new people succeed. If you suck, you look for a problem and cut bait.

It's a matter of company policy, not employment law.

It depends on the state, though most are "at will." Some companies will do a "trial period" in which some of your benefits are held back for anywhere from 60-90 days, so that may be what the parent is referring to.

It depends on the state. Most companies have a 'trial period' where the manager doesn't have to go through the full HR process to remove someone. It's pretty much a 'you're an employee, but not really an employee.'

Personally, I think it's pretty crappy as it means that the company has all the leverage if they make a bad hiring decision, the person is let go after already potentially leaving another job for this one.

This is true, but a smart (and moral) manager will still try to not make bad hiring decisions. If the team sees a constant rotation of new faces they may get scared off.

On the other hand I question the "wisdom" of saying anything negative about a past employer, no matter how deserved it may be. It's just a big "never do it!".

I mean where would we get to, if people actually would start telling the truth!

It's one thing to openly express discontent with a prior employer. It's another thing to do it in an interview.

I know that this is considered "bad style".

But I still disagree. I don't own a company (yet), but I would like to have employees, who are strong enough, to tell the truth, even though it might hurt some feelings. And if they honestly can tell me, what they like or did not at their former place, it would be much easier for me and also for them, to decide, if they would fit in this (imaginary) company.

And if, later, my company would be bad in their perception, they may say so, in the next interview.

I just like solid facts, even though they are sometimes not nice.

It's not necessarily about "bad style". It's possible to share legitimate reasons for leaving a company if asked in an interview, but you have to be careful. It's really bad to turn it into a time to badmouth another company.

It is frankly risky to say anything bad about a previous company, because even something minor like, "management micromanaged too much" could be interpreted by a cynical interviewer as "this person doesn't get anything done and whines when someone asks him what he's doing with his time." But even a good interviewer will take it as a bad sign if you spend five minutes enumerating everything you hate about your previous/current employer.

> It's possible to share legitimate reasons for leaving a company if asked in an interview

If the legitimate reason would be, that they micromanaged everything, because of lack of trust, even though I delivered results and that the general atmosphere were a mixture of hate and distrust, then I would very much say so in the next interview, if asked. And if they then won't take me, I would assume it is because the new place is similar and they just don't like people talk about it. So no place where I want to be anyway ...

If you start talking about an atmosphere of "hate and distrust", you're getting into territory where it sounds like either 1) you are hyper negative and make exaggerated complaints, or 2) you lack the social skills to recognize that an interview is not the place to vent, even if your complaints are legitimate.

An interviewer can't see anything about your history except what you tell them, and any decent interviewer will know not to take your word as gospel. So you need to look at anything you say through the eyes of a person who knows is making a guess at the accuracy of everything you say. It's totally possible that if you say your old employer has a culture of distrust and hate, you're telling the absolute truth. It's also possible though that you are a problematic employee and you're bitter because you were fired/pushed out for being unpleasant and incompetent. So you need to be careful how you present your story so that it's hard to interpret negatively.

I've seen employees who really didn't do anything useful. I've seen managers work with them for months trying to resolve issues. I've seen those same managers resort to micromanaging because at some point that's all you can do. And I've seen those problematic employees finally get pushed out and then rant on Facebook and in person about how terrible their manager and/or the company were, when I know for a fact that they were the bulk of the problem.

Imagine if you asked the interviewer how they felt about their current employer and they told you it's pretty good except that the guy you're replacing was terrible, that he was incompetent and constantly angry and despite constant oversight he never delivered anything of value. This should be a point of concern for you. Was the previous employee the entire problem? Is the position overworked? Did manager deal with it but berating the employee to just do more rather than working with the employee to fix the problems? And will the company badmouth you to others if/when you leave?

And this is exactly what both sides can find out, if people are encouraged to speak openly.

A bad employee stays a bad employee, even though he hides the truth by not bitching and a bad company stays bad, even though nobody dares to talk about it. But with honesty people find out those things more quickly ...

The interviewer is not evaluating your old company. To the extent that the interviewer asks, they are trying to find out about you. The interviewer at WidgetsCo doesn't care at all about the work environment at FlibbetsCo unless he's thinking about interviewing there himself or he's considering poaching some employees. If the interviewer at WidgetsCo asks "why are you leaving Flibbets?", he's actually trying to find out if there's a problem with you.

If you want to speak up at your current employer to resolve issues, I would generally encourage that. There's clear value in being honest with your employer and trying to work out issues (though there can also be risk if you have a really unhealthy relationship with management). Being "honest" with an interviewer about your current company doesn't solve anything. You won't fix problems with your current employer by telling a new company about them. You won't likely discover anything useful about the new company. And they won't likely learn anything useful about you, because it's impossible for them to tell if you're just bitter and spiteful or if you had legitimate problems caused by the company.

I worked for a smaller company that did not have an HR department. You actually could tell the truth. That was pretty awesome. I wish more places were like that.

Don't be silly. "Truth" has context. This is like saying you should tell everybody about the trouble you have in your marriage - because "truth". The new employer has no business knowing what trouble you had internally - and worse, new employers don't like it because they will assume what you do in this interview you will do in the next one - when you leave that new job and now talk about the new company's internals.

> when you leave that new job and now talk about the new company's internals

See also the other reply, but I seriously don't see why that would be bad for my (imaginary) company, unless I want to hide, that my company is indeed "bad"

> This is like saying you should tell everybody about the trouble you have in your marriage - because "truth" And no it is not. You don't tell everybody, but your close friends - because they are interested and might be able to help

And having a potential employee telling honestly you, what he did not like at his former place, is a very good context for useful information, to find out, if he fits.

Because if he didn't liked it for example, that in the last company they expected results ... than you know, that he probably won't fit in your place as well.

But if he tells you, that they focused much more on formalities, than on results, then you maybe say "welcome home", we also like more the latter ...

See the other comment I wrote below in response to @20yrs_no_equity


> A prospective new employer may ask you why you left your previous job and what you liked and didn’t like about your employer. This line of questioning is designed not only to learn more about you and your professional history but also to find out about how you’re likely to characterize your new job in the future. If you talk poorly or complain, it sends a red flag that you are unprofessional and lack company loyalty.

> how you’re likely to characterize your new job in the future. If you talk poorly or complain, it sends a red flag that you are unprofessional and lack company loyalty.

If a company expects me to lie in the future about my potential bad experience, it would not be a company I would work for. Sure, just "bitching" and whinery complaining ... no, nobody likes that and people who do that. But why should a company get my loyality, if they are indeed bad?

How then can others be warned about abusive - and in the case of amazon they were abusive[1]- past employers?

[1] FWIW, I've had some bad jobs, usually because they were startups where people didn't know what they were doing. Well meaning people in over their heads can be tough but fun and the furthest things from abusive. Amazon was organized to abuse employees as a consequence of protecting management egos.

    > How then can others be warned about abusive 
Did you already forget that bluelu - the parent commenter - talked about a job interview here? You feel you need to warn your new employer to not apply for a job at your previous one?

Nobody prevents you from doing everything else. But this is a job interview, and how you behave here shows how you will behave in the future. You think it's a good idea to show your new employer that you will shit-talk them next time?

There's a big difference between "shit-talk" and honesty.

Please read what I wrote above about "truth". You don't tell people your marriage problems because "truth". You just don't go around telling people about your private problems under the banner of "truth". This sounds like yellow page journalism - "We must drag this into the public because 'truth'!". No. It's telling you choose to ignore 90% of what I said in the comment you replied to. You just like to argue and "to be right". I don't think you are actually interested in truth, but it's a nice narrative tat you carry in front of you like a holy banner.

This topic has been discussed here on HN repeatedly, what I said initially has always been the recommendation.



> A prospective new employer may ask you why you left your previous job and what you liked and didn’t like about your employer. This line of questioning is designed not only to learn more about you and your professional history but also to find out about how you’re likely to characterize your new job in the future. If you talk poorly or complain, it sends a red flag that you are unprofessional and lack company loyalty.

Over and out, it's getting ridiculous.

> I didn't believe him at that time.

why not?

Lack of experience on my side? What he told me sounded unbelievable and I thought he made it up.

Everytime I hear these stories, there are 2 things that go through my mind.

1) I'm never going to work at Amazon

2) If you're judging a company based on the experiences of those who are dissatisfied, isn't that always going to be heavily biased?

At any large company, there will be many people who are unhappy and dissatisfied. If you go out looking for stories from such people, and compile them into a single digest, it's going to make any company look dysfunctional.

Using a glassdoor-esque rating system seems like the best way to judge a company. And Amazon's rating there is 3.4 (https://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Amazon-com-Reviews-E6036.h...). Which is nowhere near Google (4.4) or Facebook (4.5), but it isn't horrible either. It's even slightly above average (3.3) across all companies in Glassdoor.

Which does kind of make sense... no tech company can churn out great technology products over many years, if the work-culture is dysfunctional. Purely for that reason alone, I'm sure Bezos would put a lid on how bad the work culture at Amazon can possibly get.

All of which is to say... I get the feeling that Amazon is probably an okay place to work. It's not great. It's probably a little below-average for the tech industry. But it's probably not as dysfunctional as these reviews and horror stories seem to suggest.

Having spent a number of years in Seattle working with ex employees, having friends that work there, and even having a very cool project with Amazon that I'll probably never be able to talk about- I can tell you it is 100% about the team or group you are in that determines whether you live one of these horror stories or not. I have no doubt about the accuracy of anyone's story when they're saying how screwed over they got by Amazon, but I'm also not surprised when I hear someone say they love it.

There seems to be hot-spot groups that seem to originate a majority of the complaints, and they're not the tech teams we think about first when we're on HN reading these stories- a lot of the horrors happen on the 'non-tech' side.

With all that, I'd still never work there. It's generally a very tough place to work and I've heard of all kinds of funny ways those big bonuses have a way of disappearing/shrinking. As I tell the recruiters every two weeks when they inevitably call or email- I appreciate the tools they've built for me to run my company, I'm a Prime subscriber, and Alexa basically runs my house, but I want nothing to do with stepping foot in that campus as an employee.

I interviewed there a year or so ago. One of the guys in the 90000000 different in person interview sessions was extremely frank with me. He saw that I enjoyed working on open-source projects in my free time, and felt that there were some relevant Amazon policies (which I won't get in to) the he wished he had known about before he went to work there.

Anyway, this guy was frank enough with me about that stuff, that I actually believe him when he said that all those bad articles about amazon's culture (which had just come out weeks prior at that point) were probably accurate for some parts of the company, but he had never encountered it.

I didn't end up getting an offer from them ( I wouldn't have hired me based on the tech interviews either. Every single applied programming problem was some form a tree traversal, which I don't use regularly anymore) and was a little relieved that I wouldn't end up working there.

I personally liked working at Amazon, and think most of the horror stories are from bad teams (there are also good teams!) but you pointed out one of the few downsides that applies across the board.

Amazon is not very friendly towards open-source. When I was there, I believe their policy was that you needed to ask for permission to contribute to any open-source project. The policy was broad (covering things like code snippets on StackOverflow or /r/programming on Reddit) and strict (I heard they would not approve anything related to game development). There definitely were folks who contributed to open-source projects -- I think those people either didn't ask for permission or had friendly managers.

I don't know Amazon's policy, but many companies have you sign something when you start saying that they own anything and everything you work on, even if it's in your free time. Most of these companies also will provide you forms you can fill out explaining the projects you work on (or own) that will give you control/ownership of it rather than the company. I've filled out the same paperwork for all 4 companies I've worked at during my career.

If you have something new you want to work on, you normally need to contact your company's legal or HR team and get signoff that you are allowed to work on it (and that you can maintain ownership of it).

It's disturbing that this is considered normal. I would never work for a company that required this of me.

I first signed one of these in 2004. Most medium-large sized tech companies in the US will require you to sign this if you want to work for them.


I work for a medium-large sized engineering company based out of the midwest. I was not asked to sign such a document.

I've been through their process twice at different points early in my career and received offers both times- the reason I didn't join both times was that I was interviewing for a specific position on a specific team and because of whatever reason I was getting an offer for a similar position on a completely different team.

The first time I assumed that it was just a freak thing, after the second time I asked around and got the vibe it was completely normal for a variety of reasons, often because a manager on the interview cycle with more clout decided they liked you and you were therefor going to be working for them.

I like a lot of things they build and believe there are some very talented people there, but at what cost am I willing to participate in that activity directly? Not that high, I'll just reap the fruits of their labor from the outside.

I'm frankly surprised there are not sites to name and shame these specific teams yet given how bad it seems to be. You could even design it to look like an Amazon style review system!

> 2) If you're judging a company based on the experiences of those who are dissatisfied, isn't that always going to be heavily biased?

I've worked there myself and have a ton of friends who have spent time there. Some folks have even enjoyed working there. Overwhelmingly the evidence is that Amazon is a very bad place to work at, on average. You might get lucky and find a good team (amazon is incredibly federated as an organization) but you might also get unlucky and get an extra bad team. Also, unlike a lot of other tech companies of similar size (such as Microsoft or Amazon) there's basically no "love" at the corporate level for individual employees. At other companies reaching that "full-time employee" status level means something, and the company is willing to invest in you. You have the ability to move around to different teams, you have the ability to change your role. You have a wide range of options in terms of training to take. Working as an FTE at Amazon feels like working as a contractor anywhere else.

It's very dysfunctional, though there are enough devs who mostly know what they're doing who stick around for a long time to keep things running. Additionally, the service oriented architecture of the system makes it a lot easier to cycle through lots and lots of devs.

Of all of the folks I've known who have worked there most left after a short period of time because they hated it.

This is my perspective as well. Beyond our slightly cultish tenets/leadership principles (seriously, they quote Jeff like he's our holy leader), Amazon's really just a federation of loosely coupled teams. You and your team are literally at the mercy of your VP/director/Sr. Manager.

That said, I have generally positive things to say, but I've also witnessed an entire team of 6 SDEs quit under an especially bull-headed SDM. I've also seen managers making ridiculous promises to upper management without vetting them first.

Thankfully the bad SDM found another job, but he's still working in another department in the company.

Amazon was one of two companies that had the cultish "magical phrases" thing in my career. (Eg "Its day one!" And crap like that.) They are also the two companies that were the most abusive of employees. I have come to associate the cult like culture with employee hostility at the management level (and I believe that company culture comes from the Founder/CEO)

This is actually a big problem at Amazon. There are certain company sayings which have been baked into the corporate culture and were created by Bezos. It's basically fundamentally impossible to challenge the wisdom or utility of those sayings, they might as well be a religion. That situation of having ironclad, unassailable orthodoxy is always very dangerous, but there's basically no way for Amazon to get out of it unless Bezos changes his mind.

My honeymoon with the company was over the day I learned, fairly early on, that the "Door desks" cost a lot more than just going out and buying proper desks. But that they were kept around for the cult purposes, for the ritual.

Yup. My door desk leaked sap from the legs and was splintery. Such a silly tradition.

How was the work-life balance when you worked there?

Somewhere in the OK to mediocre range. On the plus side a 40 hour work week was typical. On the minus side being on call may be a major hassle and increase your work hours significantly and affect your ability to make plans on weekends or evenings depending on your team make up and the stability of your code base, etc. Also on the minus side: you don't get a lot of vacation time, there are periods of "crunch" when you'll be expected to work a bit more, and those periods can often be during traditional holiday times (thanksgiving, christmas, etc.)

> being on call may be a major hassle and increase your work hours significantly and affect your ability to make plans on weekends or evenings

Could you clarify? that's kind of what I expect when being on-call anywhere

Keep in mind that you're on salary, so no matter how much you work while on-call you still get paid the same. How often you're on-call depends on how big your team is, if you get unlucky and have a tiny team for a while (say, because everyone else quit) you might end up on-call quite a lot. Also, depending on the code base and what your team is doing at present there might be long periods of time (months) where when you're on call it's very intensive, with frequent periods of getting up at 2am to fix problems, working a lot more hours, etc.

Most importantly, unlike a typical Ops/DevOps job where being on-call is "your job" you are still expected to deliver on your "real" development job in addition to being on-call.

First off, Glassdoor is not objective. Employers can "object" to reviews that are derogatory and Glassdoor has so many "requirements" for reviews and a fear of getting sued that they just remove the bad ones on the rationalization that the negative review is not supportable, rather than deal with the irate HR department. Remember who pays Glassdoor. It's the companies, not the ex-emplyoees. I have experienced HR departments who actively groom the reviews there to ensure nothing too bad sticks around.

Amazon is an okay to great place to work if you have low standards and low self respect/esteem. Many engineers are this way without realizing it even. (Because we can see all the flaws in ourselves and our systems and don't realize that this isn't objective, so when we're mistreated we figure it's more legitimate than it is.)

Of the people at amazon who were happy there when I was there, it was mostly people with low requiremetns- they figured if they got their paycheck every month they were happy. They weren't bothered by their bosses abusing them verbally, or the other nonsense that others have talked about.

I live in the Seattle area too. I don't know a single person who work/worked at Amazon who disliked it or had any experience like what the NYTimes article described.

I like how you just make a blanket statement like "It is okay or great if you have low standards and low self respect/esteem". Way to play the superiority card. I know guys who went from Amazon to Google and say they liked Amazon way more.

Our experiences are obviously both anecdotal.. but only one of us is making condescending value judgments of others.

I was responding to the general assertion that people who are unhappy should be discounted because they are the ones who are going to complain. That's a value judgement.

I wasn't being condescending. There are a lot of engineers who have low self esteem (that's not a value judgement- too high self esteem is bad, as is too low, but "low" means "Lower than their value as a person", eg: they under value themselves. I'm not devaluing them.) And there are a lot of people who just aren't too picky about their workplace. I think that many of them are people early in their careers who don't know that they're being mistreated as poorly as they are.

Before I worked at Amazon I heard many stories from people who worked there about how terrible it was. I foolishly discounted them, and went to work there anyway, in large part because I undervalued myself, (eg: low self esteem effectively) and I was not being as picky as I should have been.

Just because people made the same mistake I did and might have felt the company was ok, because thy didn't have the alternative experiences I did, doesn't mean I'm wrong.

I consider you to have turned my comments about the topic to the person, by making a condescending characterization of me that was unwarranted by my comments.

This seems the most nuanced explanation. Most Big Companies™ I've worked with (AOL, CNET when it was a public co) have a lot of layers, which without proper objective alignment, creates a natural 'broken-ness' feeling.

Contrast that with startups where the lack of resources and increasing growth makes it feel broken.

Also if you're growing headcount very quickly, culture doesn't always get transmitted and you can end up with factions fighting against each other.

"Life is pain. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something."

You do, however, get to pick your pain. Pain from growing too quickly feels much different from organizational disfunction.

In Amazon's case they might have both (!) because of how fast they grow and how big they are.

Amazon is large company. A really large company. Like all large companies, there are good/great departments and bad ones.

Sometimes, the people part of the bad ones wake up and start bitching, then you get this.

Google has great reviews, but it has its share of bad departments. It also has a lot of koolaid drinkers, so the people who work in those just bitch about it a lot to their friends and it never goes any further than that... Eventually someone will post a NYT article about it and make Google sounds totally horrible because of those localized issues, just like Amazon. Or maybe they'll just keep drinking the koolaid. Who knows!

> Amazon is large company. A really large company. Like all large companies, there are good/great departments and bad ones.

I don't buy this as an excuse. There are too many stories about Amazon culture to write them all off as a loud minority. Either Amazon has more bad departments than other companies or the bad ones are just worse. Either way I don't care, I don't want to work in a toxic environment and am not going to coin-flip that I get put into one of the good ones.

from the people I know who work there, yeah, there's a bit more bad ones than at other places for sure.

Though I blame it more on their slightly looser hiring practices. A lot of people get hired there that have no business working as engineers on hard problems anywhere. Then Amazon does what most tech companies seem to have trouble doing: can them (they should not have hired them in the first place, but still). Then they write stories about it complaining about how great they were and were canned.

> A lot of people get hired there that have no business working as engineers on hard problems anywhere. Then Amazon does what most tech companies seem to have trouble doing: can them (they should not have hired them in the first place, but still).

You're suggesting Amazon struggles not because of bad management (as almost every story suggests) but because their developers aren't skilled enough? That's a really strange claim on the face of it.

More people say Trump would make a great president than people say Amazon is a bad place to work. Tons of people saying something doesn't make it true.

That said, they totally have bad management. Like the majority of tech companies minus a couple of shiny ones. What I'm saying is that, aside from the fact they are a pretty visible target among tech companies with shitty management, one of their main issues is that they have very lax entry requirements, so not only people bitch about the real issues, they ALSO bitch about non-issues because a large segment of their devs suck. Yes.

Yeah, when I quit %80 of my team had already quit because our manager was terrible. They were not bad engineers. He literally was trained to be a prison guard, and was managing programmers as if they were prisoners.

Silly of you to claim amazon has lax hiring standards.

Ah the good ole vitimizing the victim routine. Touche.

Don't they have bar-raisers in the interviewing process anymore?

They do, but when your "bar raiser" in a programming interview is a non-technical guy whose degree is in criminal justice... he aint exactly raising the bar. Still amazon gets stronger engineers working there than they deserve. I think in large part because they don't have the negative reputation that they justly deserve.

> there are good/great departments and bad ones.

I find this to be true of the megacorps I've worked for but the problem at amazon seems to be the entire culture starting with Bezos.

There are definitely good/great teams at Amazon. However, a big problem is that the overarching corporate culture, corporate leadership, and corporate policies are toxic and corrosive to job satisfaction and healthy working environments. That means the good teams are much less numerous and also constantly under threat. It also means, as an individual, there aren't corporate level resources (HR, etc.) who are in any way invested in helping you advance your career or improve your work experience.

Funny because I haven't seen this level "bitching" from Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other companies.

We are not talking about a single person here. There is a systemic issue it seems.

I have worked at Amazon and Microsoft. At Amazon the culture was abusive. At Microsoft I saw arrogance and incompetence and various other irritating things- what you get at any big company. But it's not malicious. Amazon is highly political and set up to be effectively malicious. (The other large companies I've worked for were more like Microsoft.)

The Amazon issue isn't just that they are large. IT's their culture, which is employee hostile.

> Amazon is large company. A really large company. Like all large companies, there are good/great departments and bad ones.

Companies have processes and policies, I don't buy the "bad department" excuse. Of course, some have it better than others, but often bad working conditions are the result of policies put in place by the upper management.

A really large company also has trouble _consistently_ enforcing said policies. Different organizations interpret them in different ways.

So what's Amazon actually doing about those bad departments?

This just reaffirms that I don't want to work with any company in the 3's. My current company is a 3.3 but if you read their subreddit you would think they were going to murder your dog.

I don't know what this means. 3 of what?

The grandparent post was about Glassdoor. Amazon has a 3ish out of 5 rating, while other big tech companies tend to be around 4ish.

I think he meant the Glassdoor rating.

Using just one rating is a bit flawed. You'll probably find a lot of people who would give the corporate culture one star but would give it 5 stars for the fact that they got to work with emerging technology -- which is the legitimate draw of working for Amazon. But that inflates the single rating that you give the company to a 3 where otherwise you might have given it a 1 for the culture being shitty.

And the fact that Amazon is as big and healthy of a company as it is and the fact that it loses an entire point compared to Google and Facebook in ratings means that the culture must be really bad. And when you consider that the lowest of the companies in Glassdoor are not only shitty culture but businesses that are fundamentally swirling down the toilet bowl as well -- and Amazon for all its success can only eek out an 'Average' rating?

That means the culture must be pretty bad.

(And based on my working there for 5 years, I know the culture is pretty bad -- but if you asked me to rate it, I'd probably rate it a 3 overall -- good place to spend a year or two to learn some cutting edge technology to get on your resume, but then you should escape before you stay there too long...)

I don't need to read stories like this to know I will never work at Amazon; having lived in Seattle since the dot-com era, I've heard enough of them from friends and acquaintances. But it's not just the unhappy, dissatisfied former employees who make the place sound bad: I've had a number of friends stick around for years, some of whom even claimed to enjoy it, and their stories still make Amazon sound like a soulless, dystopian meat-grinder.

It's the same in that glassdoor thread you linked: even the people who are trying to recommend Amazon as a good place to work end up making its culture sound aggressive, cutthroat, and inflexible. Not my cup of tea.

And you gotta remember the star rating given by the reviewer isn't always accurate according to their own review. I've seen several reviews where they gave amazon 3 stars, despite the fact that they said there was an abusive working environment with stack ranking, politics, 80 hour work weeks and backstabbing. If that's 3 stars, that's awful.

There is also survivor bias as people who know better would leave quickly and would be less likely to write a review.

I thought this was pretty funny (from The Onion a year ago):

"Jeff Bezos Assures Amazon Employees That HR Working 100 Hours A Week To Address Their Complaints"


And how much do those work who address HRs complaints?

> Nothing matters more to me than the well-being of our employees, and our HR staff will continue to work their fingers to the bone— not seeing their families or friends or anything at all outside their offices [...]

Is their HR outsourced? Because they should also be their employees, right? :D

EDIT: Judging from the down votes, I guess that someone didn't get the sarcasm. :)

That was the joke :)

Just more fodder for my mental reasoning for why Amazon is on my lengthy blacklist of companies I will never work for. It's kind of amazing to me how many companies in the tech sector have given up even the vestige of being about technology and how it benefits people in favor of being some of the most ruthless and sharky people in the business world.

There was a point in my life where I'd say I'd never again work in government, finance, or healthcare related companies, and now I actually find I'd rather do that because management politics is /less cutthroat/ and more reasonable in those industries than it is in tech. I hope maybe we'll see a real revival in the tech industry one of these days, but so many of the companies that have made it big have done it by stomping on the people who actually matter. Tech these days is all about big egos fueled by big dollars, but the numbers don't actually matter so things are irrational from the top all the way down.

At least in finance, the numbers are all that matter at the end of the day. At least in healthcare there's a semblance of care given to the patients. At least in government there's an understanding if not a fulfillment of the social contract. In tech all we have are douchebags with big wallets and bigger egos (Bezos, Ellison, et al) destroying the lives of their employees (and sometimes their customers) to enrich themselves at the expense of all others. It's completely pathological.

>in favor of being some of the most ruthless and sharky people in the business world.

A lot of techies, especially young guys, are hyper-competitive from very early on. I think a lot of shops have a problem where the cut-throats are a good part of the staff, then these guys start graying a bit, have kids, etc and realize they can't keep up but they've already created a cut-throat culture. So they burn out and move onto a company with better benefits and values.

Its easy to blame CEOs, and obviously they should share the blame here, but a lot of this culture is grassroots. The most miserable environments I've been in are CS classes and early career tech work. Holy shit, are the egos huge and the attitudes bad. Social skills in IT are below average in general in my experience, so we're talking a lot of serious and dedicated misanthropes with stereotypical male social aggression, bullying, and intimidation. (gee, women don't feel comfortable in CS classes, I wonder why?)

The real question is why aren't we teaching the values of work-life balance, win-win, etc from early on. Is it schooling with its emphasis with grades and "doing better than the other guy?" By the time it gets to the CEO level, its already been ingrained in society. My pet theory is that CEO behavior just reflects the rest of us. If it didn't they'd be kicked out of by the board or an employee uprising. A lot of people love Bezos and his heavy-handed ways, in fact, they think this is why Amazon products provide such a good value.

As we move towards automation and post-scarcity these questions are going to become important. It may be the case that today's batch of CEO bad guys are the last generation as GMI and other concepts become political realities to handle later stage capitalism, economic drive-downs, loss of jobs via automation, and lower costs of living.

> A lot of techies, especially young guys, are hyper-competitive from very early on.

I think it is only "a lot" when you only look at the relatively small sample who frequent sites like HN. I used to work for a large defense contractor, where out of hundreds of engineers of all disciplines I could count on one hand the number of HN readers, and only 20% or so of engineers fit the hyper-competitive mold. Obviously there was some level of self-selection (part of the reason I am not there anymore), but places like this represent the bulk of engineering jobs.

We proclaim valuing work-life balance as a signal. It's "look at me; I have enough valuable free time to spend it playing golf." We may or may not actually be all that committed to it. We just use it for purposes of signalling status.

People pursue status almost unconsciously. If you don't pursue status, you might pay for it with your job. The thing I find appalling is that employers seem to encourage this - after all, if your people are so busy knifing each other in the back, they're probably not actually working.

Of course what I'm missing with that is - that's how they got there.

I agree, there's a ton of room here for discussion. There's something at a more fundamental level that is broken in our society and it seems to have worsened with the rise of technology enabling people to still conduct their lives while being anti-social. The same exact things that have in some ways been a boon for me personally have also been detrimental to society because they've been enablers for an increase in the number of psychopaths who are running companies.

At some point society will need to make a choice (if it doesn't end up being made for us in one way or another along the way). We need to figure out if we want to prioritize wealth or welfare (in the broadest sense of those terms). That is, do we consider it ethical and acceptable for one person to lord over others within their micro-fiefdom merely on the justification of "getting there first". Or do we consider how the entry into a post-scarcity society empowers us to think globally and communally, where the goals are the advancement of everyone as a whole rather than individuals.

Personally, I follow a highly individualist philosophy, but I'm not ignorant to some of the unintended consequences that can come from that philosophy, and I think the fact we govern ourselves at a crossroads without wholly committing to either side actually worsens these consequences. Collectivism philosophies come with their own consequences, but I think once resources no longer are limiting factors for individuals or groups, it becomes about allocation of intellectual energy instead and this is where a collectivist philosophy might shine.

It's easy to say we shouldn't blame the CEOs, but in this case I think there's something related between how shareholders and boards think about CEO behavior, how employees think about CEO behavior, how CEOS think about their own behavior, and our social trend towards cults of personality and celebrity. We as a society have put a significant amount of effort into glorifying people who are act like total dicks in the business world. To some extent, it's helped us get to this point. But there's a huge amount of ethical concerns with that, and it's just simply no longer necessary and is now detrimental to getting further.

At the end of the day though, we've enshrined a ton of power and wealth in these individuals and they have a responsibility to themselves and to all those that depend on them to make the right choices. Ethics is a huge component of this, and the fact so many of these CEOs behave unethically towards one reliant party (shareholders, customers, vendors, employees) or another is a testament to their willingness to compromise ethics in favor of personal enrichment. That's an individual choice and we can't blame anyone else for making it. It's even more egregious when the CEOs in question are also founding members of their companies, such as Bezos and Ellison that I called out in my original post by name.

> schooling with its evidence on "doing better than the other guy"...

Is this culture common at many tech-focused universities? It certainly wasn't at MIT 5 years ago.

Yes, I can't speak for MIT but where I went to school your grades basically dictated where you ended up placed in internships.

Grading on a curve also fosters competition by its very nature. Doing well on a test doesn't mean mastering the material, it means beating 90% of the class to ride the curve to an A.

Yea grades as a zero sum game really decreases collaboration.

PSA: In case you need more context, just go to the parent url:


Which from my understanding is a collection of anonymous rants from Amazon employees, and the posted link is just an example.

As someone already posted, it would be interesting to hear if someone in HN can provide some counterexample, or if the rants are spot on.

Back when scrutiny of Amazon's working conditions blew up after a NYT investigation, there were several HN'ers who had good things to say about working there: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10065243

Here's an anonymous comment that backed Amazon: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10065713

(there were plenty of negative experiences too)

I would like to hear something from the other side but not many employees create entire sites dedicated to documenting management/abuse problems. That's a sign right there that it seems serious :(

I've known a few Amazonians and their stores more or less mirror the bad stuff I've heard (they all worked in the retail part as SDEs, not AWS). Some of the details about software processes and team build-up/dissolving make me wonder how the site even stays on-line.

I also interviewed once with them for a TPM position and had a fairly weird discussion with the recruiter about compensation and had to field some pretty random interview questions. Nothing was particularly terrible about my experience, but it made me wonder if I wanted to move across the country for what looked like a very non-amazing job.

>Some of the details about software processes and team build-up/dissolving make me wonder how the site even stays on-line.

Their inventory system is totally screwed up, worst I ever seen. I can't understand how they can run their company the way they do.



"I sent in 14. 14 were received, 1 was lost and 1 was found. How many should have? 14

How many does Amazon say I should have? 11. How many units do I actually have? 9."

I can't get over how bad this is.

Let's assume the rants are true for the most part. How is it possible that so many people work for Amazon despite the antics, especially in Seattle where it should be possible to get a similar job elsewhere. Are there benefits people work towards while coping with the toxic workplace?

I work at Amazon, getting paid just shy of $200k/year. My team spends like 80% of the time doing whatever we think will make the product better. The rest is devoted to operations and handling requests. I don't take my laptop home when I'm not on-call, which isn't that awful. If witnessed half as much fuckery as I see espoused on this site or in the NYT article, I'd finally respond to the google recruiters that hit my inbox weekly. Or idk, maybe start a company, or retire early. I actually enjoy Amazon though. It's an elegant organization that can create product that speaks to the customer, then iterate it to maturity. I imagine in the process of getting where we are today some highly distressed pockets developed and asinine managers got promoted to incompetence, but I haven't witnessed it yet. Also probably helps that a ton of tech companies have popped up offices in Seattle and the demand for engineers is staggering.

Nice try, Jeff Bezos!

We don't seem to know what teams the negative reports are from, so may I ask what your division or team is, given your positive experience?

Supposedly it varies heavily from organization to organization. I work with people from multiple orgs. All of them seem pretty happy. Also, this is probably a violation of some policy which would be a tragic uncuffing of my badass golden handcuffs. Kind of sad that people probably get paid to monitor social media for company image. Probably a good start-up idea there if you squint hard enough and are willing to tolerate a large sales staff with long engagements and a lumpy revenue stream.

Any insight into why specific teams/managers aren't being anonymously named and shamed at this point if it is that bad? Seems almost inevitable at this point.

I can't imagine being wronged hard enough to do something like that. Then again, this twilight amazon I keep reading about on the internet might be bad enough.

So how do all these Amazon engineers stand living and working there in Seattle when there's no high-speed internet access anyway (according to what I've read online)?

I have gigabit, condointernet. Not sure where you heard that rumor. I made 200k year and took the abuse as long as I could. I made it about a year before I voluntarily quit. Now Im unemployed burning savings and still after months, still not ready to work again due to the absolutely heinous ptsd-style shit I had to go through. Maybe when this summer is up I'll find a new gig. Amazon is shit, good people get abused and ridiculed for making good money. Its the exact opposite of what should happen when you are a skilled and well meaning communicative dev. Im pretty sure the less you make the better you will get treated there, because the entire company is about "customers" and even extracting value from employees. Every employee has a target on their back.

I'm sorry you had a lousy time at Amazon, but that's not really what I was talking about, I was talking about the state of Seattle internet access. I read it all the time on the internet, in various message forums. From what I've read, in many places in Seattle (the city, not surrounding municipalities), there simply is no high-speed internet because Comcast doesn't feel like building it, and the city council doesn't feel like doing anything to force them to. It's basically a big joke and a huge irony because Seattle is a tech hub with Amazon and Microsoft there as well as a bunch of other tech companies.

As for your situation, I'd encourage you to get out there and look for a new job ASAP. I've had a bunch of different jobs in my career and for me it was actually pretty refreshing starting a new job somewhere. Of course, after a while the grim reality would set in about how this place wasn't that great (usually it was something in the job that changed, such as new management), but for a while they'd usually be pretty fun since their expectations of a new-hire are pretty low, and some jobs actually were pretty good all around. Don't just sit around and stew about your last job; get out there and get a new one and you'll forget about that last horrible one before long. Also, the longer you stay unemployed the harder it'll be to get a new gig, so don't wait.

An ex-Amazon engineer at a top tech company told me he felt that his current colleagues were higher-caliber than his colleagues at Amazon, and that many candidates that were rejected would have been accepted by Amazon. So that's a possible answer.

That being said, Amazon is still considered a top tech firm, even if it is a cut below Google/Facebook in prestige. There aren't many tech firms as well-known as Amazon. I can see many fresh grads going to Amazon for 1-2 years just to get it on their resume.

I'm sure one factor is its probably relatively easy to get hired there with solid benefits and pay. While we always hear about great paying jobs (etc.) on HN, most people don't look that hard when searching for a new job. If Amazon pops in with everything they want (salary / benefits wise), they may be reluctant to go on that 4th, 8th... 10th interview.

people have far less freedom in deciding where to work than we fool ourselves into believing

I know very well how little of the flexibility exists for most developers around the world, but I explicitly asked how Amazon can be a good opportunity in Seattle. I'm curious what the benefits are, since there are so many negative reports from insiders. There are many companies you'd expect to read similar reports about and don't, so either there's a negative Amazon press union somewhere, maybe those working in warehouses, or Amazon's office workplace is really as bad as people say.

you mean, amazon is better than whatever other places people could work instead?

Or they thought it would be better than their previous place and were stuck once there. Or it was the only place to give them an offer. Or the money was too good to pass up despite the abuse. Or they accepted the abuse for the name brand on their resume.

Or, they have a huge mortgage to pay off and are in danger of losing their house. That'll keep people in an abusive relationship for a long time.

this, + a lot of job searching happens in a desperate daze.

Maybe they're trying to show off how tough they are. Nobody ever made the mistake of thinking military basic training was an all inclusive vacation. Its plausible.

In an absolute sense it may be a hellish place to work and the average turnover might for the sake of argument be 6 months. But lets say you have a job hopping stain on the resume and you gut out 9 months of amazon, well, that's fifty percent longer than most survive, that employee must have a cast iron stomach and be a focused dedicated team player, etc etc. Paradoxically Amazon being hell on earth is a benefit in that scenario, obviously you don't want to waste your life on HR nonsense, and if you can prove you're tough in 9 months instead of 2 years, well, thats great. Actually, make working conditions worse at Amazon if at all possible so "tough guys" can prove themselves in only two months instead of the made up 9 months.

Ex amzn here: most of my ex colleagues agree that claims regarding opportunities for growth and so on are massively exaggerated by managers and HR.

Well, up until the stories started coming out, Amazon was (and still kind of is) a "big name". So if one of their recruiters comes calling, most people were willing to follow. They'd get their salary and stock golden handcuffs, and by the time they realized the truth, it's too late. You can't leave for a while because of the handcuffs, and what it looks like to leave an employer, especially one like Amazon, within 6 months to a year.

The median tenure is 1 year at Amazon. Lots of people cycle through there. Though plenty of people stay for a while. They pay alright and it's not too difficult to get hired.

Also, when I was working there I had a difficult time reconciling myself to how bad it was to work there. On paper it doesn't seem so bad. You get to work on pretty interesting stuff sometimes, you make good money, typically you only have to work 40 hour work weeks, etc. I convinced myself to walk away from a good chunk of money just in bonuses to get out of there, some people might be able to stick it out longer or find the money harder to leave behind.

The problem is that having such a huge portion of the economy being involved in knowledge work is a relatively new thing, and we don't understand the differences between knowledge work and physical work. And especially we don't have thoroughly established standards on what constitute good and bad conditions for knowledge work. We tend to think that sitting in a chair for 8 hours a day is "easy", but it very much is not. A stressful working environment for a knowledge worker is just as bad if not worse than a physical stressful job working extended hours. I only spent a year at Amazon, and most of the time I probably didn't even put in full 40 hour weeks, but I hated it there. In comparison I view the time I spent years ago doing data entry at sometimes up to 70 or 80 hours a week during peak times as comparatively inconsequential. Depending on the team you're on and so forth, working at Amazon can be a painful and stressful experience.

Take being on call for example. In theory this isn't so bad, it's good to give devs exposure to how the ops side of things works, and it's in theory good to give them ownership of their own mistakes so that they have incentive to write good code. The problem is, you're not in charge. You're never going to get permission to dump the resources into making everything run well, ever. Most teams have other priorities and they don't have enough resources to spare to allow you to properly fix the code you're responsible for. Worse, it's not even your code, it's code that was written by someone else years ago who also left years ago. And the next person is just going to get whatever mess you leave behind when you leave. So in the average case you can't actually work to improve things, so being on call is going to always be an extra pain, and a significant intrusion into your theoretically off-work life. Worse, it'll push you behind on all the other stuff you need to deliver.

Meanwhile, you have all the typical office BS of politics, ranking, bad corporate culture, reorgs, etc. that you have to deal with day to day. Some people manage to find good teams in that mess, and others manage to just turn off whatever makes people care about work and just suffer through it for the paycheck. But for a lot of people, more so the more you care, it'll be a stressful nightmare. And the easiest way to avoid dealing with all those problems is to just leave, which lots of people do.

14 hours/day of low-paying mindless work like installing software (or whatever the modern equivalent is) without constant interruptions is easy and lucrative compared to even 4 hours of stressful, dissonant, interrupt-driven work that is common today. both are considered knowledge work, and in the end, on an hourly basis, both pay basically the same.

the most stressful part of this entire industry, and i know this from experience, is fixing other peoples' problems on-demand. whatever form it takes, that's the absolute worst fucking job in this entire field, because you get blamed for problems you did not cause, and blamed a second time for not fixing it fast enough.

"it's not too difficult to get hired" - is this right? I've had friends go through 3-4 (I think five, for one) rounds of interviews.

I interviewed there several years ago and although the interview process was long (several phone interviews and then a full day on-sight) it never really felt like a hard interview process. Of course after I interviewed there I heard nothing from them for 2 months, assumed they weren't interested, then they gave me a written offer out of the blue for a completely different job that had nothing to do with what I'd interviewed for and wasn't really aligned with my skills or interests, so I have no idea what kind of bizzaro twilight zone interview process I might have fallen into.

From talking to ex-amazon coworkers you don't have to have gone to a handful of ivy league unis, you don't have to be exactly 22, you don't have to be a white male, you don't have to be in the same frat as the CEO. Doesn't mean you aren't going to get put thru the interview wringer like any other low social status job.

>The median tenure is 1 year at Amazon. Lots of people cycle through there. Though plenty of people stay for a while. They pay alright and it's not too difficult to get hired.

Curious - does this take into account their warehouse employees who are not FTE's and are seasonal or only FTE's?

That's for FTE software developers.

Keep in mind that can be somewhat misleading, if you have 3 positions and for 2 of those you have people who have stayed there 5+ years but for the other one you have had 5 people cycle through at a year each the median tenure will still be just 1 year. Even so, that's a pretty scary stat.

> it's not too difficult to get hired

Well, that makes me fell better about being rejected. :/

Don't feel too bad, the hiring process in tech is almost universally garbage, from every angle. It especially has a high rate of bad "no hire" decisions.

I know. What really frustrates me is the number of people who try to justify that high rate as if it were a good thing, or at least a not very bad thing. I'm at the point now where I take willingness to encourage people to re-apply in n months as a signal that a company's hiring process is bullshit and that I shouldn't apply.

I have been downvoted on reddit for saying this, but my opinion is that a company should be confident enough in a "no" that they won't reconsider that person for a substantially similar role.[1] If they aren't, they need to fix their hiring process so they are.

As an aside, the other thing that really pisses me off is to hear about how in-demand "software engineers" are while still having to deal with this crap. Seems like a self-imposed problem to me.

[1] "Substantially similar" here means same level, same stack, and same team, as appropriate for a particular company. IMO level should largely be irrelevant at larger companies because a candidate should be judged on hireability into any level and an offer made at the highest one appropriate. If there isn't one appropriate but a slot opens up within a reasonable amount of time, an offer should be made to previous interview candidates who passed that bar but failed the higher one, without the need to re-interview.

I don't know if you've been on the other side of the equation, but it's also just as terrible. You get maybe 1 in 10 people that you can pass from one stage to the next (i.e. resume review to phone screen, phone screen to interview, interview to job offer).

One of the biggest problems is that it's just very difficult to gauge someone's competency well (even broadly) in a short amount of time. Worse, most folks who do interviews are unwilling to acknowledge how difficult a task it is and how bad they are at it. And the high level of legitimate rejections makes it easy to imagine that all of your rejections are legitimate.

It's very unfortunate because hiring is one of the most important things anyone does at a job, and hiring well (especially finding competence that other companies have passed over) is a major competitive advantage.

I have been on both sides.

> You get maybe 1 in 10 people that you can pass from one stage to the next (i.e. resume review to phone screen, phone screen to interview, interview to job offer).

Where I currently work I have not been involved much in the early screening. My understanding is that resume to screen is about 1:4 and screen to interview is about 1:10. I have been involved with the interviews, and our interview to offer is somewhere between 1:2 and 1:3. Our screen includes a 2-hour timed coding test, though, so I think it is fairly effective at filtering the poseurs. Prior to this I didn't have any visibility into the results.

This is tangential, but I often wonder how much of the phone screen and on-site failure rate has as its root cause a poor resume filtering function. When you say you only screen the top 10% of resumes, are you really screening the top 10% of candidates? I know it's a really hard question to answer, but it seems like many companies don't want to try to answer it.

> Worse, most folks who do interviews are unwilling to acknowledge how difficult a task it is and how bad they are at it.

This is one thing that really bothers me about this industry. So many companies think it is acceptable to just yank semi-random engineers out of their daily routine to go interview a candidate. I came from the traditional engineering world, and we got training before we were assigned to interviewing candidates. Furthermore, for our first interviews we were always paired with another interviewer who had significant experience.

> It's very unfortunate because hiring is one of the most important things anyone does at a job, and hiring well (especially finding competence that other companies have passed over) is a major competitive advantage.

What is ridiculous is the number of people who treat hiring as a distraction from their real job. If you want any sort of management responsibility, hiring is part your job.

Exactly. So many devs thrust into the role of interviewer basically just want to look for people who are like them, or find ways to flatter themselves at the expense of the interview process. So many interviews boil down to "guess what answer I'm thinking of", even when that answer isn't actually the best solution to the problem, and often when there's no straightforward way to get to that answer unless you already know of it. And that's on top of all of the other ridiculous problems in the "hiring funnel" that lead up to that point. It's crazy how few people are actually invested in improving the situation given that there's such a huge return on investment possible.

Golden handcuffs.

Are there dates attached to these? I don't see any, and this complaint could be outdated (I doubt it is, but it still could be)

Almost everything I've heard about employment at Amazon has been negative.

Now obviously, I can't say whether that's fair to the company, however it must be costing them a lot of money. I bet there are a lot of people that have heard the din of politics and would never consider working there.

Are there any HN readers that are currently working at Amazon and that are happy?

I worked there as an SDE for ~3 years, until recently (in Seattle, in a core business area) and liked it a lot.. As far as I could tell, most of the people in my organization were very content with their jobs. We've of course talked about the negative reputation about the work environment. It seems like those conditions must exist somewhere, to hear this much about it, but they must be in other parts of the company since they're totally unlike what I've seen.

That or it existed until several years ago and the rumors have a time delay in coming out.

Unless the turnover is ludicrous such that very few lasted over a year, survivor bias would probably make it seem those left are content... For myself I've read a lot of really bad posts from ex-employees (and talked with a few as I'm in the area) and it's enough to make me never want to work there under even desperate circumstances despite my great appreciation as a customer and acknowledgement of their superior tech practices in some domains. (Like use of TLA+, being API-driven...) Maybe you can update me on these, but I currently ignore Amazon recruiters because I can't figure out which few-words complaint to send by itself in response: "free snacks", or "personal side projects including games", or "40 hour weeks", or "stack ranking", or "aggressive non-compete".

Ex amzn here: survivor bias is a huge. You hear very different stories when talking to the few (starry-eyed) employees and the many ex employees.

I don't think the people who stay for a long time are "starry-eyed". I think they're people who jive better with the culture. That perfectly explains why they like it there, too.

I did well with the culture, and therefore had a positive experience. I'm definitely aware of people who didn't. I'm also aware of people who weren't unhappy, but left for unrelated reasons (several because the weather in the Bay Area trumps Seattle for them. I don't know if I feel that way, having not lived down there, but I think Seattle's weather is vastly underrated.)

(I feel compelled to defend Amazon since I feel like the lone naysayer in this comment thread.)

Other face posts mention a structure of hiring bonus (getting less after 2 years) and some 4 year reason to stay. Can you elaborate?

An example of salary from one wholly-owned Amazon subsidiary: Base salary 78k. First Year signing bonus: 30k, 10 RSUs vest after first year Second Year signing bonus 25k, 30 RSUs vest after second year Third year & Fourth year, 40 RSUs vest after every 6 months of employment

This was directly from an entry level offer and it is general practice to get a salary increase at annual reviews and more RSUs for after your fourth.

Like many RSUs, if you leave before your RSUs vest, you forfeit them. This is pretty much your 4 year incentive to stay.

EDIT: Clarifying RSU forfeiture

So when the first and second year RSU's mature and you quit, you can still sell the 20 RSU's though right?

Golden Handcuffs in Caps. Explains the other posts.

The income I was getting felt luxurious even without the RSUs. I viewed them as "promises of extra income next year" rather than "money I get this year but forfeit if I leave", which seems much healthier for many reasons. You're always on a revolving set of RSUs anyway; it's not like there's a point where they've all vested. In no sense is that 'handcuffs'. It's more of a guaranteed raise.

That's how all bonuses work? If I'm reading your comment correctly. If you leave a company within, usually, two years, you have to return the money.

Whoa, unless the bonus is astronomical, you would really need to question the offer, especially if relocation is involved. The longest earn-out I've ever had on a hiring bonus was 6 months, even then I left within 5 and didn't have to pay it back. The amount of things that can cause you to leave a job or be fired over two years creates a huge risk, and creates an incentive for your employee to fire you on your 23rd month.

The three offers that I'm familiar with from three of the big ones were 2 years, though maybe it's different for new grads?

I totally agree, I don't really like it. I think, though, that the astronomically large bonuses are worse than the small ones. Paying back $5000 (+ income tax, mind you) is much easier than paying back $100k + tax.

a friend of mine who works at Amazon (Toronto), got an 8K signing bonus. He just graduated from University (and he worked there for 4 months before graduating on a co-op).

As for signing bonuses, I have read contracts from various startups that want you to pay your signing bonus (which is generally about 5k) back if you leave within the first year.

how does your friend like it in Tdot?

from what I understand, he's happy working there.

I have heard stories from other employees, claiming that entire teams were fired, and workloads were transferred to the remaining employees - however they have been just that - unverified rumors.

thanks for lmk!

Last place I was at the payback was pro-rata, so there was no real incentive for firing on that basis.

sign on bonus is the same as almost everywhere. You get the money up front and have to return it if you leave within a year.

RSUs are back loaded. I forget the exact numbers, but it is something akin to 5% vested after 1st year, then 15%, then 35%, so after 2 years the vesting schedule makes it pretty hard to walk away from, especially with the current stock price. "If I stay just another 3 months I get 45 thousand bucks over my salary... hmm...."

My close friend works there (in European branch) as an accountant and he says it is quite fine. He has to work hard, but rarely more than 8 hours a day. But he also confirmed to me that some things from that famous article are true, for example some people crying at their desk from overworking etc. Some of his colleagues are working long hours or even weekends, but according to his understanding, it is partially their own choice and it is not forced to do so.

I got a glimpse of the craziness just interviewing there. I enjoy telling that story (sorry mentioned it many times here in the past).

* They missed first phone call.

* Then on interview day my future manager was not there. Heck, I suspect they didn't even know I was supposed to come in (yes, I did check my email 3 times that morning to make sure I wasn't crazy).

* People I talked to expected to be told about the stupid leadership principles. I talked more about those than actual cool stuff I did with distributed systems. One would think Amazon would care about distributed systems, but I guess not...

* Forgot about me during lunch. I was just left in a room by myself for an hour. After some point I started to walk around aimlessly hoping someone would ask if I am supposed to be there (I even had a funny comeback line ready)

* After promising to get back to me in 2 days, got back in 3 weeks.

* Didn't get the offer. Feels like dodged a bullet.

Take it as an anecdote, a fluke, but I see it as pointing to a systemic issue. I can see some problems, but it was just too many in row. From various people, at various points in time.

So what would the funny comeback line have been?

"I am here to steal your CA private key" ;-)

Then probably ask them how they like their job or such.

Worked at amazon for 4 years in late 90s and early 2000s. I think there are two distinct employment experiences: If the company (that is, your team and hierarchy) found you promising, the rewards were usually good, at that time that meant incentive stock options. More importantly, you were given significant managerial responsibility and opportunity to drive strategic initiatives. If you fell into this group, you could be reasonably well off in in 4-5 years, and wealthy in 10. Your job, while demanding, was generally fulfilling. For those that didn't fall into this group (by my guess about 80% didn't make the cut,) life was more brutish. Significant stress, poor rewards, and no possibility of advancement. The company didn't really care if you stayed or not, and actively managed you for maximum output. My guess was it usually took about a year for management to make decision as to which group you fell in. So my advice, join Amazon if you feel you can really be good (both technically, as well as in your ability to manage the politics of a large organization) The politics itself was not anymore than you would find in any org that size. One just had to make a point to understand and work the system.

So, basically like every other medium- and large-sized company. Get into the small, privileged "in" crowd and you're smooth sailing, up the hierarchy and up the pay scale. Otherwise, get on the treadmill--you're going to have as much value as possible burnt out of you until you quit or get replaced with another "resource".

The reason I refuse to work for Amazon is because they claim ownership of every side project you make on your own time, with your own equipment, just because you are employed there.

Sadly, this seems to have changed. Several years ago the policy used to be that what you developed on your own time was your own, and even if you used company resources and spent time while at work on "your own" inventions, they still belonged to you as long as it wasn't an excessive amount. For example, if you printed out something or used a copier, or did a google search at work, etc. It seems they decided that was too good for the drones though.

Many Big Cos do. One reason you are often better off working for small companies. Risk is they can't always pay as well.

Can confirm. Was acquired and had to sign the same "we own everything you do even in your own time" agreement.

This isn't true. They own side-projects the relate to your direct job or that can directly compete with Amazon. If your side project is a compression algorithm and you work in website design, Amazon doesn't really have any right to your stuff.

It's actually a pretty standard invention agreement across tech companies.

That is a bery good rason not to work there. Thank you.

Is that enforceable though?

Doesn't matter what the courts say if the mere threat of a lawsuit can scare off investors in a future startup.

Pretty sure recently I read that this can't be enforced very easily (looking for source)

I guess the fine print in the employment contracts of most companies says so. The degree of enforcement might vary, though.

I constantly read how badly the pickers in the (European) dispatch centers get treated. They can get away with it because those are low wage jobs and the workers easy to replace. It becomes more evident that this is a fundamental issue in the company's culture.

I wish more of these stories had some indication of what department the author was from. I have a bit of a suspicion that the closer you get to the retail operation the worse it gets (and of course doing fulfillment in a warehouse is the belly of the beast). Part of it is certainly Amazon culture but part of it is surely that retail businesses are a grind. Margins are slim and there is constant pressure to gain every possible efficiency even at the cost of human pain.

What are the attributes of a crappy manager? A lot of people say what they hate, but there is a theme I have seen in tech.

When you think of these managers, you need to ask, who are they? Where are they from? How did they get the job? What did they do before (large/small org)? What is their social background? What is their style?

At the root, I suspect it's shitty leadership at the top. The Valley execs I have met, let's just say they are not the sort of guys you would willingly go into battle for. Tech lacks a real officer class that commands respect.

I have also yet to see a non-white person quit over company culture issues. Thar be some elephants in thar rooms.

>What are the attributes of a crappy manager?

The director in charge of Fire TV was part of a sex trafficking ring that victimized Korean slaves in Bellevue, WA. This person is under indictment in King County courts. The women were slaves who were forced into prostitution to pay off debts to organized crime bosses in Asia. No doubt this person still has lots of friends that are still in management at Amazon.

So, for context of "how bad can it really be?" read the above and let that sink in a little bit. This is not being forced to work on the weekend kind of shit. No woman should be setting foot on Amazon campus for their own personal safety.

The fundamental difference between good and bad managers is usually how they deal with "shit". Bad managers are shit funnels, good managers are shit umbrellas.

I think there is more to it then that. All my managers have been shit umbrellas, but still some of them were not worth the investment of my time.

Once my management was split over several people and that was an issue as well as one could set incentives and then the other would obstruct because they didn't share the incentives and didn't care about the outcome. Not having shared incentives and outcomes has been the most common problem across my entire career.

Managers can set up goals and incentives and then change them at the last minute without telling you and claim you failed. Not maliciously in my case, but the effect is the same.

I'm sure the ways in which a manager can be bad is quite diverse.

Certainly there's more, the shit umbrella/funnel factor is just the first order approximation of goodness.

>Tech lacks a real officer class that commands respect.

This is spot on. Most of the currently big tech companies were founded by people who got where they are by means of their technical skill. The general disdain for "old order" businesses carries over into a disdain for management practices that were developed and refined at those "old" businesses, sometimes to the point that such things don't matter at all.

So big companies end up being run by goofballs who live out some juvenile fantasy by appearing in Star Trek. Makes Richard Branson look like Thomas Watson in comparison.

>>Tech lacks a real officer class that commands respect.

That generally happens when people luck out, ride a once in a lifetime wave and land at the top. And now think it was all due to their hard work. While it was luck all along.

I've had mentors whom I would follow anywhere. But I also have had people I wouldn't like to see their face again.

There are a plenty of career managers in Tech, whose solve purpose to work for their won existence.

Who was it who said the culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate? Bad behavior always comes from (or is enabled by) the top.

This makes me wonder what would happen if you took a job there and just refused to do the sucking up? What if you just competently did what they asked and didn't worry about getting fired for bullshit reasons?

With that kind of turnover, it occurs me to that you very well could survive without doing all the soul-sucking bullshit because the managers simply couldn't afford to lose more workers.

I'm not the one to try it, though, as I've no interest in working in those high-stress situations in the first place. I'm fine with making a little less and having a personal life outside of work.

You can cruise and do nothing. I worked at Intel for 3.5 years and watched "old white guys" collect $200k+ in pay/bonus/stock and do about 1 month of real work.

But it is soul sucking...if you piss the wrong people off they will do their best to get rid of you and promote their lackeys. It really is welfare for the middle class.

In my current job that's all there is, and 1 month worth of work is pushing it, unless "work" also means manipulating the information and the situation, then they are working hard, giving their 100% in that department.

Its the old way of thinking, its like that episode of Seinfeld where Georges car breaks down at work and his boss who now sees his car parked there as he gets in and as he leaves thinks he is a great employee. Costanza is always working! Its easier to look at cars than numbers.

> old white guys

Why did you inject race into the conversation for no reason? I've seen layabouts of every description

Because thats what i was exposed to. Im a 34 year old white guy and have no problem saying it felt like welfare for "middle" class. the bonus and stock handouts were absurd. Yes Intel has different races/gender (the diversity push is a joke), but on the software side it was dominated by one demographic.

Please stop. Invoking race was completely unnecessary for making your point. If you really meant class, you should have said so. I know middle class people of all backgrounds.

You asked and he answered. You don't get to complain about his answer when you explicitly asked for it.

it's relevant because white guys have white privilege...

And age

>This makes me wonder what would happen if you took a job there and just refused to do the sucking up? What if you just competently did what they asked and didn't worry about getting fired for bullshit reasons?

Having seen it occur to various people elsewhere where cultural rot had set in quite deeply, it's really quite simple.

Failing to suck up means you'll get mediocre to poor performance reviews. In places with stack ranking systems (reportedly Amazon is one of them), somebody has to be the goat and you basically are volunteering. You manager will say to you, with varying levels of sincerity, "I tried really hard to get you higher up in the rankings but there were a lot of people who did really strong work this year. You'll have to work extra hard next year to try to get a better ranking.". Unless you genuinely aren't doing a good job, you won't be punished directly but you won't get much in the way of raises, bonuses, or promotions either.

Eventually, people will notice that you have a long string of poor/mediocre reviews and relatively low level compared to your peers and will start assuming that you're not a good employee and look down on you. Internal transfers then become much more difficult and you become a prime target for being managed out or laid off.

Is it inherently better to work for companies that doesn't use stack ranking systems? What are the alternates, and can you briefly tell the differences?

Doesn't make any difference at all. Its the same thing. Rewards/bonuses/raises et al are always limited. And people who suck up make it big in any set up.

Welcome, fresh faced new employee, to your first PIP!

Amazon recruits heavily along fresh CS grads, so there's always more flesh for the fire.

As an intern, I worked on a team that was rapidly spinning apart. We were resource constrained, one of the team members was in Ireland (and he always seemed to need help from somebody else on the team), and the manager... I don't even know.

The first day I was there, he told me to write a tech spec for a new version of one of the team's projects. The examples he showed me were all pithy high-level algorithm overviews for small features, which had 0 relevance to my project. I spent a week and a half groping in the dark for what he wanted.

About 4-5 weeks in to the internship, I asked him how he thought I was doing. He told me to think about the Amazon leadership principals and to tell him how I thought I was doing next week during the one on one. What kind of manager doesn't give feedback, even when the employee asks directly?

The business owner was a tall guy with slicked-back hair. I was supposed to meet with him in the first week. He blew off four meetings with me over the first month before I stopped trying to schedule them. When he finally deigned to meet with me (7 weeks in), it was to tell me he wanted a feature that not only didn't exist, but was so far away from what was possible that I didn't even know what to make of it. He would also do this shit where he would try to take other people's food, which seemed to me like an aggressive display of dominance.

My mentor, a senior engineer, was the only one who was really helpful. It was he who read my code reviews, he who told me that he was impressed with how quickly I had learned the framework, and he who was actually setting goals for me that made sense. He said he had my back for the hiring meeting, which put me at ease.

I didn't end up getting hired. I read and reread the feedback document I got, trying to make sense of what had happened. I hit all of my deliverable dates, I know my code was clear and concise, I went to the social events and talked to people from all over the org... What could I have done better?

The answer I've arrived at is I should have sucked up. I should have tried to identify the people with real power, and done my best to make them happy. The business owner was in the hiring meeting, and if I had gotten him on my side, I could have written 12 loc total and still gotten a job. Amazon had been pretending to the new hires and interns that there wasn't any office politics, but I've never worked anywhere more political.

A friend of mine from university got a job in a different org inside of Amazon, and he told me that he looked at my employee feedback on the internal website and said that it didn't say anything concrete about why I hadn't hired, just stuff like "obviously skilled, but not a good fit." Maybe that's the truth. I've just started working for a company whose namesake was just nominated for CEO of the year, and I already feel more at home there than I ever did at Amazon.

The eating of other people's food is such a petty and transparent display of aggression that I don't understand why it isn't an instantly fireable offense. That just sums up the whole problem with the culture.

Congratulations on avoiding that place.

> he would try to take other people's food

Oh my God, please explain this.

Seriously, how would he do it? How would people respond? Would he keep eye contact the entire time he stole it and ate it to reinforce the dominance he had over them? Did he then tell them that coffee is for closers?

I can guess.

Pretend that you brought a take-out burger and fries back to the office for your lunch. As you take a bite of your sandwich, a hand snakes out and snags one of your fries, which then disappears into the smarmy maw of the boss of your boss.

He's not even hungry. He just wants to see what you do when he takes your food. It's a dominance test, and as childish and petty a test as anyone could possibly imagine.

I don't even know how anyone passes it, either.

Don't work for Amazon, don't buy from Amazon if you can.

I've started to order my books through my local bookstore recently, it's surprisingly easy. I do my research online (often times via AMZN tbh) and pick up the books on my way from/to the office.

Almost every big company [1] does something or the other that is so bad ethically (and sometimes legally too) that if we decided to boycott, we'd end up boycotting them all - and this is assuming people are even willing to, which most people aren't (convenience and product price trumps everything else to most). I just wish there is a way to protest and protest strongly enough for them to change their behavior. There have been some good attempts [2]. What else can a normal person do to protest?

[1] Some examples here - https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/4wpl0i/whats_a_b...

[2] https://www.buycott.com/campaign/browse

You can find positive and negative anecdotes about any company, but with Amazon it's a qualitatively different situation. It's a long-term ongoing pattern of unethical behavior, a cacophony of negative feedback that outweighs the positive. The way they treat their blue-collar employees, white-collar, business partners, sellers, etc. (All parties except the buyers.)

I've stopped buying from them but I'm realistic, very few people will care enough to do so, not enough to affect their bottom line. I do it because it supporting them would feel wrong to me. Not because I expect I can make them change.

I don't shop at a few places (Walmart etc), can add Amazon to that list. Will it make any difference though? You and I are probably in the rounding error minority, unlikely to move the needle. We can feel good about our choices though, I don't see any other positive result.

Whether it makes a difference or not, I'd rather feel good about my choices than feel bad.

With its current practices, it's only a matter of time before Amazon has a recruitment problem that it can't fix.

it's only a matter of time before Amazon has a recruitment problem that it can't fix.

That is to be seen. There are lots of horrible employers who are still around (EA for example). Supply of workers is much greater than demand (even software industry is not immune to it as more and more youngsters enter the profession)

I concur - it feels like all of our money goes to the same unavoidable group of people in the end. I've tried to boycott a number of large groups but it's so difficult and obfuscated. Try boycotting Sony or Nestlé... good luck with that. I have yet to find a workable solution. Most of them require constant work and vigilance - enough to invade every economic decision you make. Because it requires more transparency than is available are almost impossible to integrate into a daily lifestyle. An illustration of this: "where does your favourite Cafe buy the chocolate for its hot cocoa? If they buy a prepared mix, then who do they pay?" etc etc

I'm still searching for and working to develop a good solution to minimise the flow of my economic output to those who do undesirable things with it.

At least with food, we have the option to shop from local farmers markets (wherever possible). But it is nearly impossible to do it with electronics, clothing etc

Lots of people boycott Walmart for various reasons. They recently closed a bunch of stores, but that seemed to have more to do with the failure of the small store concept. They're still making tons of money though.

I give the Walmart example because the boycott sentiment has been around for so long. For companies as big as them and Amazon, even if boycotts hit the bottom line somehow, would they be able to sort that out from all the other factors that affect revenue and profits? It's like flies buzzing around an elephant. I doubt they'd make the connection and decide, "Oh, we'd better change the way we do business!"

It seems the only effective way might be to get high-impact media coverage. But then their spin-masters go on tv to neutralize the damage and everything stays the same.

And would boycotting them all be a bad case, although a bit unpractical. It's not like they are being entirely ethical without incentive.

> I just wish there is a way to protest and protest strongly enough for them to change their behaviour

You have. Trough your money.

>I've started to order my books through my local bookstore recently

Yeeaah, about that... Last time I ordered a book at my local book store, they just ordered it of Amazon. The guy behind the counter tried to remove the Amazon packing discreetly, but failed.

If book stores are going to be complain about how Amazon is putting them out of business, they should at least not use them as a supplier.

Is it possible their usual supplier just couldn't get them that book for whatever reason? It's not necessarily a good idea to explain that to the customer and have them decide "much less hassle to use Amazon for everything then", than to order off Amazon and sell it to the customer at cost and hope they come back.

When I worked retail we stocked books from one vendor that actually sold their products directly on Amazon at a lower cost than they'd sell to their wholesalers. We'd gladly take that discount instead of paying a premium for ordering directly from the publisher. We also used that as an opportunity to drop ship. The business sold books to get people in the store to buy higher ticket items so feeding the Amazon machine was a neutral affair.

Probably their usual supplier is slower. I haven't had a bookstore order something for me in a few years, but it used to take more than 2 days to get the item. I'm guessing that the distributors that supply bookstores are optimized to deliver large shipments, not one-off orders.

I'm happy having an MITM between me and Amazon's identity and preferences engine.

My local bookstore gives me Amazon's price, and has an understanding that my name doesn't go on the order.

Better yet: the library.

I would prefer Amazon knows I read game of thrones vs putting on pants to leave the house.

Whereas here in Germany, ordering English-language books through my local bookstore is something like €50-per book cheaper than trying to order through Amazon. For them the work of getting the book from some foreign book distributor into their store is bread and butter. For some reason, for Amazon, mailing things out is a big thing that requires huge markups.

That's rather interesting, because my experience is from trying to order an English-language book in Denmark. I got to pay the Amazon price plus a little extra to the book store for their trouble (and I had to pick it up at the book store, rather than my mailbox).

Then again Danish book stores are insanely crummy. Most of them are somewhere between an arts and crafts store and a book store. Many even add a toys section. The selection of books is a joke in most of them. For the largest chain of book stores, books almost seems to be a secondary product.

I think the books I was getting were not directly available from Amazon, so they devloved into a web-service that more or less bought the things from UK book suppliers and fedexed them to me.

And then theres the shop itself. Hugendubel is a big chain and all its stores seem to have at least three stories. I guess boxes and boxes of overseas books fly every week to some distribution centre where they then get sent along to the stores along with the far larger bulk of German-language books.

Walgreens, Best Buy, and Newegg turned out to have better deals for the last few things I would have bought from Amazon. Lower or equivalent prices and free shipping without having to pay $100/yr or have a $50 order.

Exactly this. Besides not paying a fair amount of tax (= not giving back to society), it also drains money out of local economies if everybody just buys everything from Amazon.

What's a 'fair' amount of tax? It doesn't drain local economies: it drains local retail, but if local retail were more competitive, then they'd be more competitive. Why should I subsidize local retail by paying higher prices? I don't owe local retail anything. If they aren't providing a better value (either through lower prices or better service,) then why should I buy from them? It's not my fault they can't compete. Amazon wasn't always big. They started small as well -- however they knew how to innovate which is a skill most local stores lack because they still use a distribution model from the 1800s.

I think you can make the argument that if you have strong local business it improves your neighborhood by keeping that money local, where it is reinvested either directly (e.g. your neighbor who owns the local hardware store has more money to buy things, upgrade his house, etc.) or through taxes. This leads to better schools, infrastructure, etc. There ARE drawbacks to having a giant centralized but convenient all-in-one supplier that can undercut the little guy on price and timeliness; you lose something along the way.

I am not blameless in this; we just bought a house, and although we have a locally owned hardware store that I try to go to first, there are so many things I have had the options of A) waiting 7+ days for them to get it in, B) getting it from Home Depot/Lowes within an hour, or C) getting it delivered from Amazon Prime tomorrow. It is nearly impossible to compete with that, but I WANT to support my local guy whose family has owned the business since the 60's. I don't know what the answer is.

An amount that a similar national company would have to do.

International companies have a way of shifting earnings into jurisdictions where they don't need to pay much taxes, since there is still a race to the bottom between countries. 'Better they pay us 2% of revenues that that other country 10%.'

(This has noting to do with the way the supply chain is done.)

You first have to explain the worship of local economies and small stores. 99% of the time they can't give you a better price, because their overhead isn't optimized and/or they operate at much smaller scale.

So your suggestion is basically to support the less efficient businesses.

If your goal is to reward businesses that operate at the highest efficiency, then you are correct; supporting local businesses doesn't make sense to you.

If you have any kind of self-interest, though, supporting local businesses should be your priority. How does it benefit you to send your money away from your city or town so that it does not get re-invested in the area directly surrounding you? A lower share of your money gets re-invested in roads and schools through taxes and it has a multiplying effect when local businesses shutter frequently. It lowers real estate prices (assuming you own real estate, this matters) and reduces the quality of life of those around you; a factor which tends to cause an increase in the crime rate.

Your argument is essentially, "Why eat at anywhere other than McDonalds? They have the most efficient supply chain."

That argument breaks down when you realize that your local businesses aren't buying the goods or services that you can provide locally.

You should really be buying from the people and businesses with the fewest trade transactions from your customers. Once upon a time, that meant buying local was a smart move, but now it's more complex.

Since I, as a software developer, do not have any small business customers, the tightest possible trade graph loops that could return my own spending back to me all go through the larger national- and international-scale businesses.

Generalizing, I should prefer to buy from the companies that spend the most on software and software development, or who often buy from companies that spend a lot on my industry.

If I go to the farmers' market, I should prefer to buy from the stand that uses Google Pay or Stripe or Square or Bitcoin--or even Paypal--than from the one that is cash-only. Failing that, I should buy from the guy who has the newest tractor, with programmable GPS-assisted steering and blinking LEDs on the cup holder. Failing that, I should buy from the guy that spends the most on MMORPGs and dating websites.

Anything invested in a place will never pay off if I have to move away from it. And if I move, I can always prefer to move to the places that already have good schools and roads and parks without any additional investment from me.

Why should I eat anywhere other than McDonald's? Every chain and franchise restaurant runs McDonald's management software. They have touchscreen POSTs, and reprogrammable menu displays, and video screens at both of the dual drive-through lanes. They are consistent and inexpensive and "invest heavily" in R&D. Because sometimes I just want a convenient variety of salubrious and tasty food to eat, that's why. When Just-Down-My-Street Diner hires me to remodel their website, that's when I should prefer to eat there out of pure economic self-interest.

>That argument breaks down when you realize that your local businesses aren't buying the goods or services that you can provide locally.

That is a specific exception, maybe only to you. Just because you cannot find local customers doesn't mean that small businesses don't source software developers locally. I have done software development work for several businesses directly in my zip code, some of which I am also a customer.

You seem to specifically avoid the argument that small businesses in your area pay taxes for services that you consume directly. Why, exactly, is it more beneficial to you that your farmer plays an MMORPG than pays an override real estate tax that funds expanding a school in your neighborhood to better handle class sizes?

Also, you must not have a stake in the real estate market if you only care if the McDonald's in your neighborhood stays open.

>When Just-Down-My-Street Diner hires me to remodel their website, that's when I should prefer to eat there out of pure economic self-interest.

Again, just because you aren't currently engaging in this kind of business doesn't mean other people aren't. I find your argument very strange; that you can't work for local companies.

I can work for local customers, but I am not currently. They have been outbid by non-locals.

If you are hired by local business, then by all means, patronize those businesses in return. But as long as I am not hired by them, don't tell me I should, just because it is in your economic self-interest for me to do so.

You are very astute. I haven't had any stake in any real estate market anywhere since I lost the majority of my positive net worth to the real estate market in 2007. (Thanks very much for reminding me of that.) So whatever real estate market I happen to be in can go copulate with itself. I'm not buying anything I can't really own ever again.

Anecdotally, the property taxes I pay (that are included in my rent) go to the county--as do the business taxes paid by businesses on my side of the county line--and that county has refused to remit any portion of those funds to my city, which spans two counties, for the provision of services to city residents. As a result, the schools are overcrowded and other city services have been cut. So they can go copulate with themselves, too.

In contrast, McDonald's has never failed to give me the same consistent experience whenever I pay them their menu price from my own pocket. "My community" can't ever seem to uphold its end of any implied social contracts, but at least McDonald's can always sell me a Big Mac when I can afford one.

Having been repeatedly shown that loyalty no longer exists, if it ever did, I am now a strictly transactional mercenary, following tit-for-tat cooperation strategy, because that is what is in my economic self-interest. I am not going to "buy local" because it has feel-good marketing around it. I will buy local only if I see a specific benefit from it, and I have never actually seen one.

"Buy local" is marketing bullshit from people who don't admit that they would benefit from it far more than you ever will, and from people who hypocritically do their own buying non-locally.

Money doesn't get tired climbing hills or crossing rivers. Geography is continually becoming less important to economics. Buy closer to you as measured by your social network graph, not as measured by physical distance.

Local bookstore has the value of being a bookstore. Personally I love the feeling of space filled with works of print, any of them browsable by will. The experience of connecting with something physical is what makes it different from just browsing amazon's kindle store.

It's not only about efficiency. Unlike Amazon, a real bookstore is a lot of fun to browse in. Being able to browse real shelves, hold and flip through real books for an hour or two is a great leisure activity in itself. Now that stores are closing and it's at risk, I'd even pay a small entrance fee if it meant keeping the good ones open.

Though I agree that a larger chain bookstore with more selection offers more value than a small bookstore, for me it's more about real-world vs. online, not large vs. small business.

Is efficiency all that metters in life?

Yes. That results in the best distribution of scarce resources. The opposite of efficiency is waste.

In arenas of scale, yes. If you are the low-cost, mass offering, then wringing out unit economics is all that matters to you. Your customers are interchangeable and you can safely assume that there are more price-sensitive ones than there are those who value morals higher.

Morals are God's concern, therefore it's up to God to enforce them. God needs to reach his hand down and decree to the land that thou shalt not abuse your employees. This reverberates throughout the land and causes the powerful to tremble in fear. They all get together in a room and quietly make plans to appease the masses so they don't pray for blood or start a revolution.

Of course, in this case God is the government. Given enough political pressure, legislators can pass laws that change the landscape of commerce. Pressure can compel prosecutors to prosecute, regulators to punish. The threat of these punishments is often enough to keep the unscrupulous in line and allow the virtuous to have their say.

All you're doing there is replacing the implied morality of 'God' with the different implied morality of 'economics.'

It can be useful to remember that economics is primarily a branch of rhetorical moral philosophy - not an empirical science.

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