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Amazon Worker Jumps Off Company Building After E-Mail to Staff (bloomberg.com)
401 points by jw2013 on Nov 29, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 325 comments

Tyler Cowen has written a lot about this:

"Individuals don’t in fact enjoy being evaluated all the time, especially when the results are not always stellar: for most people, one piece of negative feedback outweighs five pieces of positive feedback. To the extent that measurement raises income inequality, perhaps it makes relations among the workers tenser and less friendly. Life under a meritocracy can be a little tough, unfriendly, and discouraging, especially for those whose morale is easily damaged. Privacy in this world will be harder to come by, and perhaps “second chances” will be more difficult to find, given the permanence of electronic data. We may end up favoring “goody two-shoes” personality types who were on the straight and narrow from their earliest years and disfavor those who rebelled at young ages, even if those people might end up being more creative later on."


Pervasive employee monitoring and feedback isn't costless. Some people will improve, others will get fired/quit find a new job, but there will be some who cannot take it at all. If losing a job wasn't so punishing economically and status-wise, it would take a lot of, but certainly not all, of the sting away.

> We may end up favoring “goody two-shoes” personality types who were on the straight and narrow from their earliest years and disfavor those who rebelled at young ages, even if those people might end up being more creative later on."

We'll keep on doing what we've been doing since the dawn of time: reward Machiavellian behavior.

The guy that creates a controlled fire and puts it out will be praised.

The guy that cleans the dead foliage to prevent future fires will be punished for being unproductive and a dead weight.

Nothing will change.

Edit: punctuation

Exactly. But you forget one:

Any attempt at anything short of wildly positive feedback will be met with extremely aggressive reactions, because of the reaction from the organisation that will follow.

Plenty of managers do that today of course.

> But you forget one

Apart from that I forgot many more.

Yes. The cult of optimism and positive thinking[1], because like someone else on this post implied, the way you think about things changes physical reality.

At best it changes your perception which can be in your best interest or not.

[1] http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2015/02/happiness-conspi...

People don't talk about this issue anywhere near enough. You can't just do internally ordered evaluations, because someone will eventually compare them to something else and harm everyone who got a harsh 'scale'.

Hence the inability of lone professors or colleges to fight grade inflation; if your students are competing with inflated GPAs from another school (or an expectation that all GPAs are inflated), the incentive is entirely against you.

I suppose this would be the upside of stack-rank if you did it right; a purely relative ranking system can't get poorly translated between groups. But of course, that also means it can't be used to properly distribute benefits between them.

This argument is flawed.

It's a strawman because nobody is suggesting that feedback should only be "wildly positive". Positive reinforcement is very different from being wildly positive.

It's also a slippery slope fallacy because there is no evidence that there will be extremely aggressive reaction to constructive criticism.

If you could provide evidence that managers who use positive reinforcement have underperforming teams this would be an interesting comment. I suspect that would be hard to find.

> Nothing will change

No, but you can use it to your advantage if you're so inclined. Being in control most of the time but allowing a minor crisis to develop from time to time that you resolve heroically can work.

You can look at it as being underhand or you can look at it as occasionally checking that Pavlov doesn't just work for dogs. Your choice really.

Somewhere in the old BOFH stories, he goes on vacation and decides to make sure his job is secure. So he remotely drops a network switch, takes the panicked out-of-hours call, and insightfully "diagnoses" the problem.

That's the sort of thing you really don't want to encourage. If nothing else, doing thorough post-mortems can help create a company where allowing fires to grow isn't rewarded.

A "little tough" for "those whose morale is easily damaged" sounds like an attempt to blame employees.

Amazon is not as meritocratic as people imagine. People are often praised for building a shiny thing or stopping a fire. Rarely for preventing a fire, or a security issue, or doing the hard work it takes to keep an old system running. A lot can depend on being in the right team at the right time.

On top of that, expectations can be arbitrarily high and are increased based on previous successful reviews. Essentially you end up competing against your previous self and your colleagues, but this is not discussed openly by management.

Ah, Goodhart's law. The conviction that measuring more produces more meritocracy, or even more accuracy, is a dangerous one.

If you're not careful with what data you collect, you get exactly this - perverse incentives discouraging risk-taking and incident prevention in favor of success at limited, unnecessary tasks.

> People are often praised for building a shiny thing or stopping a fire. Rarely for preventing a fire, or a security issue, or doing the hard work it takes to keep an old system running. A lot can depend on being in the right team at the right time.

Seems like most organizations I've worked at.

That and organizational volunteer work get you awards.

Shiny things and organizational volunteer work seem to become incresingly important as companies grow in size, the volume of internal projects increases, and thus it becomes a lot harder to gain consistent internal visibility. So working on a "shiny" project becomes your best (if not only) shot at getting noticed. The truly Machiavellian will recognize this environment for what it is, and just pitch shiny new projects if none are immediately available -- the necessity of those projects usually being a secondary consideration.

The problem often grows worse, not better, when you introduce concepts like top-down goal alignments and stack ranking. These can easily backfire by forcing savvy employees to scramble for maximum-impact projects and deprioritize all others. You end up with a handful of hero projects and a whole bunch of misfit toys that nobody wants to touch.

I'm not sure any company has ever truly solved this problem at scale. Obviously some company cultures are better at it than others. (I've never worked at Amazon, so I can't speak honestly or credibly to its culture.)

Managers are cogs too. The way to work that kind of system is to identify and exploit the fears of the boss or his boss.

I've seen this happen with employees under the thumb of micromanaging PMs in particular. They start spreading rumors, then undermine PM. My solution is to eliminate micro managers asap.

I work under a micromanaging boss (who doubles as a PM). It is stifling. I can't function, get much done, move projects forward, etc. It's horrendous.

Been in that situation before, I can relate in how horrendous it feels. I hope you can find a way out.

> I work under a micromanaging boss

I don't have a "boss" I have a "manager" or "team lead".

I don't work "under" or "for" my "manager", I work "with" them.

If you understand that connotations of words matter, you should use other words. When you start to use other words, you might start to act differently. When you start to act differently your manager might too.

Meanwhile, your manager sounds terrible. My condolences.

P.S. This TED talk[0] is all about power dynamics, and its kinda cool, give it a watch. But seriously, stop using the words you do because every time you do, you subconsciously convince yourself they have more power than you do.

[0] http://www.ted.com/talks/adam_galinsky_how_to_speak_up_for_y...

There's nothing subconscious about it. A boss by definition has more power. Pretending it's not so won't change the facts.

The boss has the power to terminate your employment relationship. You have the same power. If you are in software, most likely you'll find a new job long before they find a replacement. That's certainly true of my team.

What "power" do you believe the boss has that an employee doesn't?

The boss can usually harm the subordinate's quality of life much more than the subordinate can harm the boss's quality of life. If you are fired than you immediately have less income. Your reputation is damaged if people learn of it. If you quit then it rarely causes any harm to the boss. They still have the same income. They probably have several other subordinates. Power imbalance is the defining characteristic of the boss/subordinate relationship. The boss can give orders and the subordinate will obey because the consequences if they refuse are worse for them than for the boss. This is what you pay to gain the stability of employment.

If I or most of my colleagues are fired we'll have less income for a month or two. Our lifestyle won't change [1] unless we want it to. In contrast, if my employees quit, my projects are significantly slowed, I need to spend a lot of effort hiring new ones (I hate hiring) and I'll look bad.

Furthermore, insofar as costs are unequal, that's merely a reflection of the principal/agent problem. Similarly, as a boss (but not an owner), I'm also motivated to overpay my workers; it keeps them happy and helps me get my work done (by hiring better people), and it's not my money that I'm spending.

[1] My colleagues all live in a country with a 30% savings rate and where American levels of financial recklessness are not socially acceptable.

And what if you are not an engineer or don't live in SV and thus don't have those job options?

So you choosing to leave is the same as being forced to leave? A boss has power you do not in many ways. They can increase your pay, they can choose the projects you work on and do not work on, they can terminate your employment whether you want it to terminate or not.

What of that do you have in common with them?

Choosing to leave is equivalent to being fired; either my boss or I can unilaterally terminate my employment agreement.

My boss can increase/decrease my pay, and I can either accept or reject the new agreement. I can also demand higher pay or threaten to quit. They can tell me to work on certain projects or I'm fired, I can say I want to work on certain projects or I quit. They can terminate my employment whether I want to or not, I can quit whether they want me to or not.

Employment is a market; a situation characterized by cooperation and mutual agreement. You may choose to pretend you have no agency and are a mere victim to your boss, but I do not. My employees don't pretend this either, which is why I need to keep them happy.

I wonder if it's not in fact that he only has as much power as you yourself give him. Then pretending that he has no power, actually makes it so that he does not have any power over you.

No, it's the fact of:

"They can tell you what to do, and how to do it. And if you don't, they can fire you. And when you have no job, you have problems eating, a place to stay, and a much harder time getting jobs."

Our team is excellent with this, and I've truly appreciated it having come from the opposite situation.

It is a small team slowly growing, and I have been there from when it was a team of just engineers to when non-technical, project managers and accounts managers were introduced. All credit to my boss and the project managers themselves for truly understanding how to integrate with rather than herd a team of engineers.

As you said, we all work with eachother. We can ask the PM to create a ticket for us and he can ask us to work on a ticket, but our schedule and priorities are set for the individuals in the team separately through a resourcing meeting. So when a PM comes to me with a ticket he needs done, he will ask "Do you have time this week to work on this task?" and I can reply with "Absolutely, I've been allocated 20% for that project this week and can complete that task in that time.

They do their best to manage the client requirements, the project timeline and time allocation but ultimately it never feels like I work for anyone other than my boss, and even he leads through example and morale rather than orders and processes.

It has been very interesting to see how this all comes together as the team grows and I am super thankful to have been able to experience the transition.

We had one manager come on board, who did not much other than ask us to complete a task, and then ask repeatedly if it were done yet throughout the day, then applying time pressures that didn't exist. To be able to see the different management side by side in the same environment was truly eye opening. The difference in my morale working with the bad manager vs the rest of the team was night and day.

If they can tell you what to do, and you can't tell them what to do, then yes, you work under a boss.

Only I tell me what to do.

When people do come to me with a new task, I ask them for rationale. If they convince me its worth doing, I do it. If they cannot, I convince them its not worth doing. Sometimes, its not worth doing but needs to be done anyways, and in situations like that, I gently persuade them to talk to anyone else. Its generally someone with less conviction than me.

Have I lost jobs before? Yes. Did I find a new job? Yes.

> When you start to use other words, you might start to act differently

Words don't change reality. That's delusional.


Managers actually manage. Boss's react (knee jerk). Managers will actively remove barriers in the way of employees. Boss's systematically manipulate their employees due to low self-image.

>Boss's systematically manipulate their employees due to low self-image.

Just to be sure I understand your point.

Is the low self-image the boss's or the employee's?

The parent meant the employee has a poor self-image, and is able to be manipulated.

However, thanks for pointing out that generally managers who attempt to act as an authority[0] do so because they have a poor self-image as well.

[0] In contrast to acting as a leader.

I would love to chat with you privately about inculcating the opposite of this.

Just wait until you get a femtomanager as a supervisor.

What is a "femtomanager"?

milli micro nano pico femto

Interesting, never heard about this dynamic before. How does spreading rumors help them get out of being micromanaged? (sincere question)

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene is a must read for understanding this dynamic and others. In the case of spreading rumors the 39th of 48 'Laws of Power' applies:

Stir up waters to catch fish

Anger and emotion are strategically counterproductive. You must always stay calm and objective. But if you can make your enemies angry while staying calm yourself, you gain a decided advantage. Put your enemies off-balance, find the chink in their vanity through which you can rattle them and you hold the strings.

I don't believe that spreading rumors can magically transform a micromanaging boss. What it can do is keep them occupied, just as any other form of employee micro-sabotage. It also makes the workplace generally crappier.

This stuff is so deeply frightening, to someone like me.

I am color blind to a vast range of interpersonal interactions, the fact that people have a vocabulary/taxonomy of interactions which includes or can generate - "micro sabotage"... hints at a world too exhausting to imagine

Have a read of this:


You probably won't thank me if you do read it - it changes the way you evaluate people...

Haha, I've read it, and It's great fun.

For whatever it's worth, the amount of this in different workplaces seems to vary from "virtually none" to "run away screaming".

At the best places, I assume this happens a bit, but it's pretty easy to ignore it completely and still do well by being a good employee.

At the worst places, it's apparent even to someone unaware that something is up, because people will make comments that are totally nonsensical unless you're neck-deep in the politicking. It also shows when smart people make obviously awful decisions - they're probably getting something out of it other than the good of the company.

Thanks. I've thought about what you said, and I hope its largely true. It feels like something which would be true, but feelings arent evidence, so I am taking it as a source of hope.

If you're dealing with a straw boss (someone who has lots of responsibility, but little authority), dealing with them in a negative way is pretty simple -- you undermine their position by making sure that bad news or news that marginalizes the straw boss gets to the authority figure before the "boss" can deliver it.

Micromanagers and other really nasty people to work for are usually compensating for their own lack of power or security by making your life as miserable as possible.

The existence of people like this is a red flag for the organization because it always leads to negative outcomes.

> How does spreading rumors help them get out of being micromanaged?

It does it by getting the micromanaged fired.

When you are treated like a robot, as in the case of pervasive monitoring, then merit has little wait. Merit is about how you contribute over-all to a corporation and its functioning. This sort of management, individual management ignores that... as they are running a factory where you are a machine. Not a person. Machines gets monitored this way. Corporations would look at a department as a profit center or a loss center and leave the decision making of who is performing well or not to your manager. Here you are a machine at the beck and call of Bozo, or Bezos as the case might be.

Really this is just neo-taylorism https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_management#Criticis...

You bring up an important point: employee evaluation at big corps isn't that different than it was before the internet. It's evolved, but only slightly. The permanence of data should cause management to completely re-imagine and deploy feedback.

I think people don't mind being judged / measured objectively. I think the problems / angst probably arise when you mix "managers" / subjectivity into the mix. I think objective measurement, that is truly useful, is hard to do in most cases.

>>We may end up favoring “goody two-shoes” personality types who were on the straight and narrow from their earliest years and disfavor those who rebelled at young ages, even if those people might end up being more creative later on.

The only problem is life is pretty much an accumulation of incremental experiences.

Most people just can't wake up one day perform like a superstar at work for the same reason why a person can't just wake up and run a marathon without any practice. Like physical stamina, mental stamina too comes from a lot of practice done over years and "from their earliest years" performance matters.

Plus rewards come to a lot of long time sloggers, because they've been around long and have been putting their heads down and doing a lot of work.

I was interviewing for AWS, and it was a circus. Completely disorganized. However, I have to say, I enjoyed the parroting back of "the leadership principles" part. It was like being in the Soviet Union again and singing praises to the great party leaders. Very much worth wasting a day over it.

However my nephew didn't have such a fun time. He was working for one of their warehouses in Kentucky and they were ruthless to the workers like him. They had a snow storm, he got stuck in the snow and instead of being understanding they reprimanded him for it. He liked the pay but couldn't take the humiliating treatment, so he quit.

> They had a snow storm, he got stuck in the snow and instead of being understanding they reprimanded him for it.

Punishing an employee for risking their life to try to come in to a job they already hate? That's textbook sadism, ruthless is too weak a word. In inclement weather our critical staff can depend on officers in 4x4 vehicles to bring them in, with no reprimand for being late due to the weather. Non-essential staff are encouraged to stay home and avoid injury and possible death trying to make it to work.

This is the reality for the lower quartile of the American workforce. When I was a part of it, I faced either braving the snow and icy roads or getting fired. I left an hour early because I knew I would be driving about 20 miles per hour. I'm not condoning this practice, just providing context. The state governor's prohibition on road travel be damned. The next time it snows, think about how the workers in your pharmacy or bar got to work while you have the day off.

Incidentally, one of my coworkers actually suggested our manager pick him up in a 4x4 during a particularly brutal blizzard. The request was laughed off; there was no way it was worth the fuel and time to go pick up the worker to come to work. It makes sense; a sub- $20-per-hour worker is too cheap for it to work out in most cases. The humane thing to do is just to leave the store or bar closed if staff have to come in. But that extra $1000 of net revenue sounds tempting...

On the other hand, working in a union warehouse (UPS), this has in fact happened - people getting picked up so they can make it in despite weather, since it's the lower management that would get shafted otherwise. This time of year nominally part time workers are pulling 10+ hour days due to massive volume, so missing a lot of people is a huge issue.

Amazon warehouses are notorious for being shitty to work in even considering the type of job, considering logistics jobs like this are sucky in general, that's tough to do.

This is the same company that stationed ambulances outside of a fulfillment center instead of paying for Air Conditioning. They also went to the supreme court (and won) over making people wait in line (unpaid) for 25 minutes before and after work in order to do security checks.

Wait, was it the US Supreme Court? How did they win?

I ask only because Cargill just lost a very similar suit over failing to pay employees for suit-up/down time before and after their shifts, which I thought would apply here.

So it was actually a contractor, but Amazon was involved in the case.


> Punishing an employee for risking their life to try to come in to a job they already hate?

As long as there are more than enough people to hire for a position, managers and policy will tend toward lazy and controlling, it's easier than cultivating people.

Over the course of my career Amazon is the only place I've interviewed and come away having lost all desire to work there.

I was warned that for my online programming interview with Amazon, I needed to submit a picture then spend the entire interview with my face clearly in the frame of a webcam. Any movement out of the frame or connectivity issue would be viewed as potential cheating and terminate the interview. My internet at the time was a bit shoddy, and I figured there was a very real chance that I would lose video briefly and get booted.

I may have had a weird experience, but the entire pipeline process was a hostile and miserable one.

Sorry to hear that. I work for AWS, and I like to think we're pretty organized. I'm not sure what part of your experience was "unorganized". You probably caught the team on a busy day or something.

LPs are just guidelines for what the company "wants" out of its employees. They're used heavily in hiring to weed out small thinkers and bad culture fits, and a bit in performance reviews. Outside of that, nobody really cares about them. You get upper management worship anywhere. It's the same thing as obsessing over celebrities.

Judging corporate based on fulfillment center working conditions isn't fair. One is a $15k job, and the other is a $115k job.

> I'm not sure what part of your experience was "unorganized".

Ok let's see, we'll need a bullet point list for it:

* Agreed on a time for the phone interview. They didn't call. Sat around waiting for an hour like an idiot without anyone even sending an email / text / or calling to apologize. Ok, that's fine stuff happens, understand. No bid deal...

* Scheduled on-site interview. Show up. Manager, the main person who was supposed to interview me, wasn't there. I thought ok, this is getting ridiculous. But fine, big company, yadda yadda.

* People who interviewed me didn't seem at all interested in my previous projects or my experience. I suspect they never actually read my resume before the interview. Asking ridiculous questions like "tell me about your biggest failure..."

* Lunchtime comes. I thought, well at least I'll get to meet some of the team members maybe others are a bit more friendly. So I sit there and wait,... and... nothing. They apparently forgot. After about 30 minutes I started wondering around the hallways hoping someone would stop me and wonder if I was lost. Maybe I would have asked them how they liked working there and such. Nobody even apologized for it either.

* Recruiter before the interview swore they'd get back to me in 3 days, as I already had a few offers on hand. It took them 3 weeks! I decided not to remind them just to see how long they'll take.

I don't know if I'd call that just a "busy day". Seems like a systemic problem to me...

> Judging corporate based on fulfillment center working conditions isn't fair. One is a $15k job, and the other is a $115k job

Yes it is. How a company treats all of its employees tells something about the company. How it treats manager, and top brass, CEOs, developers, down to janitors. All of that says a lot about a company.

When I was in high school my father made me work as a janitor in our family's office building. At that point I had been an independent IT consultant a few years, so the position frankly felt like an embarrassment and a waste of time. There was also a condition; I couldn't tell anyone my last name, or that I was related to the building owner.

At first I thought it was to teach me a lesson about hard work, which seemed foolish, as hard work was already my life, or humility, of which I probably did need a dose.

A few years later, he told me his true reason. He said,

"If you want to know who a person truly is, don't watch how he treats his friends or his boss.

Watch how he treats his janitors, his handymen, his surveyors, his receptionists, or his waitresses.

The measure of a man is not how he treats his supposed equals. It is how he treats the least fortunate among us."

Morality is not contingent upon income.

I worked at a gas station for a year after college, and it was awful, but I am definitely more thoughtful about how I treat service workers since then.

So your dad wanted you to report anyone at his building that treated you poorly?

Hey, that's very insulting!

I charge at least $20 an hour for snitching.

> Judging corporate based on fulfillment center working conditions isn't fair. One is a $15k job, and the other is a $115k job.

This tells you much you need to know about the Amazon mentality


No more "Trump" graffiti on all of the threads, please.

> Judging corporate based on fulfillment center working conditions isn't fair. One is a $15k job, and the other is a $115k job.

That's completely backwards. Even asshole managers will treat their high-value employees relatively well, unless they're stupid--you don't want to kill the golden goose. It's how they treat the low-skill, low-wage guys at the bottom that tells you what kind of people they really are.

> Judging corporate based on fulfillment center working conditions isn't fair. One is a $15k job, and the other is a $115k job.

Yes, yes, because you earn more, you'd better work as a slave... wait, do slaves get salary at all? Ah, no, okay, so everyone who earns money must work harder than a slave!!!

> bad culture fit

I have never been able to figure out exactly what this is supposed to mean. Best I can tell, it means "You're fully qualified for this position, but I don't like you for reasons I can't or won't articulate."

I think you've figured it out. I can't understand why no one's been sued for racism over it yet.

> Outside of that, nobody really cares about them

There is a not so small cohort who parrot them.

$115k is embarrassingly non-competitive for the talent and work Amazon expects.

It's not bad for Seattle, and they have been doing amazing on stock price the last couple years which helps. Especially when they backload the initial stock vesting.

So, the great irony of the leadership principles was the lip service they were paid at Amazon and how much I miss them since leaving.

They're a seriously good bit of Amazon culture that's been perverted into something you can use to submarine any meeting. If treated honestly, they seem (to me, anyway), like a fantastic set of rules for governing a company's actions. Sadly, it's difficult to align incentives with actually honoring and encouraging those principles :(

Amazon tries to trap people through control by visas, and they will go so far as to relocate people overseas to Seattle. They have a fucked up system where rank and file get the darwin treatment but management gets the rewards. They will pay bonuses around $250k, $500k, $1 million to senior managers, directors, and VPs respectively to abuse the shit out of employees. The "PIP someone who is trying to get away from their abusive manager" is their oldest trick in their book.

Something needs to be done to help people financially who are looking for a way out from the abuse.

What really angered me about that article was Amazon trying to say that this was a "colleague" -- he was on a PIP. Which is pretty much Amazon speak for a dead man walking (no pun intended).

Pretty much everywhere

The most sensible option is to do the bare minimum acceptable work and use all the leftover energy to find some other place, as the clock is ticking. Depending on the company, you have until the next quarter or the next performance review. Or the next headcount reduction.

At a Big Corp where I worked, I think it was three 'satisfactory' ratings in a row which resulted in a PIP.

Satisfactory: fulfilling expectations or needs. But not in Corporate Nu-Speak.

I recall British telecom it was "needs some improvement" that triggered a pip that but everyone has some thing that needs improvement.

Given the will you can find an excuse to put anyone on a PIP.

I'm pretty sure the real purpose of a PIP, everywhere they are used, is to build up sufficient documentation to fire someone. That can't be a good experience on the receiving end.

I'm pretty sure the real purpose of a PIP, everywhere they are used, is to build up sufficient documentation to fire someone.

Of course it is. As I was telling coworkers this morning, any time I've had a direct on a PIP it's to do the hoop-jumping paperwork to satisfy HR. I've already decided I don't want that person on my team. And to be fair, that's because I've already tried "performance improvement" (regular 1:1s, goal setting, the like), and concluded that more of it isn't going to turn a bad fit into a good one.

So, yeah, if you find yourself on a PIP best start polishing that resume, because you're not long for that company no matter what HR tells you.

can confirm 100% true. Awful place to learn and develop. Look elsewhere. Do some research.

Sounds like Capital One as well, which is mirroring Amazon's culture as well as stack ranking system.

Perhaps you have experience in a different part of Capital One than I do. While the annual assessment process does bear some resemblance to stack ranking (and to be clear, I think this assessment process is one of Capital One's flaws and it would be better if it were changed), the rest of the description of Amazon's culture does not sound like what I see working here at Capital One.

I see a company that, 5 years ago, was 80% outsourced and now is more like 20% outsourced and continuing to change. I see a company where the developers and technical experts are given a huge amount of power and influence in the direction of the company. As I type this at 8:15 in the morning, I look around the floor of my building and see only two other people in early; yesterday at 5:45 PM there were only 4 others and they were playing Foosball. Sure, when you're on-task you are expected to cooperate with your teammates and to be productive, but the attitude is not one of "deliver or die", more of "let's see what we can achieve!".

Please don't think I'm dismissing your experience: you are probably in a different part of the company and have a different experience. But your description didn't resemble my own experience, and I thought that was worth mentioning.

I have heard of other teams like that and I am jealous. But there are some managers stuck in the past and an old way of thinking. Those that think it is acceptable to play the stack ranking politics, bully underlings, micromanage, etc. I do hope things change soon.

>deliver or die

Oddly enough, I was told this very recently. Deliver right away or bear the consequences.

They are hiring lot of people from Amazon etc in NoVA area. So Amazon culture doesn't seem surprising. I visited a few times to their McLean offices, the place looked little cultish to me.

The man had recently put in a request to transfer to a different department, but was placed on an employee improvement plan, a step that can lead to termination if performance isn’t improved, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing company personnel matters.

PIPs are bullshit, and fundamentally degrading. Just tell people "Maybe it's your fault, maybe it's our fault - but either way, it's not working out", offer a (truly decent) severance, and move on.

(I know, I know, I know: "because laywers.")

PIPs are far more insidious than even that. sure, they are advertised as a way to get rid of bad apples or underperforming hires that slipped past the bar raiser. in practice, though, they are used by managers to further their own internal politics and goals as a no-fuss way of removing any existing employee that might make them look bad or be in the way of a friend they would like to get onto their team. all the manager has to do is give you a task with low visibility and then wait 6 months before calling you out as trailing in performance and bam, no way to defend your career. they know that most devs will just quit rather than put up with the bullshit or the humiliation. I feel terrible for the younger or less aware folks who don't see the process for what it is and take it as a genuine indication of their skills, talent, dedication, or worth.

If you're put on a PIP, and you want to leave, you can use that as leverage to get some severance. Call it a resignation bonus. Getting a month or three of pay is money in your pocket, plus time to line up something better. An imperfect solution to an imperfect situation. Managing steps to PIP-can (methodically fire) a worker is taxing for everyone, and liability exposure. It may make financial sense for the company to cut its losses, paying a small certain liability to prevent a larger one.

Not if you're on a visa. Getting put on a PIP is an existential risk. The rational thing to do is to immediately get a new job.

Interestingly, the one place I know that loved putting people on PIPs as away of avoiding looking into questions of basic managerial competence... also had tons and tons of H1-Bs.

My (second hand) understanding is that if you get put on a PIP at Amazon it blocks you from doing an internal transfer. So if you have a manager who doesn't like you and you try to transfer out they can put you on a PIP and effectively you're done at Amazon, even if you had someone else who wanted you internally.

It works like that at many companies. Sometimes a PIP is not even needed, a low performance review is all it takes. I do not fully understand the logic behind it, other than facilitating the process of reducing headcount in the company as a whole.

HR can create a policy like this to prevent managers from locally optimizing. Firing someone is a lot of work for a manager. It is easier for the manager to transfer that person, than to deal with the problem themselves (even if they really should be fired).

HR might also create a policy like this to improve the average quality of employees. An employee who underperforms on team #1, is more likely to underperform on team X than a randomly chosen new hire.

Can anyone think of a single instance where an employee survived the PIP in any organization? I've never heard of one.

I did. I truly wasn't performing as my peers, and my manager was pretty awesome about the whole situation.

He asked me for my honest opinion on whether I was performing at the level I could (I thought I could do better), and what things I thought were causing it. I named things about me, things about the team, and things about the company in general. He explained the PIP was a deal: for three months he would take care of the external factors, and I would take care of the personal ones. We came up with a project for that quarter, which would be the metric with which I'd be evaluated.

If nothing had been done (no PIP, no anything), I might have been fired during that year. But we all wanted me to perform better; me, my boss, and the company that designed the process. And so all sides were willing to change reasonable things to make it so. Because of that honest conversation, and that feeling of all of us being on the same side, I recovered and have been going strongly for years.

Was it a formal PIP, though? In my experience there are many managers who'll do that for employees that they wish to retain, but who, for various reasons, aren't performing up to snuff. However, I've never heard of a manager bringing HR in, doing the PIP paperwork, and the employee surviving the PIP. In general, the moment HR gets involved (either in person or via formal paperwork) between you or your manager, you know you're done. As others have stated, treat the time of your PIP as a form of severance pay, do the minimum amount of work necessary to not get fired that day, and look for a job elsewhere.

Yes, formal with the paperwork and everything.

It wasn't my manager who "brought HR in", though. Performance evaluation at my company isn't just the manager's discretion, and low performance will eventually get you a PIP.

Okay, fair enough. In that case, it may have been the case that your manager disagreed with HR's assessment and was willing to give you a second chance. In all of the cases I've heard of, however, HR has been brought in at the manager's request, when other, more informal mechanisms have failed.

I'm not even sure a manager here can fire you by his own choice, for what it's worth. The company invests a ton in its engineers; a failed investment is a big waste. Also, it's the manager's job to make his reports more productive, so that kind of failure reflects on him too.

Agreed, but if it's truly a bad fit, there comes a time when you have to stop throwing more money into a failed investment, to use your own terminology. It's up to the manager to decide if/when an engineer isn't a good fit for his or her team. Obviously, some managers are better about it than others, but hopefully senior management is looking at team turnover, and noticing that certain managers' teams tend to have higher turnover than others.

I can remember three employees who survived a PIP. Two took it as a wake up call and turned into good team members (one turned back into a good team member, the other just got their act together).

The third was a master at reading the PIP, pulling just above the written requirements, then six months later was back in the same stew. Was delighted when they finally accepted a job at our main competitor.

There are others, I just remember three in particular right now. You have to take the PIP seriously: of course it's designed to protect the company, but it should really be the message of last resort rather than a formality.

Also if you have to issue a PIP you need to go back to the manager to see what went wrong. Did you have a hiring mistake or a management mistake or what? Every time I have fired someone I have felt sorry for them (not that I tell them -- they don't want to hear that at that point!). We shouldn't have brought them on, perhaps causing them to quit their previous job or forego another offer, if in the end they didn't work out.

I know some companies assume that if you're on a PIP it's impossible for the emp to recover. If a company is like that I don't see how the PIP would protect them from a lawsuit. It's like H-1B: if you take it seriously it costs you a lot more to hire one than to hire a local. It's again, an action of last resort.

>I know some companies assume that if you're on a PIP it's impossible for the emp to recover.

If the state has "at-will" employment, the employer doesn't actually need a reason to fire you. HR could come to you tomorrow and say, "All right. Pack your things and turn in your badge." The problem is, if they did that, they'd have to defend against lawsuits from people who say that they got fired because they were a woman, a minority, disabled, or some other protected class. What the PIP does is allow the organization to show in court that, out of all the reasons you could have been fired, you were not fired for being in a protected class. They don't have to positively show that you were a low performer. They just have to raise enough doubts about your performance that a judge or jury can have reasonable doubt about your assertion that you were fired for a discriminatory reason.

I had a co-worker survive the PIP he was put on. He was very thorough coder, but not particularly fast (when he delivered code it always worked really well, comforting for radar software), so when he was put on a new project that didn't value that over scheduling he had to adjust. Between that and a change of language he ended up on a pip. He lasted 5 years after that and one round of layoffs, before being let go in a second round. He's somewhere else now.

I've seen it twice, both with the same (absolutely terrible) manager. Short story, manager heard someone complain about employee, assumed employee wasn't doing their job, and put them on PIP.

Then, because the PIP actually defined the job standards, and involved checking with people who actually could evaluate the employee's performance, it became patently obvious that the employee was meeting them (and actually doing a great job).

Of course, in both cases the process was so insulting that the employees began interviewing around immediately and quit within a few months. And, no surprise, it left such a bad taste in everybody's mouths that almost the entire team quit over the next few months as well.

But, I don't think this is common. :)

I know of one instance. The colleague in question was working on a project which required communication with a sister team 9 timezones away. Unfortunately, the point of contact on said sister team didn’t care about communicating well (e.g. no written minutes of important meetings, no pro-active spreading of information, no willingness to get up earlier or stay late). Since the colleague didn’t have the personality/skills to enforce the necessary amount of communication, their output suffered severely.

After being put on a PIP, the colleague focused on other projects within the same team and eventually succeeded.

Naturally. A cog can turn the machine if he knows how it works:


It should work that way (especially for people who want to leave anyway), but things like "performance improvement plans" exist in part because outright firing someone without a long paper trail risks a wrongful termination lawsuit. If you fire someone months after putting them on a "performance improvement plan", you have a hard-to-refute paper trail that makes it much harder to prove any non-performance-related cause.

Ex Amazon here. PIP are used to covertly apply stack ranking. A lot of managers seem to always have at least one employee in PIP in their team.

It's kafka-esque, kafkaesq.

Following some of the discussion on this thread, I am constantly reminded of a priceless advice I got from a senior friend years ago.

When thinking about an employer, above a certain size threshold, never judge a company. Always judge a department. You don't work for a company. You work for a department. Above a certain (fairly small) size, the only thing you'll share with the employees in the other departments will be the domain name in your email. Everything else will be coincidental.

You can still judge company-wide policies like vacations, 401k match, or health care.

I wouldn't be surprised if the person working in an Amazon warehouse doesn't have the same vacation options as the person coding the internals of Simple Queue Service.

I wouldn't be surprised if the person working in the warehouse doesn't actually work for Amazon. Contracting jobs that are easy to fill is a great way to insulate a company from moral responsibility, and you get to imply "success at any cost" to the contracting company.

It's a mix, same as any other warehouse.

Based on the (lack of) attention that SQS has received, I'm guessing that the person coding the internals of SQS has LOTS of vacation.

What more are you expecting from it?

Well, I am currently prohibited from using it where I work, for some good reasons and some bad ones. The good reasons include things like not having any isolation between users. I work in a regulated industry, and if an SQS task includes sensitive customer data, I cannot ensure it runs only on machines in my VPC, nor can I ensure that the data is encrypted on disk, so I am prohibited from using it. The not-so-good reasons are things like "Amazon hasn't provided a written statement about how long it may take for a task to appear on the queues, so we have to assume that it might take days and any task with an SLA less than 'days' may not use SQS." (What can I say... some of our policy people are irrational.)

A bad team at a good company -- quite possible.

A good team at a bad company -- unlikely.

Good teams can form within bad organizations, but it's a vulnerable position to be in as an employee. One reorg and suddenly it's all bad.

> A good team at a bad company -- unlikely.

Can happen via acquisitions

Presumably if it does happen that way, it won't last very long, as the newly acquired employees will figure out "this place sucks" and leave...

Amazon screws employees in ways unseen in other companies. From the perspective of an engineer, this is a terrible place for people to work and grow. To list a few things:

- Equity vesting schedule is 5%, 15%, 40%, 40% over 4 years

- Relocation package is prorated for TWO years. If you leave after staying for a full year, you still need to return 50% of it.

- 401K matching only vests after working for 3 years. If you leave within 3 years, no matching for you whatsoever.

- No tuition reimbursement. Want to get a part-time masters in CS? Pay it yourself! - No catered food. No free soda. No free snacks. If you are hungry, you can eat at one of the shltty cafes.

- Obnoxious oncall routines. You are woken up 3:30am waiting for the event to be over. Why not automate things? Because replacing people is cheaper than building great software!

This is Amazon's mindset TOPDOWN. The root of the problem is that the leadership does NOT care about employees or technology. This is a retailer and a powdered Walmart, what do you expect?!

SDE 1 and SDE 2 are simply the slaves working at a sweatshop. Some of my co-workers are hired without onsite interviews. They do some video chat and they are hired at Amazon. They don't even know how to write bash scripts. Our team used to have technical program managers who can't even write a Python script. With simple things like running a command line tool, he cuts a ticket and let the engineers do it.

The managers at Amazon pocket bonuses and don't give a damn. They don't carry pagers and when they do, they just page lower level employees. The only reason people take offers at Amazon is that they can't get better packages from Facebook/Google.

* I worked at AWS for 2 years.

The worst part to me was that despite all of the claims of meritocracy, there was zero financial incentive to perform well during my four years there. That's because any previously-granted equity is counted against you when determining your total compensation for the next year. When those big year 3 & 4 equity vests kick in, they just stop giving you additional stock, because the stock you already had went up so much.

What this means is that in four years, despite glowing reviews every year and a promotion, I never got a meaningful raise/bonus/stock grant, because the stock was doing so well. My W2 income went up, but it was completely unrelated to my performance -- I could have done just enough to not get fired and would have made essentially the same amount. People who performed worse than me were regularly given larger stock grants.

It was super demoralizing to figure that out. Big part of the reason I left.

The cult of management seems to think that they have some magic that will incentivize workers without any increase in monetary compensation (or often percentage increases below inflation). I've seen it at work for C and D players but anyone with half a brain won't stick around once Oz is exposed as just a man behind a curtain.

I was at AWS for six months as a contractor and a year as an SDE3.

Equity vesting was low for the first year, but they gave me a (cash) signing bonus that made up for it. Pretty much one-to-one based on the starting value of the equity, and it paid out monthly instead of waiting until the end of the year.

The cafes were awesome and the prices there were decent. I was paid more than enough to buy my own lunch. Catered food is a cute perk, but it's hardly critical.

I don't drink soda, but they had free coffee and tea. Tea is my drink of choice, so I was happy. Soda is bad for you anyway. ;)

They did have free "snacks" if you count breakfast cereal. Which many people would grab a cup full of as a snack (there were no bowls, oddly enough). There were a mountain of breakfast cereal boxes on every floor near the kitchen. But yes, they also had paid snack machines.

The oncall routines were terrible, though, I agree. Luckily I was in a strange situation and was able to avoid them.

Our team was far better, technically speaking, than what you describe. Everyone was a pretty awesome developer, including my manager, who was really awesome overall. Developers went home at night; no one was being driven as if in a sweatshop. We had game nights and played board games. Periodic team dinners (that were awesome!). It was a blast.

And I think the latter really makes the difference. There are 20,000 people working at Amazon, according to the article. When you scale that big, some corners of the org are going to suck, and some will be better.

I may someday return to Amazon, now that they have an office near me in Colorado. But I'm still working on the game that I put on hold while I worked at Amazon, and I need to finish it before I reattach the golden handcuffs.

> Our team was far better, technically speaking, than what you describe. Everyone was a pretty awesome developer, including my manager, who was really awesome overall.

I've been in many teams and I can agree there are many strong developers.

> Developers went home at night; no one was being driven as if in a sweatshop.

Maybe not like sweatshops, but I've met many tenths of people that left because of the constant pressure to deliver combined with the oncall duties. Once I witnessed a whole team disappearing in a short time.

> We had game nights and played board games. Periodic team dinners (that were awesome!). It was a blast.

We too, but phrased like this makes it sounds like Amazon is a relaxed and laid-back company. Far from it.

>We too, but phrased like this makes it sounds like Amazon is a relaxed and laid-back company. Far from it.

Amazon is strict about a lot of things, but as far as workload -- well, I'm quite a fast developer, and I almost always was way ahead of the curve in getting things done. Very low stress for me.

Big reason I quit is that I was bored, in fact. Despite asking for more work. Despite taking on random extra team projects to create tooling to improve source control processes. And writing tools that were used elsewhere in the company. Etc. etc.

The oncall routines were terrible, though, I agree. Luckily I was in a strange situation and was able to avoid them.

I would think that Amazon of all places would automate anything they could.

No incentive at best, disincentive usually. There is a steady stream of new grads willing to put up with it for a couple years. The horrible vesting means you aren't paying much for them, not to mention salaries are mildly low to start with.

I have repeatedly heard these stories about Amazon -- it is one of the known-bad places to work, unless you have found a truly special situation.

Keep in mind this is only compared to other tech employers. It's fine compared to games companies, non-tech companies that won't value your work, and most jobs if you're not privileged enough to be a software developer.

> if you're not privileged enough to be a software developer.

Being a software developer isn't a privilege, it's a choice.

Being able to make that choice is a privilege.

How do you figure?

Not the OP, but:

* Access to educational opportunities as a child (the "easy" path to developing the right brain structures software engineers need)

* Lacking the first point, the extreme amount of time and the tolerance for the effort involved in "learning how to think" as an adult.

* The free time to learn to become a software engineer.

* Ideally the money to get a CS degree or equivalent.

* Raw aptitude. Some people are genuinely not cut out for it.

A privilege is a special right reserved for certain people. Making good choices isn't reserved for those who are middle class and above.

No doubt the path to career success is easier for those with parents who made an a collection of smart decisions, as well having made past smart choices.

If I must accept this definition of 'privilege', then we can simply call all outcomes in our life to be a direct result of the amount of 'privilege' we have.

Personally I reject this broad definition of privilege as it strips away peoples need to accept the fact that at the end of the day, they have the ability to make their own choices and develop their own self discipline.

There are world class developers who have arisen from 3rd world country level educations, there are elite athletes in third world countries who have self-coached their way to olympic level performance. Class mobility exists, and stripping away personal responsibility via the process of redefining language does not help anyone except for those who wish to just continue their life without critical introspection.

At the core, this is a political argument hidden under the shroud of being a linguistics argument.

> If I must accept this definition of 'privilege', then we can simply call all outcomes in our life to be a direct result of the amount of 'privilege' we have.

You can accept this definition without reducing your entire life to a preordained path. There’s middle ground where you can accept that some portion of your life was your choice, but the rest of it was due to circumstances you were raised in or had no choice in. Nobody is suggesting you didn’t work hard to get where you are, but it’d also be crazy to pretend that the white child born to rich engineers has the same path as a poor person of color who had to help work at a young age to support their single mother and siblings.

>I would think that Amazon of all places would automate anything they could.

It is all automated. To the point of paging you when an alarm goes off. But when the alarms go off, someone has to figure out how to fix the problem. Apparently some newer developers dug into the problem, they were able to fix it so that things were Much More Sane.

On our particular team, the server guys had just set too many alarms without really:

a) Documenting exactly why a particular alarm was potentially bad

b) Documenting what to do when a particular alarm went off

c) Really thinking about alarm thresholds -- frequently alarms were going off just because a client was using the product

The hell of oncall for our team was that we were the client team. We knew nothing about the server side. So if someone on our team was oncall and got paged, they'd basically have to call someone on the server team at 3am or whenever anyway because WTF is this stupid alarm?!

I had the Weirdest Commute Ever [1], though, and was as a side effect exempt.

[1] I live in Colorado. Amazon send me an offer to be an employee that allowed me to work from home ... but not in Colorado, because sales tax. So I rented a house on the edge of Kansas (3 hour drive), worked M-W, 12 hours/day, and drove home for the weekends. I couldn't do any work in Colorado or Amazon would risk having to pay sales tax on all purchases from Colorado. So QED I couldn't be oncall. Amazon has offices here now, so I could work for them without the weird commute. But as I mentioned elsewhere in this thread, I'm currently obsessing over finishing a game.

Yeh, I imagine another Bezos directive is coming soon. "automate it all or close down!" like he did with service api's so where's his smarts on this?

the conspirator in me thinks maybe he figured out its better to hire lots and fire lots churn/burn em out. amazon is always having those hire-events where you go like cattle to get filtered for a likely bad job b/c you won't appear all that selective to them.

They have automated it then, just not in the way we like to think it should be done :)

SDE3? Isn't that a semi-mythical level with just a handful of people? I suspect your experience is atypical.

Not really.

Principal, maybe, but SDE3 is a position you can be easily hired into with enough experience. As a promo it's a bitch, though, and absolutely not worth it. Jump ships for something level equivalent at a company with better comp and get promoted there.

I say this having stuck it out at Amazon for SDE3 before jumping ship. My only regret is that I stayed too long.

How long did you stay at Amazon? Did you start as a SDE1?

I should really find a better way to phrase that comment. I wasn't actually there for that long (a bit over two years), but I still regret not leaving sooner. I was hired in as an SDE2, which at the time was probably the right level due to lack of experience with large companies, but I outgrew it pretty quickly. The SDE3 promo process involved a staggering amount of hoop jumping specifically so my manager could put together my packet. My manager was fairly transparent about the checklist nature of the process, but it clearly involved an even more staggering amount of work for him preparing a packet for me.

When I say I should've left sooner it's because for all the effort put into it I ended up taking a substantial pay raise and a level drop when I finally did leave five months later (and went through a much lighter weight promo process shortly after joining my new gig that I would've been able to pursue regardless). It's possible the promo put me in a better negotiating position, but given that I didn't disclose my current compensation during negotiation I can't say that with any confidence.

From what I remember almost everyone will get promoted from SDE1 to SDE2 in around ~2 years. Getting promoted to SDE3 is not as easy but it's not really that rare either. It'd be really bizarre for almost everyone to be stuck at SDE2 considering how easy it is to get there.

I don't work in SV so maybe my comment doesn't matter but most of these things seem pretty trivial....

> - Equity vesting schedule is 5%, 15%, 40%, 40% over 4 years

I haven no equity in my company or opportunity to get any.

> - Relocation package is prorated for TWO years. If you leave after staying for a full year, you still need to return 50% of it.

I don't think my company offers any relocation packages (I could be wrong on that) but even so this policy doesn't strike me as completely crazy.

> - 401K matching only vests after working for 3 years. If you leave within 3 years, no matching for you whatsoever.

My vesting schedule only vests after 6 years (with 20 percent vesting every year after the first). It's not great but on average it's not the worst AFAICT.

> - No tuition reimbursement. Want to get a part-time masters in CS? Pay it yourself

> - No catered food. No free soda. No free snacks. If you are hungry, you can eat at one of the shltty cafes.

Both of these... We have nothing like it at all, I'd kill for a "shitty cafe". We have coffee and that's about it. This comment comes of as extremely spoiled to me.

> - Obnoxious oncall routines. You are woken up 3:30am waiting for the event to be over. Why not automate things? Because replacing people is cheaper than building great software!

My job doesn't include being on call but I work with people who are, I don't fully understand what this bit is talking about. Are you woken up just to be told your "shift" is starting or is this just referencing being woken up because there is a problem? Cause that's kind of the definition of being on call....

Maybe I'm just naive and stupid to think my job is good (every job could be better of course) but from where I'm sitting 90% of your comment comes off as entitled and spoiled and it colors the rest of it.

I understand where you're coming from as I've worked both in and outside of SV (Amazon isn't in SV but shares the culture). Though it may look like they're asking for a lot, it has to do with the demanding nature of the jobs they're working.

To answer your question about being woke up in the middle of the night, there is no such thing as a "shift". Most of us are expected to work at the very least 60 hour work weeks (no additional pay, everyone is salaried), with many jobs beings 'always on', extending our work into nights and weekends with take home laptops. A typical (though not universal) day at Amazon is like follows:

- Wake up and open laptop to check emails and get some work in.

- Shower, eat, etc. before going into work.

- Work until around 7-8pm.

- Come home and eat, then open up laptop to work (maybe with the tv on in the background) up until going to bed.

Waking hours are pretty much consumed by work, and on weekends a lot of people will do a couple hours here and there and between other things, to stay current with issues.

If people in SV look like they're asking for a lot or getting upset over petty things, it's because of the sheer soul sucking amount of work that's being imposed on them. Small conveniences like a catered cafe makes the difference in helping them work through it.

That culture sounds depressing. Not all companies (in and out of SV) work like that. The good thing is that you likely have a skill in high demand and can find a company with a better work culture. There are definitely many that value work/life balance and still pay well.

It's definitely not an ideal life, but seems to be increasingly the norm among individual contributor positions at the big guys (Google, Apple, Amazon, etc). What's more is that on paper, these same companies espouse 'work-life' balance, while those who try to leave there laptops at work after hours end up on probation like the individual in this article.

What exactly do they do that requires 60 hours of work and no less?

When you say "check emails", can you describe the typical task that would be assigned to employee?

I ask because it all seems very vague as to what the employees actually do. Are they all software engineers? Customer service? Which ones are overworked?

I specifically kept it vague for reasons of anonymity, as these types of statements have cost people their jobs in the past, and also due to the fact that what I described was work habits of people I talk to across different engineering roles (software, hardware, infrastructure) in the company I work for.

You can work less than 60 hours, but it will show in your output, as deadlines are aggressive and set tops down.

Examples of the kind of thing someone is answering emails in the early morning for is bugs discovered in your code, a regression that's failing, or something found that's blocking another coworkers' progress (since they were working late into the night as well).

I appreciate the clarification, but keep in mind that "keeping it vague" means you're adding nothing to the conversation.

Without specifics it's much harder to get a grasp of the issue and nearly impossible for someone who already isn't a part of that culture/workforce.

> these types of statements have cost people their jobs in the past

I'm able to appreciate that, but this is why we're on the internet, and anonymity should be theirs and your personal responsibility and no one elses.

> What exactly do they do that requires 60 hours of work and no less?

It's not so much the type of work, but other factors like volume, availability and perceived engagement. Even if you were capable of getting done in 20 hours what takes 60 hours for someone else you'd be expected to be available to help the team or respond to issues. Often times, in these types of environments you'll be expected to reply to issues quickly, respond to managers/leads if there's a question and these will arise at any moment within those 60 work hours, because even though you finished "your tasks" the team is still working to finish theirs and you're expected to be around "adding value".

As regards to the "checks emails", the task can literally be anything: a question regarding code, a response to an inquiry, a prompt for a decision on some topic, or a request for information that's needed ASAP. I've seen organizations that track the time taken to get a reply to these emails and they keep track in Excel sheets the average response time from individuals and their number of responses.

For example, I've also seen people get reported to management for taking a nap during their lunch break, even though they had finished their assigned task. The details of the tasks become irrelevant in those types of toxic environments.

Whatever your work conditions may be, it still stinks for him to be given an offer on paper which looks comparable to other companies of Amazon's reach, and yet in the small print wind up being a lot worse.

If you don't like the fine print, don't take the offer?

Why be offended by an offer? It's just an offer. Counter or just say "no".

Being offended is a waste of time.

Well, they didn't post their offer letter, so we have no idea if those details were in "small print" or not.

i think his complaint is in the context of amazon's aggresive and stressful work culture. For all of that, you ought to get some pretty good benefits

Yeah, same here (more or less): I think Amazon doesn't compare favorably to Google or Facebook, but it compares pretty well to almost every other employer out there...

At IIT Bombay Amazon arrived for recruitment. The AC in the hall was not working so all students tried to catch the window seats. The HR shouted at us claiming "If you want a job come and seat here else get out of the room" despite a student politely explaining why they are prefering to seat near a window. I learned that I should not be working there that very moment.

I don't understand this. Amazon seems to have seriously cutting edge infrastructure; they sell it as a service and operate more servers than google. Also, according to the article 20k people work for them, although I am not sure if that was total or engineers.

I am curious how they can retain people to manage all of their operations. Those terms sound terrible and not competitive. I would take those terms, but I am desperate. Why would others.

Interested to know if you(others) took terms out of naivete, need, broken promises/misrepresentation, career or skill boost, ect.

Tl;dr seems like a lot of good engineers work there, but many recount horrific exp.

Remember that the most vocal are the most dissatisfied. Also remember that at a company that large there are going to be more dissatisfied than smaller companies. Lastly, don't forget that no one wants to read a story about an upset engineer from a small no name company. People like seeing big brand names fail and we as a society are a sucker for a negative drama.

They retain people because not every team is like what you read in the news. There are teams with completely normal on-calls who love their life and job and are far from upset with anything that has to do with work. Free food isn't a deal breaker when you make what companies like Amazon pay.

There are significantly more of these stories out there on Amazon than the other major tech companies it seems - I haven't heard of anywhere near as many stories coming from Google, Facebook, or Apple.

Negative stories that make it into the press are rare events and therefore it's difficult to compare if there is much more dissatisfaction in one company vs another. A better indicator is turnover rate.

It is obvious just from having lived in Seattle for a good long while that something is up with Amazon. They are notorious for employee churn, and it's easy to see this in my circle of acquaintances, many if not most of whom work in software. People do quit Microsoft, Google, or Facebook from time to time, but it's generally a long-term engagement; Amazon is a place where even relatively senior people don't seem to stick around more than a couple of years.

It's not a scientific study but I don't need scientific accuracy in order to get a pretty clear idea where I would or would not want to work.

Completely agree, I have only heard of a few stories so I don't think we can conclude about one company over another. Turnover rate does sound like a much better general indicator.

> Remember that the most vocal are the most dissatisfied. Also remember that at a company that large there are going to be more dissatisfied than smaller companies. Lastly, don't forget that no one wants to read a story about an upset engineer from a small no name company. People like seeing big brand names fail and we as a society are a sucker for a negative drama.

If that was the sum of it, you'd expect to hear just as much bad stuff about Microsoft, Google, Apple, and so forth. That doesn't seem to be happening at the moment.

> Lastly, don't forget that no one wants to read a story about an upset engineer from a small no name company.

People also don't particularly want to read a story from a happy engineer at a big company either.

Additionally, the unhappy person who has an axe to grind is likely to go out of his way to publicize it, talk to reporters about it or write comments on the Internet about it. Happy employees are less likely to go out of their way to comment on the experience, and what they have to say is less notable on average.

The volume of stories coming out of Amazon far outstrips those from Google or Facebook for example.

"Far outstrips" feels like an exaggeration of the problem considering the publics lack of data.

Interviewed with Amazon, and they were offering less than my current salary in a market where housing isn't nearly as crazy as Seattle.

Did you try negotiating? Despite conventional wisdom, (at least with some offered salaries), you can negotiate a raise. I got a significant increase in salary when negotiating for my return internship offer.

Your post sounds strangely onesided. Amazon turnover rate for engineers is the highest across the usual names. 50% of engineers leave before 2y.

Its not one sided, its a general statement that the people who love their job don't go jumping off buildings or having suicidal thoughts. They wake up, goto work and come home.

Also, where do you get a 50% of engineers leave before 2y?

As does yours. Any data to back up that number, or just anecdotal evidence?

The nightmare stories are often from years ago or non devs. There are some pretty awful oncalls though.

I'm on a team I like, work with people I get along with and have hours that are good (<=40) except around launches.

2 years after college, I make enough (~160k total comp, a bit over 100k salary) for money to not really be a motivating factor.

When I first got to amazon, I fully expected to jump ship within 6 months and move somewhere else. I stayed because I liked the people and the work was fine. If my team culture changes and I don't like it, I'll look external and internal then leave.

I'd be interested to know what you think after 5 years there and a few more reorgs. You may find that you got extremely lucky in where you first landed.

Well, I'm >5 years, two orgs, one of which re-shuffled a few times while I was there, trying to find the right fit between software engineering and domain expertise.

I've never personally seen any of the horrorshow stuff I hear about Amazon. I've worked with people who have, and mostly they just moved to other parts of the company. It's a big place.

I stay because I like it. I've turned down offers for more money in order to remain, because my job is satisfying, challenging, and balanced with my non-work life. I go home at 5 PM every day, get paged only occasionally, have a mandate to automate and stabilize my services that is at LEAST as high-priority as features or launches.

In short, the opposite of some of these complaints.

It's almost like there's nuance to be found here!

I've been reorged quite a few times. More than most people who have spent 5 years here.

> You may find that you got extremely lucky in where you first landed.

I have 3 other teams with previous coworkers who are currently having good experiences that I can go to if this one goes south.

Yes there are a lot of teams that burn people out. I'm not blind. But there are also a number of us that have resisted the amazon way and try to actually be human.

> But there are also a number of us that have resisted the amazon way and try to actually be human.

This last sentence was such a stark contrast with the rest of your comments above, that it almost feels like a slip or a that meme with a guy blinking an S-O-S signal with his eyes.

The amazon way is not always friendly to normal humans. That's just the truth of it. My team has taken pains to not be that way.

The company is trying to change the culture and frankly, have done some mind blowing things. No one would have ever though paternity leave would be a thing 5 years ago. Or that part time work would ever be discussed. But there is a long, long way to go and a lot of senior peoples attitudes need to be changed before I'd call the culture here awesome.

> My team has taken pains to not be that way.

But that's the thing though. Your team is not being discussed, but the entire company is. And if it feels to you that it's your team that's swimming against the current, then maybe there's a lot of truth to the general perception of the whole company.

> No one would have ever though paternity leave would be a thing 5 years ago.

That's sad that people work there. How many billions does Jeff have again? Oh yeah, $61.7 billion dollars.

Maybe some are biased here but i think non-devs are humans too.

I have no insight into their world so I cannot speak in any way to the truth of their working conditions.

I only know that for most of the devs, it is fine. It's not perfect, I'm not even sure I'd tell people that it's great. But for people that have a good team? It's fine and the quality of people makes up for it. If I didn't like my team I would have left a long time ago.

I did a 3-month internship there and saw some of the ridiculous situations others are replaying here (my favorite of which was 8am-8pm work hours every day).

I decided to not go back, but in the end having Amazon on my resume (even as an internship, as I'm relatively young) was basically a free pass to interview anywhere else I wanted. I'd say it was a shitty experience while I was there, but net positive in the long run if only because of Amazon's klout.

> if only because of Amazon's klout

"clout" :)

Amazon headcount from mid-2015 said over 24k in Seattle: http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/blog/techflash/2015/07/ex...

Curious, why do you think they have more servers than google? A quick search didn't turn anything up.

I guess he was referring to AWS vs Google Cloud. AWS is clearly the market leader. However, including Google services it's likely that Google could've more servers. Don't think there are any numbers out there to check that.

I know not every part of every company is the same since your direct manager plays a big part in your experience but I have to wonder why people put up with the bad experiences. Maybe the pay for AWS consulting gigs is worth a couple years in that kind of environment.

Not so much the pay, as the wonders it works for your resume. Prior to Amazon, I tried applying to Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc. Nothing. After Amazon, recruiters from those companies started contacting me.

I've had recruiters from 3 of the big 4 reach out over the past few years without having worked at one. It's hard to generalize across recruiters and the four companies, but I think they pay more attention to your number of years than where they were at in the early recruitment stage.

"Amazon seems to have seriously cutting edge infrastructure"

How do you know? Based on what they sell through AWS? This is not super evident - they might have duct taped bunch of shitty stuff and rely on people on-call 24x7 to keep system running.

There's only so much duct-tape you can throw at a problem before it becomes unmanageable. The scale, complexity and reliability of AWS indicates that they are indeed running a tight (and tidy) ship.

It's a mix. The code is good enough to get things running, but it still needs full time oncall who actually are constantly putting out little fires.

I have heard whispers of this, and the mention of common on call hours seems to lend it some credibility

Yes, seriously legacy software (still a lot of Perl in their production web code, including ancient Perl template engines) and the on-calls are truly bad. AWS is more modern, but still not entirely awesome from what I've heard.

On the plus side, hiring people out of there after a year is usually pretty easy.

What are the typical on-calls?

You are paged most nights and often more than once a night during your rotation and you are on rotation a lot.

> they sell it as a service and operate more servers than google

Citation needed.

It's team dependent. I joined (AWS) because it was a neat project, they pay high for my area, the Google office in my area didn't have interesting projects, and they offered to move me across the country. I will stay 2 years. Perhaps more.

Consider that to scale an organisation it is necessary that nearly everyone is just a small, easily replaceable cog in a big machine. Look at any other big org: the military, government bureaucrats, etc...

> I don't understand this. Amazon seems to have seriously cutting edge infrastructure;

I think it depends on what part of Amazon you're working for. From what I understand, Amazon.com is not run on AWS.

Perhaps it'd be more interesting to understand what parts of Amazon.com don't run on AWS [1].

[1]: https://www.quora.com/Does-Amazon-com-use-Amazon-AWS

Amazon.com is a mighty broad statement to say "not run on AWS".

Almost all of Amazon.com has been migrated to AWS.

Seriously, from your initial sentence I was expecting something way worse. Those problems seem very trivial to me compared to most normal jobs where you don't get offered anything at all, ever. Not to mention the many jobs where you get abused for real.

Well, all of these are standard perks in SV. So compared to them Amazon is a really bad place to work.

To everyone outside of SV, this sounds like the smallest violin playing for the software engineers in their salary/perk bubble.

> They don't even know how to write bash scripts

Is this weird? I only know of one or two coworkers who knows how to write bash scripts..

Despite almost knowing no bash, I was hired as an SDE1 at Amazon so your story adds up though!

It's super weird that anyone exposed to a Unix system can't write a bash script!

Why? Do you think it weird that most Windows user couldn't write a .bat script? I've worked support at a large university that used Unix as its main desktop OS for staff and students in most departments. I'd bet that most people there couldn't write bash script. 90+% of peoples interaction with the OS was click browser icon, click e-mail icon, click text editor icon and click icon/type in name at command prompt of whatever programs they needed to get work done. Writing bash scripts is simply not something that ever came up for the vast majority of users.

Aren't we talking about software engineers not just generic users?

I would be very surprised if an engineer working primarily in windows couldn't write a .bat/powershell script

I can use powershell.

Never had to write a script, whatever for?

I wouldn't. I work with lots of (non-software) engineers and I bet that most of them couldn't produce an non-trivial .bat without a lot of googling.

I'm pretty sure the structural engineer next to me has no clue wtf a script is. Fortunately this conversation is about software engineers.

Actually this conversation is about "anyone exposed to a Unix system", of which software engineers is a small subset.

I guess that's the superiority of Linux admins. I'being one of them, can write scripts in bash, python, perl, and plenty of other langs. And just recently, taught myself powershell as well. Screwedup-LangwithLongKeywords...

I've been using Unix on and off for 20 years, and I've done a bunch of Unix development work here and there (and more than just "did some programming and it was on a Unix system") - but I've no idea how to write a bash script, or a zsh one, for that matter.

If I need to automate something, I use a GNU Makefile, or Python. That way it works on Unix as well as on Windows...

When you write commands for building targets in GNU Makefile, you are writing them in bash.

I have had what most people would consider a great career and I don't write bash scripts. If I need to automate something then Ruby is my glue of choice or for simple things Makefiles.

Ditto but sub ruby for node... Though Python is probably more widely available (already installed) in nix environments.

>It's super weird that anyone exposed to a Unix system can't write a bash script!

Why is it weird? I've been working with UNIX systems for more than 20 years, somewhat of a Vim expert and I don't think I can write a bash script. Never needed to. Sure I can modify .bash_profile and I can read bash scripts but writing them to do something useful? Nope. I'd use something like Perl or awk instead. The only time I ever wrote any kind of shell script on my memory was a tcsh (csh?) one in the 90s because the box didn't have any scripting languages installed.

That's choosing not to write a bash script. That doesn't mean you couldn't.

TBH, it depends... I usually have to double-check the usr/env shebang for bash in the first place.. even then, will google my way through it.

I work mostly in node.js these days, and will have others on windows or mac, and deploys to linux. A node script is usually safer for me, and I'm far more proficient... shell.js, mz and babel-cli makes it easier to do task scripts for automation. ymmv though.

It I had to write a bash script without the benefit of google, I'd totally fail.

Well, I think shell scripting is fun, so I might agree that you'd hope users who had spent at least a little time using the CLI _could_ write a bash script. That said, I suspect a lot of people, devs included, just haven't needed to automate/batch things outside of whatever their normal toolset is - and don't know what they're missing. Portability makes shell scripting especially nice - instead of fiddling with rbenv or npm or pip so that your elegant little script can run, your handy.sh is going to be easier to move to another box...

Those points you mentioned are pretty standard for any corporation that isnt an insanely profitable tech company.

Is tuition reimbursement a thing at companies? That would be pretty awesome. TIL

Absolutely. For example, Google will reimburse you up to $12k a year for courses you take that are related to your job, and even offers up to $1,200 for everything else. So if you want to take, say, a cooking class, they'll even help out with that a bit.

Almost all, I'd never heard of a tech company not do it.

My company doesn't and a whole slew of ones I've talked to don't either... I'm not sure what bubble you are living in where you've "never heard of a tech company not do it'.

Microsoft has this program but it's pretty bad. Only masters courses are allowed with managers approval. Rest is out of pocket. Most managers don't approve. Tuition benefit is very much a myth.

Microsoft tuition assistance is available for both undergraduate and graduate programs. There are annual limits to how much is reimbursed and you get more for graduate school. Yes, it does require manager approval too. (I work at Microsoft)

The parent said "companies" not necessarily "tech companies".

Really? I know a bunch. Almost all startups, for starters.

As in university tuition? Or as in sometimes they decide to send you on a course and pay for it?

Facebook doesn't do it either at least from the last I heard, because supposedly they don't care whether you have a degree or not.

Yes, although the IRS only allows companies to offer ~5k/yr before the money becomes taxable compensation.

Travelocity paid for 100% of my tuition and books to finish my Master's degree. I did sign an agreement that I would stay there for two years after graduation, though, and I had to maintain a B or better average.

It's pretty common at manufacturing and (non-software) engineering companies.

"No catered food. No free soda. No free snacks. If you are hungry, you can eat at one of the shltty cafes."

This seems totally out of place to me. You have to pay for your own food, who cares? That's the way it is for pretty much everybody.

Those terms are insane.

They make it clear that Amazon prefer employees who'll stay there for a while because employees only become value after a couple of years, or if you're feeling less generous, Amazon know that they'll extract all the value from someone in under a year before they're driven out. Either way the terms aren't insane; they're just very much weighted to the employer's beliefs.

You're right. I should have finished that thought with "compared to a standard 1-year cliff and 25% per year".

In any case, dragging relocation out over two years feels wrong to me given that relocation is binary. I suppose in effect they are using it as a way to attach strings to a signing bonus.

By insane, I guess the OP was thinking "not moral"...

>>> they're just very much weighted to the employer's beliefs

That's no excuse. Hitting someone weaker than you is not "very much weighted to your beliefs".

A more precise word choice to convey my intent would have been "outrageous".

Compared to what?

I interviewed with AWS. What struck me was how different the people were. The would-be peer manager I spoke with was upbeat, really enthusiastic about tech, his team, creativity, and balance. My next conversation with his manager (presumably the person I would work for) was entirely different - much harsher tone, seemed uninterested in answers longer than a sentence, zero sense of humor. Now, I haven't been around for a long time, but I'm past the 10 year mark. That was the first interview I've ever had where I unequivocally lost interest in the manager and the company in just 30 minutes, despite being very enthusiastic about the product itself.

They did not make me an offer, which is just as well as I would have declined. I doubt I did a great job of sounding interested past the 15 minute mark, which is really out of character for me.

Now to address some of your points, tech must be a different animal. I'll tell you about my benefits since I really like that HN is a place to really get some transparency, and probably by design, there isn't a lot of Fortune 500, non-tech firm representation here. So you can stop reading if you aren't curious, but for those that are, here goes.

I work in finance tech, but with a large, somewhat oldschool company, not a startup. I recently became a (junior) officer of this company. Comparatively, I don't think Amazon sounds all that bad in terms of the fringe items. For instance:

- I don't even get a free cup of coffee here - the cafeteria is pretty good, but not cheap

- Most people here don't get equity. We do have an employee stock purchase benefit that lets you buy at a discount with a reasonable holding period (90 days or 6 months, can't remember). For those that do have what I'd call retention incentives (either cash or stock), our vesting period starts at 3 years. This is separate from our bonus, which varies by level (and all levels get something), but vests when deposit hits your account

- Our 401k match is comparatively better. We match 1:1 up to 5%, and then I think we kick in roughly the same as a defined contribution, since we no longer offer a pension. So 10% in "free" retirement money each year. I believe matching begins on day 1 and vests immediately

- Tuition reimbursement is a funny thing. I haven't tried our benefit here since I'm done with school. However, I've been around my industry, which is heavily concentrated in the Fortune 500. Most companies offer 5-6k a year, and they all try their best never to pay it. At one company, who I won't name, I was told that my degree was not related to my job, so no benefit. Great, but the policy makes no mention of that, and the recruiter certainly doesn't undersell the benefit

- Oncall sucks. I've avoided it since I manage backend financial/data engineering processes, nothing customer-facing. I've covered myself as much as I've delegated, though, it's only fair

- Relocation was I think a year, and they covered everything - packing, moving, transporting our 3rd car, etc. Package is based on level and some other factors. As an employee now, though, I don't think there's ever any repayment period for internal relocation. They just cover it, and from what I hear, it's pretty comprehensive

I realize I'm not entry level, but the above applies to everyone here, except where noted. I used to think we don't pay Amazon salaries, but a peek at Glassdoor says that Amazon doesn't really pay that well, particularly for the cost of living around the HQ.

> The man had recently put in a request to transfer to a different department, but was placed on an employee improvement plan

Having escaped from an abusive manager myself, I can imagine what this person went though. Managers that are skilled in the art are able to inflict pain without leaving much of a paper trail.

I did ask for (and got) professional help, including medication. There's only so much stress 24/7 that you are able to handle before you start to crack. Who knows what would have happened if I just tried to ride it out.

I'd have gone bananas if I had been placed in a PIP instead. This was one of the possibilities identified by my branch predictor, so I was collecting a mountain of evidence against said manager. Thankfully, it wasn't needed.

(I realize that nowhere in the article it says a manager was the issue, but corporate pattern-matching gets pretty good after a while)

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