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Amazon Career Choice Program (amazon.com)
89 points by ryanwjackson 1168 days ago | 46 comments

I'm cynical about this for the following reasons:

* Amazon's line workers who do picking/packing are not Amazon employees, but instead are temp contractors.

* Even if they were employees of Amazon, they frequently are laid off or fired for failure to meet unrealistic performance standards within a year or so, meaning they'll never reach the 3 years required.

I don't think this actually will impact very many people. It's a nice gesture, but I'm curious to see how many employees actually currently qualify for this program.

http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-allentown-amazon-complain... "Temporary employees interviewed said few people in their working groups actually made it to a permanent Amazon position. Instead, they said they were pushed harder and harder to work faster and faster until they were terminated, they quit or they got injured. Those interviewed say turnover at the warehouse is high and many hires don't last more than a few months."


Can't hate them for the gesture, but it is just that: a gesture. It all sounds nice, but reading the actual fine print at http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=amb_..., they'll give you up to $2000 a year. Not exactly covering much, particularly given current educational costs.


For a vocational/associate degree (which this is for), tuition is only slightly higher than that. Some quick searching turns up that it takes 90 quarter credit-hours to get an A.S. or A.A.S. from a Washington community college, and the in-state tuition rate is $106 per credit hour (http://www.sbctc.edu/college/finance/2012-13LowerDivisionTui...). So that's $9540 for a degree. If you do it part-time spread over the 4 years that Amazon will pay for, Amazon will end up picking up $8000 of that, leaving $1540+books out of pocket.


I know the US has astronomical tuition fees for "academic" college/university programs, but this explicitly doesn't apply to those -- it's for vocational training.

What are tuition fees like at the sort of community colleges which offer part-time vocational programs?


"What are tuition fees like at the sort of community colleges which offer part-time vocational programs"

The school I attended didn't really have the concept of "full vs part time" it was solely credit hours with one minor little exception of $7.50 for liability insurance per semester no matter how many or few credits.

Fifteen years ago when I got my near worthless associates it was approx $1000 for 16 credits per semester. Next fall its exactly $1870.40 for the same 16 credits, however there is a MINIMUM material fee and MINIMUM activity fee adding up to at least $176 per class, even if the class involves no materials or activities. Also there is a mandatory liability insurance fee for all students tacked on at the end of the bill (Student has coverage if during carpentry class he drives a nail thru his classmates hand, that type of thing). If you take classes online its an extra $160, apparently its extremely expensive to heat and cool a virtual classroom... or some BS like that. It would be very difficult to escape below $2100 per semester at full time, so lets call it $1050 in the fall of 2012 for half/part time per semester (at 3 semesters per year)

The killer problem is I've never found a corporate employer who cares about AS degrees... considered no different than graduating high school. Perhaps Amazon is the first employer I've ever heard of who cares about a AS degree. My entire career has been about knowing people and no one cared about my AS degree. Now that I've been out in the world for awhile, no one cares about the BS degree I later received, either.

The "electronics telecommunications" AS degree requirements were basically the standard EE curricula minus about 64 credits of liberal arts and electives (the suggested curricula had only one possible elective... Instead of photography or whatever I chose microcontroller programming, crazy me). They had a variety of options where you could transfer into the local public or private engineering school after your AS to get your BSEE degree, basically 64 credits of history/fine arts/writing/foreign language/etc plus a little extra math and science (diffeqs, second semester physics, those are the only two "technical" classes I can remember as requirements).


From what I've heard, read and experienced, I'd argue that Amazon (or at least its Seattle HQ) is likely the company that offers the best benefits. And real benefits that affect the employees' lives, not things like beanbags in every office and foosball table.

One of my best friends recently got hired by Amazon. I won't disclose his full benefits+relocation package because that's private to him, but it included many little things that just make it feel like Amazon deeply cares about its employees: for example, they paid a special recruiter to help his fiance find a job in Seattle, bought a plane ticket for his cat's relocation (the devil is in the details), and so on.


Having had firsthand experience with Google and Microsoft, and secondhand reports about Amazon from many friends who've worked there, I think Amazon is the lowest of the three for benefits - although all three are spectacular when compared with average companies.

Both Microsoft and Google have similar white-glove treatment for relocation. For example, when I was recruited to MS out of college, I got a gift bag of scuba gear and a call from a local dive shop because I asked the recruiter about diving in the area. Microsoft paid for movers to pack me and ship everything, while my dorm-mates looked on with envy.

Google, in turn, makes Microsoft look stingy. Everything you've heard is true and then some. Random example: most BigCos have top-notch coverage if you have international problems while traveling on business, provided by an expert 3rd party. Google extends this to international travel you may take for pleasure.

Amazon is very good by the standards of all companies, but not particularly notable when held up to its closest competition.


On that note, I think Amazon's tuition reimbursement is also more meager than that of Microsoft's, if not absent altogether. MS is happy to cover something close to 10k a year for your graduate degree.


That's comparing very differently compensated employees, though. This Amazon program is for hourly employees, such as warehouse staff. My guess is that Microsoft's willingness to pay $10k/yr for graduate tuition only extends to their salaried white-collar employees, unless they treat their hourly staff a lot better than I'd realized.


Amazon doesn't give tuition assistance for white-collar salaried engineers at all.

Source: my Amazon offer from Fall 2010.


Disagree heavily - I worked for Amazon between 2009 and 2011. The benefits are easily the worst in the area, particularly when you compare it against MS's famously generous benefits.

And we're not talking about beanbags and foosball tables, we're talking real benefits like, say, health insurance.

I'm working for a 20-person startup now with better medical insurance than what I had at Amazon. Amazon really scrapes the bottom of the barrel when it comes to employee health (though I suppose stacking them up against even worse horrors like Wal-Mart would make them seem positively saintly).

Compared to Google, Microsoft, etc, Amazon's benefits are horrid, even when completely disregarding the "pointless" perks like foosball and cereal bars.

Side note: Did you know Twitter is catered by Bon Appetit, the same company that runs Amazon's (very expensive) on-site cafeteria? They serve the same level of food, for free, every single day. If you ask people, it's a benefit that actually really matters - it saves people oodles of money, is better quality than what most people can pull off by themselves at home, and people seem to genuinely put it up there as a major reason to stick around.


I think it's safe to say that Amazon is like most companies: The more they want you, the more they'll pay to get you. I've heard of exceptional relocation packages (all the way up to "having trouble selling your house? no problem, we'll buy it from you for its assessed market value") being provided by many different organizations to a select few recruits.

Obviously Amazon is enthusiastic about your friend!


I think it's because relocation is a discretionary case by case expense. The standard stuff, like health insurance, is on the "frugal" side, or so I've heard. But that's because you set that up all at once for the whole company. You can't offer a better health insurance plan to an A player the way you can offer a more generous relocation package. Which I will add is little consolation to anyone who already lives in Seattle.


Yes, relocation is definitely an easier place for a company to provide special treatment to a prospective hire than "boilerplate benefits" like medical. I've heard of exactly one case where someone managed to get special treatment in the area of health insurance -- a diabetic who found that the corporate health plan wouldn't cover an insulin pump until he had been on it for X years, and was told "ok, we'll throw in a free insulin pump as a signing bonus".


I'm interning at Amazon at the moment, and I can say that as far as office perks go, they don't have many. But when it comes to the connivence of living, they do far more than I would have ever expected.

For example, I got corporate housed pretty far away from work (hour by bus), Amazon not only payed for a shuttle every morning to work and every night from work, they also reduced my housing costs and offered a rental car for the summer. And this wasn't just to me, every intern that didn't get housed right next to campus got some sort of benefit to make getting to work easier.

They take almost the opposite approach to some places. They assume you'll take care of yourself at work, and then they take care of you outside of work.


I think that's because they want to maintain the culture of frugality on-campus. Wastefulness on the job is pernicious because it adds up and cannot be tracked the way employee benefits can.

Another point is that internship programs are for recruiting. I expect that Amazon's internship program and all its perks cost less per hire than their regular recruiting process.


Having had an Amazon offer and being able to compare it to others, NO!

* Amazon's health insurance offering is vastly inferior to that of, say, Microsoft or Google. I don't know what Google's health plan looks like, but I know that Microsoft's was "pretend your Canadian". Everything sensible and necessary is fully covered, with copays never being anything more than nominal. Everything: medical, dental, optical, disability, family, all of it.

* Amazon requires longer hours and offers less vacation and holiday time than both Microsoft and Google. As a nice touch from my MS offer at the time, they offer 3 "floating holidays". These expire every year instead of accruing like vacation days, but they are usable more-or-less whenever for the purpose of accounting for cultural/religious occasions (Eid, Rosh ha'Shanah, Tanabata, Easter, Denali, whatever).

* Amazon and MS both have cafeterias, but make you pay. MS has free drinks, though, and Google has free... everything.

* Amazon offers higher salaries and attracts money-grubbers. MS offers lower salaries but better benefits. Google is more selective about hiring but offers higher salaries and better benefits.

* Amazon requires almost every engineer to spend at least a month per year doing 24/7 on-call support. No other company I've ever seen practices this.

Overall, Amazon appears to have caught itself in fantasies of being Galt's Gulch, while Google and even MS (not to even talk about Valve!) offer a lot more stability and benefits. It gives the impression that Amazon is perfectly happy with its high worker turnover, whereas the other two intend to hire for the long term.


I worked at Boeing for 4 years and they paid for pretty much any education you wanted and as much of it as you wanted. It's not that abnormal for big companies to do this.


Yep this is pretty why UW Bothell exists today.


From the FAQ Link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=amb_...

> What are the maximum benefits under the program? Amazon will pay up to 95% of the tuition, textbook and associated fees up to a maximum of $2,000 per year for four years.

Better than nothing, though I wonder how expensive the courses are for those fields?


Well, if you're going to a California community college (I think that's the sort of courses this program is aimed at), you would pay $36/unit. A full time student would take 12 units for a total cost of $432.[1] Things like textbooks are extra but obviously vary a ton depending on the courses you choose and how clever you are buying them.

[1]: http://www.cccapply.org/faq/costs.asp

Assuming you're not actually going to be doing a full 12 units--a reasonable assumption here, I think--the $2000 limit should suffice.

I don't know about more specific vocational schools or anything like that.


Anyone making warehouse worker wages will probably qualify for over $10k in Pell grants immediately to complete an AS just by enrolling now, not in three years. Many programs are fully funded with scholarships and grants. Even if the person doesn't qualify for Pell or scholarships, They could borrow the $2k and living expenses, complete the program, and repay the loan well before the five years it would take them to get a two year degree under this plan. Those same students can also take the $2500 American Opportunity Tax Credit and start the AS program right now.


I'm pleased to hear that Amazon is doing this. It seems like a change of pace from their past treatment of temps (http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2011/12/seasonal-w...) and absence of philanthropic activity (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/201...).


The cult internally at Amazon, in response to constant attacks regarding the lack of corporate philanthropy, is actually a hostile attitude towards corporate philanthropy.

Internally, amongst the die-hard adherents, corporate philanthropy is seen as tyranny - pushing private agendas and priorities on the entire employee base who "pay into" such donations. The refrain that philanthropy runs counter to the obligation to maximize shareholder value, is also used often.

It's kind of a weird attitude, but while I was at Amazon I got swept in it too. In hindsight it's all very Stockholm-y.


Sounds like Jeff Bezos confuses himself with John Galt.


It's better than nothing, but look at the target... $1 and hour of educational benefit ($2000/year divided by 2000 hours/day) is great for someone making $8 an hour. That's a 12.5% raise off the cuff. Apply it to someone making 100K, and it's a lot less.

Some big companies do full tuition reimbursement, but the # is shrinking over time.


I don't expect any Amazon employees who are making 100K to need a subsidized associates degree, though.


Many of Amazon's competitors in the employment market, however, offer tuition reimbursement for MSc or PhD degrees.


Did you read the page? It's a program for hourly workers in the warehouses, not for salaried employees who already have an education and a desirable career.


Having worked for Microsoft and Amazon, there is a reason that so many engineers go to work for Microsoft, or Google, after working at Amazon for awhile. It isn't just that they offer better benefits than Amazon.

I do not think this program will compensate for everything else when it comes to associates. Associates are not respected by management.

Frankly, this is because Amazon does not respect employees. Full Stop. (or suppliers, or anyone really. They only treat customers well because it is profitable. It is kinda funny that Zappos got bought by them, since Tony's ideology is the polar opposites of Bezos, but maybe Tony is just propagandizing the way Bezos makes himself out to be a visionary.)

Amazon is like the cult of scientology: It sounds really great on the way in, but well before you get to the verbal abuse, the death marches, denial of sleep and the beatings[1] you realize it was all a lie.

They do roll out the red carpet treatment in the early days for people that a manager insists need it.

But they operate on stack ranking, are completely political, anti-innovation, and really they are very much like a cult, with their own reality distortion field and magical sayings. "Its day one!"

For contrast: Over the 25 years of my professional career, I have worked for a lot of startups. Many of them were poorly run, simply because the management was in well over their heads. There's a huge difference between management being well intentioned and over their heads and what I experienced at Amazon. Management at amazon is pathological, because Amazon is designed as a Lord of The Flies experiment, not a company.

I've also worked for Microsoft and a number of other big companies. Big companies have Big company suckage syndrome, and Microsoft has management problems. But again it is sorta like management ends up being a bit incompetent in areas where they shouldn't, not evil. Microsoft was also a little bit of a cult but a pretty mild one. Both companies practice the "once you've turned your back on the cult you're unclean" police though.

One important lie: "If you don't like where you are at amazon, you can move to another department." Despite getting an offer from the cutting edge part of AWS, my manager naturally blocked it because he was losing too many people (%60 of the team left by the time I left, because he was a total abusive asshole who knew nothing about computers, let a lone programming.) So, I resigned. (This was also after I'd tried to resolve the issue by going to HR, only to discover that HR told my manager everything I said, despite offering confidence, and thus he knew I wasn't going to lie to cover up his misdeeds.)

Just FYI, my manager at Amazon was a drug dealer who dealt to other amazon employees in the parking garage next to PacWest. He's had a wonderful career there because his boss is also incompetent, and the incompetence goes all the way to the top, and he's really effective at blaming others for his problems (like, you know, being a drug addict and forgetting to tell his team to do stuff.)

Incompetence is irritating. But that said, I had great experiences at a lot of companies, and at least perfectly fine ones at almost all the places I worked. I don't particularly like Microsoft, really, but I would never warn someone off working there.

Amazon is the only place I've ever taken the time to warn people against. Some people work there and do fine because they end up working for a manager who knows what a loop is. There are even largish groups like that (namely AWS). But that doesn't change the fact that there are whole divisions run by asshole bozos as well.

Amazon's crime is not in hiring an asshole bozo and putting him in charge of programmers. It is in letting him drive out %60 of his team and then promoting him. It is the culture that lets such a terrible person thrive. That culture is what makes Amazon a terrible place to work, because it is completely up to chance whether you will be treated decently or not.

[1] I wasn't beaten. If I had been, I would have sued. Everything else is an accurate description of the experience.


For what it's worth, this is nothing at all like my experience at Amazon. I'm about a year and a half in. My management is technically competent and, in general, has a good feel for where that competency ends. They don't interfere beyond that point.

I don't work nights or weekends unless I want to. Sometimes I do -- I like some of what I'm working on, but nobody is there cracking the whip.

I do know the experience varies dramatically from team to team, but in the last 18 months I've met and worked with people from many other teams (we're a newish group that's integrating with many parts of existing Amazon infrastructure), and absolutely nobody I've encountered has given any indication at all that their team was like the one you describe. There have definitely been teams that I wouldn't want to work on, but that always came down to a giant chunk of legacy code that nobody wanted to maintain (this is actually a pretty big problem -- there is a lot of scary Perl Mason around Amazon).

I don't know when you worked at Amazon or which team you were on, but either the company has changed, yours was an isolated hellhole of a team not representative of the general experience, or you are vastly overstating things. My team is far from perfect, mind you, but I could do a lot worse.


Sounds like you just had a bad manager. At a big company (like Amazon) there are good managers and bad managers. I'm sure your opinion would be different if you actually made it to the AWS group like you wanted.

You're turning a bad experience with a single manager into a personal vendetta against the company as a whole. I have friends who work there who work normal hours (and have for years) and they even said they feel like they are more respected employees as engineers then the business owners.


> "At a big company (like Amazon) there are good managers and bad managers."

This is a lousy excuse and doesn't stand up to scrutiny. I too had a bad manager at Amazon. So did my roommate. So did my friends in the company. So did his friends.

In fact, I was a returning intern who went back full-time with dozens of other employees, and here we are 3 years in... and practically no one remains. I can count the number of people who have stuck around on a single hand.

Look into Amazon's employee attrition rate. Eye-opening. Hell, if you can, go to one of the company all-hands, where at some point they encourage new employees to stand up (hired in the last quarter)... that's not company growth, that's replenishment.

Amazon has consistently one of the worst retention rates, if not the very worst out of all the tech "majors". The problematic management is incredibly pervasive, and I'd argue that the islands of sound management are the exception, not the rule.

Be very, very, very wary of working for Amazon.


Where the hell are all of you people working? I'm about 18 months in, and on my team or any of the other teams I've worked with I haven't seen any of the horror stories people here are describing.


I was in Ops, but I knew people in RCX, Customer Service, Data Warehouse, Search, Fraud, Identity, and a bunch of other places who were absolutely miserable (and have since left).

I lasted 24 months. Management was mediocre for the first 18 months, accelerating very quickly downwards in the final 6 months after repeated re-orgs.

The seeds were planted early though - one of the major reasons I left was the constant death-marches due to the high attrition rate, and some boneheaded desire to "maximize engineering utilization" by instituting a hiring freeze in the middle of 2010, despite the fact that we already had more work than we could do in 3 lifetimes. It took a little while for the full impact of this to materialize.


Also be wary about anecdotes from previous employees who feel slighted by the company, because they are usually passionately vitriolic and have a bone to pick :)


It's weird how many isolated anecdotes from different people, each one passionately vitriolic about the company, that we run into everywhere in the software engineering community.

It's also pretty weird how many ex-Amazon employees I know who would never, ever go back, regardless of the size of the paycheck.

Either there's an organized hit job against Amazon as an employer, and myself and nirvana (among many, many others) are all shills.

Or perhaps the notion that Amazon, as a whole, is a heavily mismanaged company, has some merit ;) Food for thought.


Why is it when someone talks about a bad experience they had, then they are biased? Why do you feel the need to minimize my experience? "Slighted"? No, I was slighted by microsoft thru an unintentional sequence of events. I'd still say "Congratulations" to any friend who was excited about a job he got there.

I was abused by amazon, lied to, and when I attempted to resolve the issue, my trust was betrayed by HR, and my ability to transfer to a better job with a non-abusive manager within the company was blocked.

This was not being slighted, this was a systematically broken system.

But still, since what happened to me doesn't portray amazon in the best light, then I must be "vitriolic" in all my anger and thus not actually telling the truth....while you, whose only been there 18 months, is the beacon of objectivity, because you're saying nothing bad, right?


I want to believe your story based on strong emotions, but there's two things that bother me to the point that I think this is BS.

1. Stack ranking? Nope. Amazon has no desire for "up and out" like Microsoft. They're happy for a competent person to wake up and do the same job everyday for 15 years. Raises are non-existant, so it's cheaper to keep that same person in the same role than hire a new person. The review system is NOT like Microsoft. Firing someone takes 2 months end-to-end, not 12 like at Microsoft.

2. If the guy was really selling drugs in the parking garage, then it would be trivial to prove. If you actually worked at Amazon you would know that the physical security at all buildings is insanely high. Guards at every entrance who look at your badge. Roaming patrols. Off duty police officers. And cameras everywhere. If he was on company property (you said the parking garage, right?) there was a camera recording him. Even if HR was out to screw you they also would put a stop to the drug dealing for fear of a bigger lawsuit.


I think the thing to keep in mind is that Amazon is a company of extremes. There are parts of the company, maybe a large fraction of the company, that are at least in the direction of what you described (although the drug dealing bit is a one-off if it’s true). However, there also parts where there are many people that have been at the company over a decade (namely AWS). I’ve been working here a few years, and I won’t deny that I got lucky with what team I work for, but outside of maybe being a college hire you should really get some idea of what you’ll be working on and who you’ll be working with before you actually work there. I work on things that are really interesting to me, and yeah, there are some crappy parts like oncall and occasional bad management, but the first gradually improves and the second tends to resolve itself.

Also, my experience with people leaving/coming in my part of AWS is that people who leave the company entirely almost exclusively weren’t doing very well. The more experienced people tend to just transfer elsewhere within AWS. Also, Amazon hires a huge number of ex-Microsoft employees, whereas I only know of one person personally who left to go to Microsoft.


Hmm, if there's a strong political/ideological component to how they operate (I have no personal knowledge of that), that would explain the otherwise puzzling part of the policy where it restricts which subjects you can study. I've been trying to figure out the business angle on that, and it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. On the one hand, it is normal for employers to restrict tuition reimbursement to things plausibly relevant to an employee's job. But Amazon explicitly says here they aren't doing that. So if it's not to benefit the employer, then it's more of a perk. But if it's a perk, it's not clear how adding restrictions improves the perk. Why not let the employee decide what they want to study? It may lower the perceived value of the perk to some employees, if, say, they already have a trade and would consider some other subject more valuable to take a few classes in (improve their writing, increase their command of history, etc.).

But, it does make more sense if you view it not as a business decision, but as an ideological decision stemming from Bezos's personal views. If you view it as a sort of paternalist attempt to encourage his employees to do with their lives what he thinks more people should do with their lives, it fits better than if you try to figure out how it makes sense as part of a compensation package or business strategy.


No, it's a business decision. To get to study whatever they want, they have to stick around for 3 years. They're holding a bonus perk over their head for the first 3 years someone is working. Based on what I've read in this thread and also from the Mother Jones journalist [1], they have a terrible time keeping people in the organization, from programmers to warehouse associates, and everything between I assume.

[1] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/02/mac-mcclelland-f...


I can see how that explains the 3-year service minimum, but I'm not sure how that explains the field-of-study restrictions. Once you're there for 3 years, why do they care which courses you enroll in?


Ostensibly because high demand fields are more likely to get hired and lead successful careers outside of Amazon.

Logistically it also simplifies things because you can respond to "Why can't I pursue education X?" questions with "because the BLS doesn't list them"


I guess I'm still confused why that matters to Amazon, unless it's part of some world-bettering mission. Wouldn't it be logistically simpler to say employees can enroll in any course offered by the state community college system, and wash their hands of it past that? I mean, they're just offering a perk as part of a compensation package, it's not like they're supposed to be their employees' parents or career counselors.


If your manager was a dealer, and you could document his dealing, it seems like the problem could have been trivially solvable.


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