One of our admin people walked into my office, saying “Five-year anniversary, new badge, gimme your old one”. Which means I’ve been here five orbits of the sun, my longest job tenure since my seven-year stay last century at a company I co-founded.


Best and worst · Best things? The work is fun and the people are nice. Of those working here in Vancouver when I showed on up December 1st, 2014, more than 70% remain, which is impressive in high tech — pretty well any of them can walk down the street to Microsoft or a game company and get a job that week, maybe for more money.

Worst things? My progressive friends genuinely think Amazon embodies everything wrong with the civic structure of the twenty-first century world, and can’t understand why I’d stay.

Not gonna argue with them, but AWS also embodies most of what’s right. I’d rephrase it like this: Amazon is so highly competent at capitalism that we’ve become a proxy for the whole system; good, bad, and lots of everything in between.

I have worked for [pauses, counts] ten employers, private-sector and academic, and consulted for lots more. By a wide margin AWS is the best-managed (I can’t speak to the other parts of Amazon).

You can be a member of any political tribe (except back-to-the-land anarchist) and still believe that management is a task that someone needs to do. Thus, finding ways to do it better is of general interest. And yes, I believe that some of the techniques used here could fruitfully be applied across a wide swathe of the public and nonprofit sectors. Those techniques aren’t secret: Bar-raising, document-based decision-making, carefully-curated leadership principles, a couple more.

If I were dictator · I’d change the regulatory framework in ways that big-tech leadership (including Amazon’s) would probably dislike. But my changes would likely cause those leaders to be less disliked; by the public, I mean. In 2019 it’s hard to believe that just ten years ago the FAANG companies were more or less universally admired and seen as the nice, warm, fuzzy end of capitalism.

At some point, it’s going to be a real problem being management in a sector that’s widely feared and distrusted. But we in the tech tribe haven’t really internalized much about this yet.

Planning! · It’s a thing AWS is really good at. Our hiring, our product milestones, our region builds (OMG the region builds), our big public events, our promotions, our re-orgs, our new-office-space acquisition and occupation. Obviously nobody gets the shape of the local future right 100% of the time or even close, but I’m in awe of what my colleagues accomplish.

Others have noted that ideologists of the free market scoff at the notion of a “planned economy”, but that market’s biggest participants plan their own slices of the economy energetically, comprehensively, and all the time.

I think there are areas where you want to lay down a regulatory framework and get out of people’s way, and others where you want a firm notion about what a particular team will be doing in a particular month next year. There’s lots of room to disagree which is which.

As for me… · In late 2018 I wondered out loud about retirement. I still do, after all, this is the year that the Government of Canada will start sending me money every month just for being old.

I’ll for sure never have another “job”. After I’m done here I can’t see having a relationship with another entity that’s (a) economically motivated or (b) requires full-time-ish engagement.

Half the time I think that getting up every morning and going to work amounts to a failure of courage. Ch-ch-changes… Turn and face the strange sang David Bowie, and why shouldn’t I?

Maybe the new direction could be internal; there’s a lot of work to be done around the climate pledge, and a lot about the diversity problem we share with the industry.

But anyhow it’s a good gig. And I’ve invested a 40-year career in learning the things I need to know to do this.

Beats the hellouta me. Maybe I’ll surprise myself one of these days.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Carl Forde (Jan 22 2020, at 17:10)

Whatever you decide to do, I hope you end up surprising yourself in a good way.


From: jake (Feb 11 2020, at 00:11)


Others have noted that ideologists of the free market scoff at the notion of a “planned economy”


This conflation always annoys me -- there is a hell of a lot of planning (at the local/micro/org level) involved in *participating * in the free market. What is not planned is the ingress or egress of participants in the market. An idealised market has no gatekeepers. You got stuff to sell? Go hawk. If people like it, they buy. It's beautiful.

Thank you for a good article. Amazon is one of the few companies I'd proudly wear on the sleeve.


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January 14, 2020
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