Boy, when your I’m-outta-here essay goes viral, do you ever get a lot of input. A few responses came up often enough to be worth sharing. This was via email, Twitter DMs, blog comments, and LinkedIn messages. All of which went completely batshit.

So, some answers. But first…

Thanks for the kind words! · I had no notion how the world might react to a cranky old overpaid geek’s public temper tantrum. The world’s been astonishingly warm and welcoming. Apparently I hit a hot button I didn’t know existed. The crankiest geek on the planet couldn’t fail to have their heart warmed. So in a huge number of cases, simply “Thanks for the kind words” was the right thing to say.

Dear readers: Yes, some of the answers described in this piece were kept handy in editor buffers and delivered by cut-and-paste. But I did read a lot of the messages, and all the ones I actually responded to.

“Can you come on our TV show?” · You name it: ABC, BBC, Bloomberg, CBC, CBS, CTV, CNBC, CNN, NBC, NPR, and a whole lot of cool blogs and indies. Also Anderson Cooper’s people!

“Can we get on the phone so I can ask you some questions?” · A variation on the theme, from non-broadcast organizations.

They all got the same answer: “Hmm, I'm not that interesting, just a grumpy old one-percenter white-guy engineer with a social media presence. If you want to go live with this story you should do it with the actual people who got fired, who are young, fresh-faced, passionate, and really at the center of the news story. I recommend reaching out to Emily Cunningham (contact info redacted) or Maren Costa (same) or Chris Smalls (same).”

“OK, we talked to them. Now will you talk to us live?” · These people were nice and just trying to do their job. I agreed to answer a couple of email questions in a couple of cases, but mostly just said “For complicated reasons, I don’t want to be the public face of this story. Sorry.”

“Complicated reasons?” · Yeah, the story is about firing whistleblowers, not about a random Canadian Distinguished Engineer’s reaction to it. So news organizations should follow the primary sources, not me.

There’s more. I put a lot of thought into what I should say, and then really a whole lot of work into writing that blog piece. I had help with style and fact-checking. (Thanks, Lauren. Thanks, Emily.) It is very, very, unlikely that anything I’d improvise on a phone-call or TV interview would be better. I’ve also had bitter first-hand experience with the Gell-Mann amnesia effect.

I think it worked. The news coverage, lacking alternatives, quoted heavily from the blog, and I thought basically all of it came out fair and accurate. Let’s acknowledge that this tactic is only available to someone who’s near the center of a news story, is a competent writer, and has a good place to publish.

I’ve no interest in becoming some sort of full-time anti-Amazon activist. I just don’t want to work for an organization that fires whistleblowers. I said so. It looks like the message got through.

“What response did you expect?” · I have seventeen years of blogging scars, so I speak from experience in saying: No idea. I’ve had blogs that I considered mightily important and labored over for days sink like a stone with no trace. Then I’ll toss off some three-paragraph squib that I wrote while watching TV and drinking gin, and it goes white-hot. Neither outcome would have surprised me.

“What were you trying to accomplish?” · I’m a blogger. I’ve been writing the story of my life here for seventeen years. Enough people read it and respond to give me hope that it’s at least intermittently interesting, and perhaps even useful. I’m a writer, I can’t not write. This is a major turning point in my life. I totally couldn’t not write it. That’s all. That’s really, really why.

“What about Brad’s piece?” · They’re asking about Response to Tim Bray’s departure by Brad Porter. Since he has the same “VP/Distinguished Engineer” title I did you’d think he’d be a peer. Actually he’s way more important and influential than I used to be, partly because he’s been there since the early days and is directly involved with the retail operation.

I believe that (as Brad says) Amazon retail is working intensely and intelligently to make the warehouses safer. But I also believe the workers. And anyhow, firing whistleblowers is just way, way out of bounds.

While it’s sort of a sideshow to the real issue here (firing whistleblowers), Brad also wrote:

Ultimately though, Tim Bray is simply wrong when he says “It’s that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential.” I find that deeply offensive to the core.

We’ll have to agree to disagree. If you run an organization with hundreds of thousands of line workers and tens of thousands of managers, and where turnover is typically significant, you need processes where the staff are fungible. Two things can be true at once: You work hard to preserve your employees’ health, and your administrative culture treats them as fungible units.

I actually found the patterns emerging in the responses to Brad’s piece more culturally interesting than his original post.

And hey, bonus: There’s another Amazon voice in the conversation: Anton Okmyanskiy, who’s a “Principal Engineer”, which is to say regarded as a world-class technologist, wrote Tim Bray quit Amazon. My thoughts.... It contains the remarkable sentence “Amazon should stay ahead of anger-driven regulatory enforcement by becoming a leader on social justice issues.”

It’d be great if a few more Amazonian voices weighed in. But I’m not holding my breath.

“Any regrets?” · Yes, I regret intensely that I didn’t link to Emily Cunningham’s original “Amazon fired me” tweet thread, which is exquisite (you have to click “show this thread”).

Favorite response? · Note, header not in quotes because nobody asked, but I’ll answer anyhow. I could drop a dozen portentous media-heavyweight names and yeah, pretty well everyone weighed in. But it’s not close, my fave was Wonkette: Amazon VP VIP Tim Bray Quitfires Self Over 'Chickensh*t' Activist Quitfirings. It says, of yr humble scrivener, “Come the revolution, let's remember not to eat this one” and “Class Traitor of the Day”. These lodged in what I thought was a thoroughly lucid and spirited take on the situation.

Once again · Thanks for the kind words!



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Eugene (May 08 2020, at 10:01)

I believe Brad Porter when he says he and his team are focusing heavily on worker safety through technological measures. I also believe he is deeply misguided in thinking that those kinds of safety protocols will keep their warehouse workers safe. All the technological support in the world won't change a warehouse manager's incentive to keep sick employees working if he needs to hit the same performance numbers. It may change the equation a bit, might require some creative thinking to manipulate the protocols, but the end goal remains the same. Brad's response displays a complete lack of understanding of game theory for someone so intelligent. Maybe he's compartmentalized his view of Amazon simply to what he has control over? I have a few simple questions for Brad that I would ask in his post's comments except I hate LinkedIn's guts. What is an actual reason apart from legal/ethical reasons why Amazon cut ties with an outside hiring agency? Fired a warehouse manager? An employee? If you cut through the PR bullshit and dig into the actual reasons, they should give you exactly what you need to change to make workers feel safe and valued. They definitely won't be some temperature sensor or algorithm. And they should match exactly what your workers were claiming all along.

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From: DoktorZoom (May 08 2020, at 11:01)

So very glad you liked the Wonkette piece!

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From: Takashi Shitamichi (May 09 2020, at 00:13)

I was relieved. It's a kind of your style blog you wrote before Sun went down.

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From: Caro (May 09 2020, at 09:01)

Thank you for linking to all of these outside resources, and for being so brave. <3

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From: Jeff Bezos (May 10 2020, at 10:39)

Your moral narcissism is applauded by all the worker bees who are oblivious to your fortune. It would be more telling if you provided pay, out of your pocket, to the whistleblowers in support of their cause. Doubtful! Narcissism is about oneself and not others.

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From: Meisenheimer (May 11 2020, at 08:27)

Thanks for bringing Wonkette into my life. Glad to hear you won't be on the menu come the revolution.

The pseudonymous(?) Jeff Bezos provides a nice encapsulation of the libertarian populist antiethic in which (among other doubtful things) any action taken for ethical reasons is morally suspect, especially when accompanied by stated reasons. Pseudonymous(?) Jeff is also presumably exempt from post-revolutionary consumption, but only because of the bitter taste.

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