Gosh, it seems that my employer’s at-work culture is the talk of the Internet. Don’t know if I should share on the topic, but I feel the urge and bloggers with the urge gotta blog.
Tl;dr · First: I haven’t seen that stuff Kantor and Streitfeld write about. Not saying that never did happen, or isn’t happening somewhere, just that I haven’t seen it. Second: The similarities between Amazon and Google vastly outweigh the differences.
Disclosures · Long-ish; Sorry about this but it’s essential.
I am an employee of Amazon.
I am not a shareholder, but will be if I go on working here.
I could retire tomorrow and be financially comfortable; I’m at this job because it’s fun and it’s something — an anchor tenant — that my hometown needs.
I’m not working at head office in Seattle, but I work every day with people who are, and I’m there often.
I’m in AWS, not the big retail operation.
I have an extremely senior position, which buys me extra privileges but also extra pressure; I’m not sure whether this gives me a rosier or grimmer view.
I’ve only been here for nine months.
I have joined in hiring and promotion and employee-evaluation meetings.
Nobody asked me to write this, nor did I ask anyone’s permission. It’s the weekend and I’m at my cottage.
What I didn’t see ·
Anyone crying at work.
Anyone dumped inappropriately. The one unceremonious exit I have seen was a manager whose employees kept quitting.
Super-extended hours. I arrive between eight and nine and leave between five and six. The junior geeks tend to drift in bleary-eyed at ten or later and often work till correspondingly later. Sometimes I get online in the evening, sometimes not. There’ve been weekends when I haven’t opened my work computer.
Email on weekends is desultory, sporadic; no big design decisions seem to happen.
Right now, we’re running up to re:Invent and I’m working on a couple of big things that are supposed to launch, and I’m putting in more evening and weekend time, and so’s my team. Which is unsurprising in high-tech life.
The “Anytime Feedback” tool used maliciously. Actually, I don’t see it get used much at all.
An unusual proportion of Type-A assholes. I mean, this is a large, sprawling business, and there is politics, and there are people who piss me off sometimes. But it’s not, in my experience, worse than anywhere else I’ve worked.
People not expensing travel.
Horrible working conditions. Well, I guess I’m speaking relatively, because I personally hate the open-concept desks-in-a-row Internet-biz office style, and the data is on my side, but Amazon’s is about industry standard, and the “door desks” are actually pretty pleasing to the eye.
(Actually, my own door desk is a motorized sit/stand thing and it’s totally wonderful, I should write about it.)
Diversity · Amazon sucks at gender diversity. The industry sucks at gender diversity. I don’t think we’re doing enough to address the problem. I don’t think the industry is doing enough to address the problem. I bash away a little bit myself, but frankly it’s discouraging.
Those “Leadership Principles” · Read ’em here. I’m probably the wrong guy to ask; too old and cynical and unimpressed by abstractions. People bandy them about in everyday conversation but I mostly don’t. To me, they read like an unexceptional list of anodyne “good ideas for running a business”.
The “frugality” principle is, I guess, a little outside the mainstream. It’s also pretty essential to doing useful cloud computing.
And then there’s that first principle, “Customer Obsession”. Yep; the number of discussions about what to do and where to go that don’t include frequent recourse to “what’s-gonna-be-best-for-customers” is about zero.
Which reminds me of something. Let me see, somewhere I used to work…
Amazon and Google · The differences between Amazon and Google practices and cultures are fascinating, and I could write ten thousand words on them, but I’d have to totally violate my confidentiality agreements with both employers, so I won’t (mostly).
But: If you take all the Amazon rhetoric I hear about customers and did a cut/paste of “user” for “customer” you’d get more or less exactly what I heard at Google. Go check out the first of Google’s Ten things we know to be true.
And: In the big picture, the similarities totally outweigh the differences. Yeah, Google is lavish and Amazon is stingy. But when you’re making competitive Silly-Valley salaries, as at both, the deltas are pretty well at the margin. (Also, the real money is in the stock options, not the salaries.)
The hiring and evaluation and promotion processes differ, and in ways that matter, but an outside observer might not see them as dramatic.
So what happened? · I mean, how is it that The Times portrays a hell on earth, a culture that would drive me to quitting in about fifteen minutes? I don’t really need the money and certainly don’t need the grief. I was really shaken by that piece.
I dunno, maybe some parts of Amazon have culture problems and some don’t? Maybe things are different from the way they used to be? Maybe Kontor and Streitfeld ended up with an unrepresentative sample of interviewees?
Maybe (but I don’t think so) everything really sucks here and I’m just too dense to see it.