Why you should work for Amazon (if you are hired)
Prologue: This post is geared towards non-engineering professionals who want to get an insider scoop about career growth at Amazon.
Mechanical engineering didn’t interest me much, so I decided to learn all I could about business, not by earning an MBA, but rather by doing it. Back in 2009, when I started my first job at ZS Associates, I thought all I was going to do is attend high profile business meetings with c-suite executives wearing power suits. I mean that’s the rosy picture of a “management consultant” I had. But to my horror, I had to build ETL pipelines, run SQL queries and send out around 120 weekly reports without really knowing why or how it impacted the business.
In December 2012 the universe granted my wish, Amazon wanted me to join their marketplace team as a Business Analyst. I was absolutely thrilled to be a part of the company that is making history, but I really didn’t have much of an idea what working for this juggernaut would be like. Looking back, I realize it was an incredible opportunity that set the foundation of my career, thus I wanted to share what I learned from my personal experiences during my two and half year of stint at Amazon
Thinking Like a Leader
If someone reads Jeff’s letter to the shareholders, it becomes evident that how much he emphasizes on long term thinking.
Coming from a management consulting background, where gala lunches/dinners at 3–5 star hotels for new employees is the norm, I found it very strange to receive a bunch of black & white printed NEO pages and some bare minimal snacks during my orientation. It was fairly disorienting actually! My manager brought me a sandwich at Whole Foods instead of a grand lunch buffet I was expecting; this was “Frugality” — a principle at Amazon — in practice. While I was upset about the RSU’s vesting distribution and Amazon’s frugality at that time, looking back it makes sense; Amazon never invests on short-term returns.
Strangely a lot of Valley start-ups haven’t learned from this simple principle. They tend to overspend on things that do not matter. No amount of perks or lunches will retain top-notch employees, unless they are working on something fulfilling, growing every day, and getting rewarded accordingly.
Learning How to Swim in a Whirlwind
There are numerous articles that criticize the intense work culture (sometimes untrue) at Amazon, but Amazon doesn’t expect an average employee. You will have to bring out your A-game every day.
On my first day, I was sitting at a weekly business review (WBR) meeting with the director of Amazon Marketplace and 20 other senior managers. For a rookie like me, my position provided me with an incredible learning opportunity. I was the “data-guy” with the responsibility to report product KPI’s to a room full of intimidatingly smart people asking probing questions to one another and debating to the death. During my first 60 days, while I was supporting a team of four Senior Product Managers, I had zero training. It was up to me to find the right resources and right people to reach out to and learn from. Either you find your survival strategy or you sink.
Developing Leadership Communication
All great leaders from history have one common trait among them that is the ability to communicate very very well.
At Amazon, anything that is spoken or written gets challenged to the point where the 5- why’s gets answered (read about “ 5 whys” here). During our Annual Planning Ritual, or lovingly known as “Opportunity Planning,” I witnessed this practice first hand. There was no hierarchy in the discussions. Anyone can challenge anyone during these meetings and dig deep to their heart’s content. It can be a humiliating and stressful experience for a lot of people, but it is good for business. Every idea is challenged, called out on its flaws, and most corner cases are covered, resulting in the creation of world-class products. Amazon also taught me how to read and write the infamous “1-pagers”and”6-pagers”. This is the single most important skill one can learn at Amazon. I can vouch that no other company in the world puts such rigor in reading and writing skills. Many new MBA grads struggled with their “6-pagers” because words such as “many,” “most,” “less,” and “much” didn’t exist in Amazon’s dictionary. They are always replaced with cold hard numbers.
The effect of such rigor was excellence. There was clarity in what we did and why we did it. This is one of the reasons why Amazon executes so well and so fast. (“Get Big Fast” — some of you may remember.)
Ingraining Values for Life
A real Amazonian will always carry the Amazon values into other workplaces or other future endeavors for good or bad. (Sometimes the cultures are a misfit)
Most senior managers live and breathe Amazon’s famous Leadership principles. Initially, I didn’t understand the importance of those principles or how do they make an impact on business. Those principles may seem to be just superficial business jargons to an outsider. However, as you grow with Amazon, it becomes apparent how these principles are the commandments to success; not only in business but also in one’s personal life. No Amazonian, (expect for Jeff maybe) excels at all the Leadership principles. Thus, they are constantly improving through practice (it’s always Day 1). The execution of these values is what separates the Amazonians.
Partying with the “Amazing Amazonians.”
This was the fun part. I worked with some amazingly smart people. We “nerded out,” paid homage to Wheelhouse coffee, and randomly got drunk from time to time. I made some great connections for life and learned a lot from them both professionally and personally.
A lot of people go to top B-school to build a network. Amazon provides an opportunity to build that network while having a job. You are challenged every day, you learn every day, and you grow every day. Amazon’s talent pool consists of not only smart but also friendly people. In all my interactions across engineering and business, I didn’t come across any snobby egoists. Everyone I met was very humble and helpful.
What are the exit opportunities after Amazon?
I don’t want anyone to take my word for it, so I wanted to get some to data to back up the some of the above claims. I looked at the data from Linkedin and used that data to analyze what are potential exit opportunities of Amazonian. Here is what I found
Microsoft, Google and Facebook are top employers of “ex-Amazonians”
MBB* — Mckinsey & Co, BCG and Bain&Co.
Unicorns* — Airbnb, Uber and Snapchat
Next, I wanted to see if there is a correlation between tenure at Amazon and exit opportunities. Based on a random sample of 30–40 employees, I found there is a trend between the two.
Employees who stays longer at Amazon have a good chance of making it to Google or Facebook, while employees who jumps ship early, goes to Microsoft
Chicago, Boston, D.C and Austin are options too!
Although Seattle might be a reason to move out of Amazon, interestingly most employees who leave Amazon stays in Seattle,(Microsoft is here) followed by Bay Area, New York City, and Los Angeles. Other than this big cities Chicago, Boston, D.C, and Austin are also top destinations for ex-Amazonians. (not bad if you can keep the same base pay!)
Over 1,500 M-7 school alums works at Amazon
Finally, I wanted to see how “amazing” the current Amazonians are. So I looked at how many M-7 schools grad with MBAs are currently employed by Amazon.
Epilogue : Jeff is simply one of the greatest business leaders of our time, and working at Amazon for a couple of years is practically the same as graduating from a B-School that is run by him. You start thinking like him by reflecting those leadership values wherever you go. While it is not for everyone, otherwise it will not be Amazon. If I could rewind time, I would happily do it all over again.