By now, you have read the NY Times article on life at Amazon. You have also read the many LinkedIn and Medium posts supporting it and also passionate rebuttals from current and ex-employees. As a regular blogger, I had the urge to publish this as soon as the NY Times article hit the press. But I held back my thoughts only because I didn’t want this to be seen as a rebuttal. I wanted this post to stand on its own feet as to what it really is like to work at Amazon.
I recently completed my five years at a division of Amazon called Lab126 in California. We are the team behind the Kindle e-readers, tablets, the Fire Phone, Amazon Echo, Dash Button and many more hardware products. I joined Lab126 when it was less than 200 employees and working on a single product- the Kindle e-reader. Over the years, Lab has grown significantly as has the number of products we have helped ship. In all these years, I have seen crazy schedules, ambitious goals, Himalayan highs and lousy lows. I have been part of small and secretive teams working on bleeding edge technologies as have I been part of very large and ambitious products involving hundreds of engineers. In all this time, if there was one thing that I had to say- it was that there is nowhere else I’d rather be.
An environment where the intelligent thrive and the right idea gets picked every single time.
Companies are not without their flaws. And there are always some who get the better end of the bargain and some who get shafted. Could things be better? Sure. But that is the case everywhere. Improvement is an ongoing process through the life of an organization. It can and should never stop. Enjoying work is more than just free catered lunches and onsite hair cuts. They help, but in an employee’s long list of wants, that is fairly low on the list. People want recognition for work. An environment where the intelligent thrive and the right idea gets picked every single time. And a workplace you are respected for what you bring to the table and who you are as a person. And I have had all of that in my five years at Amazon.
Before I joined Lab, I spent less than a year at an extremely promising Valley startup where I met some of the smartest engineers I have had the privilege to work with. I quit in 9 months just because I could not do justice to my family. I value my work-life balance very highly. And I have found that here in Amazon. Talking to friends in the Valley who work in tech companies, big and small about the NY Times article, all I got was a chuckle and a laugh.
Building products is hard. Building successful products in an ultra competitive environment against the likes of Google, Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and more is well, ridiculously hard.
Some of you read the NY Times article on your iPhone or your iPad. Did you ever wonder how hard the engineers at Apple work to ship magical products, year after year, on schedule? Did you wonder how Google continues to shave a fraction of a second off your search in the background without you even noticing it? Did you ever think about what it took for Facebook to have a billion people logging into its service on a single day? Did you ever think what it took to be able to support a Cyber Monday or Black Friday on Amazon.com? It takes smart people and a lot of work. A whole lot of work.
Work-life balance is absolutely critical for a healthy society. Unfortunately innovation cannot be scheduled. It is an organic process that will happen when it happens.
And to some, the pursuit of innovation is more important than anything else. And that is what drives any smart employee to go beyond his usual calling to produce something truly compelling. Anyone who has shipped a product knows that come crunch time, priorities change. And the same person knows that when there is a lull, that he/she gets to spend more time with the family. This is how most of our lives are.
In the past five years, I have attended every single parent-teachers conference. I was there for every single birthday celebration of my son at his day care and then his school. We have taken a vacation every summer and for Christmas. I published my own book. I am an organizer in my local community. And through all this, my managers have been incredibly supportive of me. I have had the opportunity to work in multiple roles across multiple organizations. I collaborate with brilliant people and continue to “Think Big”.
I could write a line by line counter argument to every assertion made in the NY Times article. But that is not what I set out to do. In the end, it all comes down to this. For every employee who has something negative to say about Amazon, it would be easy to find a hundred who have good things to say about it. And the same applies to every single successful company in the world. I don’t work at Amazon because I don’t have a choice. It is because I do. Someday I will chose to work for a different company. And that would be because I want to try something different. And Amazon will continue to be a fantastic place for smart engineers to build great products.