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Amazon People

Product – What drives our business? An interview with Alexa Shopping leaders!

Piotr-cichosz-414542Being a Leadership Recruiter for Amazon, I have the privilege of working with some of our best and brightest business leaders.  I’m constantly seeking new ways to raise the talent bar here at Amazon and recruiting leadership level product talent is no different.  It’s an honor to support the Alexa Shopping team because I, as a customer myself, am astounded at the idea that I can say out loud, “Alexa, order me dog food” and it appears on my doorstep. 

In an interview with Jenny Blackburn, Director and BizTech Leader of Alexa Shopping, I asked what grabs her attention in external product talent.  “At Amazon Shopping we’re creating a brand new way to shop – there’s no tail lights to follow. We need technologists who are adept at operating in this highly ambiguous, blue sky space, who can identify the problems to solve and innovative solutions to those problems.  We love to see start-up experience, and diverse interests and backgrounds beyond the typical that show a candidate has insatiable curiosity and a self-driven desire to build something new.”

There is a significant difference between companies who develop products because they believe they can make money versus our Customer Obsession model.  We determine what our customers want and need through the use of data and then develop products from there. You won’t hear an Amazonian speak of competitors or what we want – it’s all about our customers and how we can make their lives better through the development of technology.

I had the opportunity to get the perspective of Vicky Gkiza, our newest Director of Product Management for Alexa Shopping.  She had this to say: “For me resumes that pop out the most are the ones of people with diverse background, where connecting the dots is not always obvious and their path is not linear. Candidates with such background have a wider range of experiences and as a result a more diverse skill set.  They show creativity and persistence, which are both core leadership qualities.”

As we continue to build out the Alexa Shopping experience, Abhay Saxena, Principal of Alexa’s Voice Shopping platform, provided the following perspective.  “When hiring product managers, I generally look for people with proven track record of delivering customer value. Has this person identified a customer problem, and a solution, built it, and launched it?  I find that the most successful product managers at Amazon show relentless focus on customer metrics to inform data based prioritization, and a bias for action to deliver features.  Lastly, I am looking for leaders.  Does this person have the ability to inspire a vision for their team?  Can this person be trusted by their team?  Will this person do everything, not just tasks in their job description, for their team to be successful?” 

As a Recruiter, I look for talent that uses data beyond what one would see in KPI’s.  How do you know what your customer wants and needs?  How did you determine that was the right path?  How can you automate product mechanisms by concepts like social shopping, personalization and recommendation systems?  And yes, we love product talent that has machine learning experience.  As a product candidate, you can be certain that you will probably get a question that goes something like this: “How do you solve business challenges through machine learning?”  Here, I’m looking for big examples that are outside of the box and beyond KPI’s.  How did you address economies of scale?  How is that idea big, complex and of magnitude? 


A conversation with Tifa Nguyen about Year Up and interning at Amazon

In Marketplace, Amazon’s organization focused on helping third-party merchants sell on our platform, we like to invent and simplify whenever we can.  Part of this process is attempting to do things that nobody else does – and in this area, Marketplace Technologies Quality Assurance delivers.  MTQA is the team I am a part of, and what I am sharing with you today is an example of how we innovate in the area of hiring by way of our Quality Assurance internship program.

In Seattle, there is a nonprofit organization called Year Up  devoted to helping young adults gain the skills and experience necessary to enter professional fields like high tech, and it is this mission that drew MTQA’s attention.  We have developed a partnership with Year Up to hire Quality Assurance interns, a unique practice not found anywhere else in Amazon. Of course, Amazon hires other interns, but our partnership with Year Up is different in that it gives us access to talented people who might not otherwise be part of our intern selection pool. Year Up provides urban young adults with training, resources and support that helps them jump start a professional career and/or continued education.

Tifa 1I decided to interview Tifa Nguyen, the newest Year Up intern on our team, to get her perspective on what it’s like to work at Amazon, the background she came from, and what her experience has been like through the entire process.

Joe: Hi Tifa, thanks for agreeing to participate in this interview. Please tell us about yourself.

Tifa: Hi Joe, thank you for taking the time to listen and share my stories.  I am currently interning at Amazon (obviously) as a QAE (Quality Assurance Engineer).  Prior to this, I was getting trained full time, for six months at a nonprofit organization called Year Up while working as a server at a family-owned Japanese restaurant during the weekends.  Coming from a non-tech background, landing an internship at Amazon is a huge step for me and I am very excited for what it has to offer.

Joe: Can you explain what Year Up is? 

Tifa: Year Up is an intensive one-year program where participants get trained on-site with courses in IT, Financial Operations, Sales, and more. The program offers professional skills classes for the first six months, and then earn real-work experience at their assigned internship.  Its mission is to provide urban young adults with in-demand skills, college-level classes, and support that will empower them to reach their full potential and achieve a meaningful and professional career.  Year Up has 24 campuses around the US that offer courses including IT help desk, QA, web development and data analysis, as well as soft-skill courses that include business writing and public speaking.  For me specifically, I was placed on the QA track with a minor in project management and now here I am: two-thirds of the way done with my six-month internship at Amazon.  Year Up welcomes low- to moderate-income young adults between the ages of 18 to 24.  Everything is completely free, and students even get weekly stipends.  Students are also provided with many resources from Year Up’s Student Services department that support and help them succeed throughout the whole year.  The courses we take are also college-credit applicable after completing the whole program.

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Amazon’s Accessibility Awareness Month

OpenAmazon is known to be customer-obsessed. Part of that obsession is ensuring that we optimize our work for accessibility.

According to research from the World Bank, fifteen percent of the world’s population lives with some kind of disability – that’s one billion people. At Amazon, we look for ways to make it easier for people to engage with us, across all of our businesses. This past month has been Accessibility Awareness Month at Amazon, packed full of events to help employees learn more about accessibility, integrate good practices into their work and collaborate across organizational boundaries with the goal of improving accessibility.

A few of the many events that took place this past month include:

  • An accessibility bug hunt, where all employees were challenged to find and report accessibility bugs
  • A session reviewing research on shopping for people with vision impairment. This presentation included key take-aways from shop-along exercises plus videos and sound bytes from customers.
  • Training on accessible design best practices
  • An empathy lab where employees could learn how our web pages are experienced by customers with vision impairments, or what it feels like to navigate Amazon.com (or a particular page or feature) when you can’t grip a mouse
  • A session with Twitch on making gaming more accessible and inclusive
  • Podcasts with business leaders discussing accessible design and accessibility for Amazon employees

In-person events took place in Seattle as well as a host of other Amazon office locations including Sunnyvale, Boston and London. Most also offered livestreaming and on-demand access for our colleagues around the globe.

What’s been particularly interesting for me to see this past month is the intersection of accessibility and customer obsession. Many companies focus on accessibility because it’s the right thing to do, as they should and as does Amazon. But there is a certain diligence and structure that surrounds it when you are such a customer-obsessed company. It’s not an extra thing you do; it’s an important part of your job. And there is great interest in it internally when you hire so many people that are really passionate about doing the right thing for customers; all customers.


Jeanne Skinner: Recruiters at Amazon are advocates for your candidacy

Jeanne SkinnerEditors note: I'm excited to welcome another blogger to the Amazonian Blog. Jeanne Skinner is a leadership recruiter for Amazon and she is a straight talker when it comes to job search advice. So she will be sharing all kinds of interesting information on finding and getting your dream job. Here's Jeanne...

When you are considering a career change,  you may think of a recruiter as just a person you have to speak with in order for your resume to be seen by the hiring manager (the person with whom you really want to engage).  What you may not realize is that your recruiter is actually the person who has to make the first judgement call on your candidacy, evaluating your fit with Amazon’s culture and Leadership Principles, and deciding if you are someone we might want to be part of our company. In fact, this assessment is equally (if not more) important than skills evaluation.  If you are adaptable, intelligent and interested in learning, we can teach you a lot of what you will need to know to be successful at Amazon. Every time we decide whether to present a candidate to our leaders, we are deciding whether we as recruiters are willing to attach to our own professional reputation to your candidacy.  It’s my job to know the difference between someone who has a very specific set of skills and someone who will be successful at Amazon long term.  Recruiters take that responsibility seriously.

As a job seeker, we want you to show us recruiters why we should invest our own internal reputation capital on marketing you, your background and your capabilities to our leadership team. No recruiter wants to advocate for a candidate that demonstrates a dismissive attitude toward them, though we encounter this attitude from candidates from time to time.  Doing so causes us to damage internal relationships and lose credibility with our very smart and demanding hiring teams. Everything I do as just your recruiter has a direct reflection of my own hiring legacy - the mark I make on the success of our business.  The opportunity cost of hiring the wrong person has a huge impact on our company and the productivity of the organization that hire was made into.  We are not just recruiters.  We are brokers of talent and opportunity.  How you present yourself to our hiring teams during the recruiting process is a direct reflection of us. 

What can you do to get off on the right foot with your recruiter? Before you get on the phone with us, take the time to look at your recruiter’s LinkedIn profile.  You may find that we are highly educated, have held VP level roles in large, publicly held companies and many of us have been business owners.  We are hired for our ability to understand human dynamics, to detect critical business skills and personality traits that are a cultural fit for our team (like a passion for building).  Provide concrete examples of how you have groomed your teams in the past for promotion.  Illustrate your obsession over customers and why they are the purpose of your work.  Show me your data driven and entrepreneurial DNA.  That will get me excited about sharing your background with the businesses I support.

When we speak on the phone, answer our questions as you would to a hiring manager, with the same level of respect and detail.  Please don’t take my call while on your walk to Starbucks; it’s impolite and it’s not likely that your resume will go very far if you do.  Treat our initial dialogue the way you would any other important business meeting. 

 


What does Day 2 look like?

SpiritYou hear people talk about “Day 1” a lot at Amazon.  The uninitiated observer (or eavesdropper) might think people are talking about their first day at work. They aren’t. “It’s always Day 1” is shorthand here for “keep innovating”.  It means a lot more than that too.

The idea behind Day 1 at Amazon is that you treat your work as if it’s always Day 1; your first day doing it.  Think back to some of the Day 1s in your life… first day of school, first date in an exciting new relationship, first day of that job where you are finally working on something that you are passionate about, not just something you do to pay the bills. On Day 1, you are energized and possibilities are endless. What would happen if you could stay in that headspace? With that level of engagement, excitement and creativity?

On Day 2, people start to identify limitations, focus shifts from creativity to implementation. You start to lose some of your Day 1 zeal.

At our most recent employee all-hands meeting, someone asked Jeff Bezos what Day 2 looks like during the Q&A session at the end. His response: “Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”

Fast-forward about a month and Jeff’s 2016 shareholders letter, released today, is all about Day 1 and what you can do to avoid that Day 2 state of mind. His list includes obsessing over customers, ensuring processes are aligned with missions and vision, adopting external trends with a sense of eagerness, and making decisions swiftly.

His shareholders letters are always a good read – kind of like a modern entrepreneurship primer – but this one in particular reveals a lot about our culture here and why it’s exciting to work someplace where there’s always a sense of opportunity and energy.

4/19/17 edit: the video of the Q&A session was published today. Added below.


 


Joe Lawson: My Path to Becoming an Amazonian

Joe Lawson

Editor's note: I’m excited to introduce our first addition to the blogging team here at the Amazonian Blog. Joe Lawson is a Quality Assurance Engineer in our Marketplace organization; they are the folks who find, work with and build tools for third party-sellers on Amazon.com. Joe will be sharing his experiences working here and I think you’ll enjoy learning about him and his perspective on what it’s like being an Amazonian. Take it away, Joe…

When faced with the prospect of working for one of the Big Tech companies, the initial reaction of most people is one of self-doubt and disbelief that they have the skills needed to even get an interview, much less make it through the entire process and become a full-time employee at Amazon or Facebook or Google.  It’s very easy for me to empathize with that mindset; after all, I used to think and feel the same way.  My path to becoming an Amazonian was one that I never anticipated going down and to be completely honest, I’m still kind of surprised that I made it in.  What I want to get across in this blog post is that you DON’T necessarily need to have a deep tech background, or a plethora of tech experience, or to already work at a big tech company, in order to have the chance to work here.  I hope that my story will inspire people to apply here at Amazon, even if they don’t believe they have what it takes, because confidence plays a big role (okay, and having the basic skills and a little experience certainly helps for sure) to believe that you’re good enough to pull it off.

I grew up in a country town in Georgia by the name of LaGrange.  It’s right on the border with Alabama and has been an important supplier of manufacturing and textiles for the state for most of its existence.  There are no high-paying jobs in LaGrange, and it offers little in the way of long-term stability and growth for one’s career.  Most people never manage to leave Troup County due to economic issues, earning it the nickname “Trap County”.  Growing up and living in LaGrange for the first 18 years of my life, I felt sure that I would be one of the people that ended up staying in that town for the rest of my life, though the thought of it left me immensely dissatisfied and desirous enough to vow that I’d break that cycle however I could.

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Ayesha Harper leads the organization developing your favorite AmazonBasics

Ayesha HarperIn a recent blog interview, I gave you a glimpse into product management here at Amazon. Most people think of Amazon as a place where you can buy just about anything. But we also make a lot of products. So today I am posting an interview with Ayesha Harper, Director and General Manager of Private Label in our Hardlines division. In this interview, we talk about the Product Manager role, her path at Amazon and career mobility. We also geeked out a little over cool customer experiences.

Hi Ayesha. You’re the leader of Private Label for Hardlines. I imagine that most of the people reading this don’t know what that is.

Private label products are those we develop and sell on our website; they are Amazon-owned brands, manufactured exclusively for Amazon. In Hardlines, our private label brands are AmazonBasics, which spans a number of different product categories, and Pinzon, a bath and bedding brand.

Hardlines at Amazon is a broad and diversified business. It includes Consumer Electronics and product categories within the home like Kitchen, Home Improvement, Tools, Sports, Toys and more. Another way to think about it is that it’s not physical media (Books and DVDs, for example), not Fashion products and not Grocery items. It’s the rest...

It must be really challenging and fun to create new products from scratch. But you didn’t start out in product development at Amazon.

I’ve had five different roles in my nine years here. Amazon very much values movement in your career. Because of the number of businesses here, you are able to see businesses in different phases of growth or with completely different cycles. For example, a group like Toys has a heavy holiday season where working in Amazon Business might not.

In my career path at Amazon within Retail, I’ve been able to experience different categories. I’ve worked in Fashion, Media and now Hardlines. Each of those businesses have different challenges and growth trajectories.

When I joined, I had no idea how diversified Amazon would become over time and all the opportunities that would be available. The company has done such amazing things. Nine years later, we are developing award-winning original content, we have a huge business with Amazon Web Services, and we’re making first-party devices such as Kindle and Echo. So Amazon just continues to get more and more diversified.

And that movement between teams or these broader organizations like AWS and Kindle is available at all levels. You don’t have to be a business leader to experience that kind of variety at Amazon.

Right. From year-to-year, there’s quite a bit of movement within an organization. What we are doing in Retail and across the company is building great businesses and general management leaders. Our feeling is that folks who are able to experience and lead different organizations will be better employees and business managers.

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Amazon on The Muse

Main"Someone said a picture is worth a thousand words, but pictures and words together are really awesome." OK, well I just said it, but it's true; especially when the pictures and words are answering the question "what's it like to work at Amazon?" People generally want to see our environment and they want to hear employees talk about their experiences here.

We recently launched a page on The Muse, which is a web platform dedicated to providing behind-the-scenes looks at employers and lots of career-related advice. There's lots of video content, and employees talking about what it's like working here, with specific topics including internal mobility,  our writing culture, and what it means to be "peculiar". You can go to the page to experience all of the content, but I've included a few of my favorite employee profiles below.

Eric Will Sarah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You'll also find the inevitable cute dog photos on the page as well. Take a look around and let me know if you have any questions about anything you learned about Amazon on The Muse.


At Amazon, you can innovate faster than you’ve ever innovated before

The pace of our work at Amazon is fast. When it comes to innovating, we focus on getting our work into the hands of consumers as quickly as possible. This gives us the opportunity to learn from our customers and improve upon what we’ve built. We never stop looking for ways to make the experience we deliver to customers better. It’s part of our DNA.

Because of the quick pace of innovation here, it sometimes feels like, as a company, we’ve packed several years’ worth of launches, awards and innovations into one year.

Last year was no exception. Here is a sampling of some of the exciting things we produced last year.

 

 

One of my favorite fast innovation stories is about Prime Now, which took 111 days from idea to launch. Amazon Prime is probably the best example I can think of when it comes to our commitment to ongoing innovation on behalf of customers. The list of benefits that come with a Prime membership keeps growing (Lifehacker has a good list here they seem to be keeping updated).

What this means for employees here is fresh, new problems to solve. And ambitious goals (like enabling one-hour delivery).