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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).


Dave Lefkow: from Bacon Salt to Wickedly Prime

Dave Lefkow 1Dave Lefkow is the perfect lunch buddy. Currently a Senior Product Manager in our Consumables retail organization, he’s responsible for bringing deliciousness to customers’ Amazon shopping experience. And he always knows a great spot to grab lunch. We recently sat down over banh mi to talk about his work and food.

We’ve been friends for a while and one thing we have in common is that we’re both from Chicago. 2016 was a great year to be from Chi-town. Anything to say about the World Series?

My co-workers know what a huge Cubs fan I am, so they congratulated me like I actually played on the team. I guess I did drink a lot of Old Style to help make this happen… so I humbly accepted their congratulations.

You’re a Senior Product Manager in Amazon’s Consumables Private Label business. What is Consumables, exactly?

If you consume it, it’s a consumable product. Obviously, food and drinks. But other things people use up too, like toothpaste, cosmetics and baby diapers.

Wickedly PrimeWhat do you do in your role?

I develop snacks for Amazon’s own private label food brand, Wickedly Prime. Anything you might snack on – nuts, chips, popcorn - I’m working on. Yes, it’s as great as it sounds.

I also work with an amazing team of researchers, product developers, packaging/commercialization engineers and sourcing managers. Our group is doing some really innovative things to bring these products to life, and I’m really proud to be part of it.

When I talk to people about the work they do at Amazon, they always seem to connect it to a vision that makes the work more important or “impactful” than it seems. Why is your work important to Amazon?

Grocery is a growing channel at Amazon that the company is investing heavily in. As we get into making our private label line, we’re learning a lot about how to optimize things for the Amazon platform that will translate into a better overall customer experience across the board.

As part of that, I get to solve some pretty meaty business challenges like how we can cost effectively get delicate products to survive last mile, air and over-mountain shipping and what packaging innovations Amazon can develop that a traditional grocer can’t.

Aside from getting to work on those cool challenges, what else is particularly challenging about your work or the Consumables space?

We’re a startup with the resources of the leading ecommerce provider behind us. But… we had never developed our own packaged food products before. That comes with a whole new set of challenges, and an iterative process that is evolving as we learn more lessons.

Learning as you go is a theme I hear a lot at Amazon, especially since we are such a data-driven company. But fortunately, you have experience in packaged foods, so it’s not all new to you. Can you tell everyone what did you do before you joined Amazon?

Before Amazon, I was quite literally pursuing bacon-flavored interests – as founder and CEO of J&D’s Foods.

While working in the tech space, a friend and I came up with a crazy idea: a seasoning that makes everything taste like bacon. We called it Bacon Salt.  We ended up winning money on America’s Funniest Home Videos (my kid hit me in the face with a whiffle ball) and buying 6,000 jars of Bacon Salt to start.

All 6,000 jars of Bacon Salt sold out in 5 days to people in 12 countries and 25 states – we did it from a website without spending a dollar on marketing. Then things got really crazy.

We got interviewed on Oprah for 10 minutes. We were on ABC News, the Today Show, The Tonight Show, the Late Show, Good Morning America, Daily Candy – over 3 billion consumer PR impressions in all. We parlayed this into distribution in more than half the grocery stores in America. We made other bacony products like Baconnaise, Bacon Croutons, Bacon Popcorn and holiday novelties like Bacon Lip Balm, Bacon Flavored Envelopes (called Mmmvelopes) and Bacon Scented Pillowcases – among others.

In short, we built a multi-million dollar company with the premise that “Everything should taste like bacon.” Only in America!

OK, but seriously, WHY bacon? I have to admit that this is somewhat of a rhetorical question because: mmmm, bacon.

Why wouldn’t you want your food to taste like bacon? The fact that it hadn’t been done before was the surprising part.

Dave Lefkow Anderson CooperI was at your launch party for Baconnaise and saw some crazy stuff. What are some of the weirdest things you did or had happen to you because of Bacon Salt?

There are a lot of crazy things to choose from (including almost getting arrested at a national monument in a giant bacon costume and having Anderson Cooper and Jon Stewart absolutely hate on us on national television).

But the all-time craziest story is the time that I fell through the roof of an RV dressed as a giant slice of bacon. It happened when we were promoting our launch at a chain of stores in Pennsylvania. We thought it would be a good idea to hit college football tailgaters and pass out free Bacon Salt – dressed as Giant Bacon. At a Penn State game, some college kids took me up to the top of an RV to do a kegstand, and walking back (Giant Bacon can’t see his feet!), I fell through one of those little plastic windows onto a couch below – where their dad was watching football. I’ll never forget what he said: “You’re paying for that window, son.”

That is a great story, assuming that your landing was soft. So I assume that your experience dressing up as Giant Bacon isn’t really applicable to what you are doing at Amazon, but how do you think other aspects of your experience as a bacontrepreneur has benefitted you here?

I’m able to apply my experience to a much bigger set of challenges and opportunities at Amazon.

Ownership, drive, innovation, customer obsession - these are all skills I learned as an entrepreneur and use heavily here. It might sound cheesy, but as I watch my products come to life, I really feel like an owner at Amazon.

I also love to invent. And Amazon is like a playground for inventors. If you have a great idea, they want to hear it and there are processes to bring them to life.

Do you get sick of thinking about food all day or does it make you hungry?

I live to eat – so thinking about food makes me hungry and happy. Mmmm… food.

OK, so if you could only eat 3 foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?

Well, bacon gets its own wing in my food hall of fame. And, by the way, variety is the spice of life, so I wouldn’t ever want to eat 3 foods for the rest of my life. But if you’re asking for my 3 favorites, I’d say: chicken tikka masala, gnocchi in black truffle cream sauce (from List in downtown Seattle), and bourbon pecan bread pudding.

Ooh, those are good. Foods made out of bread are the best. Aside from eating, what do you do for fun outside of work?

I play water polo – it’s the only sport that allows me to burn all the calories I consume on a daily basis. I also have two great kids, a cat, a dog, and a wonderful partner in crime. We hike, we explore, we play games. We jump on trampolines – never a dull moment! 

I mentioned that you are  great lunch buddy, and maybe when this blog posts gets published you will have a bunch more lunch invitations. What is your favorite lunch place in South Lake Union (Amazon’s neighborhood)?

There are way too many good ones to choose from to pick one – I’m loving the urban campus!

Let’s start with breakfast – I like the Zach sandwich at Serious Pie and Biscuit. It’s all sorts of bacony, biscuity, fried chickeny goodness. The Pasta Bolognese at re:public is pretty awesome. And we’re pretty close to some other spectacular eating adventures. Like Dutch babies at Tilikum Café. Crumpets (Vermont Life Changer) from The Crumpet Shop. Onion Obsession sandwiches at Paseo or Un Bien.

I have to agree about the Zach at Serious Biscuit (followed by a nap) and that re:public is also great. It’s one of my favorite places for happy hour (they make a great old fashioned).  We are a little spoiled by the food options around here.

Awhile back, I started something on my team called Lunch Around the World – every month we pick a new area of the world to lunch on. We’ve had some really excellent Indian (North and South), Mexican, Oaxacan, Caribbean, Italian, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, and Greek foods.  Like I said, variety is the spice of life!

I imagine your team is full of food-lovers like yourself, so the lunchtime conversations must be fun. I imagine there are some hazards to the job.

Let’s just say that for every food product we launch, my coworkers and I have eaten several pounds of it before it gets to the consumer. It’s a labor of love, but I’m guessing my doctor will have something to say about my sodium intake at my next checkup. And we all have to watch our weight. Totally worth it though!

 Thanks for lunch and the great conversation, Dave!

If you are interested in developing product, we have Private Label teams across several of our retail categories. You can find several of the Private Label job openings here.