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Leadership Principles

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? 


Storytelling is a key interview success factor

BookPeople are always asking recruiters for career and job-finding advice.  In particular, I find that candidates often want to know how to be successful going through a challenging interview process like that of Amazon’s.  One thing many successful candidates do is they remember to tell stories and that every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. 

When you are engaged with a company like ours that drives their evaluation process around company culture and Leadership Principles, you have to understand their company philosophies and why they are important.  Then think about your own career path and history – how does it relate to what they stand for?  Be thoughtful about how your own professional DNA can map to the company’s values. 

When asked, “Can you give me an example of a time when …” think back on the stories you have told about your work experiences. And for each, think about the beginning, the middle and the end.  What was the situation you encountered?  Paint the picture for me, was it a business challenge that was unexpected?  How did you navigate it, what did you learn and how did you help champion others in that process?  Give me important details – but not unnecessary verbosity – so I understand how many layers you peeled to figure out the root cause of the problem. Tell me how you persevered.  Show me your character, your grit, your moxie!  Then, tell me how the story ends.  People who are artful behavioral based interviewers often bring the story full circle by saying, “and then this is the impact it had on the business …”.   Be a story teller. 


Understanding Amazon’s flywheel

Anyone who has worked at Amazon for more than a couple weeks has heard the term “flywheel”. In fact, I suspect that many, if not most, people who interview here discuss the flywheel as part of their onsite interviews. So getting your head around Amazon’s concept of the “virtuous cycle” prior to interviews here is a good idea; I recommend researching it as part of your preparation process, not only to understand the idea of the flywheel but also to be able to articulate how your potential work at Amazon (and/or the work of the group you are interviewing with would contribute to spinning it.

The concept says a lot about how Amazon thinks about investment opportunities and why we are growing so quickly. Along with the Leadership Principles, I think it makes very clear how Amazon operates day-to-day. So I thought I would help explain the flywheel a little bit here to introduce the concept.

A flywheel is a system where each of the components is an accelerator. Invest in any one of the components and, as the flywheel spins, it benefits all components. And the flywheel spinning is how the system grows. Jim Collins popularized the flywheel concept in Good to Great. I’ll drop a link to his writing on flywheels at the bottom of this post.

Here’s Amazon’s flywheel:
Amazon Flywheel

I think seeing the image helps put Amazon’s customer obsession in context too. Because you can understand the different levers that ultimately lead to great experiences for customers and how all of us Amazonians are all part of it. If we do work that brings more traffic to Amazon.com, we’ll attract more sellers wanting to reach this larger number of potential customers. Attracting more sellers increases our selection, which improves the customer experience. This brings more traffic to Amazon.com. You can see how focusing attention on any of these components – traffic, sellers, selection or customer experience – distributes more energy to all of them. The whole system grows.

Then, as a result of the spinning, we are able to lower our cost structure which allows us to lower prices, also enhancing the customer experience. So the flywheel spins even faster as it grows; the growth itself is an accelerator. This is how Amazon went from a garage to the company you know today in a relatively short period of time.

Here are some links to additional content that will help you learn more about flywheels in general and how the concept applies to Amazon’s business in particular.

Inc. Magazine does a good job of explaining the flywheel concept

Steve Rosenbaum on how Jeff Bezos leads from behind

Jim Collins’ articles on the flywheel


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.


 


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.

Continue reading "Ayesha Harper leads the organization developing your favorite AmazonBasics" »


Be Right. Rinse and Repeat.

BlackjackAmazon holds semi-annual all-hands meetings here in Seattle. As you would imagine, we fill the better part of an arena with our Seattle-based employees these days. Attending these meeting, or watching via video stream or recording, is a great way for employees to learn about the cool work going on across the company. There are so many interesting initiatives underway and employees who are free to develop more, that at some point, it’s likely you’ll know someone up on stage or who gets recognized for their work. Innovation abounds!

The selection of what projects or initiatives are presented and who does the presenting changes each time. We had an all-hands this week led by Stephenie Landry, the VP who leads Prime Now. We also had presenters on Voice Shopping, our work hiring military members, veterans and spouses, Prime Air, and our affinity groups. There are a few traditions at these meetings like awards, Q&A and having all new employees stand up so we can all marvel at the rate at which this company is growing here in Seattle. Another regular feature is the selection and discussion of one of our leadership principles. We all work with these principles so much; it’s really great to hear leaders talk about them – how they interpret them, when they are challenging. So I thought I would share the principle we heard about this week and some of my thoughts on it. That principle is “are right, a lot”.

So first let me say that I am convinced that almost every new employees wonders what they heard the first time someone mentions this one in a meeting. “We write a lot”? Well, that is also true. But “are right, a lot”, once you get past the peculiar phrasing, is pretty core to how we operate around here. So here is the principle as we define it:

Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

Well, it seems obvious that someone who is a leader and at the top of their game is a good decision-maker. But I believe the value in this one lies more in the “how” and also what it says about our culture.  I think we can all agree that nobody wants to be wrong a lot and we all work to minimize that for the good of our companies and ourselves. But I think that the real risk, the more damaging flip-side to being right a lot is being too scared or not ambitious or focused enough to make decisions in the first place; not putting yourself in a position where you will be required to make a decision.

So what I think that this leadership principle is saying is that we value decision-making and when decisions are made, we like the ones that are right. We appreciate employees who are willing to make a call, especially when it’s on behalf of customers. I think I’ve mentioned before that in the course of my work, I’ve met a lot of employees to talk about their experience working here. And a theme I frequently hear from people, especially those earlier in their careers, is that they are surprised what they get to own here. Decision-making and ownership go hand-in-hand.

As a company, we value experimentation. The tricky thing about experimentation is that if there isn’t a risk of being wrong, it’s not an experiment. So wait a minute, then how can you be right a lot when you are trying new things that have a relatively high probability of failing? That’s where the “how” of “are right, a lot” comes into play. It’s that third line in the definition above.

There’s something kind of gritty and Amazonian about working to include more perspectives and to try to disprove what you already think you know. Making good decisions isn’t about being the smartest person in the room, it’s about having (and using) the best data. It’s about being the most diligent and most willing to disprove your assumptions. Fortunately, with such a big company with a wide variety of projects and employee backgrounds, you can frequently find the data and the people you need to help you weigh and inform your decisions.

At the end of the day, everything you do here won’t be an experiment, so even if you are wrong 90% of the time, you still have a lot of room to be right a lot. One of the speakers at the all-hands made the point that to be right a lot, you have to be wrong a lot too, and do it quickly and inexpensively. I’ll add that you should learn from it as well. Failure in a vacuum doesn’t help you grow and it doesn’t allow others to leverage your work.

So ultimately, I think the leadership principle is about being willing to make decisions and doing so with the best information available. Am I right?


What it means to “Disagree and Commit” and how I do it.

DisagreeIf you have been following Amazon at all, you have probably heard what sounds like code language when we talk about how we get our work done. As I have mentioned before, our Leadership Principles work like a kind of short-hand for the types of qualities that make people effective here. And they aren’t just for leaders of organizations, they are for everyone at Amazon. We are all leaders.

A blog reader recently contacted me asking for some tips on his upcoming interview and we got into a discussion of the Leadership Principles because they are definitely something I encourage anyone interviewing with Amazon to understand and think about during their prep.

He pointed out that one particular principle: “Disagree and Commit” can feel like a challenge to people who have been taught not to question authority or not to cause confrontation. Disagreeing in a real life work scenario and talking about it in an interview are different things.  

It’s even a challenge to people like me who were told earlier in their career that they are “too direct” and have adjusted their communication style accordingly. Of course, everyone who works here and exercises this principle does it in their own way. I’ll share a little bit about how I do it.

But first, let me explain this particular LP.  Here is the actual verbiage.

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

You may have heard that Jeff Bezos dislikes social cohesion. It’s a detriment to business success because it causes people to stifle ideas and objections for the sake of keeping the peace. I’m the kind of person who can have a concern or objection sidetrack my attention and I need to get it out; at least have it heard. So I prefer to run the risk of ruffling feathers a little bit to unburden myself of my concern and provide some insights that may increase the chance of success for the project. It feels like the right thing to do.

A nice side effect of this focus on respectful disagreement is that it keeps people engaged in meetings. I mean, anyone can share an opinion, even if there’s a VP presenting and a junior team member has a concern. So it is less likely that people will tune out based on a feeling that they don’t really have a voice in the discussion. For employees, that’s really empowering.

You might agree with the thinking behind this leadership principle and still feel uncomfortable because it seems confrontational. I get it; like I said, I am constantly filtering myself so I don’t come off as overly direct or critical.  And that can lead to appearing non-committal, disengaged or just not that tuned in, if I let that filter shut me down too much. So I have developed an approach to “disagree and commit” that works for me.

Step one: acknowledge what you just heard. This is helpful, because it keeps the other person from thinking that you are quick on the draw to attack their idea. It shows that you are thoughtful and sometimes it actually clears up misunderstandings about their point of view.

“So what I think I’m hearing you say is that you would like to shift our investment in project A to project B so that we will see results faster. Is that right?”

Step two: ask the other side to consider new data or a different viewpoint. It’s possible that the other person has already considered your perspective and this flushes that out. Also, asking it as a question feels less threatening to the other person.

“Have you documented and weighed the risks associated with each project and will you help us understand what that looks like? At first glance, project B looks to be a riskier project.”

Step three: ask for more time and offer to assist in researching alternatives.

“I noticed that you didn’t mention any risks related to supply chain delays, which could push the timeline out for the project significantly. I have some data that I think would be helpful to consider before making a final decision. Can I have a few days to pull that data together and then we can met again to discuss it?”

This step can involve multiple rounds of engagement and loads of data, with the goal of having the other person consider your point of view. From a practical standpoint, you now have to decide whether ongoing discussion is going to change minds. If you have presented your arguments, are sure that the other person understands, and it’s their decision to make, you have done your due diligence.

Step four: Let it go. Or at least acknowledge (to yourself) that the other person’s objectives may differ from yours, that maybe they have more info that they aren’t able to share and/or ultimately, that if they own the project, it’s their decision to make. If you can get to this place, the “commit” part becomes easier.

“There are some risks related to this approach that I am concerned about but I am confident that you have heard and considered them. Please let me know if you need my help executing on this plan.”

One of the harder parts of this is support and commitment to the chosen path, after the fact, especially when others have concerns about the approach decided upon. Citing some of the data that was considered usually helps others see that a careful approach was taken. For example “I spoke with Steve about the potential supply chain data and he felt confident that we would be able to deliver.” You see, commit doesn’t just mean giving up the argument. It means actually getting on board and supporting the work.

The fact that Amazon is comfortable with experimentation and failure helps a lot too.  You can try something, gather data to analyze its success, and make additional strategy and investment decisions from there. So decisions here have less likelihood of being “career limiting” as many other places. In the case of our example, Steve might come around to the point of view that the supply chain issues were significant enough to impact customers and therefore, sink the project. Or he might collect data along the way to help him find a new way to solve those supply chain issues.

The steps actually work if you are on the other side of the disagree and commit scenario as well: restating what you think you heard, asking the person to consider additional data or a viewpoint.  It’s just a respectful way to disagree in pursuit of the best outcome. It focuses the conversation on a mutual understanding based on data, not a turf war or judgement about how well a plan has been constructed.

Feel free to share if you have different ways of approaching this kind of workplace situation. My approach obviously works for my own personality style, but I am sure there are many more ways to handle a disagree and commit situation.


Recruiter Spotlight: Verjeigh McMillon speaks about her involvement in Amazon’s Black Employee Network

VerjeighFrom time to time, I’ll introduce you to recruiters here at Amazon who have something particularly interesting going on that I think you might want to know about. Today’s post is a recruiter spotlight with my co-worker Verjeigh McMillon, who is on the board of Amazon’s Black Employee Network.

Heather: Hi Verjeigh, can you start out by introducing yourself to our readers?

Verjeigh: Sure, I am Verjeigh McMillon, a Technical Sourcing Recruiter for the Customer Relationships team. They are the people who develop new customer experiences on Amazon.com based on the relationships between account holders - like households, and families who want to manage access to content and buying privileges for kids.

Heather: How long have you been at Amazon?

Verjeigh: I am a new comer to Amazon. My family and I relocated from Washington DC 8 months ago.

Heather: What is your favorite part of working at Amazon?

Verjeigh: Two things come to mind: opportunity and ownership. I have been encouraged to be ambitious and to innovate in my space. I have been able to launch new initiatives –such as an upcoming recruitment event in partnership with our Black Employees Network (BEN) – in days, that would have taken years in other organizations. With preparation and a good business case the sky is the limit with Amazon.

Heather: You mentioned that you recruit for the Customer Relationships team. What kind of positions do you recruit for and what kinds of skills or qualities do you look for?

Verjeigh: I recruit for a number of professional profiles, both tech and non-tech. From UX designers, data engineers, (the ever coveted) software development engineer, to marketing, program and product managers, we’re hiring for them all. Customer Relationships is a growing new initiative team and is part of our e-commerce platform. We are true innovators and are enhancing the customer experience across amazon.com, membership platforms (Prime, Amazon Library, Amazon Households) and devices. At the core of our team are pioneers, individuals who thrive in ambiguity and are willing to explore new territory. So job-seekers that match that profile are a great for our team. Also, the customer-obsessed also have a special place in our hearts.

Heather: You are a part of Amazon’s Black Employee Network. Can you tell us a little about the organization and your involvement?

Verjeigh: I have a passion to increase opportunity for underrepresented populations and joined the Black Employee Network to make an impact. Recently, I was voted in as Technical Recruitment Chair for BEN at Amazon. The Black Employee Network provides support for underrepresented minorities at Amazon through building community, and it champions diversity throughout the company. The group was established in 2005 and was Amazon’s first affinity group. And although BEN was created to provide support for black employees at Amazon, it’s not an exclusive organization. We welcome membership and participation from those outside the black community. We have committees that support recruitment, retention, professional development, community service, social activities and minority business. We host a variety of events including community outreach, recruiting events, happy hours and tech talks. We have an open house event for technical job seekers coming up in November.

Heather: How does an employee become a BEN member?

Verjeigh: They just repeat after me: “I want to be a part of BEN.” it’s really that simple. We have an email alias that can be subscribed to that keeps members up to date on coming events and opportunities to participate.

Heather: BEN is co-sponsoring an upcoming interview event for software developers at Amazon. Can you tell us about it?

Verjeigh: We’re excited about hosting Amazon’s first Black in Tech recruitment event on Wednesday, November 16, 2016. BEN has partnered with the Customer Relationships team, which I support, for this event focused in interviewing and hiring senior software developers.

Heather: If someone is interested in being considered to interview at this event, what should they do and what does the process look like?

Verjeigh: We are seeking Software Development Engineers. Candidates fitting this profile are invited to apply at here or contact me directly at verjeigh@amazon.com . Candidates that do not fit this profile can email me directly with their resume to gain information about current or future opportunities.

Our process is fairly straight forward. Once a candidate submits their resume/application we will review and invite well aligned candidates to complete an online technical assessment. Candidates who complete a successful assessment will be able to speak with a team member and then be invited to visit us onsite for a full-day interview. At this event candidates will meet team members, view our beautiful campus, discuss their background, and code (in their language of choice). We’ll be making hiring decisions shortly after the event.

Although this event is being launched in partnership with an affinity group all candidates are being considered equally.

Heather: Can you explain a little more about the hiring team?

Verjeigh: The Customer Relationships team, also known as Amazon Households, is made of product management and technical teams that develop new customer experiences. Their engineers create and maintain services that enable business teams to offer household related benefits through programs like Amazon Prime, Amazon Family, Alexa, and Family Library. Their work impacts millions of customers shopping on Amazon.com and other Amazon marketplaces, using Kindle and watching Fire TV. Technical teams across the company leverage the services developed by this team.

Heather: Do you have any recruiting words of wisdom for people who are interested in working at Amazon?

Verjeigh: Become familiar with the Amazon leadership principals (LPs). This is truly the core of our culture and a clear picture of the type of individuals you will work beside on a daily basis.

In preparation for my Amazon interview, I studied the LPs (I didn’t cram, I studied for a week). I picked 4 LPs I index high on and wrote out examples where I showed these qualities in my professional background. I didn’t speak to all the examples I wrote but, it put me in the right mind to have the level of discussion needed with my interviewers. I was prepared.  

Also have fun and relax, you are interviewing us just as much as we are interviewing you.

Heather: Great advice. Thanks Verjeigh!


Using Amazon’s Career Site (blog series)


ValuesActive job-seekers out there are no doubt spending some time on company career sites – and I suspect many of you have visited ours. I’m in the process of creating some new content for Amazon.jobs, which will help users learn about working in our Consumer Division. But in the meantime, I’m going to share some thoughts on navigating the site and highlight some of my favorite content. I’m also going to drop a link into the menu bar above, so you can click through and check it out.

In normal Amazon fashion, I will work backward from the user experience and talk about how you might navigate the site depending on how much you know about Amazon and your interest in specific roles. I envision 4 scenarios:    

    1) A user shows up on Amazon.jobs knowing the group they want to work in and the role that best fits them

    2) A user shows up on Amazon.jobs and doesn’t know what group they are interested in or the right role. Hey, they are just browsing here.

    3) A user shows up and knows the right job role for them but there are so many groups to choose from and it’s hard to find them on the site.

    4) A user shows up on Amazon.jobs with a burning desire to work for a specific organization, but isn’t sure how their skills would fit.

I’m going to create a separate blog post for each of these scenarios. I will also provide info on good places to find additional info on Amazon.jobs and some tips, regardless of which user scenario best matches your situation.

So while you are waiting for those posts, I will share some of my thoughts on career sites in general.

Typically, people visit a career site specifically to search for job postings that match their background. And obviously this kind of searching behavior is a lot of what we see going on at Amazon.jobs. But something that I would encourage visitors to also think about when visiting a career site is using it to understand what the company values. Any well-constructed career site is going to feature more than just job postings. Sometimes you have to dig a bit, and even though you might think that all career site content feels the same (I mean, everyone talks about making an impact and that type of thing, us included), you can find some nuggets that give you a true sense of what a company thinks is important. On Amazon.jobs, our leadership principles are the best example if this I can think of.  

If you look at those principles and think “I feel like that too!” or “those are the things I value”, there’s a good chance that you will like it here. If you look at them and even feel lukewarm, I’ll be honest: this might not be the place for you. Because as an employee here, you will hear those principles referenced day in and day out. They are used for decision-making from the high level strategic decisions around our vision as a company to simple choices around how we do our work. And our employees are held accountable by those principles.

So when you are on a career site, Amazon’s or another company’s, look for an indication of what is valued and decide how closely their values resonate with you.

I recently watched video of an organization where teams sing when visitors walk through their work area. For some people, that might sound like fun. For others, perhaps it would feel like torture. But having silly fun was part of their culture and clearly an attractor for the right kinds of job-seekers. This is exactly the right kind of content for companies to be featuring on their career sites, by the way. Candidates should have some kind of reaction to the content and use it to opt in or opt out.

Another recommendation is to use career sites for resume and interviewing intelligence. In the past, when I have spoken with people seeking advice about their job search, one of the things they ask about is getting the attention of recruiters. This is definitely the right thing to be asking, especially if you are interested in working at a company that receives a massive volume of applicants. Reading about the company values I mentioned above, as well as the job specs (and the words they use to describe the work) should help you write or tweak your resume to get the attention of recruiters. First, you should be looking at the actual words they use in the job specs and ensure that you are using the same words to describe that kind of work on your resume. For example, referring to the software development framework used as either “agile software development” or “scrum” can mean the difference between a resume showing up in a recruiter’s search and not. Now hopefully, a recruiter looking for this experience is going to search both of those things, but often they will start with the simplest search first. And if the job spec calls for “scrum experience”, that is how they will search for it. So look at the job postings to understand the words used to describe specific types of experience.

Also look at the job postings and the company information on the career site to identify what is important to include on a resume. It’s easy to look past a lot of the buzz-wordy content on a job description. But if you know Amazon cares about delivering results (and we do, because it’s in our leadership principles and many job descriptions), you know it’s important to be explicit about the types of results you were able to achieve in previous roles. By the way, I don’t know a company where delivering results isn’t important so you should do this exercise anyway. But definitely think about how you can incorporate some of the culture elements into your own resume (and still be honest, of course).

More coming on using Amazon.jobs soon. And please feel free to add questions here if there’s anything I can answer for you.


An Interview with Amazon’s Brad Porter, VP and Distinguished Engineer (part two of two)

BradportI recently had the opportunity to sit down with Brad Porter, a Distinguished Engineer and Vice President in Amazon’s Consumer Division, to talk about his career, his team, Amazon’s technical community and the culture that makes this a great place for developers to learn and explore.

Brad’s well-known at Amazon and you may have seen a LinkedIn post he wrote about an important artifact of Amazon’s culture: the 6-pager. Part one of my interview with Brad focused on his team, technical career paths and the Amazon tech community. In part two, below, we discuss Brad’s career path inside the company, the attributes Amazon looks for when considering technical talent and what new hires can expect when they get here.

Heather: You’ve been at Amazon since 2007. Can you talk a little bit about your career path and the thinking behind staying in a technical role as your career has progressed?

Brad: Throughout my career, I have gone back and forth between managing and being an individual contributor.  Whatever I do though, I can’t get away from the technology and the architecture and the code. The larger your team, the harder it can get to meaningfully engage in that stuff. Whenever my job becomes so much management responsibility that I'm not getting to be technically hands‐on, then I swing the pendulum the other way.

When I joined Amazon, I was hired as a Director to help Amazon consolidate a number of website platform technologies. I was also hired to operate and run Amazon.com's website stack worldwide. My team was the team responsible for making sure the website stayed up; that we had the capacity and kept the latency low and the costs in line.

I spent my first year here doing that. But at that time, Amazon was also very focused on transforming its underlying e‐commerce platform to allow Amazon to expand into new e‐commerce opportunities much more quickly. I made a choice to move back to a Senior Principal role and spent the next six years helping drive that architectural transformation. When I made that move I gave up managing and operating a big team. Then as result of that work and the impact I was able to make, I was promoted to Distinguished Engineer at Amazon.  

Heather: Thinking more broadly than your own team, when you think about the technical community across Amazon, what does good tech talent look like? What skills or competencies should someone hoping to work at Amazon look to build?

Brad: As the Principal community here was expanding, the community took the time to define the tenets of great engineering at Amazon. In the same way Amazon has leadership principles that we publish externally, internally we now have a set of principles for engineers about what great engineering leadership looks like at Amazon. The one I gravitate toward as being the most unique to Amazon’s engineering culture is “Technically Fearless.”  This type of fearlessness is rooted not in recklessness, but confidence in your ability to apply your skills to any new problem.  Fearless engineers don't shy away from problems. They're not saying, "Oh, let's deploy that next year," because instead they're looking deeply at the problem and what the customer needs and saying "Here's the risk and here's the trade off and here's how we can mitigate the risk." They make informed decisions not out of a position of conservatism but of a position of confidence that this is the right thing to do.

The world is changing very fast.  You see now just how quickly machine learning is transforming business processes and how we build systems. You see how much we’re now doing with robotics and drones. We need people who aren't afraid of change. Being technically fearless is important here.

We also have a tenet that is about giving back to peers and the community called "Learn, Educate, and Advocate." The idea is that great engineers at Amazon are constantly learning but they're also constantly educating their peers. And they're advocates. When they see something that clearly works better, instead of just saying, "here's this technique, take it or leave it.,” they're saying, “here's this technique and here's where I think we should use it and why." "Learn, Educate, Advocate," as a tenet of our engineering culture is a notch more action-oriented than our company-wide “Learn and Be Curious” leadership principle. We expect engineers to take their learnings and help move the organization forward.

Heather: That really helps tech professionals understand what we value here. Do you have any advice for a college student who is pursuing a tech degree?

Brad: I'd say get outside of the box. Get together with your friends and build an app that you're just inspired to build.  Join the rocketry club.  Run for student government.  Put yourself in a position where dynamic problem solving is required.   Do well in your classes but also get hands‐on and try to challenge yourself, try new things and do it with friends.

Heather: What about advice for an experienced technical person who's interested in coming to Amazon?

Brad: Amazon has no end of work to be done and you're enabled to go do it.  Decisions are made quickly and you are rarely blocked. If you are someone who likes to get things done, the environment is addictive because in most companies you work for there are times where you find yourself waiting for decisions to be made. But given there are no lulls in the product cycle at Amazon, you have to have some discipline or it can be hard to find a balance. If you are the type of person who has the discipline to keep that balance, then you'll love it.

Heather: Amazon has a reputation for “peculiar ways”. What do you think people are surprised about when they start working here?

Brad: I often ask new people what they notice first at Amazon that was peculiar. The most common answer is "I walked into a meeting and it was like study hall for the first half an hour. Everyone just sat and read quietly like it was a library." We really do sit quietly and read in many of our meetings. 

I think another thing that surprises people is that a lot of companies have mission statements and leadership principles. Amazon is much more rigorous than many in really adhering to those. “Customer Focus” comes up in technical conversations everyday and we can tell people over and over again we do that but when they come to Amazon, they're still surprised that it really is true.

If you have any questions for Brad or for me about working at Amazon or developing your technical career,  please post in the comments below. Big thanks to Brad for sharing his thoughts and his experience at Amazon.