A first day in Amazon

When I created a one-liner draft of this post I thought the first day at Amazon would be just like a first trip to the moon and back ๐Ÿ™‚ But my expectations were too exaggerated. In fact, nothing of importance really happens on the first day. The same stuff happened with me on my first day at Yandex. A bunch of paperwork, personal information, bank information, medical insurance forms… All this stuff.

Then there was some training workshop that covers basic things about the company. A special attention is paid to Amazon Leadership Principles. At this starting point this is more a political message for me, rather than a practical framework, but let’s see.

On the first day you’re basically given two displays, desktop computer, laptop, VPN cypto token, and left to your own devices to assemble all this ๐Ÿ™‚ The second thing would be to get all the passwords, request basic permissions and set up software. I would say that it is no more complex than in other top-tier companies. Not as complicated as accessing customer’s infrastructure from vendor’s network ๐Ÿ™‚ In couple days you’re basically empowered enough to start doing things.

What actually pleased me a lot is a unified bootcamp guide for software developers. Across entire company regardless what languages will you use, what tools etc. Some unified procedure, unified change management, unified environment management, unified code review tool, etc.. This is a big deal. Not a single company I worked in had anything like this. Almost everywhere in the past there was some mentoring guy who sat with you for a day or so doing a mouse clicking job with you to set you up or ‘to get you onboard’. In Amazon, you’re getting onboard yourself. There is a page with team specific permissions groups etc, but before you go there you spend a week on a general bootcamp stuff. I heard that in Seattle people are actually attending training sessions covering this. In Vancouver, we’re mostly doing it ourselves with a little guidance from colleagues.

The atmosphere here is quite relaxed and productive, for most managers writing the code outright is not beneath them. So they don’t harass too much with a stupid stuff, but some useless meetings happen from time to time. For instance it can take a form of discussing some rough plans for the next couple years and reviewing ‘estimates’ that were completely made up ๐Ÿ™‚ Managers even don’t hide it from you. Hey, there is a one-liner item for 2015, 96 weeks in total for 3 people and no breakdown. How do you feel about it? Hmm.. I feel there is a lot of room there ๐Ÿ™‚ Even have a demotivator idea: “I don’t always make estimates up, but when I do, I make sure the numbers are BIG!!!” ๐Ÿ™‚

People are quite happy to help. I asked one guy to take a look at something at my screen, he immediately came to me, we chatted a few minutes and then he told me that he actually was on a call ๐Ÿ™‚ So.. probably even more helpful that it should be ๐Ÿ™‚

In terms of diversity… It is pretty diverse. No one really cares where are you from because everyone is from somewhere. My direct manager was born in New Zealand, then worked in many places including Microsoft in Seattle, finally made his way to Vancouver. A bunch of guys from China, some of them are former students graduated in the United States or Canada. May people from Middle East, including such countries as Pakistan and Iran. One guy is even from Palestine (That’s how I finally learned that Palestine is not only all about suicide bombers). Many interns work here for 3-6 months and then go back to school. I finally identified one Canadian in our team of 40+ people ๐Ÿ™‚

I sit in an openspace, but there is a bunch of 2-people rooms called ‘offices’. Before I joined the company I was asked whether I prefer openspace or office. I was never asked such a question before. Sometimes it gets noisy, but it’s fine anyway. The desk is very basic. Hard wood, simple design. One iron personal locker, a nice chair. Comfortable, but not an Aeron as many people have in Yandex ๐Ÿ™‚ Amazon is frugal and this is a major principle we follow. And this is a good thing, because it is difficult to slash your spending if should the tough times come. Being frugal doesn’t mean there is no tea/coffee in a kitchen. There is a plenty of choice, but not like one might expect to see a wholesale volume of fruits/cherries/cheese all over the place.

And on top of that, we’re doing lots of interesting stuff I’m not about to tell you ๐Ÿ™‚

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8 Responses to A first day in Amazon

  1. I wonder, how they manage to keep the bootcamp guide up-to-date… Every time I tried to create anything like this (even for a single project), it become antiquated even before I finished.

    • Well first things first, bootcamp guide is a supported software ๐Ÿ™‚ It has a dedicated team that owns it (along with some other stuff) and keeps it current.

      Second… Many benefits of this unified bootcamp are only achievable at some certain scale. If you make it for a couple people joining the company during a year, it is not worth it. You would be better off spending two days with each of these guys every year. Since many developers are joining Amazon every passing week, bootcamp is heavily utilized. If all these people encounter a problem, it gets covered in a troubleshooting sections of the bootcamp or somehow fixed by owners.

      • Yes, I realise this. Not going to force creation of a separate team for a bootcamp guide at Xored ๐Ÿ™‚ However, we now have 1-2 newcomers a month, and such kind of problems begin to bother. Anyway, it’s always interesting to know. I thought, they somehow managed to convince developers to keep it up-to-date (policies, regulations, etc :)). But a separate team โ€” I’m kind of disappointed ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. About table – I recently got an adjustable table – you can transform it either to stand-desk or sitting-desk. Very convenient. And I was not asked whether I want to sit in open-space or in office. And I sit in cubicles.

  3. gbushuev says:

    Unification is great but there are always pros and cons. I know that Java is rather conservative itself but there is big diversity of Java tools, IDE’s, etc. What if some members of your team would like to use software which is not included in your company’s unification process list.

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