Thursday, July 12, 2007

Life at Amazon

If you've come here for corporate secrets, then too bad, I'm not cracking! You'll just have to wait and see what Amazon is working on when they release it. Instead, I'm going to give a look at the working environment because I've been asked about it and I know I would've liked more information when I was looking for internships. Working at Amazon is almost exactly as I had pictured a place I wanted to work at. The culture really is great and welcoming. Really, Amazon isn't paying me to say this, I'm just enthused about being here. The people in my organization are extremely smart, and the team I'm on seems to have a great management structure. I'm only 3 levels away from an SVP, who reports to Jeff B. Speaking of the management structure, it's actually fairly flat. When I see superiors in the hall, I may get a little nervous because I figure I should be, but the other employees have a great opinion of them and even joke about them in a good way. Even though I technically have two bosses, my manager and my TPPM, they're really more of guides to keep me on track than anything else. It doesn't feel like red tape or bureaucracy in the least. My TPPM is more technical, more hands-on, and more of who I keep posted directly about my progress and sometimes get advice from. My manager is like the team's spokesperson to the business units, has a good idea of what our customers want, sits in meetings so we don't have to, but it a computer scientist at heart, as well, and still very much has a technical understanding of what's going on. In fact, our VP used to work on an Ada compiler back in the day, but he's still a phenomenal leader.

The thing is, if there was no management, things would easily fall apart. Let's face it, SDEs are bad at estimating, often misguided in planning, and not likely to prioritize the business necessity of projects but rather are more likely to prioritize what they think is more fun or more cool in their mind. Even then though, management manages to be fairly unobtrusive, but very much in the loop. Our scrum meetings in the morning are for everyone to answer what they did yesterday, what they're doing today, and if they're blocked on something then what is it so the TPPM (the scrum master) can help with that, and that's really cool, I think. There's always a sense of how we're doing in the sprint and it gives everyone on the team accountability. Last summer, at TI, I really didn't have that. People weren't motivated to get things done. At Amazon, people are just extremely smart and very self-motivated. It's incredible. It's like the difference between high school and college: people genuinely want to be there. People don't think it's perfect, and they're not blissful, because work is work for a reason. They're satisfied overall though, and the work environment is really laid back. No one checks on you, if you take breaks no one cares, there's free tea/coffee/hot cocoa, you can bring your dog, you can wear practically whatever you want (within reason), you can bring your nerf gun, you can request another monitor, etc. Amazon will do whatever they have to if it makes you more productive, though they still have a policy of frugality. So the prices on the site you get are seriously as low as Amazon can make them. They do not have money fights or anything, they just pay top dollar for top talent, and it shows. If you're trying to compete with Amazon then you're going to need a miracle because the people here strive to be on top, are proud of it, and are ridiculously talented. Everyone fits together like a nice little puzzle, and everyone supports each other, and it's just a very friendly community.

As for the internship program: my project is great. I love that what I'm doing really has a business impact (adding geographical data to our logs and producing a visualization for the business units with this information), and that I picked the group I would work with. It gives you a lot more control, and makes you responsible for what you do in the summer. I'm treated like another member of the team, and though I'm sure I've annoyed my co-workers with a lot of confusion for the first several weeks, they've been pretty nice about it. Plus there's the company picnic and intra-company sports, which even Jeff B sometimes plays (I hit an SVP with a dodgeball ball two weeks ago). The only intern-only events are rafting, Mariners game, a dinner, and then there's a couple of UT intern events (lunch and dinner). Rafting on the Skykomish was a ton of fun (I'll share when I get high res pictures), and our raft actually hit a rock called Fly Paper sideways and flipped over. It was scary being under the raft for like 10 seconds but our guide flipped it back over and 5 of the 6 of us got right back on (the other guy was picked up by a support kayak). It was a very well planned trip, I just wish we'd have one or two more of those. Plus, my recruiter is really cool. So overall, I'd totally recommend Amazon as an employer. The downsides are few and kind dumb to even mention (little company discount, offices not consolidated on one campus, not enough intern unity), whereas the benefits are much better (subsidized housing for interns, two computers and two monitors for work, very competitive pay, great management, smart co-workers, etc.). I seriously have sometimes woken up on Sundays and been like, "oh man, I'm not going to work today!" The biggest drawback for me though is not being with my girlfriend, and so that's the only reason I'll be glad when this summer is over. The experience has been amazing though (working with different design patterns, MySQL, BDBs, more Linux, being in a scrum, hard lessons of design/planning, etc). I'm very grateful to be here.

Should I even bother with real news today? I guess I'll go over a couple of things. AT&T has taken the route of deep packet inspection and will be aiming to throw "pirates" off their network, but we're not sure what their stupid algorithms will considerate a pirate so it's really a horrible idea.

Do you remember what the web looked like in 1994? This video is an awesome look back at the good old days of picture-less Internet. We didn't even get the Internet at home until 1997, and the Internet didn't really become popular until 1996 (maybe late 1995), so you can imagine how far back that is.

Rumors are abound that we'll see a Beatles-inspired iPhone loaded with the Beatles library in time for its release on iTunes, a full month before competitors. It's a fun rumors, and that's why I'm blogging it, but quite unlikely, in my opinion. Why would Apple Corps even give Apple, Inc temporary exclusivity? I'm more interested in the faux SDK one developer is making for the iPhone by way of a little markup language. Thumbs up to him: it looks pretty dandy. His site is getting slammed so the demos may take a while to load, but they're impressive given the simplicity of his project (make your window small and pretend you're on an iPhone viewing them).

This is almost unbelievable: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix managed to rake in nearly $50 million, more than a fifth of which were late Tuesday showings (mainly midnight). That's actually a record for a Wednesday opening, so any bets for how much it'll rake in by Sunday? I imagine it'll be between $150 and $200 million.

The only upcoming fantasy movie I want to see is The Golden Compass, so I just thought I'd share the new posters.

Lastly, we have a few trailers. The first is for December Boys featuring Mr. Potter himself (Daniel Radcliffe), and I think it could actually turn out to be a good movie, but I'm worried about it getting caught up in being a feel good movie and getting corny. The other trailer now on Yahoo Movies is for Death Sentence, and it really doesn't look good. Does Kevin Bacon no longer care about his career? Lastly, there's the trailer for The Dark is Rising which is a really kiddie fantasy movie. It's based off of actual books, but why does it feel like a hack of Harry Potter to me? (UPDATE: Whoops, The Dark is Rising actually came out long before J.K. Rowling even started writing, so she actually stole from Susan Cooper. Thanks to Charles for the info!)

Now for the 3x Thursday meme:

1. Do you treat people you're extremely close to (S.O's, ex's, best friends, family, etc) the same as you would regular friends and people off the street? How so/how not?
Well of course. I think everyone does. I don't mean I treat strangers like crap, but there are certain things I wouldn't say to certain people because they could be easily misunderstood, like when some of my friends and I make jokes that are intentionally mean to point out how mean people who say things like that are. Anyway, it's a longer story for a short answer: yes =P

2. What is it about knowing someone fairly well, or very well even, that seems to give us a license to say and do whatever we want/think/feel sometimes? Do you think it's right? Why do you think we do things like that?
I don't think it's ever whatever you want, I just think you trust those people more. I think this is natural and totally understandable. We do it because we all have our zone of comfort.

3. Do you tolerate being treated a certain way by someone (good or bad)? How so/how not? Why/why not?
All I ask for is a little respect. I don't tolerate people treating me like crap, and I'm not at all afraid to show it. My brother and I are both a bit headstrong in that respect, I guess. We get it from our father =P I guess we're just overly confident at times.

1 comment:

Charles said...

There are two reasons the Dark is Rising trailer feels like a knock-off of Harry Potter. First, because Harry Potter is really in some ways a knock-off of The Dark is Rising (which was published when JKR was eight years old, so let's be clear about who got ideas from whom!). But also, and more depressingly, because Walden Media have clearly decided to scrub everything that makes DIR an interesting and unique book, and put it through the usual blah-fantasy Play-Doh mould. Hamlet would look like a knock-off of Harry Potter if you made it in this style, with as little respect for the text as Walden have shown DIR.

The book, The Dark is Rising, is well worth reading, if you ever take the time.