[FoRK] Working for Amazon: Both bad and bad for your career?

Stephen D. Williams sdw at lig.net
Tue May 27 00:30:51 PDT 2014

Overall, I like Amazon. I've been an avid customer since almost the beginning. I've had Prime since it was released. I have a 
ridiculous number of Kindles. They provide great services and service to customers, they helped seriously kick off cloud computing, 
setting the efficiency bar so high it had to be very painful to traditional computing/storage providers. Good. They tend to avoid 
most bozo moves that Microsoft can't avoid for long, even though they're pulling from the same population and probably have huge 
ex-employee overlap.

The Kindle ereader is nice enough, with a few interesting features. It's still missing a number of features that I built into Sony's 
Android Reader app (two-page mode, bi-directional page directions and vertical text with text selection, etc.), not that Sony ran 
their ebook service well. (My post-gig understanding is that after getting impatient or something with their server development 
team, they outsourced development to India, spent $10M, and ended up with nothing. Another data point toward extreme skepticism 
about far-time-zone outsourcing... I'm guessing that something about possibly moving to Adobe's new ebook DRM system must have been 
the last straw that led to shutting down the service.)

Amazon is lame and late to support DRM-free book selling, reading side-loaded PDFs well, and avoiding picking fights with authors 
and publishers. While I agree that publishers made a grab at boosting profits when selling ebooks vs. expensive to produce, ship, 
stock paper books, I'm not sure the approach is balanced well enough.

But a good company is a good company to work for. Google, Facebook, and others seem good there. Apple perhaps, although the security 
tone, monoculture, and apparent black hole that people working at Apple seem to fall into seems suspect.

Amazon however is said to be a poor place to work. Since most employees are enticed to move to Seattle, where alternatives seem much 
more limited, it seems Amazon is taking advantage of a barrier to leaving. Stack ranking along with Microsoft, and apparently even 
worse at it.


I am aware that someone turned down an extremely attractive offer from Amazon. Not only was the well-known bad work experience an 
issue, but apparently there is a belief that having worked at Amazon is bad for your career. If it becomes a serious career issue 
having worked at a particular company, that's not going to bode well for the long term.

I've interviewed dozens of people who are or were working at Amazon, and Microsoft and others. I try to keep an open mind and simply 
ask more questions, although I'm suspect of how much Linux, Android, and various key open source technologies someone is likely to 
be proficient at after a long period at Microsoft. Amazon ought to be a great place to work and afford great experience. It 
shouldn't be difficult to provide a few surplus goods as perks or enable various projects with compute, storage, and bandwidth. It's 
puzzling that a company that can engineer a good product experience can't do so while engineering a good work experience.

As for armies of low-wage warehouse workers, that's a little more complex. There are many low cost of living areas of the US. 
In-sourcing to those isn't necessarily bad as the effective pay can, in some ways, be a reasonable multiple of actual dollars. Not 
that that gets you travel, expensive universities, or certain consumer goods. I suppose it's even possible that the Amazon ecosystem 
could provide seed communities like my Techopolis ideas: engineered efficient ecosystems that support innovation, startups, small 
companies and services, and modular co-work-live-grow communities while keeping costs and actual wages low. Apparently, Amazon would 
have to merge with Google, O'Reilly, and a few others to have the executive vision to pull that off.

Anyway, I'd be happy to consult to point out where this is going off the rails and how to fix it. ;-)


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