Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace
August 15, 2015 9:52 AM   Subscribe

 
What happened to our society taught people to devalue themselves to the point that they would put up with that?

Maybe we Gen-X'ers weren't "slackers", we just didn't want to put up with this kind of obscene bullshit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:56 AM on August 15, 2015 [57 favorites]


As a former employee (longer than the majority of the people interviewed), I read this article with interest. While there certainly is a lot of truth there (and it's hard to argue with personal anecdotes), I also feel like the authors went out of their way to portray everything in the most negative possible light. Some of the things are as bad as they sound here, but most are not even close. To add my own personal anecdote, in all of my years working there I never saw someone cry on the job.
posted by primethyme at 9:58 AM on August 15, 2015 [14 favorites]


At least the work environment is as shitty for the guys in suits upstairs as it is for the workers on the warehouse floors.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:00 AM on August 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Not all Amazonians...
posted by 1970s Antihero at 10:02 AM on August 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are “unreasonably high.” The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. (The tool offers sample texts, including this: “I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks.”)

Jebus fuck. Is Amazon a branch of Scientology? Fuck. That. Shit.

........
Maybe we Gen-X'ers weren't "slackers", we just didn't want to put up with this kind of obscene bullshit.

Sadly, I think you'll find tons of GenX'ers eagerly toiling away inside workcamp Amazon.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:02 AM on August 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


This article reminds me in a weird way of last night's thread about children and what they do to your happiness level. If I'm going to put eighty sometimes miserable hours a week into something for five of the prime years of my life, I'd sure rather have a lovely kindergardener at the end than the achievement of having outargued someone in a meeting to deliver ramen on Saturdays the way I want to do it. And I've had the good fortune to be able to make life choices that reflect that preference!
posted by sy at 10:03 AM on August 15, 2015 [31 favorites]


Has stack ranking ever led to a healthy work environment?

I've had coworkers that didn't seem motivated or required extra hand holding to get things done, but that seems wildly preferable to having anonymous feedback tools being used to sabotage other employees.
posted by strange chain at 10:04 AM on August 15, 2015 [17 favorites]


I should add, I realize that saying "I never saw someone cry on the job" is not exactly a ringing endorsement. But I also know that if I were to post a ringing endorsement here, it wouldn't be believed by anyone. If people want to believe that it's a terrible place to work (and clearly they do), they will believe it.

I will say this. I enjoyed working there for the most part. I left only because an amazing opportunity came my way, not because I wanted to leave. I've now been away for several years, and still look back on my time there positively. I learned a ton, felt that I was doing interesting stuff, liked most of my co-workers, and was compensated very well. There were also many things I disliked about it. I have worked at several other famous companies, some of which were contrasted with Amazon in that article. They all had aspects I disliked. No job is perfect. In my career Amazon does not stand out as uniquely skewed toward the "dislike" end of the spectrum.
posted by primethyme at 10:06 AM on August 15, 2015 [17 favorites]


This is all about money, right? I ask because I work for a really pleasant small white-collar corporation and everyone works 40-hour weeks and the pay is decent and the benefits are decent.... and we just had a meeting yesterday about how we can't retain entry-level workers. And yet Amazon can apparently torture their employees. Weird.
posted by selfnoise at 10:08 AM on August 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


In Seattle tech, seeing significant time at Microsoft or Amazon on a resume is fast-becoming a negative, almost a deal-breaker, out of concern for cultural fit. The thinking is, they can't function outside of those companies.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:08 AM on August 15, 2015 [49 favorites]


President's Choice Memories of Grad School Marinade.
posted by srboisvert at 10:08 AM on August 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


Many of the newcomers filing in on Mondays may not be there in a few years. The company’s winners dream up innovations that they roll out to a quarter-billion customers and accrue small fortunes in soaring stock. Losers leave or are fired in annual cullings of the staff — “purposeful Darwinism,” one former Amazon human resources director said. Some workers who suffered from cancer, miscarriages and other personal crises said they had been evaluated unfairly or edged out rather than given time to recover.

This is the "tech shortage" in a nutshell. This is what companies mean when they complain about not enough people being available in NA. There aren't enough perfect pegs, who need no training at all and will work without stint. They don't want anyone else. They don't want to pay out disability or be forced to make accommodations. Scrouge would approve.
posted by bonehead at 10:11 AM on August 15, 2015 [73 favorites]


Re: Bezos...

He wanted his grandmother to stop smoking, he recalled in a 2010 graduation speech at Princeton. He didn’t beg or appeal to sentiment. He just did the math, calculating that every puff cost her a few minutes. “You’ve taken nine years off your life!” he told her. She burst into tears.

Now he's taking minutes off his employees' lives and they're bursting into tears:

"Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”
- Bo Olson, worked in books marketing.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:13 AM on August 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


This goes a long way in explaining some of the nonsense I've put up with from people at Amazon. The ones I've worked with seemed to have no sense of professional boundaries or what was a reasonable request and would push and push and push for every last bit they could get out of us and then complain that they didn't get more. And we weren't even working for Amazon. Just outside vendors. I thought it was just those people's personalities and not a sick mindset they're indoctrinated into.
posted by downtohisturtles at 10:13 AM on August 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


That's it, I'm done with Amazon. I've tried to stay away from them generally but have occasionally used them when I actually needed something right away that I could not get locally. But never again.

Although the "I want my trivially important purchase right now no matter who has to suffer to get it to me" mentality that permits this kind of thing is just as much at fault as the company. Humans are just shit, although certainly some of them - like Bezos and his capitalist Stasi - are obviously shittier than others.

Seriously, if this were the government encouraging anonymous reporting for "bad attitude" we'd say we lost the Cold War. But because it's some fucking entrepreneur it's just good business.
posted by Frowner at 10:13 AM on August 15, 2015 [57 favorites]


As I read this, I had to contrast it with The Container Store, with whom my employer had an extended relationship and I got to see the internals quite a bit. Like Amazon, they had a written, bullet point philosophy, and they hired to drink the internal Koolaid. Unlike Amazon, they paid above average, part of their philosophy was explicitly "help others be successful, because when everyone is helping everyone else succeed, we all succeed together", and people there seemed genuinely enthusiastic about it while maintaining a good work/life balance.
posted by fatbird at 10:15 AM on August 15, 2015 [17 favorites]


This is why we shouldn't let young men read Ayn Rand.
posted by twsf at 10:15 AM on August 15, 2015 [102 favorites]


I fear that this may be the future of work in general. I can already imagine David Cameron doing a photo-op with Bezos and announcing that Britain must become like Amazon as a nation, and that that will guide the government's legislative programme.

In other news, I recently got an email from an Amazon recruiter, announcing that a team is coming to London to interview people for jobs in Seattle, and inviting me to send my CV in. I already had an inkling of which direction to run in, but now I know how fast.
posted by acb at 10:21 AM on August 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


> This is why we shouldn't let young men read Ayn Rand.

Some people count. Some people don't.
posted by cardioid at 10:23 AM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Like Frowner, this has disgusted me enough to want to stop using Amazon. So, how does one wean oneself from Amazon? Obviously, it won't be simple--Amazon is just so fucking convenient-. Some of it's obvious, nothing that I can buy at the CD store across the street, or the fabric store across town,. I mean, sure, I'll have to spend an entire day, going to a dozen stores, but a lot of it is easy to figure out where I'll get it instead.

Some of the more esoteric stuff is not. Like, I've been to every lingerie department in the city, but no-one stocks the ones I want. Or the random junk store stuff or craft supplies stuff--the shops I can get to just don't have the variety (and I live in a major metropolitan area!) I suppose the obvious answer is "do without".
posted by crush-onastick at 10:24 AM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


It is interesting to me see comments about this article in other forums from current Amazon employees (who happen to work as Software Engineers) talk about how it is biased because they have never personally experienced these problems.

Amazon's culture makes sense when you stop thinking of them as a tech company and start thinking of them as a retail business just like Walmart.
posted by mattnworb at 10:26 AM on August 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


Fewer jobs + more people = this.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:26 AM on August 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


ITT: Capitalist corporations embrace Maoist self-criticism techniques
posted by Avenger at 10:29 AM on August 15, 2015 [34 favorites]


Amazon cadres must embrace self-criticism and flush out defeatist/splittist factions!

Chairman Bezos desires 10,000 drones in every communal village!
posted by Avenger at 10:32 AM on August 15, 2015 [34 favorites]


All we have to do is unionize!
posted by oceanjesse at 10:32 AM on August 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


It is surprising to me that they can actually still get work done, without devolving into a non-stop vicious Machiavellian backstabbing contest. Like at some point, its going to be easier to sabotage your peers than actually meet an impossible standard of work, and then the organization is just going to fill up with saboteurs instead of productive workers.
posted by rustcrumb at 10:32 AM on August 15, 2015 [18 favorites]


Also as a former employee less than two years out, (SDE, so in this area) to avoid anything which could be construed as disparaging as interpreted legally, I'm not about to state what parts of the article may or may not be accurate in my experiences.

That said, I'm impressed/surprised that they got this many people to speak on/off the record. The company aggregate is *very* keen on secrecy in these things. I'd be very concerned if other companies saw the behavior described in the article as the future of work.

Then again, given the biodomes they're constructing, the half-joke goes that they're halfway to being a Shadowrun/Gibsonian Megacorp.
posted by CrystalDave at 10:33 AM on August 15, 2015 [16 favorites]


Like Frowner, this has disgusted me enough to want to stop using Amazon. So, how does one wean oneself from Amazon? Obviously, it won't be simple--Amazon is just so fucking convenient-. Some of it's obvious, nothing that I can buy at the CD store across the street, or the fabric store across town,. I mean, sure, I'll have to spend an entire day, going to a dozen stores, but a lot of it is easy to figure out where I'll get it instead.

For a lot of the stuff I want but can't get in town, there are small vendors or eBay - I get almost all of my clothes from eBay, actually. I've developed a fairly decent eye for cuts and fits (underwear, especially) that are likely to fit me. Or hell, I'll order from PetCo or the Container Store or whomever if I absolutely have to - just no more Amazon. Basically, it's going to mean that I will have to be smarter about remember to get long-lead-time stuff. But fuck them - just fuck them and their KGB-without-the-benefits-of-communism routine.
posted by Frowner at 10:34 AM on August 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


This sounds exactly like Intel before it turned to "management by spreadsheet".
posted by monotreme at 10:38 AM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Amazon cadres must embrace self-criticism and flush out defeatist/splittist factions!

Absolute power corrupts absolutely - it doesn't matter if you're Stalin or Bezos, if you're unaccountable. People like this will do exactly as much as they can get away with. The rich do what they want, the poor suffer what they must, and that's the commonality between the USSR and the USA. (And Russia, for that matter.) The only thing is, working people are on the run so much that they don't even have to buy us off with decent working conditions or state-provided housing or whatever.
posted by Frowner at 10:39 AM on August 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


I've been wary of Amazon ever since my two friends with fairly similar backgrounds interned there. Both had the same performance reviews, and both were offered similar positions at the end of the summer. The only difference? My female friend's offer was at a lower salary than the male's.

Since then, I've had a half dozen friends cycle in and out. The longest lasted two years. Maybe I self-select for friends who wouldn't do well at Amazon, but at this point the evidence points to Bezos just being an ass, and structuring his company accordingly.
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:39 AM on August 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


I mean, yes, Stalin was worse - but Stalin was worse because he had more power. The more power these people get, the worse they'll be.
posted by Frowner at 10:40 AM on August 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Frowner: "Seriously, if this were the government encouraging anonymous reporting for "bad attitude" we'd say we lost the Cold War. But because it's some fucking entrepreneur it's just good business."

Capitalist aren't really against totalitarianism, they just want it to be within their own personal fiefdom.
posted by symbioid at 10:40 AM on August 15, 2015 [12 favorites]


I interviewed at Amazon a few years ago, for a Software Engineering role. The project lead who recruited me was awesome: smart as hell, charming and genuinely nice. HR was great: flew me in, put me up in a top hotel (albeit an ordinary room, not a suite or anything) for four days so in addition to interviewing I could have a long weekend to knock around and get the lay of the land.

But most of the interviewers -- all would-be peers or project leads -- were incompetent at it, having clearly never received any instruction or guidance, and more than half had bizarre, infantile ideas about how to do it. Lots of self-invented wannabe psy-ops schtick, mostly with the apparent aim of knocking you off balance, and just tons of completely gratuitious assholery. Through most of it I remained resolved to stick it out just what materialized in the way of an offer, but by the time of the closing conversation with the recruiting guy I'd had it and told him I would not consider one. Everything about it felt toxic.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:41 AM on August 15, 2015 [22 favorites]


How can you argue with Amazon's employment practices when it produces such amazing successes like the Fire Phone and Amazon Echo?
posted by zixyer at 10:41 AM on August 15, 2015 [18 favorites]


"Amazon may be singular but perhaps not quite as peculiar as it claims. It has just been quicker in responding to changes that the rest of the work world is now experiencing: data that allows individual performance to be measured continuously, come-and-go relationships between employers and employees, and global competition in which empires rise and fall overnight. Amazon is in the vanguard of where technology wants to take the modern office: more nimble and more productive, but harsher and less forgiving.

“Organizations are turning up the dial, pushing their teams to do more for less money, either to keep up with the competition or just stay ahead of the executioner’s blade,” said Clay Parker Jones, a consultant who helps old-line businesses become more responsive to change."


And this is why people should care.
posted by symbioid at 10:43 AM on August 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


Lots of self-invented wannabe psy-ops schtick, mostly with the apparent aim of knocking you off balance, and just tons of completely gratuitious assholery. Through most of it I remained resolved to stick it out just what materialized in the way of an offer, but by the time of the closing conversation with the recruiting guy I'd had it and told him I would not consider one. Everything about it felt toxic.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:41 AM on August 15 [+] [!]


Ohhh....could you give examples? Especially the "knock you off balance" part?

I imagine it must be stuff like "Ok a man is about to walk in here and stab you in the throat. How do you limit your blood loss while solving this coding problem on the whiteboard? HOW?!?"
posted by Avenger at 10:44 AM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


None of this is really news to people in the tech industry. Every company has its reputation, and Amazon's is similar to Netflix's in a lot of ways: it pays great - really, really great - but it's a total meat grinder that very few people last at for more than a year or two. There are definitely people who don't have that experience (Primethyme in this thread is a great example, and I have friends at Amazon who are saying that this article is totally alien to their experience at the company), but enough people do that the reputation has stuck.
posted by Itaxpica at 10:44 AM on August 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


Though I wonder how much the spread between people saying "yeah, it's like that" and people saying "what, my experience is nothing like this" comes down to culture differences on different teams or under different mangers. A lot of tech companies are at this point big enough that product areas or teams are basically companies on to themselves, with wildly different expectations and cultures around work-life balance. I've worked at big tech companies where people outside of the company will hear about extreme practices that occur on one or two teams, or even something that occurs on like 70% of teams, and assume that its true of the entire company. Meanwhile, either because of good management or just different work cultures, the experience on my team has been entirely different, and the reports from outside of the company come as just as much of a surprise to me as it does to outside readers.
posted by Itaxpica at 10:49 AM on August 15, 2015 [14 favorites]


All employment is 'an experiment in how far the company can push workers.' That's the class struggle.
posted by colie at 10:54 AM on August 15, 2015 [36 favorites]


I never saw someone cry on the job.

In my experience (not at Amazon), most of my work-related crying has been done in bathrooms, or in the car on the way home. Except for a couple of times when I lost my shit in front of friends during lunch breaks or whatever.
posted by Foosnark at 10:56 AM on August 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


Though there definitely was some screaming and crying and whatnot from other folks at that particular job.
posted by Foosnark at 10:56 AM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Setting aside criticisms of the working conditions for hourly workers ( which maybe valid) I am puzzled by some of the comments. These are highly compensated educated employees. They are not serving a prison sentence. One may think they are but I see it as little different than the professional/committed athlete who trains at levels that would exhaust 99.9% of us--many other professionals work in equally demanding professions/situations--Law firms routinely over recruit and begin a winnowing process as attorneys move towards partnership--same with engineering, architectural, accounting etc firms. . This may not be for many of us (not for me) but I do think it is these firms which push and push that often do set a standard for excellence and long term innovation. Really, why not for those employees that have professional and career opportunities ( I do not feel the same for hourly/line workers--government regulation/intervention and collective bargaining are often necessary for their safety and protection).
posted by rmhsinc at 11:09 AM on August 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Can we please, please get rid of amazon affiliate linking for metafilter? PLEASE. Not that I've ever bought anything from amazon, but still. I don't like participating in a site that earns money that way.
posted by Violet Hour at 11:14 AM on August 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


These are highly compensated educated employees. They are not serving a prison sentence.... ( I do not feel the same for hourly/line workers--government regulation/intervention and collective bargaining are often necessary for their safety and protection)

First, those highly compensated educated employees become managers, both of other highly compensated educated employees and of hourly/line workers. If they were brought up in this sort of environment, they're going to believe it's not only normal, but good, for everyone else as well.

Second, people at all levels of the pyramid should be protected, if the companies don't want to do it themselves. I'm sure you've heard the old "First they came for..." saw.
posted by Etrigan at 11:17 AM on August 15, 2015 [18 favorites]


Violet Hour--if you want to avoid the contamination of these type of corporations you might as well get off the grid--get rid of your computer/telephone/auto/all appliances manufactured in Southeast Asia/China/Japan--etc.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:20 AM on August 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Etrigan--sorry i don't know the phrase--There are a lot of folks that do not wish to be protected--do you assume that it is your responsibility/right to determine that they should. I am a strong believer in collective bargaining--that is why you bargain--to protect employees from overly zealous, negligent, exploitative and even very good employers.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:23 AM on August 15, 2015


There are a lot of folks that do not wish to be protected--do you assume that it is your responsibility/right to determine that they should.

I'm going to lean toward the side of protecting people who are crying at their desks. Your mileage may, as they say, vary.
posted by Etrigan at 11:24 AM on August 15, 2015 [26 favorites]


These are highly compensated educated employees. They are not serving a prison sentence....

This is the thing with capitalism, nobody is 'forced' to do any of it. Mention bad working conditions in China factories and you'll be told that people queue up to get those jobs, and I'm sure they do.
posted by colie at 11:26 AM on August 15, 2015 [26 favorites]


What I don't get is why software engineers take these jobs. If you can get hired at Amazon you can get hired at places that aren't hellish, dystopian marvels of late capitalism. I just don't understand how Amazon sustains this. It's been common knowledge among computer science students on the west coast that Amazon is a shitty place to work for at least a decade. Where are they finding these people? Or is the money just that compelling?
posted by town of cats at 11:26 AM on August 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Moment of zen: "We're not going to be like Microsoft! But stack ranking works great!"
posted by A dead Quaker at 11:28 AM on August 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


As much as people would like to believe that their employer cares about them as people, the reality of how organizations operate, their real priorities, and the testimony of people who were in these organizations shows where the care really lies. Profit. Employees are not people. They are expenses. Yes, they can help to generate profit but if the return on investment is low then good-bye. The motivating force it seems for people to put up with this bullshit is also profit. If they pay me enough I will put up with the bullshit. I'll even inflect the bullshit on co-workers. The world of work is rapidly collapsing around us. And I really don't have much hope that people will wake up and no longer put up with this bullshit as long as money is waved in front their face.
posted by njohnson23 at 11:29 AM on August 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Irony: I'm not sure I can invest the time necessary to read this whole article right now, 'cause I'm trying to finish writing another book that I'll eventually sell on Amazon.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:31 AM on August 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


colie--that maybe one of the least appropriate analogies ever posted on MeFi--for heaven's sake. China
posted by rmhsinc at 11:31 AM on August 15, 2015


It's been common knowledge among computer science students on the west coast that Amazon is a shitty place to work for at least a decade.

Some schools more than others. What I heard was that it was 'tough but worthwhile'. And I mean, the pay they offered, to a college student? Makes it easy to shrug off things with "It depends on the team". (And it gets you into Seattle, which is a much bigger tech market).

And afterwards? Having a stint at Amazon on your resume is valuable. If you made it past the first yearly performance review intact, you proved your competency. If you got out before you became a lifer, you proved you knew enough to get out. Going into interviews with other companies you can commiserate with others, because it's pretty much a guarantee that every tech company in the area has Amazon alumni. Signaling is valuable, and Amazon's name unlocks doors like Google or Facebook (without getting stuck in the Silicon Valley/Bay Area madness).

Ultimately, it's a valuable right-out-of-college job, as they want it. Pay's good, you learn a lot (You learn stuff there in a year or two what it'd take twice as long elsewhere, due to the time pressure), and most importantly, you learn what you want in future jobs, and you learn what to never let them do to you again.
posted by CrystalDave at 11:35 AM on August 15, 2015 [20 favorites]


colie--that maybe one of the least appropriate analogies ever posted on MeFi--for heaven's sake. China

It wasn't an analogy. It was an observation about how the production process, whether in factories or in white-collar offices, is a meeting of two parties (worker and employer) who are ostensibly equally able to walk away from the deal at any time. China is a more streamlined capitalist country than the US, unencumbered as it is with organised labour or regulation or free media.
posted by colie at 11:36 AM on August 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was just accepted into the Amazon Handmade program and I can feel the weight of their produce produce produce culture already. From what I can tell, there will be a $40/month fee to be in the program, which is just plain bananas for a small time/hobbyist producer like myself. I struggle to sell niche stuff on Etsy (the numbers of people who want blockprinted depictions of alien abduction/Cthulhu mythos are unsurprisingly low) and I'd need to sell something like two pieces a week to keep up with the fee. Sure, they're waiving said fee until August 2016, but if Amazon can bring the shoppers, you suddenly realize the volume of stuff that would need to be produced and on hand.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:37 AM on August 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


A few years ago, Amazon was a solid bookshop that also sold a bunch of expensive electronics for knock-down prices. And now it's a massive flea-market of everything you can think of, often sold by shady disreputable dealers who seem like the sort of dudes that got kicked off of eBay for scamming people.
posted by The River Ivel at 11:38 AM on August 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


OK Colie sorry. BTW--i don't feel that all employees are free to walk away anytime. Thanks
posted by rmhsinc at 11:38 AM on August 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


The number of paragraphs in this article which don't contain at least one justification for Jeff Bezos spending the rest of his life in a solitary cell is shockingly low.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:43 AM on August 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


"And now it's a massive flea-market of everything you can think of, often sold by shady disreputable dealers who seem like the sort of dudes that got kicked off of eBay for scamming people." And the hard data to support this is--customer satisfaction data, declining sales,fewer customers, a failure to deliver as assured. I seriously doubt if you can find anything other than anecdotes to support this assertion. If so please llnk to the data
posted by rmhsinc at 11:43 AM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I do think it is these firms which push and push that often do set a standard for excellence and long term innovation.

I don't. On reading the article I kept thinking about EA and other game studios who push the macho performance line, and how the AAA game dev model is notoriously broken, and not considered particularly good at producing innovative or excellent games. Biglaw firms that operate on the same macho performance culture seem to excel at gigantic corporate billings, but I've never heard that they're hothouses of legal innovation or even great lawyers, per se, just perpetuators of the biglaw model.

On the other hand, Google and Facebook have set standards for excellence and long term innovation, and aren't notable for the brutality of their workplaces. Apple has a lot of mixed stories about it--some just like the article, others about Apple being a pretty sane place to work. Costco pioneered its store model, and has always been considered an excellent employer.

Basically, the line that "people choose to work in sweatshops because that's where innovation and excellence happen" seems like a self-reinforcing lie to me aiming to keep one end of the churn pipeline full. There's nothing necessary about Amazon's model for producing innovation or excellence, it's just what Bezos has gotten away with so far.
posted by fatbird at 12:02 PM on August 15, 2015 [56 favorites]


I've worked at my share of abusive companies, doing 100 weeks and so on (although admittedly never in any kind of serious backstabbing culture) and not only do I not want to work like that ever again, I don't believe it's necessary in order to achieve good things.

Also, the article seemed to go back and forth between an attitude of "this is the awesome future of work" and horrific anecdotes.
posted by maggiemaggie at 12:06 PM on August 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


I forgot where I got to this article from, but my comment on it is in the emotional labor thread.

Re: working more than 40 hours a week on the regular, and the mention of EA above, see also (a classic, and now live again): Why Crunch Modes Doesn't Work
posted by limeonaire at 12:09 PM on August 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I worked there for four years and have very complicated feelings about the company. I'd summarize it by saying that internally it's very inconsistent - 10% of the teams are my ideal work environment, but 90% of the company I would never, ever want to work for. When it's good, it's a very honest environment, you completely ignore the bureaucracy (for example, I didn't bother doing the yearly performance reviews for the final two years), and there's a high degree of autonomy/ownership. When it's bad, there's a huge amount of politics, high turnover, frequent burnout, and the frustration of being unable to change anything.

It's especially difficult for new college hires because they have little team choice and figuring out balance is hard. Anecdotally, the culture is accommodating of the boundaries you set - for example, I never had someone upset that I didn't answer a 10pm email or similar. But there aren't enough mentors there coaching new hires on that aspect of their career. I was lucky enough to have one who reminded me that this wasn't a sprint and that I should shift my priorities around; that one piece of advice was hugely beneficial. But most new hires, are dropped in the middle of all this and immediately slide into overwork. With no one there telling them to cut back, they burnout in 1-2 years.

tl;dr I have trouble recommending the company as a whole, though I have pointed people to specific teams in the past. Certain sections of the company are fantastic, but bear very little similarity to the rest of Amazon (and usually have a healthy dose of cynicism about Amazon as a whole). The new college hire machine is awful.
posted by revertTS at 12:17 PM on August 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


"And now it's a massive flea-market of everything you can think of, often sold by shady disreputable dealers who seem like the sort of dudes that got kicked off of eBay for scamming people." And the hard data to support this is--customer satisfaction data, declining sales,fewer customers, a failure to deliver as assured. I seriously doubt if you can find anything other than anecdotes to support this assertion. If so please llnk to the data
posted by rmhsinc at 11:43 AM on August 15 [+] [!]


Hi Jeff.
posted by Avenger at 12:26 PM on August 15, 2015 [16 favorites]


Some of the things are as bad as they sound here, but most are not even close.

Oh well, as long as it's only some of them, that's fine. I mean, nowhere's perfect, and the most we get to really expect is that our employers only employ a handful of abusive tactics to grind us down into people weeping in corners.

The mentality behind behind a system like this is psychopathic, no matter what profits and results it may produce.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:30 PM on August 15, 2015 [13 favorites]


Hacker News thread
posted by cosmic.osmo at 12:35 PM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


What I don't get is why software engineers take these jobs. If you can get hired at Amazon you can get hired at places that aren't hellish, dystopian marvels of late capitalism.

Amazon is a) in Seattle and b) not going to fail and leave you without a job anytime soon.

Those are some solid credentials for someone starting a family.

There are of course other tech heavy companies in Seattle, but fewer than you'd think when it comes to long term stability. And of course pain is relative -- the other big companies are merely somewhat hellish, dystopian marvels of late captitalism.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:41 PM on August 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


If you're churning your employee base that frequently, how is it possible to maintain any sort of corporate knowledge base? They must be reinventing the wheel on a near daily basis.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:46 PM on August 15, 2015 [12 favorites]


One part company wiki, one part tons of institutional knowledge churn, yeah.
You know how it's usually tough for developers to take time to write up proper documentation? With conditions above, who can afford to take sprint time away from delivering things to write them up for later?

Bias for Action, after all.
posted by CrystalDave at 12:52 PM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


once used her own money, without asking for approval, to pay a freelancer in India to enter data so she could get more done. “These businesses were my babies, and I did whatever I could to make them successful.”
Da Fuq! What is the matter with these people?

Violet Hour: "Can we please, please get rid of amazon affiliate linking for metafilter? PLEASE. Not that I've ever bought anything from amazon, but still. I don't like participating in a site that earns money that way."

If you don't set an affiliate code amazon just keeps that money; if people are going to link to amazon the best way to stick it to Amazon is with an affiliate code.
posted by Mitheral at 1:01 PM on August 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


If you don't set an affiliate code amazon just keeps that money; if people are going to link to amazon the best way to stick it to Amazon is with an affiliate code.

Um, if you just buy the thing somewhere else, amazon doesn't get any money. SO EASY.
posted by Violet Hour at 1:04 PM on August 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


This sounded a lot like management consulting to me. The line in the piece "Amazon is where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves" eerily echoed the line about the top 4 consultancy where I used to work: "[firm] is a place for insecure overachievers." That and the up or out promotion thing and working your ass off to marginally improve an uninteresting and questionably relevant business process.
posted by Aizkolari at 1:04 PM on August 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


One may think they are but I see it as little different than the professional/committed athlete who trains at levels that would exhaust 99.9% of us

One part of me agrees with you, but it's the secrecy that makes me think it's not the same thing. If some bright new graduate thinks he or she's got the stuff, and wants to dedicate everything to a shot at the glory, hey, cool with me - if they know what they're getting into. If someone wants to put up with two years of hell to get a list of Amazon projects on their resume, fine. But the secrecy prevents people from meaningfully consenting to that up front.

Amazon might even do better to drop the secrecy and completely own this. Spin it as a point of pride, like military special forces. Fuck yes, we're a competition. Don't want to bring your A game, don't play.
posted by ctmf at 1:05 PM on August 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


I got the distinct impression from the article that the author was promoting the dog-eat-dog management style as necessary for the 'new', 'fluid' workplace, when it's been around for ages really.

And as limeonaire's link points out, there is tons of evidence that it does not work.

So presumably there will always be sociopaths around trying to justify the abuse of workers at all levels, and there will always be a need to push back against it.

The most heartening thing I can see is that the comments in defense of Amazon are more along the lines of 'it's not really like that'. Not a single comment yet (not even in The Hacker News piece) saying that backstabbing and 24/7 on call status is necessary for innovation in the workplace.
posted by maggiemaggie at 1:06 PM on August 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


Um, if you just buy the thing somewhere else, amazon doesn't get any money. SO EASY.

so you're suggesting the mods ban links to Amazon... this sounds like a metatalk thread.
posted by desjardins at 1:07 PM on August 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


This is all about money, right

No! That's what blows my mind. I was doing some research on Amazon salaries, and they were not really all that different from what I could get most anywhere else on the same level.
posted by deanc at 1:10 PM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


One may think they are but I see it as little different than the professional/committed athlete who trains at levels that would exhaust 99.9% of us

One part of me agrees with you

Ok a few comments that agree with the dog-eat-dog management style.
posted by maggiemaggie at 1:11 PM on August 15, 2015


I actually like the Leadership Principles.

But most of the article is about management principles that aren't on this list. Examples from the article:

1. Work extremely long hours
“One time I didn’t sleep for four days straight”
What kind of productivity can you get out of someone who has had no sleep? I've had to work long hours in extreme situations. But I've found that after a while my decision making skills start dropping like a rock, so that I actually accomplish more when I get some sleep and restart in the morning. It is something that is really easy to test for and quantify. Bezos should try putting that into his algorithms and metrics.

2. "Amazon, though, offers no pretense that catering to employees is a priority."
And yet they are supposed to "Hire and Develop the Best" Doesn't every company have this 'hire the best' philosophy? They can't all hire the best. That's why companies like Google have perks. They aren't doing it out of the goodness of their heart. As many people here have said, why would anyone work there? If you are talented enough to work at Amazon, you can find a job somewhere else that pays as well and actually caters to you.

3. If someone gets sick, put them on alert that their job is in jeopardy.
In addition to being heartless (which seems to be a theme), is this even legal?

4. Actively discourage life balance
'marathon conference calls on Easter Sunday and Thanksgiving, criticism from bosses for spotty Internet access on vacation, and hours spent working at home most nights or weekends."
Where I work you get criticized if you answer emails when you are on vacation (unless there is a crisis that can't be solved without you--and what kind of company can't back up its employees when they are on vacation?)

Where I work we have a key group of talented employees and there has been little turnover of this group over the years. We depends on them--they have a lot of proprietary corporate knowledge and skills that backspeatpilot talks about. So they actively try to make sure employees in general want to stay working here. Amazon, if this article is to be believed, seems to have the opposite philosophy.

I wonder if there's inertia at work here. Amazon was one of the few startups that made it through the Internet startup bubble collapse, so it was really the only place to go for talented software and Internet based retail companies. Now there are a large number of these companies. I'm guessing that Amazon is going to have a harder and harder time to "Hire the Best" and the result will be lower and lower quality at Amazon as they lose talent that they can't replace.
posted by eye of newt at 1:11 PM on August 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


so you're suggesting the mods ban links to Amazon... this sounds like a metatalk thread.

Much as I would love banning, I would settle for mods not endorsing amazon, which is what I feel affiliate linking does.
posted by Violet Hour at 1:12 PM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


That's it, I'm done with Amazon. I've tried to stay away from them generally but have occasionally used them when I actually needed something right away that I could not get locally. But never again.

Like Frowner, this has disgusted me enough to want to stop using Amazon. So, how does one wean oneself from Amazon?


I don't know. I don't feel too badly for the people in this article. Granted, clearly working at Amazon sucks a lot, but these are people educated and qualified enough to get hired into strategy, engineering, or operations jobs there. When they quit or get fired, it shouldn't be too hard to get a new gig. Plus, if they're fired, they probably have a good shot at getting unemployment insurance.

I feel far, far worse for the Amazon's logistics and warehouse staff, who were pretty much left out of the article entirely.
posted by Aizkolari at 1:13 PM on August 15, 2015 [7 favorites]



Like Frowner, this has disgusted me enough to want to stop using Amazon. So, how does one wean oneself from Amazon?


Seriously, just don't use it? I don't get it. I've never used amazon, it's never, ever been something I've even thought about. It's not hard.
posted by Violet Hour at 1:15 PM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Amazon's culture makes sense when you stop thinking of them as a tech company and start thinking of them as a retail business just like Walmart.

Many people in retail over the past several decades concluded, "the margins are low, the pay is poor, and the jobs are unstable." Most people making that calculation get out as soon as they can, sell their businesses, or make sure their children don't end up in the same position. It took a genius like Jeff Bezos to look at that aspect of retail and say, "We can scale this kind of environment up to a global institution!"
posted by deanc at 1:15 PM on August 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


Bezos sounds like he is the prototype for the pyramid top guy in the sociopaths-clueless-losers model.
posted by bukvich at 1:17 PM on August 15, 2015 [12 favorites]


Ok a few comments that agree with the dog-eat-dog management style.

Not really. I wouldn't work there. I would especially be not suited to be management in that environment - not only would I hate being treated like that, I couldn't bring myself to squeeze other people like that. Just that they can try it if they want; I don't really see the problem if everyone is choosing that when they have meaningful other options.
posted by ctmf at 1:17 PM on August 15, 2015


--There are a lot of folks that do not wish to be protected--do you assume that it is your responsibility/right to determine that they should

I'm less interested in protecting the naive or masochistic as I am in punishing the malefactors responsible for creating the environment and implementing its orders-- if only because the people who suffer from that environment today will be on the implementation side tomorrow.
posted by deanc at 1:20 PM on August 15, 2015


The problem is it's dehumanizing. Even if they could leave (and that's always a big if even if on paper your resume is good), no one deserves to be treated that way. More work without proper support is not a good thing. Just the opposite.
posted by downtohisturtles at 1:21 PM on August 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


I’ve been in the book industry for over three decades and as you might imagine, I have a few opinions about Amazon. At 16 I was promoted to assistant manager at the Woodfield Mall Kroch’s & Brentano’s near Chicago. I didn’t leave that job until my last two years of college when I moved away from home to finish my bachelor’s degree at a state school. After finishing college I held a number of jobs including working at an independent bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin and working at a B. Dalton’s and a Walden’s. When I moved to Pennsylvania I went to work at another indie, one that specialized in academic and technical books, but which still had decent general reading sections with great collections in literature, art, poetry, and cooking. After a few years I was promoted to manager and about a year after that, the founder decided he wanted to finish his doctorate and I took over the store. I ran it from 1993 to 2000 when we, like many others, were forced to close for economic reasons. In fact, every bookstore that I’ve ever worked at in the first 15 years of my career is now closed.

From there I went into scholarly publishing, where I work today. I’m currently the director of a Midwest university press. So rather than offering thoughts about Amazon as a whole, I’ll limit my thoughts to their impact on books.

As you might imagine, I believe the Amazon phenomenon is largely responsible for the economic conditions that resulted in the closing of my store. But I don’t think it’s something that’s directly related to Bezos. Bezos is clearly a brilliant businessperson, and as such he looked around him for an opportunity and found it first in books. While Bezos himself seems to be an avid reader, he didn’t first get into books because he loved them, he did it because he recognized that the Internet offered an excellent opportunity for selling things if one had access to not just a product, but to all the information necessary for sourcing that product. In other words, he figured out that ecommerce would require a database. In searching for such a database he found one that was not only the most extensive available for that particular product line, but one that was also tied into a distribution system, and that database contained books. That database was created by a Tennessee company called Ingram, which was and is the largest book wholesaler in world. With this discovery Bezos did two very smart things, he licensed Ingram’s database, and he convinced them to work with him to drop ship books directly to his customers. He also worked with publishers to do the same—provide data about their books, and ship to his customers under his brand. The majority of those Amazon boxes people received in the 90s didn’t come from Amazon’s warehouses, they came from the largest players in book publishing who had been co-opted by Bezos to help him build his empire.

For publisher’s this was great. Amazon was doing something that publishers didn’t think was possible; they were expanding the book market. The key to that was their amazingly good customer service, along with a crazily competitive price. To this day, the customer service experience remains key to Amazon’s success. Every thing Amazon does is in some way customer-focused. For consumers, things have never been better, but I doubt you will find any other sector of the book environment thinking that ultimately Amazon is good for books. The publishers who once partnered with Amazon now see the size of their market share as an intolerable threat. Bookstores have never been more challenged, and authors who once enjoyed a publishing environment that provided generous advances and publishers willing to take risks on first books, are now struggling to find publishers who are willing to take risks on anything that was once called midlist.

The one element of the book ecosystem I haven’t mentioned yet is probably the most important, the reader. Is Amazon good for readers? As much as I’d like to say they aren’t, I don’t think I can, but it’s very complex. Amazon did expand the book market, and continues to do so today. There is more access to more books than has ever been true in the past, and a good part of the credit for that is probably due to the Amazon phenomenon. The self-publishing revolution has created a whole new opportunity for more books to reach more audiences than traditional publishing alone could have provided. And by creating the Marketplace platform, a centralized database of used books connects readers to more books at affordable prices than at any time in our history. With Kindle, Amazon forced publishing to figure out ebooks far sooner than they would have on their own. And ebooks have also increased the reach and market of books far beyond what New York publishing ever could have on their own.

So is Amazon good for books and the people who read, write, and publish books? After that last paragraph you might think I would say yes, but I can’t. What I would say instead is that expanding a market may not be the same thing as expanding audiences for books and the impact of the ideas they transmit. Amazon has been good for books in certain areas, but almost all of those areas tend to focus on distribution and markets. But books and their impact are more than their markets. The price we’ve paid for surrendering the book market to Amazon tends to be in somewhat abstract areas like community and serendipity, with the loss of bookstores, and areas like risk and sustainability for authors and publishers. Maybe we can live without bookstores and the book cultures they nourish, and maybe we’re just fine choosing our next book based on what other people bought, rather than a random and unexpected encounter. Maybe a Kindle ecosystem that locks the doors to the walled garden is a pretty garden, and the self published majority of it’s fruits are really, really cheap, even if they’re not tended by a gardener, but in the end I worry that by surrendering some of the more intangible benefits that book cultures and communities provided simply for a lower priced book may not be in the best interest of a democracy. Markets aren’t immoral, they’re amoral, and leveraging that has put Bezos where he is today, and I think it’s at the root of his corporate culture as described in this article. But I’m not sure amorality is the most beneficial approach to how a civilization transmits its knowledge, or how we treat each other, or the communities we live, learn and work in.
posted by Toekneesan at 1:28 PM on August 15, 2015 [76 favorites]


Seriously, just don't use it? I don't get it. I've never used amazon, it's never, ever been something I've even thought about. It's not hard.

Yeah, if you live in a major metro area it's really not hard to avoid using Amazon. Especially if you drive or have good public transit. The primary reason I stopped was not altruistic, it's because shithead delivery drivers tend to leave packages on my apartment building doorstep. Or they stick a note on the door and I have to go pick it up at the UPS office anyway. There's a whole shopping mall and 10 big box stores between me and the UPS office, I may as well just go buy what I need.

As far as the people who work there - well, no one should be treated like garbage but Amazon has that reputation so I'm not sure why people keep taking white collar jobs there when there are other options. The warehouses are often built in places where people don't have a lot of other options and I am certain that's on purpose, so they can pay desperate people less and work them harder.
posted by desjardins at 1:28 PM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Much as I would love banning, I would settle for mods not endorsing amazon, which is what I feel affiliate linking does.

Affiliate linking doesn't force anyone to make Amazon links, it just kicks a little back from sales made because of Amazon links that people make anyway.
posted by Etrigan at 1:30 PM on August 15, 2015


What I don't get is why software engineers take these jobs.

1) Amazon is doing a lot of really amazing, cutting edge work that thousands of other companies depend on. They are basically the foundation on which startups are built. They have a tremendous amount of respect in the tech world, so it's a lot easier to get another job after you've worked there.

2) They pay very, very well. Easily 50% more than the old, boring tech companies.

If I lived in a city with an Amazon office, I'd give it very serious consideration. Maybe I'm lucky that I don't.
posted by miyabo at 1:31 PM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered),

I work in a field that is about as far removed from Amazon's business model as possible, but this sounds familiar to me. Notso much from within the organization, mind you, but from customers.

One of the things I do for work is answer the general inquiries e-mail address: usually four to six times a day I will log in, answer the e-mails that I can respond, delete the spam, forward the others to the correct recipient, etc.

A year ago I opened up the e-mail first thing in the morning and saw that one of the messages sent overnight was from someone pissed off that no one had nothered to answer his question about ______, and he did not appreciate being ignored. I looked at his name again and dd not recognize it. As there are only a couple dozen mesages a day, I usually recollect a name for a few weeks before it vanishes over the horizon behind me, so I set that one aside to come back to so I could find out what went wrong.

Next message I read -- chronologically the one sent immediately before the complaint about our abdication of duties -- was the same guy with his initial question (one not in the least time-sensitive, for what it's worth). He sent a question to an office at 11:40 PM and before 1:00 AM he was already writing to express his dissatisfaction at our inability to respond in a timely fashion.

I mentioned this in passing to a colleague, in a "those crazy customers" way, and her immediate reply was to say that she would set up an automated response on that e-mail address to let people writing us know they would get a full response within ten minutes. I said that this was not really feasible: I am the only one doing the responses (our office is fewer than half a dozen people), and I actually have a full-time job already. She dismissed my objections by saying, "That is standard practices in the business world, and this is what customers demand." She eventually relaxed her psoition somewhat, allowing that there are occasionally stretches of an hour or more when I am in a meeting, on an airplane, or even asleep (you know, in the three-quarters of the week I am not paid to work), but even then said that we could maybe push it to three hours. Sure; I am happy to wake up every two hours, seven nights a week, in perpetuity in case a lawyer representing a wealthy businessman wo has just died in a plane crash needs to pass fifteen mllion dollars to me posthaste.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:53 PM on August 15, 2015 [18 favorites]




Violet Hour: "Much as I would love banning, I would settle for mods not endorsing amazon, which is what I feel affiliate linking does."

I don't think there is any endorsement happening here; just holding out a bucket to gather the money falling into it for essentially no effort.
posted by Mitheral at 2:10 PM on August 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


In Seattle tech, seeing significant time at Microsoft or Amazon on a resume is fast-becoming a negative, almost a deal-breaker, out of concern for cultural fit. The thinking is, they can't function outside of those companies.

Another non-Amazonian Seattloid here, nthing the sentiment that Amazon and those employed there are viewed with something of a jaundiced eye, similar to Microsoft. Amazon employees are not referred to as Amazonians or Amabots, but rather Amholes by the city at large. Spinoffs of the big two (Blue Origin, Intellectual Ventures) are similarly infected by this type of managerial dystopia, with Intellectual Ventures being something of a major red flag on resumes.
posted by Existential Dread at 2:18 PM on August 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


What I don't get is why software engineers take these jobs.

Honestly, I read the article with a weird mixture of revulsion and attraction. I think that kind of harsh, competitive atmosphere does appeal to a certain type of person, who is perhaps both insecure and ambitious and wants to do visible, impressive work (and along the way, to prove they have the capacity to do it).
posted by en forme de poire at 3:10 PM on August 15, 2015


STRESS FANTASY: I work for a company like Amazon, as described in the article (you could also substitute working for, say, Scott Kern). I live a simple, spartan lifestyle, in which my fridge contains only seltzer and my freezer contains only ground coffee. I become mentally tough and impervious to social aggression, and develop a caustic, snappy wit. People try to tear me down but their barbs bounce off my newly hardened psychological exterior. I socialize little and do almost nothing outside of work except lift weights and use the elliptical, but over the course of the next two years I win the respect of my peers and produce something impressive that changes how people live for the better.

STRESS REALITY: I still procrastinate and slack off just as much as I always have, leading to a life alternating between frantic all-nighters and days spent resentfully Facebooking while dreading my upcoming performance review. Bosses and co-workers immediately pick up on my obvious pathetic need to be liked and respected and use it to exploit me mercilessly. I console myself by drinking cheap whiskey on the toilet and yelling at myself in the mirror about what a stupid failure I am. Still, I only quit after my acid reflux blossoms into erosive esophagitis and I go spectacularly bald from the stress. And obviously I never go to the fucking gym, I mean I barely even go now.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:29 PM on August 15, 2015 [58 favorites]


Read the article and all I can say is my experience working at Microsoft was very similar. Furthermore, my wife worked at a private school in Seattle that catered to the kids of the Microsofties and she was routinely pushed to her limits as well. We both were extremely unhappy after 18 months or so and wanted the hell out of the Seattle tech pressure cooker.

You all in tech can have your high salaries and 12 hour workdays while believing your changing the world for the better. I'll be out here in the sticks enjoying life and not crying at my desk.
posted by photoslob at 3:35 PM on August 15, 2015 [19 favorites]


Amazon is basically an ongoing humanitarian crisis.
posted by anazgnos at 3:48 PM on August 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


> Amazon employees are not referred to as Amazonians or Amabots, but rather Amholes by the city at large

This article was only the second time I've heard that term. Maybe it's the circles I run in; I always hear "Amazonians."
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:49 PM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: most of my work-related crying has been done in bathrooms
posted by Sebmojo at 3:53 PM on August 15, 2015 [13 favorites]


Amazon employees are not referred to as Amazonians or Amabots, but rather Amholes by the city at large

This article was only the second time I've heard that term. Maybe it's the circles I run in; I always hear "Amazonians."


Amazombies? Or just 'zonbies?
posted by acb at 4:09 PM on August 15, 2015


if you want to avoid the contamination of these type of corporations you might as well get off the grid--get rid of your computer/telephone/auto/all appliances manufactured in Southeast Asia/China/Japan--etc.

And that's how you rationalize supporting a shitty institution, folks. It's not an all-or-nothing situation; you can choose a less harmful option without becoming a hermit.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 4:10 PM on August 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


The "why don't they just leave?" questions remind me of what people say about women in abusive relationships.
posted by Asparagus at 4:11 PM on August 15, 2015 [24 favorites]


So I basically make my living as a writer off of Amazon. I started self-publishing, did really well that way, and now I'm a hybrid between self-publishing and "traditional," in that two of my titles were picked up by one of Amazon's imprints.

I submitted to all of one traditional publishing house ever, and that was after I'd already done one self-pub title (because reasons), and then went back to self-publishing. Never once regretted it. The whole thing has been life-changing for me, all because of the platform and market that Amazon built. And since they picked me up? Can't say I've felt any particular pressure. The turnaround times on edits & stuff all seemed reasonable to me. (My cover artist had a different experience with them, but he's a well-established veteran of the industry and he has a vastly different frame of reference.)

And as a Seattleite myself, I've got a lot of friends who work at Amazon. (No, none of them work in an area that affects my books.) I don't feel any sense of despair or stress from them, but I don't know if they just hide it well or if maybe their departments are a little more insulated or what.

But I read things like this, and I just...don't know what I'm supposed to do. All of my personal experience has been positive, yet there's all this evidence that says the system is awful on so many other people. (Funny, I have much the same feelings about Seattle cops: They've done great by me, but it sure as hell doesn't sound like they do so great for people who aren't white dudes like I am.) So I'm not blind to the suffering of others, and it doesn't feel good to know that I benefit so much from it all even if I'm hardly even a blip in the system.

I don't want to be part of that suffering. I'd rather help make it better. Damned if I know how.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 4:15 PM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


--There are a lot of folks that do not wish to be protected--do you assume that it is your responsibility/right to determine that they should

srsly. and OSHA should fuck right off, too. Geez, people are wusses. What do you think? You deserve special rights?
posted by j_curiouser at 4:18 PM on August 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


The "why don't they just leave?" questions remind me of what people say about women in abusive relationships.

That's a lousy comparison, unless Amazon has a history of tracking down ex-employees and killing them.
posted by desjardins at 4:25 PM on August 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


Anyone who puts up with this work 24 hours a day thing is a sucker. I work hard and really like what I do but (unless it's my own company) at quitting time I'm Yabba Dabba Dooing down the dinosaur.
posted by Tacodog at 4:34 PM on August 15, 2015 [21 favorites]


tracking down ex-employees and killing them

That's what the drones are for!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:44 PM on August 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


Fair point, desjardins, that's a very important difference. I was just thinking of the fact that in both cases the line of inquiry puts the focus on the people on the receiving end of bad behavior or abuse instead of the ones engaging in it.
posted by Asparagus at 4:45 PM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's an interesting article, and I wonder how much of what they describe is down to the law of unintended consequences rather than company policy. If you set up a super competitive environment and then give managers more-or-less unlimited power over their coworkers, then I think chances are you would get a lot of what you read about in this article. If you're lucky enough to have one of the good managers, then you probably get a very different experience-- something which feel exhilarating and high performance.

It would be easy for upper management to point to the second group and argue that what they're doing is okay and close their eyes to the impact caused by the first group.

It can be done a different way. The Container Store was already mentioned. IKEA should be mentioned.

I sometimes feel like (especially when I read how Amazon skews on gender lines) there are managers whose fantasy about military/masculine business environments gets in the way of actually doing business. I've been working in collaborative-based environments for many years now and in my experience they function much better than the uber competitive environments. The desire not to let the team down is also a powerful force for driving innovation.
posted by frumiousb at 4:45 PM on August 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm reminded of this comment by ob1quixote in the emotional labour thread:
A note to "bosses," especially men: Anybody can be a boss, as is all too frequently readily apparent by the number of terrible workplaces in the world run by assholes who mistake dominance displays for actual leadership.

It takes the kinds of skills being discussed in this thread to be a leader. The people in your outfit, especially the women, who make the plans, take care of the details, and know the people on their team well enough to resolve conflicts and keep everything running smoothly aren't doing "women's work" or "emotional labor." They're the leaders. What they're doing is called leadership. Promote them appropriately, back them up assiduously, and give them assistants as necessary.
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:21 PM on August 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


All we have to do is unionize!
posted by oceanjesse at 10:32 AM on August 15


I find it kind of weird and sad that the word "unionize" only appears in this thread once, not including this current comment.
posted by Dr. Send at 7:05 PM on August 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


I don't want to be part of that suffering. I'd rather help make it better. Damned if I know how.

Support movements to unionize in this and other companies.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:25 PM on August 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


Two things.

1. I don't believe I've ever bought anything through Amazon, though I wouldn't be surprised to discover a few local retailers have done so on my behalf.

2. Does this mean I can now righteously condemn all future discussion of Amazon's hopes to deliver shit to people via drones? Because that is one dumb/horrifying idea.
posted by philip-random at 7:26 PM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Amazon, though, offers no pretense that catering to employees is a priority."

Not technically true. From the Morning Call article on the PA workers.

Amazon spokeswoman Michele Glisson emailed a statement, which she attributed to Vickie Mortimer, general manager at the Upper Macungie warehouse.

"The safety and welfare of our employees is our No. 1 priority at Amazon, and as the general manager, I take that responsibility seriously," Mortimer said.
posted by gryftir at 9:17 PM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying he's perfect, but consider the case of Richard Branson and the Virgin companies as an example proof that you don't have to be a raging asshole to be hugely successful in business.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:25 PM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think this is an artifact of the initial mantra of the dot com boom. All the early managers who seeded the culture of these companies were indoctrinated with the idea that we were now working on "Internet time" where product cycles would be compressed to weeks from months and years.
And yet it didn't happen in Internet time. It is 20 years later and Amazon is just now consistently profitable. All those late nights and deadlines that slipped anyway for products that too often just failed or were not nearly as game changing as we'd dreamt.
Yet the myth of Internet time persists in many of my fellow managers who cut their teeth in that era. Even though we should all have learned by now through experience.
posted by humanfont at 10:40 PM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Does this have anything to do with why I got some 70's porn DVDs instead of the DC motor controller from amazon in the mail today?
posted by boilermonster at 12:34 AM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


The most depressing thing is that most of the things in the article don't sound that unexceptional in your typical corporate workplace.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 6:00 AM on August 16, 2015


I find it kind of weird and sad that the word "unionize" only appears in this thread once, not including this current comment.

I think I've mentioned this before, but I'm an extremely-left-leaning software engineer, who works with a largely-leftist group of developers in the bluest part of the blueist state in the country. The reactions I've gotten when I've casually mentioned the possibility of collectively bargaining are the same sort of reactions I would imagine getting if I'd led off with "You know, he gets a bad rap, but Hitler had some pretty good ideas." The right wing propaganda machine has been unbelievably successful pushing the idea that the only people who unionize are lazy state employees who want to work 3-hour days before retiring at age 48 to live off the welfare teat.
posted by Mayor West at 6:41 AM on August 16, 2015 [38 favorites]


Amazon boss says Jeremy Clarkson's Top Gear follow-on show 'expensive but worth it'

Bezos and Clarkson really are made for each other<
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:12 AM on August 16, 2015


And yet it didn't happen in Internet time. It is 20 years later and Amazon is just now consistently profitable.

That's not because Internet Time isn't a thing, it's because Bezos has single-mindedly plowed all profits back into the business to increase his Moriarity-like influence over every aspect of commerce. He won't be satisfied until his company becomes a real-life RAMJAC. I used to think Wal-Mart was scary, but Sam Walton was a piker compared to Jeffrey the First.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:38 AM on August 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Three of the many things that have come to my mind:
1) Amazon is a sick system.
2) Admiring and enabling abusive jackwagons is a deeply embedded part of the culture that perpetuates sick systems.
3) If I'm going to buy cheap crap from an abusive company I may as well go to Wal-Mart.
posted by pibkac at 7:53 AM on August 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


A possibly interesting counterpoint suggests that the issues described in the article are largely historical and actively being addressed today, as well as pointing out some flat-out fact-checking failures on the part of the writer.

(Disclaimer: I work at Amazon -- I'm not the author of the piece I link -- and frankly, I found a lot of the Times article to be BS)
posted by ChrisR at 9:33 AM on August 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's funny how that counterpoint article immediately brings up data. I shared the NYT piece on my FB and noted that I was looking forward to hearing from all my Amazon employee friends about it -- in private, as I wouldn't expect people to bag on their employer on FB. So far, I've had one ex-employee friend say it was awful and he almost walked out on day one. The other response, a current employee who seems like the driven sort to thrive in such pressure, brought up data-gathering in her response, too.

Part of me wants to tease her about how arguing over data is just what I'd expect from a true believer, but it's a completely fair argument.

As an aside: the stuff about treating women awfully because of pregnancies, miscarriages, and health stuff makes me want to find the people responsible and burn them at the stake. I mean that shit's awful. It's also fair to say that at a company as big as Amazon, I'd be stunned if you couldn't find a few such examples. What I want to know is how common that behavior is and if anything is being done about it.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:57 AM on August 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


However, from that response article: There is no “little-known experiment”. That’s just silly. No one at Amazon has time for this, least of all Jeff Bezos. We’ve got our hands full with reinventing the world.

...all I can think of now is Kool-Aid references.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:09 AM on August 16, 2015


Well, the Times is certainly capable of publishing hatchet jobs in search of a Pulitzer. ChrisR's link was interesting, and I'll look for more in that vein. I still think Amazon has a frightening amount of power in the business and technical worlds.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:21 AM on August 16, 2015


That response seems pretty bad and defensive to me. "The quizzes are 100% voluntary", "I've never worked a weekend I didn't want to work", "We refer to this as 'Anytime Feedback', and no one 'instructs' you to do anything" (well, yes, those would be instructions).

And admitting that Amazon probably was as bad as depicted in the original article in the recent past--big organizations don't change a culture that's been in place for possibly decades that quickly.
posted by jjwiseman at 10:40 AM on August 16, 2015


ChrisR's link was interesting, but an unusual approach to a rebuttal.
"As I cracked open my laptop to write this article, people were already discussing its existence on certain email distribution lists, and the expressions were mostly of disbelief at how uninformed the article was. It’s certainly not how I anticipated spending a good part of my Saturday."

"I actually work here, and can give you a data-driven perspective of what life at Amazon is really like, today."

"I’ve been at Amazon since March 24, 2014, which means I have 18 months of data to draw from "

"The quiz is totally, 100% voluntary — for that matter, no one will mention it again, aside from New Hire Orientation — and you’re told during orientation that it’s an easy way to get your first phone tool icon (some people go as far as collecting these icons). For some, it’s a fun practice. I didn’t take the quiz for 3 weeks, and I admit it’s because I was new and I wanted a phone tool icon."

"Most would say we’re the most selective, and the data would say they are correct. But that doesn’t mean we’re “elitist”."

"I cannot speak about Jeff Bezos’s early life — I don’t have that data."

""Science is gender-neutral. "

"This part of the articlea deals with attrition. I don’t know what the numbers are. "
If I were offering a rebuttal to this article, I think my language and rhetoric might be a little different.
posted by Toekneesan at 11:26 AM on August 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


I work with Amazon, and I didn't find anything in here surprising. A lot of the attitudes and tactics described here filter down to Amazon's relationships with suppliers -- my group gets ranked weekly against similar suppliers, for example, and they helpfully cc: much of my company's senior leadership on that email.

The difference is that I can say, "I think these Amazon-created metrics are meaningless" to my boss and she doesn't fire me. (I still have to show improvement on the metrics because our relationship with Amazon is very significant, and it influences much more of the business than my small area.)

The next time I have to drop everything to respond to a complicated request/demand for data from Amazon, instead of "mumble mumble mumble JERKS," I'm going to try feeling compassion for the poor employees who are compelled to make that demand of me. And maybe bake them a cake with a file in it or something.
posted by teditrix at 11:57 AM on August 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


If I were offering a rebuttal to this article, I think my language and rhetoric might be a little different.

You mean you'd deign to speak like a human being?

Also, this was pretty good:

I cannot speak about Jeff Bezos’s early life — I don’t have that data.

Yeah, historians and biographers just sort of randomly guess all the time. No data there.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:06 PM on August 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I found Nick Ciubotariu rebuttal interesting in how it shows Amazon workers don't mind working for free. They says no one asks them to work on the weekend but they still spend a couple hours of their weekend rebutting a negative story about the company they work for.

Which seems completely alien to me. How much time I spend considering my company on my days off: essentially zero. How much time I spend writing PR pieces for my company on my days off: absolutely zero. Why would I do that work for free even if I was in PR. Now maybe that is part of their job description and they are being compensated for it but that doesn't seem to be the case. This is why even if the regulatory environment encouraged unionization a union isn't going to fly in this environment. Way to many people are willing to work for free; why the heck would they ever go on strike to demand better conditions?

Finally what is a phone tool icon?
posted by Mitheral at 12:07 PM on August 16, 2015 [11 favorites]


A bit of advice from an early mentor that has stuck with me over my career. Company and country are only recent developments. For most of human existence our only social models were the tribe and the immediate family. A company is neither, but many companies will be great at pretending, right up to the moment that they betray you. As a manager you have to be responsible with this knowledge.
posted by humanfont at 12:25 PM on August 16, 2015 [17 favorites]


Mitheral (and others), why is it so hard to imagine that some of us just like our jobs and have a hard time seeing people slagging our employer with rhetoric like "Amazon is basically an ongoing humanitarian crisis"?

I'm not working right now -- I'm home, hanging out with my family, and I'll go back to work full tilt tomorrow... as I always do. But I care about doing a good job, and about making things better for my customers and my colleagues, so when I'm needed I'll step up. It's not rocket science; sometimes, people just love their jobs.

As for a phone tool icon, think of it as an equivalent to gaming achievements; they're bits of flair that some people playfully collect, and others don't give a shit about.

Basically, this article hit some good points and missed on a lot of them. I'm glad it got written, and when I pick up my work mail tomorrow I look forward to seeing any internal discussion of its valid criticisms.
posted by ChrisR at 1:06 PM on August 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think everyone I know who went to work for Amazon is still there after a few years, and these are software people who would have other options. But I haven't talked to any of them in a while.

2) They pay very, very well. Easily 50% more than the old, boring tech companies.

Do they really pay significantly better than the other Internet heavyweights? Or even Microsoft?
posted by atoxyl at 1:29 PM on August 16, 2015


The Nick Ciubotariu response does seem to be written in Amazon management-cult-speak though.
posted by atoxyl at 1:33 PM on August 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


More from people who work here: Tim Bray's take.
posted by ChrisR at 2:23 PM on August 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Some of these rebuttals sound a lot like Scientologists when anyone accuses them of being a cult. Its even got that robot sounding English.
Like John Travolta's defense of scientology.
"I haven't experienced anything that the hearsay has [claimed], so why would I communicate something that wasn't true for me?"
posted by Iax at 3:13 PM on August 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


In Seattle tech, seeing significant time at Microsoft or Amazon on a resume is fast-becoming a negative, almost a deal-breaker, out of concern for cultural fit. The thinking is, they can't function outside of those companies.

On the flipside, as someone in seattle tech, i've heard from quite a few people that just the right not too long amount of time at one of those places is positive because they're a bear to work at for various reasons, and it shows you can really do that if you need to but it wasn't for you.

There's nothing necessary about Amazon's model for producing innovation or excellence, it's just what Bezos has gotten away with so far.

What exactly do they produce, innovation wise? All of their consumer products are a joke(the phone, kindle fire, prime buttons, the echo... oh god the echo) or just something that brings utterly nothing new to the table(firetv, the basics stuff that isn't even as cheap as monoprice usually).

They seem to run people to death to make mediocre overwrought products. Seriously, the phone?

Have they made anything worthwhile that wasn't like B2B server tech/cloud products? Other than the actual sales model for AWS, are they even doing anything there that google hasn't, or that microsoft isn't with azure?

I hear this chestnut about ~innovation~ all the time and i've never gotten a straight answer out of anyone, barring maybe some hazy comments about retail sales. But no one(or very few) wants to work at a Big Tech Company to ship widgets 1 hour faster.

This article was only the second time I've heard that term. Maybe it's the circles I run in; I always hear "Amazonians."

Techbros is the one i always hear. At it pretty much exclusively applies to young amazon/microsoft and to a lesser extent google employees. There's working in tech, and there's being a techbro. It's similar to a brogrammer, but doesn't have the same connotation.

It's, pretty much, tacitly defending this stuff and being boring.
posted by emptythought at 3:18 PM on August 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Do they really pay significantly better than the other Internet heavyweights? Or even Microsoft?

All I really know is that I, personally, could make about 50% more if I moved to Seattle and worked for Amazon. MS would pay me about 10% more, and Google most likely wouldn't hire me. I'm not sure if this is typical though. If I weren't married to someone with her own highly competitive and not really portable career, I'd probably make that jump!
posted by miyabo at 3:25 PM on August 16, 2015


I think I've mentioned this before, but I'm an extremely-left-leaning software engineer, who works with a largely-leftist group of developers in the bluest part of the blueist state in the country. The reactions I've gotten when I've casually mentioned the possibility of collectively bargaining are the same sort of reactions I would imagine getting if I'd led off with "You know, he gets a bad rap, but Hitler had some pretty good ideas." The right wing propaganda machine has been unbelievably successful pushing the idea that the only people who unionize are lazy state employees who want to work 3-hour days before retiring at age 48 to live off the welfare teat.

It's not the right wing propaganda machine at all, it's Ron Paul libertarian fedora tipping bullshit. Way, way too many nerdy people(mostly men, but enough women to be worth noting) completely buy in to the whole freer the market better the market type of stuff.

You can argue libertarianism is right wing, but it's not republican just because they have some overlap. These are generally at least on paper pro rights/anti *ism sort of "progressives" who when it comes to workplace ethics and anything economic it's all fuck worker protections lol get the government out of this stuff.

Whoever and however sold these people on this is a fucking genius. It's like a virus. Anecdotally it feels like it's something 2/3rds of Young Males In Tech. You only need to go as far as reddit to see it in action.

The only thing i will say towards the generally right wing theory is lately i've seen these sorts of programmer dudes getting... oddly anti choice in a sympathetic both sides sort of "well i can see how their arguments have some merit" sort of way. I wouldn't call them republican, but they can sound sort of conservative. They're still the type of people to make fun of every republican candidate in the past decade and a half though.
posted by emptythought at 3:25 PM on August 16, 2015 [11 favorites]


Other than the actual sales model for AWS, are they even doing anything there that google hasn't, or that microsoft isn't with azure?

I can't comment about Microsoft's platform (though I'm assuming it's tied into Windows, and not of as much use if you're working with non-Windows technologies), but Google's cloud infrastructure has always seemed a bit too idiosyncratic, too tightly coupled into the Google ecosystem, their own data stores and identity frameworks and other infrastructure. Amazon's systems, meanwhile, seem to be on as big a scale and yet comprised of cheap, fungible elements; you get bog-standard Linux VMs at scale, and other components which are loosely coupled. (Granted, there are proprietary data stores like DynamoDB, but also ones which look like MySQL or similar, and you can just as easily run a node with MongoDB or PostgreSQL on it.)

In other words: if you go the Google route and build your system on top of Google's cloud systems, unless you make a special effort to go otherwise, chances are your users will be logging in with Google IDs and such. If you build it with AWS, that part is left to you.
posted by acb at 3:28 PM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Other than the actual sales model for AWS, are they even doing anything there that google hasn't, or that microsoft isn't with azure?

I've actually developed stuff with Azure, Google cloud services, Rackspace, and AWS. Amazon's service is about a billion times better in terms of flexibility, reliability, price, kind of everything. I'm sure the competition will catch up but it will take years.
posted by miyabo at 3:28 PM on August 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I don't know how truly extremely innovative it is but Amazon's cloud stuff is excellent. And their whole real-world logistics operation is crazy if also built on being pretty shitty to workers.
posted by atoxyl at 3:42 PM on August 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Amazon's cloud stuff is excellent. And their whole real-world logistics operation is crazy if also built on being pretty shitty to workers.

The common theme is vast numbers of interchangeable components, acquired in bulk and replaced when they fail.
posted by acb at 3:45 PM on August 16, 2015 [12 favorites]


I think I've mentioned this before, but I'm an extremely-left-leaning software engineer, who works with a largely-leftist group of developers in the bluest part of the blueist state in the country. The reactions I've gotten when I've casually mentioned the possibility of collectively bargaining are the same sort of reactions I would imagine getting if I'd led off with "You know, he gets a bad rap, but Hitler had some pretty good ideas." The right wing propaganda machine has been unbelievably successful pushing the idea that the only people who unionize are lazy state employees who want to work 3-hour days before retiring at age 48 to live off the welfare teat.

From my experience trying to organize TAs and RAs at a university into a union, I found there are also a significant number of leftish-leaning people who are horrified by the idea of having a union just like blue collar people. That just blew me away - people who were convinced that their very work might be tainted because it would be in the same union as auto-workers. I do not think there is an argument about how intellectual labour is somehow magically different to other forms of labour and thus needs to be untrammeled by things like unions that I have not heard spoken by a Phd candidate.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:27 PM on August 16, 2015 [13 favorites]


They give it a brief mention but in critically reading this article it is important to keep in mind that Jeff Bezos owns one of the NYT's major competitors.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:17 PM on August 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


My husband recently left Amazon (management position). He was there for over 7 years. IMO, this article was a decent overview of Bezos's empire. They scratched the surface on some of the awful you'll see if you're there long enough, and particularly at a certain level. Our marriage and our family paid some serious dues in that time.

Before Amazon, he was at Microsoft. I've encouraged him to go back there if he wants to, because while they have issues, they at least allowed that sometimes their employees might have personal lives that they'd like to keep. And, honestly, that a lot of their employees were able to contribute at the level they did because they had a partner keeping the home fires burning, and keeping that partner happy (benefits, etc) made a difference. The loss of that actually surprised us both when he went to Amazon, and it has gotten more and more noticeable in it's absence as time went by.

He recently started at a new (not Microsoft) gig. And it's an adjustment, because they operate at a human speed, not do-it-yesterday-do-it-right-and-don't-spend-money-doing-it expectation speed. It's hard to be a nice guy, even if you are constitutionally a nice guy, after 7+ years of being an Amhole. But he's happy to try.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 6:23 PM on August 16, 2015 [10 favorites]


Bezos' response

“But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly at jeff@amazon.com. Even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero.”
This seems a bit "Closing the barn doors after the horses are gone".

Alternately, this rings a bit hollow given the turnover rate: I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company.
For as much as there's an emphasis on data, that seems like a worthwhile value to track.
posted by CrystalDave at 12:06 AM on August 17, 2015


It's not the right wing propaganda machine at all, it's Ron Paul libertarian fedora tipping bullshit. Way, way too many nerdy people(mostly men, but enough women to be worth noting) completely buy in to the whole freer the market better the market type of stuff.

A friend of mine once described libertarians as, "oh yeah, those guys that are so far left they went all the way around and came back out over on the right."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:49 AM on August 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I found there are also a significant number of leftish-leaning people who are horrified by the idea of having a union just like blue collar people.

Well, a cautionary tale would be the teaching profession. The public image of school teachers has gone from upstanding-pillars-of-the-community in the old days to bolshy proles that an eye should be kept on, largely due to them being unionised and on the wrong side of the right-wing press. The side-effect of this is that teaching has gone, in the public eye, from being a middle-class profession to a proletarian occupation.
posted by acb at 3:05 AM on August 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


acb, fwiw I've been following a local story about a world-renowned teacher I used to know many years ago who has been suspended for reasons. The details and new allegations aren't important here; my point is that while trying to follow the comments in any given news story it is impossible to tell what people even think because mostly it's people fighting over the teachers union. As a staunch supporter of unions the vitriol is very confusing.
posted by Room 641-A at 3:38 AM on August 17, 2015


Those unionized teachers do have really good benefits though.
posted by smackfu at 5:20 AM on August 17, 2015


Much better than the ionized teachers have SORRY COULDN'T RESIST.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:44 AM on August 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


One of Paul Krugman's recurring themes has been how white-collar jobs are (finally?) going the way of blue-collar ones -- career is a verb, loyalty is a one-way street, productivity gains accrue to the people in charge.

That Marc Andreessen, who history will remember as the inventor of the IMG tag, decided to talk about workplaces for "underachievers" tells its own story.

consider the case of Richard Branson and the Virgin companies as an example proof that you don't have to be a raging asshole to be hugely successful in business.

Um. I'll just say that I know people who worked for Virgin companies.
posted by holgate at 6:59 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]




consider the case of Richard Branson and the Virgin companies as an example proof that you don't have to be a raging asshole

I've always assumed that Douglas Reynholm was at least in part based on Branson.
posted by bonehead at 9:31 AM on August 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


In my grand unified theory of Amazon, it is their lack of good taste that ruins everything.

Yeah, having ambulances standing by outside broiling hot warehouses is a bit worse than just lack of taste, but - like Microsoft (see stack ranking), Amazon just can't understand why you'd want to do something differently than their way. After all, they argued about it with no holds barred, and here's the outcome - you must surely like their selection of Prime Music and Prime Movies and Alexa and Echo.

From everything I understand, AWS is very good. But everything else ... Netflix runs on the same AWS infrastructure as Amazon Prime Video, but they could not be more different in their usability.
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:39 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Good thing there is an article about people being mistreated at a megacorp, so we can hear from the privileged that it’s fine there actually. Thanks for making it about you, dudes. And also for standing up for your multi-billion dollar corporation, the poor defenseless dears."

Also, here is a huge internal thread about there not being enough toilets in Amazon buildings. Notably contains: Troubling indicators of engineer's disease, and some amazing appeals to the Leadership Principles. Notably does not contain: a single atom of humor, in thousands of lines written about TOILETS.

When I talked with Amazon about a software engineering job, their recruiter told me several times to make sure I became familiar with their leadership principles, and had examples ready to demonstrate how they applied to me. It felt somewhat odd right from the start. (The only reason I was even considering Amazon at all, since I was already aware of their terrible reputation, is because they offered the opportunity to work on problems that almost nobody else was working on, and definitely at a scale far beyond anyone else.)
Amazon has recently spent *a lot* of resources to make us aware of gender bias in decision making, and I take my past experience of this matter as a total failure of HR's and facilities' ability to handle the most basic problem. I am expected to perform with the highest standards and I insist that you do too. Please, Lara, realize that you do not have intimate context to this problem, when you go through your investigation and are told by facilities that there is nothing they can do to fix it. Please bring one of us (a male employee, who has experienced this problem first-hand) with you to any meeting you have with facilities. And also, please be aware that for facilities to do anything to fix this problem, they will have to admit to making a huge mistake for years (something that requires a true sense of being Vocally Self Critical, which they do not have).

Please leverage our Leadership Principles for this problem. i.e. who is facilities' customer? --to answer that, simply think about who is the user of their "product." They have failed for years to show any amount of Customer Obsession; they have failed to Think Big; they have failed to Dive Deep to see that there is a Simple and Inventive solution (which is less than a few thousand dollars to convert some of the urinals to stalls); they have failed to show any Bias for Action (this problem has existed for years!!); they have failed on interpreting the concept of Frugality, because it is absolutely idiotic to be frugal with the toilets (this is a basic need where for one to simply Disagree and Commit means that one must defecate in their pants to show that they Have a Backbone! --how absolutely silly is that?); since this has been a problem for years, across multiple buildings, they have failed to be Right A Lot; they have failed to Deliver Results; and they, at least for me, have totally failed to Earn Trust of Others.
posted by jjwiseman at 9:56 AM on August 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


And also for standing up for your multi-billion dollar corporation, the poor defenseless dears.
This is such an irritating argument, because it means you can say anything you want about a megacorporation and anyone who calls you out can be painted as a corporate apologist.

Not that I'm doubting Amazon's culpability in this particular instance.
posted by zixyer at 10:01 AM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


I just find it deeply hilarious that that rebuttal post written by Nick Ciubotariu is all like "this NYT article is biased and uses anecdotal evidence! I will refute it, using... my own biases and anecdotal evidence!"

Spin spin spin indeed, little buddy. Spin your little heart out.
posted by palomar at 10:05 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


One may think they are but I see it as little different than the professional/committed athlete who trains at levels that would exhaust 99.9% of us

Um, you are aware that there are a lot of employee issues related to pro-athletes as well? In terms of treatment by owners/coaches, overtraining, work/life balance, money/post-career management, and health/injuries.
posted by FJT at 10:10 AM on August 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


The picture of Bezos on Borowitz's piece is amazing.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:12 AM on August 17, 2015


Well, a cautionary tale would be the teaching profession. The public image of school teachers has gone from upstanding-pillars-of-the-community in the old days to bolshy proles that an eye should be kept on, largely due to them being unionised and on the wrong side of the right-wing press. The side-effect of this is that teaching has gone, in the public eye, from being a middle-class profession to a proletarian occupation.

I keep waiting for the unstoppable force that is libertarian/GOP hatred for labor to meet the immovable object that is police unions. Every time I read about some stupid thing the Boston Police Union has done (my favorite so far was the kerfuffle over the viciously racist, sexist, and homophobic newsletter), I break my own rule and read the comments to see if the cognitive dissonance has caused anyone to actually drop dead. I'm always faintly disappointed in my own inability to get the competing camps to start openly brawling.
posted by Mayor West at 10:20 AM on August 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


I keep waiting for the unstoppable force that is libertarian/GOP hatred for labor to meet the immovable object that is police unions.

That'll be right before they realize how incredibly socialist the military is, with its free housing, meals, healthcare, sick leave, vacation time...
posted by Etrigan at 10:26 AM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is such an irritating argument, because it means you can say anything you want about a megacorporation and anyone who calls you out can be painted as a corporate apologist.

Well, I see what you're saying, but I've also worked at what is (or was?) widely considered one of the "best" megacorporations to work at, and what I learned is that... megacorps gonna megacorp. It's structural. It's best to assume they will tend toward evil/amorality and protect yourself and society as well as you can, and be pleasantly surprised if they end up doing some good, too.
posted by jjwiseman at 10:35 AM on August 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


here is a huge internal thread about there not being enough toilets in Amazon buildings

That is an amazing, bizarre, incredible document. I hope it is printed and sent to the Smithsonian as documentation of the absurdity of the Second Tech Boom. I hope AMC makes it their next tech documentary, and call it Game of Thrones.
posted by miyabo at 10:50 AM on August 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


Also, here is a huge internal thread about there not being enough toilets in Amazon buildings.

This is amazing. It really gets at RedOrGreen's comment that "Amazon just can't understand why you'd want to do something differently than their way."

In any other world, there would be complaints escalated up to managers and who themselves would be frustrated by the same problems, employees would en masse start working from home, and Facilities would start renovations quickly. At Amazon, everyone is constrained by the ticketing system, HR sees no reason to change, and the employees are scrambling to "make their case," trying to find the magic argument that will unlock the budget to improve facilities.

But this is what happens when the basic well being of employees needs to be extensively justified before being considered rather than just assumed as a given.
posted by deanc at 11:23 AM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


a single atom of humor

Well, to be fair, there is this:
In the interests of Frugality and to limit the (hundreds of) engineer-hours being spent analyzing this issue, I propose a stop-gap solution that would also alleviate the temporary strain on limited resources (stalls) during construction:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0006V2B4G
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006WPQNB2

Install in a Conference room on each floor and require users to reserve the conference room as a single-user appointment (No group appointments, please).

Compared to the bureaucratic barriers of designing, provisioning and installing new toilet stalls, I think that this would be a valid expense in the spirit of Bias for Action. Unfortunately, the cabana is only rated at 3 stars, so it would fall short of Insisting on the Highest Standards, but you can't win them all.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:34 AM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Good point, en forme de poire!
posted by jjwiseman at 11:54 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Honestly, shopping on Amazon frees up more spoons for me to do something I actually want to do, instead of spending that going to three different stores and then being exhausted for the rest of the day. So while I don't like what this says of their corporate culture, I don't have a great alternative, either. Especially on a day when I am stuck on the couch, and I live alone.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:00 PM on August 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


"The Amazon Economy", Jedediah Purdy
By constantly driving people to improve every aspect of the goods and services they're producing -- or lose their jobs trying -- Amazon does create a fairly efficient machine. [...] Security means a little less efficiency -- at least within a company rich enough that it can afford to churn through workers and still attract new aspirants.

But goods and services aren't the only products of an economy. It also produces jobs, work experiences, on-the-job relationships (meaning not romantic relationships, but the interpersonal life where most people spend most of their daylight hours), and, in the bottom-most of bottom lines, lives. [...] Lives that are more fearful, more emotionally harassed, at best more addicted to workplace "high performance," are among the major products of this economy. Whether or not you call that efficient, it's also kind of awful. These lives are the social equivalent of the pollution that "efficient" power sources like coal produce, and both can make the world less worth inhabiting.
posted by oakroom at 1:17 PM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I see it as little different than the professional/committed athlete who trains at levels that would exhaust 99.9% of us

In major American sports, those professionals, um, have unions.

There's a kind of self-similarity here, where the culture of the warehouse workhouses is not massively dissimilar from the corporate offices, and it emanates into the site itself. There's definitely a degree of 'megacorps gonna megacorp', and if you've ever listened to the episodes of Debug where Nitin Ganatra and Don Melton discuss Apple's work culture, there's a broader question of what tech giants expect of their employees.

Going back to Andreessen and the idea of workplaces 'designed for underachievers': underachiever is a comparative, and if the achievers are having their bodies and souls broken to benefit the self-imagined overachievers at the top, then I'm fine with a bit more fucking underachievement.
posted by holgate at 1:24 PM on August 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I forgot one of my favorite parts of that amazon toilets thread:
from gender_detector import GenderDetector
import sexmachine.detector
posted by jjwiseman at 1:57 PM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


AMZN is doing well after the hit piece by the NY Times. Up about 0.7%, and only another 0.7% shy of its historical high point that was reached about three weeks ago.

We are a consumerist society and, clearly, we want Amazon to sell us stuff.

I can say with some surety that Amazon employees are compensated very well for their work — workers receive a nice salary, and if they can hack it, they also get stock over four years that, for some, can equal a year and a half (or more) of salary. After four years, maybe you go off and work at a startup, and then come back if that doesn't work out. Not a bad deal for developers who are, indeed, the best of the best.

Nick Ciubotariu's rebuttal is garbage. He is not a developer — Amazon managers do no software development — and so he cannot speak much about the work environment of developers. Also, stack ranking is real: Amazon does indeed cull low-ranked employees — much as, say, GE does. So it is odd for him to talk about "data" when he is either ignorant or dishonest about fundamental aspects of company culture.

Internally, some developers are concerned about the number of Microsoft developers and managers who are entering the Amazon workplace and who are changing the culture for the worse — balkanized fiefdoms that allow managers to jostle while projects languish, multiple groups working on duplicate or overlapping projects, highly profitable and small-scale projects suffering for absentee or weak management.

Alibaba is Amazon's immediate competitor and is opening Seattle offices as it expands its global presence. Other high-profile tech-heavy companies are entering or expanding their Seattle footprint: Facebook, Apple, etc. The pool of high-quality developers in this city will shrink further unless Jeff Bezos can keep stock valuation — and thus developer compensation — high.

Given managerial problems, it would not surprise me to see Amazon implode in a few years, much as the cancer within Windows Vista-era Microsoft rotted away its relevance with top-tier developers.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 2:33 PM on August 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I worked at Amazon for 3 years, left about 3 years ago.

The key to understanding Amazon, in my opinion, is that it is (very explicitly) all about the money. Every single thing they do is done in the name of increasing profitability. On my very first day there (and this was a day half-consumed by watching videos of Bezos' life story) I came home and told my wife, "I realize now that I've always worked at engineer-run companies, and this is an MBA-run company." It was that obvious.

Employees famously get no perks, because your wage (and standard benefits) is the compensation you agreed on when taking the job. Amazon owes you nothing beyond that.

If you want to argue for a new project or a change in some policy, you need to prove its worth financially. It doesn't surprise me at all that they had a big dust-up over the bathroom stalls -- how do you get the financial data to support that?

It's easy, as an employee, to feel like a cog in a machine, because that's exactly what you are, and for the most part nobody in management makes any apology for it. "Warm fuzzies" are for customers, they have no place in the workplace.

And they sort of have a point there. Any employer that claims to "value you as a person" is arguably either foolish or lying. You are a line item in a ledger, and if your value falls below a certain threshold it's in their interest to get rid of you. Amazon is just much more up-front about it.

The other thing about Amazon -- and I believe this bit of culture comes directly from Bezos -- is that pretty much all the incentives are negative. Positive feedback is difficult to come by, but if you screw up you can count on getting slammed, hard. Depending on how close you are to Bezos in the management tree, this can include pretty harsh personal invective: Bezos is famously a "screamer" -- a small tidbit that's well-known in the company but surprisingly I didn't see it mentioned in the article -- and so is pretty much everyone in his immediate vicinity.

I think this really works for some people, but as you can probably tell, I hated every minute of it. The stock grants you get as a new employee don't really kick in until the third year, so I stayed long enough to get a piece of that then left, and it was like waking up from a bad dream.

A few scattered responses to some points brought up elsewhere in this thread:

- Having Amazon on your resume is a definite bonus. All my other work experience has been at smaller companies which are pretty much all defunct now; Amazon is great in providing some sort of known pedigree to your work history.

- Amholes are like brogrammers -- I'm sure there are a lot of them, but I don't think it's a good description of the average employee. I personally liked almost all the people I worked with, and I think a lot of them are bothered by Amazon's apparent lack of conscience.

- Different parts of Amazon are very different. I worked in one of the core departments, which had been there since virtually the beginning, and I suspect it's worse there than in many of the newer and more experimental groups.

- Salaries are competitive but not fantastic. I left Amazon for a company that's basically part of academia, and took about a 15% pay cut when accounting for the better benefits at the new job. (Meanwhile, my actual work hours probably went down 20%, and my stress level went down by well over 50%.) I had another job offer (from a well-known but non-behemoth company) that would have actually bumped my pay up. The big thing at Amazon is the stock grants -- at the point I left, those were nearly doubling my overall compensation -- but those require having good timing, and they're not FU money so I don't think a sensible person would take a job just for that.
posted by bjrubble at 2:52 PM on August 17, 2015 [16 favorites]


"Good thing there is an article about people being mistreated at a megacorp, so we can hear from the privileged that it’s fine there actually. Thanks for making it about you, dudes."

Now I'm far from a defender of Amazon, but how does this make a lick of sense? It's not like this is an article about bad working conditions for Amazon's warehouse workers, and the white collar Amazon workers are coming in to say that their experience is different (because God knows there are plenty of examples of that out there). This is an article about well-paid white-collar workers at Amazon, and you're complaining about disagreement coming from those same white-collar workers that the article claims to be about. They're not making this about them; the Times made it about them.
posted by Itaxpica at 3:20 PM on August 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Now I'm far from a defender of Amazon, but how does this make a lick of sense?

It seemed pretty obvious to me that the beef was not that white collar workers were responding to the piece, but that they were responding in much the same way clueless dudes react when women talk about their lived experiences: That doesn't happen to me, therefore it's not actually a problem. That was the basic tone of Nick What's-His-Name's rebuttal, at least to my eyes.
posted by palomar at 3:28 PM on August 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Well, specifically, the two articles I've seen cited most in response so far are Nick Ciubotariu's and Tim Bray's. Ciubotariu is a manager, and Tim Bray is a Senior Principal Engineer. Those are definitely privileged positions, and, surprise, they see no problems.

Do we think that they don't see any problems because everyone in the Times article is wrong? They seem to think so (perhaps Tim Bray accepts the possibility that they may be reporting legit experiences, but it seems out of touch for him to report on his privileged experience as being relevant to the discussion).
posted by jjwiseman at 3:29 PM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]




bjrubble: “Any employer that claims to "value you as a person" is arguably either foolish or lying. You are a line item in a ledger, and if your value falls below a certain threshold it's in their interest to get rid of you. Amazon is just much more up-front about it.”
I feel like American companies only saw the "work yourself to death and feel guilty for taking time off" [By MeFi's Own Nevin] part of the Japanese salaryman culture, without getting that the flip-side was nobody gets laid off.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:10 PM on August 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, here is a huge internal thread about there not being enough toilets in Amazon buildings. Notably contains: Troubling indicators of engineer's disease, and some amazing appeals to the Leadership Principles. Notably does not contain: a single atom of humor, in thousands of lines written about TOILETS.

"intended duty cycle of the fixture" is pretty fucking funny to me, idk.
posted by emptythought at 6:35 PM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Probably enough people have dissected the Nick Ciubotariu rebuttal already but I thought I'd still throw in my two cents. Especially since Jeff Bezos pointed to that rebuttal in his response to the article thus giving it the unofficial, official seal of approval.

You know that guy who spent one summer in Paris and now feels qualified to weigh in on all things European, ranging from the Greek debt crisis to the rise of UKIP to the treatment of Turkish immigrants in Germany? Yeah. That's this guy. He's been at Amazon all of 18 months. And he's been in two, count'em two, different groups. Whoop-de-frickin-do. Both of those groups that he's managed fall under the same Senior VP organization. They're basically neighboring groups. It's like saying "I lived in Silver Lake for 10 months and Eagle Rock for 8, so I'm pretty sure I know what Los Angeles is all about." (Substitute Flatbush/Park Slope/NYC, Fremont/Ballard/Seattle, Wicker Park/Bucktown/Chicago, etc... as needed) His claim that Marketplace and Search & Discovery represent "a good swath of the Amazon populous [sic]" must be straight-up naivete because I can't believe he could be so disingenuous.

Here's a rough breakdown of the different departments at Amazon, keeping in mind that any one department is probably as big as a medium-sized company in itself, say anywhere from several hundred to a few thousand people (except Operations which probably has something like a tens of thousands if not a hundred thousand when you include all the warehouse workers and customer service people). Also, I'm doing this from memory so I might have some of the details wrong.

1. Retail - These are the people who negotiate with vendors and buy stuff from them. This department also contains the software teams that build the technology to support Retail like the forecasting system, the system that helps set prices, the systems to interface with vendors, etc...

2. Operations - This is where the warehouse operations, transportation, and customer service departments live. Like retail, this division also contains software teams that build the software to track packages, run the warehouses, etc...

3. AWS - All of the cloud stuff. Also, they have their own supply chain group (like Google) that sources the hardware for all that cloud computation and storage.

4. Kindle & Digital - Includes the hardware teams that do the devices like Kindle readers and the Fire Phone (ha) and the business teams that support author and publisher relations for e-publishing. Also I'm pretty sure digital music and all the Amazon Video stuff including the original series lives under this division.

5. Seller Services - This includes all the marketplace stuff (e.g., basically, third party sellers selling stuff on Amazon) as well as Search & Discovery and I think Personalization ("people who bought X also bought Y"). This is the division that Nick Ciubotariu is in.

6. Core services & Infrastructure - I actually don't remember where all this stuff lives or how it's structured right now, but it basically contains the front-end website and a bunch of back-end systems to make the website work.

7. Finance - Unlike a lot of companies, Amazon's Finance department isn't isolated in a bunker, only to poke their heads out for the quarterly earnings report. The finance people all report into the SVP of Finance but they sit amongst all the various groups at Amazon, kinda like they're embedded within them, keeping an eye on each group's P&L.

8. International - Over the years, there have been a number of different alignments for Amazon's non-US stuff. Sometimes, they group all of the departments by function and then split them by country. Other times, they group by country and then split by function. I think the current alignment has all of operations, US and international, grouped under the larger Operations banner while retail is split between then main US retail (bullet point #1) and non-US retail. This is another area where I'm a little bit hazy.

9. Business Development - This is a relatively small department that handles mergers & acquisitions and strategic partnerships (whatever that means). Also, for some reason, it also has IMDB (maybe because it was one of the early acquisitions? who knows) and Amazon's ad sales department (e.g., if you want to buy a banner on Amazon's front page).

These are the big buckets. I've probably left some stuff out but this should give a sense of how vast the company is and how much hubris this Nick guy must have ginned up in order to claim that his year and a half in one tiny corner of this massive enterprise gives him any kind of perspective to make pronouncements about the company as a whole.
posted by Pseudonymous Sockpuppet at 10:55 PM on August 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


re: NYT response to the response...
posted by kliuless at 12:00 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


My favorite part of the NYT response to the response is this, "His [Nick Ciubotariu's] points contradicted the accounts of many former and current colleagues, and some of his assertions were incorrect, including a statement that the company does not cull employees on an annual basis. An Amazon spokesman previously confirmed that the company sought to manage out a certain percentage of its work force annually. The number varies from year to year." Haha! Like, a real life Woody Allen pulling out Marshall Mcluhan moment. If, as a manager, this guy couldn't even get this right, this matter of official company policy, I wonder what else he might have gotten wrong... Also, I wonder if this will trigger any amount of self-reflection in him.
posted by Pseudonymous Sockpuppet at 8:23 AM on August 18, 2015 [3 favorites]




I Was an Amazon Chew Toy (The Awl)
posted by CrystalDave at 10:35 AM on August 18, 2015 [2 favorites]




That Awl article about dogs at Amazon - that's just incredibly embarrassing. The TL;DR version is that the writer was hired at Amazon, has a dog allergy and a traumatic dog past and got an incredible run-around from HR when she asked not to have to share an office with dogs - multiple allergist visits, pressure to just take meds instead of having a dog-free office and then a really shitty windowless room to work in. With the added bonus that during her intake meeting the senior guy was actually on the phone filling a prescription. Just embarrassingly bad. Also a misspelled uplifting quote on the office wall.
posted by Frowner at 1:14 PM on August 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


And David Auerbach attempts a content-free defense of Amazon. It's actually rather sad.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:05 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


emptythought: the author of that line appreciates that you got the joke.

re: the article. I dunno, man. I work for AWS. I personally love my job. I got hired into a secret project, meaning I didn't know what I was going to work on until Day 1, when my visa got approved and I showed up, signed the NDA, and then I got the news that I'd accidentally gotten my dream job. My team is awesome, my management is awesome. I talk to other people around the world daily who are also awesome. It makes me sad to think that someone's characterising Anytime Feedback as a snitch mechanism, because I feel like it's my chance to capture when someone does something really cool, and record it in a way that their manager gets notified of their awesomeness, so that it's there in black and white when review time comes around (without me having to specifically remember in December when we do peer reviews). I drank the kool-aid and think the leadership principles are a good way to think about how I'm going about my work: it's harder to be scared of having ideas for improving things -- when those aren't obvious items on our sprints -- when I'm obviously supposed to be taking ownership, and inventing and simplifying, for example.

But all those things are tools. A tool is neutral. You can use a tool for good, for making sure your coworker gets kudos for saving the day; or for evil, for slagging him off. And it is an aggressive, results-driven environment; I can see very easily the "don't be an asshole" trap that people fail to avoid. Once a team gets a manager who fails to see that trap and falls in, then that guy hires more like him, and before you know it, there's a whole pocket of toxic assholes.

I've been doing this whole internet unixy thing for just under two decades now, and I've worked for some classic assholes, and worked for some toxic incompetents. My experience with toxic assholes is, they're really, really good at not being toxic assholes to the people who have the power to notice, "hey, this guy is a toxic asshole and he's ruining his team." So do I believe there are pockets of absolutely shitstorm toxic asshole managers in Amazon? Sure. It's a company of like 150,000 people; there've got to be buckets of assholes in there. Even if it's only 1%, which is a ridiculous joke of an estimate, that's still a whole lot of assholes. And IT seems to lend itself to ridiculous "you must work 70 hours!!!!!1!!1!" bullshit in general. But my team isn't like that, and I know of other teams that aren't like that, and I have to hope that eventually the good guys win. Even if it's only because we have more silly phonetool icons than the assholes do.

(I personally have 19 and I'm trying really hard to get to 25 so I can get the phonetool icon for having 25 phonetool icons.)
posted by sldownard at 2:25 PM on August 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm trying really hard to get to 25 [phonetool icons] so I can get the phonetool icon for having 25 phonetool icons.

Wait, shouldn't you get that when you have 24 icons? (Head explodes.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 5:49 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hey.... I'm at something like 38 or 39 of the damn things, and I don't have that one!
posted by ChrisR at 7:17 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Apropos of the actual topic, though, this article had the happy coincidence of coming out near the release of the results from our annual survey of the tech side of the workforce (those white collar workers you all are so overheated about) and I wish like hell I was allowed to share those results with you, or that you'd believe me if I did.
posted by ChrisR at 7:20 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I saw last year's survey and I still don't entirely trust it. (To their credit, they do a lot of work to avoid making results not personally identifiable. It was still pretty easy for our team to go "Hey, you answered X?")
posted by CrystalDave at 7:24 PM on August 18, 2015


The therapy thing posted up thread? (Quoting is eluding me right now). YUP. Except my husband started four years ago, and we went together. And the week he was no longer in-office, our therapist looked at him and said he looked 10 years younger.

Also, that "point by point" rebuttal? DUDE JUST BECAUSE IT DIDN'T HAPPEN TO YOU DOESN'T MEAN IT DIDN'T HAPPEN. That guy has been there for what, 18 months? And worked in two groups? No clue. None.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 9:54 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, that "point by point" rebuttal? DUDE JUST BECAUSE IT DIDN'T HAPPEN TO YOU DOESN'T MEAN IT DIDN'T HAPPEN. That guy has been there for what, 18 months? And worked in two groups? No clue. None.

It's gotten to the point that this has become a false-accusations sort of thing for me.

Like, i want to hear the people who hated working somewhere or had a shitty experience. I don't really care about the people who had a good time, or deny the problems/try and prove they aren't representative/tacitly try and blame it on that person even if they wont admit it.

I've been the person having a shit experience working somewhere. And you know what? The people who denied it, or who enjoyed it were fucking bullies, or had crony'd up with the people who were and were happy to throw someone else under the bus as long as they got to ride it.

Amazon sounds like it would be a fascinating place to study the cycle of abuse. Plenty of people will punch others if it means they have a chance of getting hit less, but quite a few will punch others in response to being punched in the same way that a mouse presented with a button that randomly dispenses food will spend all day pushing the button and eat itself to death.

Directing the awfulness outward and downward simply because if they bottled it all up they would die.

Stack ranking destroys people, but running an entire place in that weird dog-eat-dog fashion like this is going to lead to like, spree shootings or something.

I was just talking in passing to someone who interned there and jetted out super fast, and if anything i think this article and the discussion so far doesn't even go that deep.
posted by emptythought at 11:01 PM on August 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


Dear Jeff Bezos: My husband needed therapy after working for Amazon

They're friends of mine. When I was considering an Amazon offer, I talked to her about whether I should take it. Their story was one of the deciding factors in me turning AMZN down.

I have friends who love Amazon. I have friends who ran the moment they could. Some parts of Amazon are growing up and looking like sustainable orgs. Some still think it's 2000 and why are you not working 80 hours. All things considered, they look like Microsoft circa 1995, before they finally got some sense knocked into them by a set of lawsuits.
posted by dw at 11:45 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


sldownard-- I get that the Anytime Feedback tool can/could be a really good thing. But as a manager myself, the idea of an Anytime Feedback tool combined with stack ranking/forced distribution really makes me cringe. The potential for abuse of those two things in the same HR cycle is *huge*.

(Before I went into the line, I worked in consulting. My first jobs involved forced distribution, and it was frankly-- brutal. I can't think of an environment where that works well for the company culture.)
posted by frumiousb at 12:00 AM on August 19, 2015


annual survey of the tech side of the workforce (those white collar workers you all are so overheated about)

You seem to be making a category error here?
posted by nobody at 5:31 AM on August 19, 2015


I'm not sure I follow, nobody?
posted by ChrisR at 7:33 AM on August 19, 2015


More food for thought in Amazon Employees React to 'New York Times' Story, and a fair-sounding summary: "Any company that employs more than 150,000 people is bound to have some that are unhappy and some that aren’t. One person’s experience does not invalidate the rest, and is not necessarily reflective of the whole. But there are certainly larger patterns that Amazon could—if it were inclined to—cast light on. [...] If what we’ve been told is true, Amazon may very well have particularly insidious problems all across the company."
posted by pibkac at 9:55 AM on August 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Interesting piece, pibkac.

Although the article has been criticized for not being “data-driven,” neither Amazon’s response nor other follow-up pieces have provided data related to Amazon’s workplace culture. Interestingly enough, according to the female engineer who worked at Amazon Web Services, the company has access to some astounding numbers.

“[M]ultiple internal tools have been built (by employees, after hours) to analyze the employee information in the company-wide LDAP [Lightweight Directory Access Protocol] and generate statistics around comparative seniority and what percentage of employees have been with the company for a given amount of time,” she wrote.

The results of these analyses indicate an “incredible” rate of attrition, she said.

“When I left [about a year ago], being at the company for 1 year meant you'd been there longer than 75 percent of employees.”

According to this former engineer, attrition was not considered a problem.

“Shortly after I left, the VP for the section of AWS I was in stood up before the org and said that there wasn't an attrition problem, because people stayed until they couldn't take the pace anymore and then got replaced with new blood.”

posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:24 AM on August 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


At Amazon, Employees Treat the Bathroom as an Extension of the Office

One afternoon, I ran into an executive in the elevator. She was the rare person who had been at Amazon for over a decade...I suspected she was the happiest person at Amazon because she knew what to take seriously and what she could let slide.

I was heading to the cafeteria, and I asked if she wanted to get lunch. She told me she’d already eaten. She was actually taking the elevator down to the first floor where her favorite bathroom was. Nobody knew about this bathroom, she explained, and she liked it because it was for a single person and it was never occupied.

posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:31 AM on August 19, 2015


“The Research Is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies,” Sarah Green Carmichael, Harvard Business Review, 19 August 2015
posted by ob1quixote at 11:43 AM on August 19, 2015


I feel like no amount of actual data on how bad 'deathmarch ship mode' type long hours are for people and products will ever be enough to outweigh the "WOO! WE'RE WORKING LONGER HOURS" dickwaving contests, from Amazon all the way back to the Apple "90 hrs/week and loving it" t-shirts and probably back before that.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:51 PM on August 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


ChrisR: "Mitheral (and others), why is it so hard to imagine that some of us just like our jobs and have a hard time seeing people slagging our employer with rhetoric like "Amazon is basically an ongoing humanitarian crisis"?"

I get that some people are like this. I don't understand why people want to work for free but I get that lots of people do.
posted by Mitheral at 6:34 PM on August 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I follow, nobody?

I just meant that while those included in the annual survey of tech workers are indeed among the "white collar workers you all are so overheated about," there's still this whole huge category of white collar workers at Amazon who (I'm assuming, maybe incorrectly?) don't fall under the "tech" rubric, and who were maybe the bulk of the sources interviewed in the NYT article (though that's hard to say with all the anonymity -- it did seem that no one in the article was talking much about programming, etc.)

That said, I might have read too far into your comment, taking it as a rebuttal of the NYT's claims when really you probably meant it more as a "but this subcategory on whole feels otherwise" counterpoint. If so, sorry about the terse reply! (In retrospect, I was probably a bit overheated about your "...workers you are so overheated about" phrasing.)
posted by nobody at 7:19 PM on August 19, 2015


there's still this whole huge category of white collar workers at Amazon who (I'm assuming, maybe incorrectly?) don't fall under the "tech" rubric

This is a very good point. Here are all the Amazon employees named in the NYT article and based on the descriptions in the article and a little Linkedin sleuthing their current or former roles:

Jeff Bezos, CEO
Susan Harker, top recruiter
Bo Olson, books marketer
Elisabeth Rommel, retail executive
John Rossman, director of enterprise services
Keith Ketzle, newly hired finance manager
Tony Galbato, VP of HR
Daniel Buchmueller, engineering manager and co-founder of Prime Air
Stephenie Landry, operations executive in Prime Now
Dina Vaccari, business development for gift cards and vendor manager for commercial products
Julie Todaro, VP of consumer electronics
Chris Brucia, product manager for MyHabit
Noelle Barnes, marketing manager for Amazon Instant Video
Elizabeth Willet, vendor manager for home products
Craig Berman, Amazon spokesman
Amy Michaels, Kindle manager
David Loftesness, product search architect
Michelle Williamson, vendor manager for restaurant supply
Shahrul Ladue, divisional merchandise manager (DMM) for Amazon Business
Molly Jay, managing editor for Kindle
Jason Merkoski, engineer and technical program manager for Kindle
Max Shipley, vendor manager for Amazon Instant Video
Nimrod Hoofien, senior software development manager
Robin Andrulevich, HR director
Vijay Ravindran, engineering director
Liz Pearce, product manager for wedding registry

Excluding Jeff Bezos, the HR people, and the official spokesperson, that's 21 people. Out of those, I count four engineers: Buchmueller, Loftesness, Hoofien, and Ravindran, with Buchmueller only referred to as an example and not quoted. Not sure about Amy Michaels whose name was a little too generic to conclusively determine her role. There is another Amy Michaels on Linkedin who is listed as an advertising executive at Amazon but I'm not sure that's the same person. Of 17 out 21 non-engineers, it seems to be primarily retail with some Kindle and Video people and only one person from the operations department (Landry).

While the population at Amazon is heavily tilted towards software developers, it is also apparent that those same software developers often have a blind spot for the non-software parts of Amazon. This is probably worth keeping in mind when reading insider reactions to this article. For example, I'm under the impression that software engineers do not typically attend the weekly and monthly business reviews. So, most software engineers likely wouldn't have any first-hand info about whether or not they really are as stress-inducing as implied in the article.
posted by Pseudonymous Sockpuppet at 10:45 PM on August 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Sounds like a shitty place to work. Congrats to them, I guess.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:44 PM on August 20, 2015


How Amazon Swallowed Seattle
posted by bukvich at 3:46 PM on August 21, 2015


The above link is a fun read but at this: "San Francisco, with its square dimensions, functional transit, and high density, was well equipped to handle a population boom," I gotta admit I l'd my f'ing h' o'.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:12 PM on August 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


“ someone related the disturbing uptick in teenage prostitution to Amazon employees making up for lost time.”
posted by acb at 5:10 AM on August 22, 2015


crush-onastick: Like Frowner, this has disgusted me enough to want to stop using Amazon. So, how does one wean oneself from Amazon?

You're not the only one to ask that question. And there are some answers right here.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:22 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


This post is unexpectedly validating - I had a nightmare of a nonprofit internship that operated pretty much just like this. Still terrible though.
posted by yueliang at 4:40 PM on August 22, 2015




That baby-and-cancer story is in some ways more shocking than the initial post. The part where they "accidentally" cancel her health insurance during her maternity leave and then offer her COBRA instead; the part where she gets back to work to find that she's basically instantly on a PIP - that's capitalism, that's Amazon. It's so ruthless that Henry Frick would have been embarrassed, actually.
posted by Frowner at 2:58 PM on August 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


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