Bye, Amazon
May 4, 2020 10:16 AM   Subscribe

"Firing whistleblowers isn’t just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces, nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets. It’s evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison." Tim Bray, VP and Distinguished Engineer at Amazon, resigns.

He talks about (archive link in case his blog is down) the power dynamics that led to his resignation:
The victims weren’t abstract entities but real people; here are some of their names: Courtney Bowden, Gerald Bryson, Maren Costa, Emily Cunningham, Bashir Mohammed, and Chris Smalls. I’m sure it’s a coincidence that every one of them is a person of color, a woman, or both. Right?

...

Amazon is exceptionally well-managed and has demonstrated great skill at spotting opportunities and building repeatable processes for exploiting them. It has a corresponding lack of vision about the human costs of the relentless growth and accumulation of wealth and power. If we don’t like certain things Amazon is doing, we need to put legal guardrails in place to stop those things. We don’t need to invent anything new; a combination of antitrust and living-wage and worker-empowerment legislation, rigorously enforced, offers a clear path forward.

Don’t say it can’t be done, because France is doing it.

...

Amazon Web Services (the “Cloud Computing” arm of the company), where I worked, is a different story. It treats its workers humanely, strives for work/life balance, struggles to move the diversity needle (and mostly fails, but so does everyone else), and is by and large an ethical organization. I genuinely admire its leadership.

Of course, its workers have power. The average pay is very high, and anyone who’s unhappy can walk across the street and get another job paying the same or better.

Spot a pattern? At the end of the day, it’s all about power balances. The warehouse workers are weak and getting weaker, what with mass unemployment and (in the US) job-linked health insurance. So they’re gonna get treated like crap, because capitalism. Any plausible solution has to start with increasing their collective strength.
posted by clawsoon (71 comments total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:39 AM on May 4 [9 favorites]


Bloody good for him. Gives me a tiny ray of hope for humanity. Good for him on not mincing words, either. The workers keeping us going should be getting not only everything they need for the safest working conditions possible, but hazard pay as well.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:40 AM on May 4 [26 favorites]


Tim Bray is a smart guy who's been around tech for a long time. Presumably most people here know that, but in case you don't, he's got a very solid nerd pedigree.

To have him get near the top of Amazon, and then walk away because of his principles, says both that things at Amazon are really bad, and also that he's got integrity.

Yes, he probably has a decent retirement nest egg stashed away, but it's still nice to see someone with privilege (particularly in Silicon Valley) be vocally on the correct, humane side of an issue.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:47 AM on May 4 [79 favorites]


Good for him.

Time to turn Amazon over to its workers.
posted by biogeo at 10:49 AM on May 4 [13 favorites]


Amazon Web Services (the “Cloud Computing” arm of the company), where I worked, is a different story.

LOL.

There's a reason that senior engineers like me get inundated with Amazon recruiter spam: The entire available workforce knows that Amazon as a whole is just differing levels of "terrible to work for". Yes, AWS might be less terrible that other parts, but: still terrible.

But, that said, rest of the pull quote rings true. You have to treat engineers better, because the industry right now is a sellers' market when it comes to talent. Eventually your employees will realize that having to pay for parking at work and a 3 year cliff is bullshit that practically no one else has to deal with. And that firing up multiple duplicate efforts that are purposefully secret from each other so they can fight it out Thunderdome-style is something literally no one else has to deal with.
posted by sideshow at 10:52 AM on May 4 [39 favorites]


To have him get near the top of Amazon, and then walk away because of his principles, says both that things at Amazon are really bad, and also that he's got integrity.

I mean, the book The Everything Store is literally this exact story told over and over for like 300 pages. The majority of Amazon's history is: X person rises to be in charge of Y. X person practically dies trying to ship effort Z. X person hysterically quits, and I do mean hysterically. Jeff is real sad and maybe they bribe person X enough to eventually come back. Over and over and over for the entire book.
posted by sideshow at 10:56 AM on May 4 [21 favorites]


Great essay and great solidarity. You love to see it.
posted by latkes at 10:57 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that comment about AWS reeks of someone at the top who didn't have an honest view down below him. AWS recruiter spam is never-ending, and I've heard a lot of anecdotes from former AWS folks.
posted by straw at 11:09 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]


...someone at the top who didn't have an honest view down below him.

Didn't he come in near the top, though, and not claw his way up from the trenches? I won't defend a guy I don't know personally, but my impression is that he was recruited to the upper echelons from the get-go -- and that has to result in a distorted view.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:14 AM on May 4 [6 favorites]


Also, he’s relatively famous in nerd circles for working on both XML and JSON along with being fairly prominent in the tech blogging community. His experience would be unrepresentative even if that was entirely a subconscious process.
posted by adamsc at 11:28 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


he was recruited to the upper echelons from the get-go -- and that has to result in a distorted view.

Maybe, though Amazon has been infamous in the field for the (relatively) terrible working conditions of its engineers since at least the early 2000s.

I admire his action, though I also wish it weren't so rare that a person who can easily afford to do so both resigns in protest and makes a clear and powerful statement about it. May there be many more.
posted by trig at 11:30 AM on May 4 [10 favorites]


While I commend Tim for his actions now, I deplore him for not having taken them earlier. No cookie.
posted by Fraxas at 11:35 AM on May 4 [5 favorites]


Good must always be ditched in favor of a theoretical Perfect.
posted by aramaic at 11:41 AM on May 4 [82 favorites]


Good for him. This is almost enough for me to forgive him for XML. Almost.
posted by Luddite at 11:41 AM on May 4 [13 favorites]


I wonder if he was doing anything like getting arrested for Trans-Mountain pipeline protests before he was made a VP at Amazon. If he was, I bet they're tightening up their background checks for future VP picks. "Are you now, or have you ever been..."
posted by clawsoon at 11:41 AM on May 4 [4 favorites]


And that firing up multiple duplicate efforts that are purposefully secret from each other so they can fight it out Thunderdome-style is something literally no one else has to deal with.

For the record I've personally witnessed this phenomenon at another large (>50K employees) global organization I once worked at/with.
posted by some loser at 11:54 AM on May 4 [6 favorites]


[AWS] "treats its workers humanely, strives for work/life balance"

Well, not when I was there.
posted by pdoege at 12:28 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Amazon Web Services (the “Cloud Computing” arm of the company), where I worked, is a different story.

LOL.

There's a reason that senior engineers like me get inundated with Amazon recruiter spam: The entire available workforce knows that Amazon as a whole is just differing levels of "terrible to work for". Yes, AWS might be less terrible that other parts, but: still terrible.


AWS employ about 2,000 people in Dublin and I know lots of current and former employees. The consensus is that if you're a senior dev you go there for 1-2 years max, learn a ton of stuff, put it on your CV, then quit before you get burnt out.
posted by kersplunk at 12:28 PM on May 4 [11 favorites]


AWS employ about 2,000 people in Dublin and I know lots of current and former employees. The consensus is that if you're a senior dev you go there for 1-2 years max, learn a ton of stuff, put it on your CV, then quit before you get burnt out.

So you're saying it's a large tech company. They're all like that, going to a big company is really just a networking opportunity more than anything else.
posted by jmauro at 12:31 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]


I work for a different large tech company, and it's very much not like that.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:40 PM on May 4 [18 favorites]


Ditto.
posted by Frayed Knot at 12:43 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


So you're saying it's a large tech company. They're all like that, going to a big company is really just a networking opportunity more than anything else.

No, Amazon has a horrible reputation relative to other tech giants like Apple, Google, etc. Their whole system is designed to chew up and burn out their software people.
posted by ryanrs at 12:49 PM on May 4 [19 favorites]


I also believe that they have some kind of internal evaluation system in corporate that has an unnecessary competitive element that has even high level employees counting the days until they leave.
posted by Selena777 at 12:57 PM on May 4


I know far more ex-Amazonians than I know current Amazonians.
posted by bz at 1:09 PM on May 4 [4 favorites]


And that firing up multiple duplicate efforts that are purposefully secret from each other so they can fight it out Thunderdome-style is something literally no one else has to deal with.

Like governers chasing masks and gloves?
posted by Mrs Potato at 2:10 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]


One of my close friends is an AWS employee (not a VP but definitely high up in the food chain - think manager / director) and I have noticed a change in him since he started working there about ~1 year ago. Super stressed out, had to leave his family's Thanksgiving dinner early to go back to work, hardly socializes anymore despite previously being a bit of a social butterfly, seems pretty afraid to speak his mind honestly about his employer even to trusted friends. I really hope he follows the pattern I am reading about in this thread and bolts after Year Two with a gussied up resume.

So, wasn't shocked at all to see this, but am so, so, so glad to see it. And so glad that he called them out for, among everything else, targeting their harassment at women and people of color.
posted by nightrecordings at 2:32 PM on May 4 [10 favorites]


There is one solution and one solution only: Stop using Amazon. Period. Nothing else will work. Nothing.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 3:10 PM on May 4 [9 favorites]


Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza: There is one solution and one solution only: Stop using Amazon. Period. Nothing else will work. Nothing.

The other solution is to get laws passed which don't allow them to engage in these practises. Laws like that have been passed before; they can be passed again.
posted by clawsoon at 3:17 PM on May 4 [66 favorites]


There is one solution and one solution only: Stop using Amazon. Period. Nothing else will work. Nothing.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 3:10 PM on May 4 [+] [!]


Boycotts are great! I avoid Amazon as well, but there are structural reasons we're all being pushed toward Amazon. Did you know that California just expanded food stamp access to online grocery retailers? But... ONLY for buying groceries from Walmart and Amazon! Can you blame individual consumers for that kind of trash state level policy? As someone pointed out in the Bezos thread - Vanguard holds significant Amazon stock. I myself am an Amazon investor through my employer! I didn't get a vote on that.

So yes, let's boycott! But boycotting an almost exclusively online retailer is hard as hell. You tried shaming millions of individual consumers who have the ability to secretly shop online with no need to cross an actual picket line? Especially when it's physically unsafe for those shoppers to go to brick and mortar stores?!

The solution that has the most teeth is supporting the organizing a majority of Amazon workers to do mass walkouts and strikes, and then consumers supporting that organizing in the form of pushing for regulatory restrictions on Amazon at the state and federal level. This isn't a thing each of us can solve at home, even if I personally don't chose to give them my money.
posted by latkes at 3:25 PM on May 4 [42 favorites]


Also, Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza Is the most prescient user name ever
posted by latkes at 3:26 PM on May 4 [12 favorites]


Amazon has not earned a retail penny from me - but their cloud services are so infuriatingly embedded that indirectly I am still supporting them.

Apparently even metafilter uses Amazon Cloud.

There was an initiative that you could pay extra for green offsets - would it be feasible to set up "pay extra to NOT use Amazon cloud"
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 4:01 PM on May 4 [5 favorites]


So you're saying it's a large tech company. They're all like that, going to a big company is really just a networking opportunity more than anything else.

Well, over here at everyone's favorite fruit company, I'm on the younger side for engineers on my team, and I'm also on the "younger" side as far as job tenure. I'm 40 (well almost 40) and I started back in 2014. Killing yourself for 24 months just to go work at a "better" gig somewhere else is definitely not how things tend to go here.
posted by sideshow at 4:11 PM on May 4 [3 favorites]


Also, as I alluded to earlier, Amazon vests their stock weird (you get most of it during the last year, instead of equal vesting every 6 or 12 months like almost everywhere else), so if you leave after 2 years, you've decided to just abandon something like 3/4ths of the compensation that got you to accept the offer in the first place.
posted by sideshow at 4:15 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


VP and been at the company 6 years? Quitting is good, and the words are good. But the cynical side of me wonders if he is still holding his stock, or did he dump it?
posted by thewalledcity at 4:20 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


There was an initiative that you could pay extra for green offsets - would it be feasible to set up "pay extra to NOT use Amazon cloud"

Shopping around may be difficult. Google and Microsoft are the other two cloud service companies of significance. Other companies effectively resell their and Amazon services. Even a company the size of Apple resells these companies' services to iOS and Mac OS users under the iCloud brand.

Google fired employees calling for others to organize. Microsoft does the same.

Perhaps we need government to step in and enforce antitrust and whistleblower laws against these three companies, but that would be impossible to expect under the current regime. Google, Microsoft, and Amazon fight over lucrative government surveillance and military contracts, and their lobbyists ensure access to legislators and other arms of government enforcement.

I'm not sure what the answer is. These people operate on a whole other level of power, it seems, well above and beyond our democracy and our system of laws.

if you leave after 2 years, you've decided to just abandon something like 3/4ths of the compensation that got you to accept the offer in the first place

A five-year VP will have certainly vested a great deal of stock by the fourth year. That's not casting any aspersions on this person for leaving, but any employee walking away after that timeframe would be very well-set, especially with AMZN currently trading at record-high values.

Who knows what the future holds though — with the full effects of a wave of mass unemployment shortly on the way, Amazon may soon have a tough time getting people to consume stuff, anyway. Might be as safe and rational a time to walk away, as any.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 4:27 PM on May 4 [8 favorites]


Even a company the size of Apple resells these companies' services to iOS and Mac OS users under the iCloud brand.

Uh, no comment.
posted by sideshow at 4:35 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


He is no doubt in extremely good financial shape, but he does mention that the decision will cost him about a million dollars.
posted by clawsoon at 4:36 PM on May 4 [4 favorites]


In an employee satisfaction survey I read, Amazon was the only big company to rank below IBM who was my then-employer.

Keep in mind that IBM at that time had multiple years of declining revenue, did continual layoffs/offshoring in the five-digit range, paid less than all other big tech companies, had very low morale, and was basically in a slow but steady death spiral. And IBM ranked _higher_ than Amazon which was none of those things.

You want to work for a successful company because you'll be rewarded - a rising tide lifts all boats, as they say. Somehow people found it preferable to be on a sinking ship than to work for Amazon.
posted by meowzilla at 5:07 PM on May 4 [9 favorites]


Sure, go ahead and nitpick his level of vesting or how well he was compensated annually or that he should have left sooner. But when he got fed up, he left. Sure, an engineer emeritus leaving AWS would have been noticed. But he left loudly. Not an enigmatic tweet or vaguebooking, but an essay on his own website. He’s aware and acknowledges his privilege so he can burn that bridge with Amazon. And while he’s doing that, he highlights those who were mistreated fighting for the workers and the horrific practices of Amazon. Currently, few have done better. Kudos.
posted by lemon_icing at 5:09 PM on May 4 [48 favorites]


I'm with aramaic. Bray has been in tech long enough to know what kind of shop Amazon/AWS was running before he went there. He was already probably fairly wealthy due to previous work at Google and other prominent firms, and while he is walking away from a significant sum, he did vest whatever he was given when he first joined Amazon. Considering how well AMZN stock has done since Bray joined 5 years ago, Bray might not need a job or may not have a mortgage payment today, which are all considerations that others who are not in Bray's position do not have the luxury of when making such a decision.

Overall I think it's good for Bray to call attention to this problem, but those of us who know the tech industry well, over decades, know that Amazon's been this way from the beginning. It's in the DNA of Bezos and the firm itself. So the proper thing for Bray to have done is not gone to work for Amazon in the first place.
posted by gen at 7:38 PM on May 4 [3 favorites]


May 1st was my last day

I have to say, the man has impeccable timing if he wants to send a message.
posted by pwnguin at 8:11 PM on May 4 [6 favorites]


Equity Lords of the world, unite?
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 8:13 PM on May 4


Agitating for change is best done from multiple vectors. External motivators like boycotts, legislation, and lawsuits have often worked in the USA. So does internal dissent.

"VPs shouldn’t go publicly rogue, so I escalated through the proper channels and by the book. I’m not at liberty to disclose those discussions, but I made many of the arguments appearing in this essay. I think I made them to the appropriate people.

That done, remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned."

gen, I've only worked for one person who fought for someone outside of their division because it was the right thing to do. Since you're also in tech, how many people have you or people that you've worked with have pulled a Bray? Spoke loudly and repeatedly to TPTB for those who cannot be heard and who were also not direct reports? I'm honestly curious.

I'm a sofware engineer and also serve on our Women's Network Initiative and Diversity and Inclusion committees, so trying to open the room to all voices is something I actively support and participate in.

He loved his job. He liked his crew. He got paid buckets of money. These weren't his people. And he still quit. Why are his actions sub-optimal?
posted by lemon_icing at 8:17 PM on May 4 [11 favorites]


And that firing up multiple duplicate efforts that are purposefully secret from each other so they can fight it out Thunderdome-style is something literally no one else has to deal with.

We do that in the government all the time on accident. And we're supposed to, by law, make contractors do it on purpose and buy the best product, but that's falling out of fashion lately.
posted by ctmf at 8:38 PM on May 4 [4 favorites]


Due to his level Bray would have been putting the knife into people as part of Amazon's stack ranking culture. I left management there after my first round. It was like watching rabid dogs fighting over rotten meat. He oversaw what, 5 years of that? So, yeah, less heroic than a lot of people of much lower rank.
posted by pdoege at 8:39 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]


This is definitely the case where waiting for laws to be passed will not work. It won’t. Not in the US. Maybe in the EU. But no way in the US. In the age of Trump you’re going to bank on anti-market laws? It won’t happen.
And the issue is more than just the effectiveness of a boycott. It’s the morality of using this one company that has a completely outsized amount of power. To continue to use Amazon is immoral.

Use any other option than Amazon. They exist. There are few excuses for most US consumers. You use them because it’s convenient. Not because you have to. Otherwise you simply have no moral authority to complain.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 8:58 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


lemon_icing: "Since you're also in tech, how many people have you or people that you've worked with have pulled a Bray? Spoke loudly and repeatedly to TPTB for those who cannot be heard and who were also not direct reports?"

I was at Mozilla when Brendan Eich stepped down as CEO for political donations he made that some in the Mozilla org (both inside/employees as well as volunteer contributors) were very uncomfortable with. Eich was recently made CEO then, so everyone reported to him, essentially.

I've been approached by Amazon recruiters and I have had a lot of friends who have worked at Amazon. I chose not to interview with Amazon, although if I am to be completely honest, I do use Amazon as a service from time to time, certainly moreso now under lockdown/COVID19.

I struggle a lot with the issue of the influence of Tech and the financial impact of not working at the oligopoly tech companies. I've been in tech since before the first Internet bubble, so I've seen multiple boom/busts and have also seen how the current dominant FAANG/BATTMD companies have created moats that seem to be impregnable and ever stronger. One reason I did enjoy working for Mozilla was the non-profit/mission-driven aspect, although that org is also not perfect.

When tech was less influential, it was a very different story. Now that tech is dominant, working for any of the dominant firms just helps those firms extend their oligopoly.
posted by gen at 9:46 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


I also believe that they have some kind of internal evaluation system in corporate that has an unnecessary competitive element that has even high-level employees counting the days until they leave.

IIRC, they fire the bottom "10%" of employees every year.
posted by bendy at 10:27 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


The terminology is "Pivot", which is a fancy term for stack ranking. One can search on the web for the term "PIP", and what Amazon employees ask about what they need to do to get off a PIP, to keep from being let go.

If you don't land in PIP territory, you're performing at or above level, relative to the expectations of supervisors and coworkers who evaluate you. One can draw their own conclusions from that, as to the performance of someone who lasts for nearly six years, relative to the expectations of peers and, more importantly, those of superiors.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:51 PM on May 4


For all the horrorshow that is Amazon tech employment, there is some small solace that their well rehearsed firing practices allow them to be a little more lenient on the margins. If you are hoping to break into tech, Amazon presents an opportunity where Google puts up a brick wall. More than a handful of people try the 'go there for 1-2 years max, learn a ton of stuff, put it on your CV, then quit before you get burnt out' strategy to apparently good effect.

That said, I have never worked at amazon nor even applied to work at Amazon. I view it as a sort last resort given their reputation, but it's at least comforting to know if UI runs out amazon would probably hire. It's certainly a far cry better than the opportunities my brother has in say, literally any warehouse job, Amazon or no.

I've been predicting this for long enough that we can safely assume it will never happen, but Amazon is essentially a cloud provider with a vestigial retail operation. It wouldn't surprise me if some day AWS is spun off from AMZN; it's not just leftist SWEs that are pissed off, but also retailers who might otherwise be customers who recognize building on top of AWS is paying Amazon to dig their own graves.
posted by pwnguin at 12:17 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]


Jumping Jehoshaphat, one needn't have done absolutely everything right in the past for a current righteous act to count for some thing.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:54 AM on May 5 [26 favorites]


I was at Mozilla when Brendan Eich stepped down as CEO for political donations he made that some in the Mozilla org (both inside/employees as well as volunteer contributors) were very uncomfortable with. Eich was recently made CEO then, so everyone reported to him, essentially.

This here is part of the problem - we cannot be honest with what actually happens in tech. Eich was a homophobic bigot who had routinely argued that people should turn a blind eye to his bigotry (and used his clout to force the point.) When he became CEO, his bigotry (clearly demonstrated by his maximal donation in support of Proposition 8, among others) was no longer able to be covered up, and people asked the logical question of why an ostensibly progressive organization like Mozilla would let a bigot take the helm.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:53 AM on May 5 [10 favorites]


How Silicon Valley is not like Wall Street - "Power and money beget douchebags. It's just the nature of the beast." (via)

American innovation through the ages - "We've all heard of the arms race for tech talent in the Valley, but that's potentially also showing up in university income, as creators of licence-fee-generating technology leave to realise their ambitions as well-paid engineers at one of the tech giants... suggesting a brain drain to the private sector."

otoh...
Bill Murray asked Warren Buffett a question, and the billionaire gave a powerful answer on income inequality
“This pandemic will graduate a new class of war veterans. Healthcare, food supply, deliveries, community services. So many owe so much to these few. How might this great country take our turn and care for all of them?” Murray asked, according to CNBC anchor Becky Quick, who moderated the Q&A.

The 89-year-old investor, who is the fourth richest person in the world, acknowledged that there’s “unimaginable suffering” by the poor and disadvantaged, many of whom are working at the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis.

“They’re working 24-hour days, and we don’t even know their names. So if we go overboard on something, we ought to do things that are going to help those people,” he said. “They’re contributing a whole lot more than some of the people that came out of the right womb, or got lucky and things, or know how to arbitrage bonds or whatever it may be. In a large part, I’m one of those guys.”

Buffett, who’s been a cheerleader for America, added that the wealthiest country in the world should “try to create a society that under normal conditions with more than $60,000 of GDP per capita, that anybody that worked 40 hours a week can have a decent life without a second job and with a couple of kids.”

“Nobody should be left behind,” Buffett said...

“I hope we as a country move in a direction where people Bill was talking about get treated better, and it isn’t going to hurt. It isn’t going to hurt the country’s growth, and it’s overdue,” Buffett said.

Buffett has previously proposed addressing income inequality through increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit as opposed to just raising the minimum wage [and higher taxes on the very wealthy].
posted by kliuless at 12:00 PM on May 5 [4 favorites]


Well, as the only person so far who is at AWS presently... I can back up Tim's perspective on the difference between the two arms of the Machine. I'm not gonna say AWS is perfect -- no megacorp ever will be -- but it's a damn sight better than it's made out to be.

As for this retirement, I have watched Tim agitate for change and get it internally for some time. He's been an active participant in grassroots inclusion initiatives and has always brought his immense positional authority to bear on behalf of marginalized groups in the company. I'm sorry to see him go; he was a fantastic colleague.
posted by ChrisR at 12:58 PM on May 5 [15 favorites]


but it's a damn sight better than it's made out to be.

"Nobody that I hang out with has been put on a PIP after a cancer diagnosis", "I don't know why sheep are scared of wolves, all the other carnivores treat me nicely", etc. Here's the thing. At Amzn L6+ managers and L7 IC+ participate in stack ranking where the less popular are winnowed, have the ability to read the horror stories of the winnowed, understand why their org is exempt from stack ranking, or have managed to remain willfully ignorant.

L5 and below rarely see the sausage being made. They are the sausage.
posted by pdoege at 5:51 PM on May 5


All exploitation of workers is bad, but surely we don't need to turn what is fundamentally about hyper-exploitation of completely powerless workers making subsistence wages under horrible conditions into a story about how stack ranking is bad?

No-one has a higher earning potential after two years working as a picker. No-one uses that to get into a lucrative industry. The reward for putting up with Amazon's bad work culture on the technology side is a lot of money and an increased earning potential for people coming into tech by the side-door. That doesn't make their treatment of their tech team ok, but it does mean it's not really appropriate to compare them
posted by atrazine at 2:20 AM on May 6 [6 favorites]


Counterpoint: when higher paid tech workers see themselves as an exploited resource, as Amazon warehouse workers are, we have potential for powerful synergistic action in multiple domains, and great potential for strengthening worker power.
posted by latkes at 7:06 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


pdoege, I am very much not in the "am the sausage" bucket you're describing. I've been here for close to a decade. I know the place moderately well.
posted by ChrisR at 8:43 AM on May 6


> but it's a damn sight better than it's made out to be.

"Nobody that I hang out with has been put on a PIP after a cancer diagnosis", "I don't know why sheep are scared of wolves, all the other carnivores treat me nicely", etc.


May I point out one of the things that you apparently overlooked when you cherry-picked ChrisR's comment:

I have watched Tim agitate for change and get it internally for some time. He's been an active participant in grassroots inclusion initiatives and has always brought his immense positional authority to bear on behalf of marginalized groups in the company.

So no, Tim Bray didn't quit the minute that he saw Amazon were scum. But he did something else - he tried to make it not be scum. It was only after trying to make it not be scum that he quit.

"Quit the second you realize you're working for scum" is not the only option, and sometimes I wish more people would remember that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:00 AM on May 6 [9 favorites]


I'm not sure how anyone will choose to read this, but another DE at the company has a response to one of Tim's minor comments about warehouse (FC) worker safety changes (not anything to do with the firings):

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/response-tim-brays-departure-brad-porter/
posted by ChrisR at 9:33 AM on May 6


ChrisR: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/response-tim-brays-departure-brad-porter/

It's interesting that he simply ignores the core of what Tim Bray said led to his quitting, which was the firing of whistleblowers.
posted by clawsoon at 11:11 AM on May 6


Yep. I think he missed the main point in favor of focusing on something that he thinks we're doing right. Both can be true, but his response is unsatisfying to me, at least, because of that.
posted by ChrisR at 11:32 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


Brad Porter did not write this - at least - he did not write this without the expert assistance of the Amazon PR and legal departments.

Look at the language: "Amazon has responded more nimbly to this crisis than any other company in the world. " and compare with the other defenses of Amazon, from within Amazon. They make a point to always make the case that Amazon should be measured compared to other shitty companies, rather than judged on their actual health and safety record. For example, Jay Carney: "Compare our jobs to the alternatives. Find an alternative - not imaginary - that provides the pay and benefits we provide.". Note, he doesn't claim that Amazon provides a living wage! He just tries to say that they're no worse than Walmart. (Of course when it comes to delivery jobs - he's wrong. Unionized UPS & USPS offer health and retirement benefits! And breaks!)

Porter says, "Is everyone going to be convinced we are doing enough? No. When you have hundreds of thousands of people coming to work every day who are all experiencing this pandemic differently, you cannot expect everyone to react the same way. The message is, in a big company like ours, you're going to have some winers! What can you do, this is a time of fear and uncertantanty and these people are just, well, not that smart, right? But quick: Look at all the great things Amazon is doing!

Porter ends by claiming that he finds Tim Bray's language "deeply offensive". Remember Amazon's leaked union busting playbook! Discredit the whistleblower then pivot to the supposedly innovative and great work Amazon is doing to save the world.

Porter's 'essay' is not an essay - it's transparent, union busting PR. Fuck that dude.
posted by latkes at 2:44 PM on May 6 [7 favorites]


The comments to Porter's essay on LinkedIn from other Amazon engineers like "Great rebuttal!" is some of the weirdest cult stuff I've ever seen. Or are his peers being pressured to thumbs up it?
posted by mostly vowels at 4:07 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


are his peers being pressured to thumbs up it?

No, just Stockholm syndrome. There's multiple Blind threads for my company along the lines of 'stop complaining everyone and just be happy we all have jobs working from home!'
posted by pwnguin at 2:09 PM on May 7 [3 favorites]


I mean, I can't prove Brad wrote it, and even if I asserted he did it'd take a willingness to believe me to convince you, so... not gonna waste my time.
posted by ChrisR at 1:55 PM on May 8


ChrisR, do you really think no one else, in Amazon's legal or PR wings, had editorial input on this?
posted by latkes at 8:59 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


Use any other option than Amazon. They exist. There are few excuses for most US consumers. You use them because it’s convenient. Not because you have to. Otherwise you simply have no moral authority to complain.

Yeah, I've got plenty of options. I can use Instacart, I can use Uber to get home from the grocery store, or I can use Amazon. Of the three, only one guarantees that the person transporting me or my goods an hourly wage. Sometimes the least worst option still isn't great. Sadly, not eating isn't sustainable for very long, no matter how hard I try.
posted by wierdo at 7:38 AM on May 10


"Nobody that I hang out with has been put on a PIP after a cancer diagnosis"

Welcome to corporate America, glad to have you with us. Systemic problems are not solved by focusing on one head of the hydra. You don't kill a weed by tearing off the leaves, you have to get the root or it just grows right back.
posted by wierdo at 7:45 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]


Tim published an update on the responses he got to his decision.
posted by mmascolino at 6:48 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


In his follow-up, Tim says that the one thing he "regrets intensely" is
that I didn’t link to Emily Cunningham’s original “Amazon fired me” tweet thread, which is exquisite (you have to click “show this thread”).
posted by clawsoon at 5:54 PM on May 13


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