My first six months @ AWS

Long time since I don’t write on the blog (my baby daugther is taking most of the time), but I think today’s topic is worth sharing, since it’s the kind of information I was looking months ago and couldn’t find.

So, my probation period at AWS is over and I’ll share my overview about this experience so far, break some myths, etc.

— Disclaimer: opinions shared here are my own and don’t reflect Amazon and/or AWS opinion —

So, a bit of context:

I joined AWS on February 15th, 2020 in Berlin, Germany, and have been working on the same team and project since then. So, I can’t share any impression about other teams because my exposure in this sense was limited.

So, here are some points worth sharing, things that I couldn’t find when I was considering moving to the Berlin branch of the company:

1. Culture

When I decided to accept AWS offer and join the company, I was so excited that, naturally, I shared the big news with my network. During this period, I’ve lost count about how many times I heard the most horrifying stories about the company: things from “It’s very hard, you won’t make it” to “Say goodbye to your work/life balance, they will eat your soul”. I won’t lie that, at some point, I started reconsidering my decision, but in the end I decided to see by myself instead of basing my destiny on other’s opinions. I couldn’t have made a better decision:

What I found was an extremely respectful, collaborative and high skilled team. Everybody here is very professional, but at the same time open minded and welcoming. The onboarding can be overwelming, because there’s a lot to catch up about the team and the company in the beginning, but I was never refused help when I needed during this process.

  • Is it really hard?

This is subjective. It’s a big company, leader on the cloud computing market, so you can expect to deal with big and complex systems, but in the end, we’re all human beings. You will find extremely skilled people here that knows a lot about a lot of stuff, but you also brings your own baggage with things that others might not know. This diversification is what makes the job really exciting.

  • What about the work/life balance? Do they really eat your soul?

My soul is safe & sound, thanks for asking.

Let me tell you: 45 days after I joined the company, my baby girl was born. I had the chance to take a time off to be with mother and baby. Since I came back to work, I never had to skip an important appointment for my daughter or deal with crazy deadlines. To be honest, I have the exact same freedom in AWS as I used to have with many startups in Berlin. In the end, your team relies that you’ll manage to delivery what you agreed upon, so it doesn’t really matter if you have to spend the morning off because your kid has a pediatrician appointment and you’ll work later to compensate. Pressuring people to overwork and delivery more never worked in a long run, so keeping you mentally healthy is of company’s interest.

2. Be prepared to be challenged

One of the main reasons that made me decide to join AWS was to reach the next level in my career. I always loved my profession and keeping up to date about the latest technologies was never a pain for me: I would do that for fun anyways.

Since day one at AWS (well, technically, it’s always day one), my beliefs and opinions were always challenged. In the beginning, it can sound a little intimidating, almost personal, but after you get used, it becomes natural and, I must say, it’s a game changer in your career.

After these six months, I started to think twice (even more, sometimes) about my beliefs, questioning my own opinions, because I knew that, if I don’t, the rest of the team will. This helped me to be more critical about my work and ask “why” much more often than I used to do in the past. Even for ideas and opinions defended for a long time, I see myself sometimes trying to break this bias and base my opinions on facts and evidences.

The same way, after some time, this cultural characteristic helps you to make better questions to others. The company motivates you to share your ideas and concerns, and the team knows that such behaviour is beneficial for the product in the long run. So, today, I feel much more comfortable on receiving criticism about my work, since they normally makes sense and helps me to grow. The same way, I feel comfortable challenging other’s opinions, until I’m completely convinced about that. This is probably the most fascinating thing that I faced since I joined the company: the ability to take such sensitive behavior and turn it into a catalyst to new ideas and different points of view.

3. The bar is high

As mentioned before on this post, one of the reasons that made me join Amazon was to be challenged. Being one of the top engineers in small companies is nice for the ego, but might hurt your career progress if you aren’t challenged enough.

When I joined Amazon, it became cristal clear for me that the bar was much higher than I thought (not a surprise, since the entire interview process was challenging and required a proper preparation). The technical skills of the people I worked with so far are impressive, which, at a first moment, was quite intimidating for me. In Amazon, I really got to know what I true senior engineer is, and that, if I aspire to be called a senior again in the future, I have things to learn and get better over the next years. But you know what? This is very exciting! Every single day I have to learn something new, and every day I add something else on the list to learn. This vicious cycle is what makes IT exciting for me and the reason I decided to follow this path.

4. An universe of information

With so many brilliant minds interacting everyday, no surprise that knowledge sharing is something extremelly rooted in the company’s culture. So, my onboarding process was overwelming, because since day one, you’re put in a vortex of information flowing from different directions. Once again, in the beginning, this is quite frightening, because you get the impression that it’s too much and you won’t make it, but time and patience did the trick for me (actually, it’s still doing, because the onboarding never ends in my opinion). The good part is that the amount of information available internally is massive. From articles and docs to videos and presentations, it’s virtually impossible not to find at least a mention about something you’re searching for. And, of course, by being part of the company, you’re allowed (and suggested) to share your knowledge as well. Another benefit is that, sometimes, the to-go person about a specific technology is an Amazon employee, so being able to open a chat window or drop an email for this person is an amazing benefit (actually, this should be listed as a benefit in Amazon’s job descriptions 😂).

5. In the end, it’s all about people

I think this is probably the most important misconception I dismantled after I joined Amazon: the human factor. My first guess was that, given the size and expressiveness of the company in the world, the human factor would be neglected. Dealing with massive teams can be challenging and, in order to keep everything in place, processes may emerge, making the whole thing mechanical and the human factor lost.

This is the opposite of what I experienced so far.

Starting from your own peers and manager up to the high management, the amount of questions and checks the company run to verify your mental health and overall satistaction is very reassuring. Specially during these crazy Corona days, many teams (myself included) found ways to stay connected and keep the “coffee chitchat” happening, even at distance. Over the last months, my team in particular ran two virtual team events, and I must say it went much better than I expected. In resume, I never felt like a number in Amazon.

Conclusion

Six months is a short period of time, I know, and I have a lot to learn and discover about the company, so don’t take my words for granted: this is just my initial impression about everything. But this is also my biggest learning during this process: don’t take other’s words as the ultimate truth. If I had relied solely on internet feedbacks and horror stories about the company, very likely I wouldn’t be writing this post now. Every company, no matter the size, have pros and cons, things you like and dislike. For some, Amazon isn’t the right company, while for others it’s the perfect place for a long career.

Is it the perfect place for me? It’s too soon to tell, but according my first impressions I have a good feeling about what awaits for me here.

I don’t regret having confronted my fears and concerns six months ago and take the risk of accepting this challenge, specially with a baby on the way. Otherwise, I would have missed an amazing experience.