I Joined AWS, It’s Surreal, and Why
TLDR I joined Amazon Web Services on the 11th of October — i.e. AWS — and it rocks.
When you join Amazon you are signing up to learn a lot of things about the company and the ways in which the company gets things done. Before I get into all that, I’m going to tell you a bit about my career and what led me to Amazon. After all, it is surreal and unexpected for many that know me that I’m here. This relationship has definitely been a 2-way story, and one where it finally fit in a mutually beneficial way.
My First Years in Tech
Years ago, I jumped into the nascent tech industry from the state of Mississippi, where I grew up. Mississippi is quintessentially one of the most regressive, least advanced, disadvantaged, poor, and poorly run states in the entire United States. For most Mississippians life starts rough and continues that way throughout. However there are shining little slivers where tech lives and thrives in the state, and I lucked out in a massive way by cutting my teeth at Stennis Space Center (yes, a part of NASA).
When I got into tech I had no high school diploma and no college. I would eventually attend college but I couldn’t attend yet as I was only 13. I fumbled my way into some coding by taking a programming class. The class used the “Basic” programming language taught by a smart and creative woman that did well to keep the attention of a moderately bored “metal head” 13 year old.
Just a few years later I picked up a C++ book, because one didn’t have the internet to just google their way into learning a new language. That was quickly followed by learning Visual Basic 4, which landed me an opportunity to build a video rental tracking application. I got paid too, a massive $300 bucks! In the next several years I ended up getting into networking, systems administration, more programming and scripting and doing work for doctor’s offices, hospitals, trucking dispatches, junk yards, and a number of other businesses.
I loved the independence this life I’d gotten into gave me. Eventually college came up and I attended some courses, mostly about music and music theory more than programming. But out of a desire to learn faster and cover more topics I left college to advance in the industry.
Fast forward over that following decade and I tore into a plethora of technologies, started working for some giant companies like Bank of America, Citigroup, and Fidelity with hundreds of thousands of people, Government agencies, and some smaller startup like companies.
Through all of this experience, and traumatic death march styled work, I came to two decisions that have shaped my career for many years and benefited me in a very significant way.
- I was going to cease working for the Government, after years of consulting and related work with the Federal and States Governments I just couldn’t take the lack of control, inability to really effect change, and the general laggard nature of the work. I promised myself I’d stop working in this sector entirely. At this point in my life, I’ve held 100% to that promise, it’s been a rewarding and very effective decision.
- I decided I would, likely, stay away from big corporations and also likely stick primarily to small (i.e. SMBs) that allowed me the most impact within an organization. If I were to shift back to a large corporate entity it would have to be with some type of rogue group or segmented team within that organization that fell outside of the general organization itself. So far only one team fit that mold, at Home Depot, but outside of that group I’ve stayed my course and stuck to small business, SMBs, and startups.
Hello Amazon Web Services
“Every day is Day 1.” — Corporate Training, but coined per Jeff Bezos
This line in the embarkation of working at AWS stuck out. Which is saying something, because when you join AWS there’s about ~80–120 hours of training videos and culture related content to consume for the coder, techie, project, product, and leader related type of work.
It stuck out because, really, in very real terms this is day 1 of a new career direction for me. I’ve shifted and mutated my 2nd declaration above, in a significant way. I’ve joined AWS to work with the Amplify, AppSync, and surrounding teams to move forward work in GraphQL, data, flows related to, and projects and services around that data space. I’m stoked, but I didn’t join just because of the tech.
Why join AWS? Even though I’d promised myself not to join anymore big corp companies I got to a point and looked at several of the big companies because I wanted more scope. What I mean by scope is the range of topics, tech, and people that I could work with on a daily basis that were involved in a wide space instead of just a singular narrow space. Startups and small business, by their very nature, work in a singular and narrow space. I still had intent and wanted to work with GraphQL and tech immediately tangential to GraphQL, but I wanted more access, more range, and options to expand the interactions of the tech and expand into access to interactions with people in the industry. So I began a search.
That search started with several companies, including AWS. I was looking for several key characteristics that would dictate where I landed.
- Involvement in the space, specifically the open source space I wanted to work in. That included several key technologies, depending on what matched best, I’d go that direction: Kubernetes, GraphQL, and general open source development (like Github, etc). This made the options basically Google, Microsoft, AWS, or Facebook!
- What company would trigger the least ethical dilemmas for me. Yes, this was indeed part of the criteria I was looking at and discussing. Facebook was already on the shit list considering their political meanderings and inability to fix them. I also just wasn’t sure considering the conflation between actions vs. words. Google was in a moderately ok space, as was AWS, and Microsoft has been doing pretty good on the ethical front as of late. There’s always some questions about things, but I basically wanted to make sure I wasn’t working on things directly helping to cage kids or bomb other countries that are in the stone age back to the stone age!
- What company has culture (i.e. specifically good behaviors around meetings, people, etc) that I would appreciate and would work well for me. I’m a rather disciplined, driven, yet ADHD afflicted soul so sometimes, a company’s culture can destroy me or burn me out at 10x the rate of others. I want to join an effort and stick around for some time to really drive home some impact!
- How would the team I’m on and teams of people I’d work with, mesh with me. Obviously they’d interview me but I am more than aware, and 100% interview them at the same time. Interviews are absolutely a 2-way relationship and I, as with the last decade plus of my career, have chosen only to work with teams of people that I know are top tier, diverse, open minded, and have a good heart in their efforts.
How It Came Together
I started my search with the premise that I wanted to gain the above four characteristics in which company I joined. I had the privilege and due diligence to choose the company that I could gain all of these, not just a one or a couple of these characteristics. I won’t focus on the companies that didn’t make the cut or why, but I will elaborate on why AWS, and Amazon in general, did indeed make the cut.
- Leadership principles: One of the things Amazon as a company lives and dies by is the leadership principles. There are a whole host of folks that like to complain, denigrate, nit pick, and come up with reasons why these are bad, but I’ll just cut that off with — when intent is good — they’re all awesome. Full stop. To break down each and personally elaborate:
- Customer Obsession: yeah, I literally do this work with a priority on who will use it. It’s one of the reasons I focus on minimizing ethical concerns. It then insures that I too can truly be invested in supporting my customers in their efforts. Check.
- Ownership: I already live by this principle, not just in work life, but personal as well! It’s something I staunchly believe in. Long term over short term, take accountability, act on behalf of not only yourself but others. Step up, there’s a lot that needs to be done in this world! Check.
- Invent and Simplify: The mantra I’ve basically lived my whole programming career by. If I can’t build things to work myself out of work, and I can’t find a better way to do something after doing it for a while, I’ve started to fail at what I’m doing. I work in this field to make things easier, better, and more resilient for the users’ of the things I build and help others build. Check.
- Are Right, A Lot: Nuff’ said.
- Learn and Be Curious: Just scroll through and read the posts on this blog, follow me @Adron or streaming @ThrashingCode. You know I’m all about this. Check.
- Hire and Develop the Best: Well, I haven’t hired anybody yet at AWS, but I’ve hired a lot of people in my career so far. I don’t hire you if you won’t or can’t be the best, thus, if I ever do hire you, you can rest well knowing I vouched for you and know you can kick ass and take names! 🤘🏻
- Insist on the Highest Standards: We can talk about the pedantic nature of this leadership principle in the future and joke about tablets later. Check.
- Think Big: Always. Check.
- Bias for Action: People’s lives continue today because of my bias for action. If you know me, you’’ll understand this comment. If not, feel free to ask, I’ve just summarized it with this statement for this post. Check.
- Frugality: At work, yup. At home, no comment. Albeit I would own a plane or launch rockets in a frugal way too if I had the financial resources. Check.
- Earn Trust: I’m always working to earn trust among those I trust and respect. I hope we all are, it’s a remarkably good way to live. Check.
- Dive Deep: I’m on it. Check.
- Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit. Thanks brutally, caustic, and toxic southern upbringing, and thanks west coast for helping me tone that down to an effective level of having backbone, disagreeing and committing in life. Check.
- Deliver Results: I’ll admit, this one I’m a little afraid to ask why it even needs to be listed. Check.
- Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer and Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility: I’ll do my part but I’ll leave these as is for today. There’s work to be done! Check.
The team and members on the periphery of that team checked all the boxes, were friendly, easy to converse with, and are top tier people in this industry! During my initial loop I got to speak with and meet, and I highly recommend following each of these people if you don’t already and are interested in the work we’re doing:
- Bill Fine -> @billfine
- Brice Pellé -> @bricepelle
- Ed Lima -> @ednergizer
- Robert Zhu -> @rbzhu
- Ali Spittell -> @ASpittel
- Mohit Srivastava -> @mohit
- I also met and spoke with Aleksej Trefilov and Ben Snellings, but we can’t discuss all the cool secret thigns they’re working on, so I’ll just leave it at — awesome to meet them, if you get a chance to work with them sign up!
- Big shout out too to Adam Desai and Mashayla too! Adam is the recruiter that I worked with and got all of the loops lined up, and Mashayla joined in to make sure everything got coordinated and scheduled! Great experience and good workflow y’all have!
Around the culture aspect, as I spoke to the team and others in the immediate teams I dove into a number of culture questions. One of the things that summarizes the drive and energy at AWS is the principled and organized nature of meetings starting with a document read — everybody reads the document — then the meeting resumes around discussion of the document, the details, data, and the participants take actions based on that. It’s a very effective way to run meetings. Beyond that however, the general readiness of the team, the approach and interactions of everybody involved, was excellent. The conversations during the interview, the tests and challenges, all were great fun and I got a lot of information (and I got the job, so I suspect I provide good information!) and enjoyed the interactions. I got a solid feeling we’d mesh well. Another criteria, check!
Now all of this didn’t go off without a hitch, because of certain things I got to do a second short loop and my role switched from Developer Advocate DA to Product Manager Technical. This worked out very well however, as no I’m positioned to have impact from work as a developer advocate and product management efforts.
There were other competing offers from Google, Microsoft, and other companies I interviewed with at the same time. In the end though the responsiveness, effective flexibility from the team and Adam led to AWS coming out the winner. With everything wrapped up and questions answered, all criteria met, I gave AWS and the team a solid YES!