Month: September 2023

On Amazon cultures and practices

I joined AWS a while back, as an engineering manager. I had the wonderful opportunities to learn from Amazon unique cultures and wanted to write something about it. Here is my first attempt to share a bit of Amazon culture, came right out of my onboarding.

  1. Customer Obsession

Every company on earth will say that.

Everyone will say: customer is at the center of everything we do.

But Amazon stands out by being embedding this leadership principle into every day works: want to make a product proposal? Write an PRFAQ, like a press release, describe how customer would use and benefit from this product when it’s release.

On another aspect, I remembered this scenario during my manager onboarding :

“If an AWS customer accidentally incurred a $16,700 bill, how much the customer can claim back?

a) 50%
b) 65%
c) 80%
d) 100%”

This is a real-life example.  Ans: You got the right answer, didn’t you? It’s d) – 100% !

  1. Dive Deep

Amazonians circulate this serious joke: “In God we trust, everyone else bring data”. Not that we don’t trust each other, but we value the factual facts as much as believes.

One outstanding example is COE (Correct of Error) review: we listed detail timeline, action we took, impact we observed and ask ourselves 5-Whys, peeling layer of the onion until we can find root cause.  More often than not, the root cause and the best solution is not trivial, but the effort worth it.

Here is one example on the importance of asking 5-whys:

Problem: One of the monuments in Washington D.C. is deteriorating.

Why #1 – Why is the monument deteriorating?  

    • Because harsh chemicals are frequently used to clean the monument.

Why #2 – Why are harsh chemicals needed?

    • To clean off the large number of bird droppings on the monument.

Why #3 – Why are there a large number of bird droppings on the monument?

    • Because the large population of spiders in and around the monument are a food source to the local birds

Why #4 – Why is there a large population of spiders in and around the monument?

    • Because vast swarms of insects, on which the spiders feed, are drawn to the monument at dusk.

Why #5 – Why are swarms of insects drawn to the monument at dusk?

    • Because the lighting of the monument in the evening attracts the local insects.

So the best solution actually is:  Change how the monument is illuminated in the evening to prevent attraction of swarming insects.

3. Perculiarity 

Yes, you read it right. Amazon values perculiarity – doing thing in a different way, sometime, strange way. Amazonians are proud to be different and doing things in unique way.

Ever go to large meeting and nodding off? Amazonian fix that with a brilliant simple idea: use a spin wheel in meeting, randomly pick one of the audience to participate. Everyone suddenly stays engaged!

Going to a review and not sure what everyone is talking about? Well, Amazonians counter that by spent silent time in the beginning of a meeting, to read the materials.

These are indeed perculiar practices. And they works, beautifully !

That’s a wrap for now. I’ll love to share more cultural practices, as I learn more from my journey.



[1] LP = Leadership Principles. They appear in almost all everyday conversations.

[2] PRFAQ = Press Release FAQ – a document to write before building any product or service, describing how we would talk about it when it is released: how it will benefit customers, what customers will be interested in.

[3] COE = Correction of Errors – a detailed, nameless post-mortem with detailed documentation on history, timeline of the event, impacts, root cause, action items and proposal.