Tribe Amazon

   Come visit and get free Jelly Bellies (and nothing else)

Come visit and get free Jelly Bellies (and nothing else)

Say what you will about Amazon, love them or hate them, they are the reason we are living this adventure. I'm ambivalent about Amazon myself. They don't do charitable donation matching like so many other Seattle companies; there are no retail benefits extended to employees and we even pay full price for Prime; despite his wealth, Jeff Bezos is a staunch Libertarian and doesn't give away much of his money. But I will defend them when it comes to service. Don't we all have a feel-good Amazon story, like ordering diapers in the morning and finding them on the porch in the afternoon? And face the facts: Amazon is not putting book stores out of business. People who get a head rush from paying less than retail are putting book stores out of business. People who truly can't afford to buy books use the library. However, when it comes to Legos, or any other corporation-produced product, I'm happy to let Amazon tighten the screws and get me the best deal. 

   Amazon hides out in the back streets of The City

Amazon hides out in the back streets of The City

So I thought it was time to give you an Amazon perspective from the other half of this household. I went to his office last week and interviewed C about his experience at the new Amazon UK.


Tell me what appealed to you about coming to London to work?

Partly it was just ready to move on from Seattle. Twenty years in Seattle and seven at Amazon, I was getting the travel antsies again. And yet we always discussed the idea - lets consider travelling but stay working with Amazon. Work for Amazon remotely, that way you get travel time and get to stay with Amazon. I kept saying, "How about South Africa, Karin? How about China, Karin? Those didn't (appeal) at all. How about Dublin?" "Maybe."  "How about London?" "OK!" And that was it.  

You've been (with Amazon) here a year now. How's it feeling?

It's getting better socially. I think there's always the set-up time and getting to know people. It's a little bit tough to compare Amazon UK with Amazon US (because) I was working on a great project in the US.

Can you tell us about it?

Yeah, actually. It just shipped. It was a smart phone. 

I heard about that!

I can actually talk about that now!  Specifically I worked on the actual set-up of the project. I was one of the developers on the smart phone project in general. But then I started on mapping, so I was working on maps for the smart phone. So that was a lot of fun. Here we had a really tough project when I arrived. A big migration project.

Tell us about that project.

So Amazon bought Lovefilm, which was a UK company that provides DVDs that ship to your house and provides streaming videos.

Like Netfilx?

Like Netflix, yeah. It was mostly a UK company with a small German footprint.

It wasn't a porn movie company?

   Would some techno geek please deal with all these cords?!

Would some techno geek please deal with all these cords?!

No, despite the name. So Amazon bought them and the migration was all about taking the two and a half million Lovefilm customers and moving them to the Amazon platform, making sure that when they moved over, everything was correct. All the past rental history was there, your future rentals, what you're interested in, your credit cards are set up properly. There were all these different pieces of data that had to be set up properly.  But it was under a tight deadline and if something went wrong you had real potential... like even if only 10% of your customers had trouble that's 150,000 people without their accounts. So you kind of have to get it right.

What are the biggest differences you've noticed between working at Amazon UK vs Amazon Seattle?

There's many many more similarities than differences. One of the reasons Amazon brought me and other more senior developers over was to imprint the way of doing things. There's really not that many differences because of the fact that many of the more senior people are American. Many of the Brits had to get used to the idea...Americans are very direct and Amazonians are even more direct. So some of the Brits had to get used to the idea that you don't walk in and beat around the bush. You get right to the point.

Wait, so you asked the Brits to get used to you rather than the other way around?

Yeah, it's an American company and that's the culture. That's what happens here; it moves faster that way. Another thing that's interesting is that when interviewing (potential new hires) a lot of Brits will not talk about what they did. They'll often talk about "we" even if they were personally responsible for a large part of it. It's important for me to understand what you did, not what your group did. It's perfectly fine to say "we" when it's the group but you need to say "I" when it's something you did. So during an interview it's often much harder (to find out) what part of that did you do?

   Stop here for Smithfield meat market, vintage post-war housing and the largest on-line company in the universe

Stop here for Smithfield meat market, vintage post-war housing and the largest on-line company in the universe

What about your commute?

Well, for London it's great. Coming from Seattle where I had a 5 minute scooter ride to here where it's 45 minutes door to door, I thought 45 was a long time. But a lot of people here have an hour, hour and a half. Even people (who live) within London often have an hour commute. So 45 is not bad at all. It's actually quite easy. I bicycle to the train station, the trains are almost always on time, then it's 25 minutes in and then a seven minute walk.

What do you like the most and the least about working in London?

Like when I'm just going in and coming back which is most of the time it's actually a drag. If I were working in St. Albans it would be easier. But, when you actually have time (in the city), you take ten minutes here, ten minutes there or two hours, you can sit and watch people go by or wander around the neighborhoods. It's simply fantastic. London has so many surprises. You walk down an alley and there's an old church. Some real characters pop up.

What else would you like to talk about?

I just made a move to a different group. I was working on services, and when I say services I mean things that run in The Cloud. I'm not working on services anymore, I'm now working on devices.

Ooo, can you tell us more?

   Casual dress meets London: The man hasn't bought a new suit since 1988. 

Casual dress meets London: The man hasn't bought a new suit since 1988. 

Uh, I don't know so I'm gonna say no.

So you're working on a project that you don't know what it is yet?

I know exactly what it is but I don't know if I can talk about it yet. Therefore, I'm going to default to not talking about it.

Oh, would you tell your wife?

Yes, but not on a recording. 

And not on a blog?

Definitely not on a blog.

So thank you, dear C for working in The Cloud and on Devices so we have the experience of living in another country, learning how to beat around the bush, and can be in Europe in less than an hour. And thank you Amazon for paying our living expenses so I can write this blog, shop at the farmer's market and buy my books at Waterstones and Oxfam. I got over the head rush a while ago.