A couple of months ago, I got an invitation to an Amazon recruiting event:

Hi Shauna-

I came across your information in our system and your background is impressive! We are currently looking to hire Sr. Software Development Engineers (SDEs) to join the Amazon Retail team and are hosting an “Invitation Only” recruiting event for the Amazon Media and International Expansion (ISE) organizations specifically the week of February 16th.

If you’re interested in being considered for this opportunity, please reply with your updated resume to [Recruiter’s email] if you’d like to be considered. Once we receive your response, we will evaluate your candidacy for consideration for the event.

The roles are based in Seattle, WA and Amazon will provide relocation assistance to our hires. Unfortunately, remote work is not an option for these openings.

We also value your referrals. Please don’t hesitate to share my information with any of your friends/colleagues who may be interested.

Thanks, [Amazon Recruiter]

It was a cool opportunity, but I decided to turn it down. The fact that remote work wasn’t even an option was a bit of a red flag for me. No remote option meant my family and I would have to pick up and move to Seattle. While the idea has certainly been tempting (and strangely enough, apparently despite Seattle’s reputation for being rainy as hell, Columbus is on par for cloudy days), we’d be giving up a lot of things that we have here. I admittedly don’t have the greatest track record for job longetivity, and although that hasn’t stopped recruiters from knocking on my virtual door, it’s something that’s at the forefront of my mind any time I consider a new opportunity.

The reason my track record is the way it is, is because of company culture. I’m very picky about company culture and don’t do well in certain cultures that tend to be rampant in companies that need developers (which I’ve touched on, a couple of times, before and will probably go into more detail about in a future post). I asked around to see what the culture at Amazon is really like, and what I found was…eh… It wasn’t bad, per se, but there were a few things I found that weren’t good for me, and a lot of “it depends.”

So, I responded like so:

Hi [Recruiter],

I greatly appreciate your invitation. However, I have chosen to turn down this offer and explain why. I hope you, and Amazon as a whole, will take this into consideration.

Culture means a lot to me. So much so that for me, it’s the “kingmaker” aspect of a job. I’m not talking kegerators and happy hours, or onsite gyms and token video game consoles. I’m talking about things like respect for employees’ time and health (both physical and mental), and I’m talking about the behaviors of companies and management that lead to workforces that consist primarily of single, white men in their 20s.

One of the big talking points in…well…just about everything tech and work related, is “why are women leaving the tech industry?” or a similar variation, “why are developer teams so primarily young, white men?” The answer is a lot simpler than people seem to think, in my opinion, though changing it is admittedly not so simple.

The the leading tech companies breed a culture that only appeals to the bachelor demographic, and the followers try to emulate the leaders.

When I first got your email, I was excited, but I was also hesitant. So, I asked my developer network what it’s like working at Amazon, since I knew a few current or former employees were in it.

Between those replies and the reviews I saw on various job ranking sites, the answer I got was a solid “it depends.”

Amazon, being such a large company, is bound to have different “subcultures” within its various departments, of course. The red flags for me, though, were along the same lines for why leads for other West Coast companies didn’t pan out for me – the idea that developers are expendable and that running us on the brink of burnout is something to aspire to. Model View Culture had a fantastic write-up about this issue (https://modelviewculture.com/pieces/adderall-has-a-tech-industry-problem), and having seen that expectation for myself, “it depends” is simply not good enough to warrant picking up my family and moving across the country. While the risk would be lower if I were single, it would still be a large risk that I’d be hesitant to take on, because of that “it depends,” especially since the stories for the “bad” end were really bad. Add to that the fact that some of the benefits required paying back if you didn’t make it to X number of months or years, and that clinched it so hard I even considered cancelling my Prime membership (since I’m not sure I even want to support a company with those kinds of values).

The fact that remote work is not offered for most of the developer positions I’ve seen offered by Amazon – this one included – is an additional issue for me. I’ve found that there are other certain cultural traits that often appear in companies that don’t allow remote working with which I don’t agree. Namely, that the company is still beholden to hours spent in a chair, and risk fostering the “turn the lights on in the morning and off at night” culture for which developers are already at risk and lends to gross abuses of the Fair Labor Standards Act and salaried developers, both of which are already all too common in our industry.

Again, I thank you for the opportunity, but with the information I’ve found regarding Amazon’s developer culture, I will have to pass.

Shauna Gordon

It was a bit long-winded, though not nearly what I’ve written in other forums. I was hoping the recruiter would read it and take it into consideration, but honestly, I expected to not hear from them again.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that wasn’t the case (emphasis mine):

Hi Shauna-

I apologize for the delay in getting back to you, and thank you for sharing your story and giving a detailed description on Amazon. Diversity and culture is something that we have been discussing in our meetings with upper management, and want you to know as not only a candidate but an Amazon customer, we take this issue very seriously. I’ve shared this email with our management and hiring teams so they can have a better understanding of our brand and what our customers think of us as a whole.

Amazon strives to be the most customer centric company in the world, and I believe it’s of the upmost importance each of us as employees are treating our customer’s right and making sure they are taken care of.

If anything should change in the future or anything I can do to improve the situation, please feel free to reach out.

All the best, [Recruiter]

Wow. Okay then. That was certainly more than expected, which is cool. Now the real test – see if anything meaningful come from that action. Only time will tell on that front.

I’m posting this for a couple of reasons:

  1. To provide an example of a company (at least appearing to) listen to its candidates and customers. As a long-time Amazon customer, I’ve never been disappointed by their customer service, but I’ve never had it in writing like this, and this move goes beyond what even their customer service people have done.
  2. To sort of help hold Amazon accountable (for lack of a better description) and not let this get lost in a sea of emails. Not that this would really hold much (if any) weight in the grand scheme of things, it might help something, somewhere further the goal of diversity in the workplace and Silicon Valley companies and whatnot.
  3. To provide an example of doing one of the things that I advocate – explaining to comapnies why I make a given decision about them or their product. There’s a lot of talk about all the things that are wrong with the tech industry or gaming or the world in general, but it’s not often I see actual solutions, suggestions, or even so much as a “hey, I contacted this company” (and, almost worse, when I do see posts of “hey, I contacted this company, here’s their response,” it’s very often only when the response is negative. While that’s great for publicity, it’s not so great for highlighting the things that have gone right in this world).

Hopefully, this won’t fall into history as an example of a company making empty promises. Only time will tell.