Saturday, December 13, 2008

Seduced by Amazons?

"Open the case."

-Howie Mandel


I am currently in Seattle after having finished interviews with I have already been offered a full-time position but went over to talk to them and find out whether this was someplace I want to work. Pertinent information I found out was as follows:

  1. Amazon is divided up into several "organizations," and each organization has several "teams." I talked to two organizations (Distributed Systems Engineering and Financial Systems) and two to three teams within each organization. I found one team (Customer Experience Analytics, which analyzes data from how customers use to find out how to improve the Web site to generate more sales) that I want to work at, but I am not particularly interested in any of the other teams that I met with.
  2. It is not possible to lock in a position on a particular team when you choose to join. Instead, you select an organization. If you do not select an organization one will be selected for you. Then when you get closer to the start date (about a month or so out) you get to choose a team from all the teams that have openings. Of course the teams that have openings are constantly in flux, so there is no way to know what teams will be available when it comes time.
  3. The deadline date for accepting the offer is December 19. Thus I will have no idea which graduate schools I will get into when accepting this offer. I analogized this situation to "Deal or No Deal", because I have to decide whether to take the "Deal" at Amazon before knowing enough information about it.
  4. I talked to my recruiter about this situation and he said that one possibility is to decline this offer, and then in May 2009 call again to see what teams are available, and join a team if there's a team with openings then I want to be on. (they have already evaluated my qualifications so I don't have to go through the interview process again.) Of course there's always the chance that all the spots will be full by then. The way I think about it is that this option is a dominant strategy: if all the teams I want fill up by then, then I wouldn't want to work at Amazon anyway, while if not, then I can still get an offer.

I will probably ask my recruiter again about what happens if I sign the offer letter now, and then when the time comes find out that there aren't any teams I want to work on, but the above option is probably what I'm going to do. So in a few months, I'll find out what was in the "cases" that I opened. (I think one of the other students I was with, when I mentioned it being like "Deal or No Deal," said something about opening a door to find out what prize is behind it. I reminded him that doors as a device to hide prizes in game shows were outdated 20 years ago, and the only reason anyone remembers them is because of the associated math problem.)


Dan Mont said...

Alex, since these teams seem to be fluid, what happens if you take a position with a team you like? Are you sure to be able to stay with that team, or if the company's needs change, will they transfer you to a different team, say six months from now? I think that's an important question to ask, since there is only one team that interests you,

Talkative in Toronto said...


(This is from Uncle Sam). In my last job at ExxonMobil, I was responsible for hiring a large number of campus recruits into the company. I wanted to offer some observations based on my experience. Of course, EM might differ from Amazon.

First, I very much agree with your Dad's comments. Within EM, we move people around quite a bit. So, a starting position is just that - a starting position. In EM, people stay in that starting position for about 1 year. So, I would want to understand the "career path" at Amazon and not only the initial position, but what's next.

Second, in terms of the timing... I think it would ver entirely reasonable for you to ask to differ the decision to say the beginning of January. We had a very similar recruiting calendar and tried to get out offers (and acceptances) before the holidays. However, you can say a number of things like, "I'm very interested in the offer - but you are my first onsite interview", "I would like an opportunity to think it over and talk about it with my parents during the holiday period", etc. Frankly, they aren't going to do that much after Dec 19, they are probably winding down for the year. But, they probably really want to know. They also probably have other campus recruits that they are trying to decide on offering or not. So, if you don't take "the case" they want to offer it to somebody else.

We have had people trying to decide about the graduate school issue. We (EM) probably wouldn't keep a position "open" all the way through May - as by that time other recruits would already be taken. I think we would be thinking that the individual really needs to decide if they want to go to graduate school or work. While, we would have considered somebody again later - that would have been very much dependent upon need.

I think you can ask for a little more clarity on the starting position. Within EM, we defined what section people would start in, but reserved the right to change it. Basically, as long as they got a job in Fairfax with EM, we were honoring their employment letter. If they can't give you that clarity, so be it.

Alex - I think it would be ashame if you turned down the position due to lack of information. Therefore, I think it would be fair if you politely asked for my clarity on some issues. I'm sure that Amazon would feel the same.

Best of luck - e-mail me if you want to get my perspectives further.