Archive for August, 2015

Working at Amazon

Monday, August 31st, 2015

By now you have certainly heard of the NYT piece (or as I like to refer to it, the NYT hit piece) on working at Amazon.  And if you are truly interested, you may have read:

As a current Amazonian, I have been asked by several folks to comment on this article.   In my circle I predictably know a lot of folks working in software and computers.  When asked by one of them, my response is as follows:

Think about all the amazing people you have worked with in your career in software.  The people you respected, the people you admired.  You gained this appreciation by watching them work, seeing how they interacted.   Now ask yourself who is likely more akin to these wonderful people you have worked with and admired:  any given engineer or software professional at Amazon OR the two authors of the NYT piece?  Given that answer, who do you believe is telling an accurate and fair portrayal of working at Amazon?

And to put this in highlight, those NYT journos write:

The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses.

Secret feedback?  It’s a simple peer feedback tool…. as a manager I have valued and made great use of peer feedback for my directs, almost always to build a case for their advancement.

They do not even understand that as engineers we value the opinions of our peers, of those we work with, of those we help via our clever and clean software skills over those of a single manager or some central authority.  Remember, in the NYT authors’ world they value *awards* handed out by select committees… a few elevated individuals judging what is good and what is bad.   They cannot even fathom what software engineers and other computer professionals do on a daily basis, and how we work collaboratively (and agilely) to deliver value to make millions of lives better.

NYT authors succeed by creating a message of their own liking and convincing others of it.  Software professionals succeed by delivering technology that delights customers.

The colors of Microsoft–revisited again

Monday, August 10th, 2015

In this September 2012 blog post I posited on what the colors of the (then new) Microsoft logo represented

The Four Colors of the New Microsoft Company Logo

Microsoft Logo

I was just riffing… I had no inside knowledge, and was leveraging what others before me had suggested.  Here in summary is what I said:


Today for the first time ever I have seen validation of this theory.  Behold:


Let’s take a closer look at that


Well, there you go…. :-)

Amazon and Testing in Productions: Some good, some bad

Friday, August 7th, 2015

Amazon has a well deserved reputation of being data-driven in its decision making.  TiP is a vital part of this, but may not have always been approached as a legitimate methodology instead of an ad hoc approach.  An example of the latter can be seen by anyone on the production site who searches for {test ASIN}. where “ASIN” is the Amazon Standard Identification Number assigned to all items for sale on the Amazon site.  Such a search will turn up the following Amazon items “for sale”:



This is TiP done poorly as it diminishes the perceived quality of the website, and exposes customers to risk – a $99,999 charge (or even $200 one) for a bogus item would not be a customer satisfying experience.

Another TiP “slip” occurred prior to the launch of Amazon Unbox (now Amazon Instant Video).  Amazon attempted to use Exposure Control to limit access to the yet un-launched site, however and enterprising “hacker” found the information anyway and made it public.

However Amazon’s TiP successes should outweigh these missteps.   Greg Linden talks about the A/B experiment he ran to show that making recommendations based on the contents of your shopping cart was a good thing (where good thing equals more sales for Amazon).  A key take-away was that prior to the experiment an SVP thought this was a bad idea, but as Greg says:

I heard the SVP was angry when he discovered I was pushing out a test. But, even for top executives, it was hard to block a test. Measurement is good. The only good argument against testing would be that the negative impact might be so severe that Amazon couldn’t afford it, a difficult claim to make. The test rolled out.

The results were clear. Not only did it win, but the feature won by such a wide margin that not having it live was costing Amazon a noticeable chunk of change. With new urgency, shopping cart recommendations launched.

Another success involved the move of Amazon’s ordering pipeline (where purchase transactions are handled) to a new platform (along with the rest of the site).  A “simple” migration, the developers did not expect much trouble, however testers’ wisdom prevailed and a series of online experiments used TiP to uncover revenue impacting problems before the launch [Testing with Real Users, slide 56].