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Amazon Career Development Videos, Forum, and Q&A

Grow Your Tech Career at Amazon

Amazon.com, Inc. is an American multinational technology company which focuses on e-commerce, cloud computing, and much more. Headquartered in Seattle, Washington, it has been referred to as "one of the most influential economic and cultural forces in the world".

What is a hiring manager's opinion on a candidate who takes some time after being laid off to work on side projects/freelance?

Entry-Level Software Engineer [SDE 1] at Amazon profile pic
Entry-Level Software Engineer [SDE 1] at Amazon

I am an SDE1 that was recently laid off from AWS (~2 YOE total). Lately, I have been reflecting on what I wanted to do/what really excites me. I really enjoy software development and while I do want to get another job one day, I wanted to use this opportunity to scratch my entrepreneurial itch and create apps/websites/side-projects for fun or for many small business owners I know that need someone to create software for their business. I'm not sure how long this "break" will be but I would say ~2 to 3 months time. Part of this is inspired by Alex Chiou's love for side projects.

I understand that finding a job will take some time as well, so the total gap on my resume that will be filled by this freelance work/applying might be ~6 months total. I understand that there are other posts on Taro that talk about the impact of a career break but this won't necessarily be a break per se. On my resume I will put this down as freelance work I completed for clients and will be prepared to show potential employers a portfolio of what I did.

I was wondering if this would negatively reflect on my application when applying for SDE jobs again/will make it harder for me to land a job. Alternatively, I could begin applying and interview prep now and only work on these projects on the side. Thanks.

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Should I be wary of what tools I work with to maximize delivering impact?

Entry-Level Software Engineer [SDE 1] at Amazon profile pic
Entry-Level Software Engineer [SDE 1] at Amazon

I've always been the one to dive into problems and solve them without thinking about how difficult they are but recently I've been running into this failure mode where many of the problems I work on involve using old tools that are cumbersome to work with. The result is that it takes much longer to deliver my work compared to those that work on packages with newer tools (I'm talking about native AWS lambda, s3, dynamo, etc) and sometimes I wonder if I'm doing what's best for my career.

Some cumbersome tool examples include

  • One package uses an old technology that doesn't allow us to test our changes in our dev desktop before we can submit a PR
  • Another package doesn't map correctly our dev desktop to the prod environment so it's sometimes difficult to reproduce the issue
  • Some non aws tools do not really provide much information to help the user debug their problems compared to the native aws tools

My company has at least acknowledged the issues with the above first two bullets and has slowly started deprecating those tools. Oftentimes the senior and mid-level engineers work with newer tools and therefore aren't as familiar with the older ones, which is fine. I could just avoid working with these packages altogether and only work on the packages that involve the shiny new aws tools but I'm not sure if that mentality is what's best for my career.

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Performance Review

Evaluation

See relevant discussions involving Amazon engineers on Taro.

Engineers are actually evaluated on two dimensions: performance and potential. Performance is backward-looking: what did you achieve in the past few months? Potential is forward-looking: how will you perform in the future, given your ambition and growth rate?

Managers decide a rating for each engineer on these two dimensions, which results in a final "performance summary" (described in the calibration section):

Amazon performance summary based on performance and potential

Managers make determinations about potential based on various criteria like willingness to act on feedback, initiative to improve workflows, and demonstrations of strategic thinking.

Evaluation at Amazon is coupled to their 16 leadership principles (LPs):

  • Customer Obsession
  • Ownership
  • Invent and Simplify
  • Are Right, A Lot
  • Learn and Be Curious
  • Hire and Develop the Best
  • Insist on the Highest Standards
  • Think Big
  • Bias for Action
  • Frugality
  • Earn Trust
  • Dive Deep
  • Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
  • Deliver Results
  • Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer
  • Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility

Feedback

Self Feedback

Mention the Amazon LPs you championed across the cycle to add more weight to your self-review.

The input is free-form, but you should anchor your self-assessment against the Amazon LPs.

Manager Feedback

Your manager's feedback is very important because they will stack rank you. All of the feedback is collated under your director level.

Peer Feedback

Amazon is big on collaboration, so you can request feedback from a huge amount of peers. There is effectively no limit to the amount of peers you can get feedback from - You can go as high as 15-30 peers.

You should reach out to a minimum of 5-6 peers for feedback, even if you're SDE 1.

When someone requests peer feedback from you, you write about the following 2 categories:

  1. Superpowers
  2. Areas of improvement

Make sure to be concise with your peer feedback as you only have 60 words per section!

On top of the above 2 fields, you can also choose up to 3 options each for:

  1. Amazon LPs your peer championed well
  2. Amazon LPs your peer could have represented better

This means that you can tie up to 6 total LPs to your peer feedback. These selections are made across checkboxes.

Feedback Visibility

You will be able to see your peer feedback with names removed. However, this can be reverse engineered based on the author's writing style. Write peer feedback with the expectation that the peer will know the feedback is coming from you.

Calibration

Amazon targets to cut the bottom 6% of its engineers every performance cycle for low performance. 💀

Manager Role

Amazon is different than most other companies because there are 2 different ratings:

  • The rating you see and get (Exceeds, Meets, Needs Improvement)
  • The real behind-the-scenes rating, which is generated by your manager and other engineering leadership

The real rating is generated through a separate process called OLR (Organization And Leadership Review).

Here are the real ratings:

RatingMaps ToDescription
TT - Top TierExceedsThis means that you are a rockstar for your level, massively exceeding expectations. You generally need to be here to get promoted. Only 1-2% of engineers get this rating.
HV3 - High Value 3ExceedsThis means that you're doing extremely well.
HV2 - High Value 2MeetsThis means that you're doing quite well, exceeding expectations.
HV1 - High Value 1MeetsThis is the average rating. 35-40% of engineers are placed within this bucket.
LE - Least EffectiveNeeds ImprovementThis means that you're doing poorly, not meeting expectations at your level. 10% of engineers get this rating every cycle.

Compensation

Salary

Amazon's frugality shows here as your compensation doesn't increase significantly with a good performance review rating.

RatingSalary Increase (%)
Exceeds2-4%
Meets1-2%
Needs Improvement0-1%

If you want a significant compensation increase, you need to get a promotion. A promotion often increases your base salary by at least 30%.

Equity

Amazon's offers equity to employees over a 4 year period, but the vesting schedule is biased toward the end of the 4 year grant. Generally you'll get a signing bonus over years 1 and 2 to "make up" the initial TC difference.

Amazon defines a "target comp" for each level which dictates your pay in subsequent years. If your previous equity grants have appreciated significantly in value, your equity refresh could be 0!

Amazon's vesting schedule is biased toward the end of the 4 year grant

Bonus

Unlike most other Big Tech companies, Amazon doesn't pay out a cash bonus.

TC Boosting Fun Facts 💸

Amazon shells out the big bucks retaining top-caliber talent with "dive and save", which can increase your TC by $75k+. However, this is really hard to attain as it requires VP approval.

Before, you could "boomerang", leaving Amazon for another company and then quickly come back to Amazon with a better package. However, policy recently changed so that boomerangs would get the same package they had before.

Performance Improvement Plan

Rating Risk

There is a high risk of getting a PIP if you get an NI (Needs Improvement) rating.

There is a target for 10% of engineers to receive the NI rating each cycle.

Process

PIPs are effectively a death sentence at Amazon. 🪦

If you're a low performer, the process is as follows:

  1. Focus - This is also called a "Development Plan" or a "Development List". 10-15% of each organization is put into "Focus" each cycle. You are given a well-defined project that's usually around a month to execute.
  2. Pivot - If you don't succeed in "Focus", you are given the opportunity to exit the company and take a severance package or be put on a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan).
  3. PIP - You're given an aggressive project to complete that's also well-defined. If you don't succeed, you are fired. Most Amazonians on PIP do not survive.

Promotion

Promotion Guide

Requirements

You should be operating at 80%+ of the next level's guidelines to have a real case for your promotion.

You need to write a summary of your work for your promotion packet. The summary needs to include information about the following 5 core scopes of work:

  • Scope and influence
  • Ambiguity
  • Technical complexity
  • Execution
  • Impact

There is another section where you need to talk about how your work corresponds to Amazon's LPs; however, this section isn't as important as the others.

You need a minimum of 4 peer feedbacks to support your promotion case, but 6+ is recommended.

Documentation requirements

You should always be generating a large paper trail with every project you ship at Amazon. This saves you a lot of time putting together your promotion case as you don't need to write everything from scratch - You can simply compile everything you already have.

The documentation requirements at Amazon are pretty onerous:

  • SDE 1 -> SDE 2 promotion takes 5+ pages of documentation.
  • SDE 2 -> SDE 3 promotion takes 15+ pages of documentation (!!!).

Rating

You generally need a TT (Top Tier) or HV3 (High Value 3) rating to get promoted.

What Blocks Promotions?

  • SDE 1 -> SDE 2 promotions are generally held back because they're lacking in technical complexity.
  • SDE 2 -> SDE 3 promotions are generally held back because of lack of scope, influence, and impact.