Life as a “Fresh” Amazonian

Trisha Vijay, Miss Contra Costa County, works at Amazon

Trisha Vijay, Miss Contra Costa County, works at Amazon

I was assigned an eager interview buddy when I arrived for my super day interview at Amazon’s Headquarters in Seattle over a year ago. At the time, I was about to enter my last semester at UC Berkeley, ready to graduate, and nearing the end of the tiring recruiting process all students trek through when planning to enter the workforce after their senior year. My buddy had been working at Amazon for two years, straight out of college, and was eager to share her experience. Prior to arriving at the headquarters, I hadn’t heard much about Amazon’s work culture. I assumed that like most tech companies these days, the quality of life was well taken care of, cushy, and nurturing. It was the middle of finals week back at school so my mind was wandering in and out of the conversation with my talkative buddy, but I snapped back into reality when she asked anxiously if I had heard anything about Amazon’s work culture. Before I could respond, she had already launched into a seemingly prepared speech about how encouraging and open the workplace is and how it’s nothing like described in The New York Times. I hadn’t actually read the exposé, but she had already planted the seed of curiosity in my head.

After returning from my interview, I immediately went online to find The New York Times article my buddy had brought up. The first bolded quote was “nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.” As a female new grad, looking to enter an industry that has not always been welcoming to women, I was immediately apprehensive of knowingly joining a culture that was publicly and proudly boasting “The Amazon Way.” From Jeff Bezo’s letter to his shareholders in 1997: “You can work long, hard or smart, but at you can’t choose two out of three.” I had to think long and hard about the quality of life I wanted to have for myself just out of college and if this culture was worth the potential emotional agony that seemed to come with the job.

A few days after my final interview, I received news from the recruiter that I had gotten the job. Though I should have been excited, I was apprehensive about the opportunity. After reading the NY Times article, I scoured the internet for other opinions on Amazon’s culture. Some applauded Jeff Bezos for the productive, inspiring work environment he had created to extract the best from his employees. Others criticized the toxic experiment Bezos had created to push white-collar workers to the brink of breaking. However, out of the other job offers I had received, the position at Amazon was the most interesting and would set me up for the career I had always planned for.

Though I knew the job would be demanding, I was intrigued by the 14 Leadership Principles the company and Amazonians stood by faithfully:

  • 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

The principles that I most aligned with were: Ownership, Learn and Be Curious, Think Big, Bias for Action, Earn Trust, and Dive Deep. They were the principles that I realized I innately stood for and were my “superpowers” as my boss now calls them. I knew it would be hard to balance all the things important to me, along with a demanding career, but I was eager to try anyways.

On my first day of work, I was whisked through the office and introduced to everyone as “the new grad.” Almost everyone I met commented on how “fresh” and impressionable I was since I was working at Amazon straight out of college. They all said how lucky I was that I was getting the hardest part of my career over with right when I was starting out. It would only get better from here, they said.

Fast forward, six months later and I am loving my job. There have been many long nights and challenging days, but I’m being pushed beyond what I thought I could accomplish and enjoying the learning process. There is something new I can learn from everyone in my office and they are all open to teaching. The work is fast paced, but every project I’ve taken on has urged me to learn something new and develop my skillset. Not a single day has been the same.

The work culture is definitely demanding, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that though deadlines were tight, everyone around me was willing to do their share to make it happen. I have never felt I’ve been given an unreasonable task and left without the tools to actually execute. Everyone around me wants me to succeed and I can feel the team mentality that we’re all working towards the same goal.   

However, as I approach my six month mark, I’ll admit the one area of life I’ve been lacking has been actively trying to find a work-life balance. I find myself skipping events with friends and constantly being on my phone to send emails with the reasoning that I’m still new at work and need to prove myself to my peers. I’m slowly starting to realize that though it’s important to cultivate good working relationships with those in the office, it’s just as important to create and maintain personal relationships with those who have stood by me since I was young.  

I turned to my mentors I had made in college through the non-profit, Women in Network. I had been part of the organization since its inception and is one of my main activities outside of work. The mentors in the organization had all been working for a few years out of college, and I figured they would have the best advice on what to do in this situation. After discussing with them, I had made a list of things that were important to me when starting my adult life:

  • Relationships with family and friends
  • Health
  • Challenging and fulfilling career
  • Time to invest in my personal interests

Making this short list has helped me to start reprioritizing my decisions and investing time in myself. I’ve started reading books in my free time and listening to podcasts while I sit through traffic to and from work. I try to see friends a couple times a week and prioritize my time with family. I’m working towards making tweaks in my daily routine to move towards a better work-life balance, without forfeiting time with friends and family or success at work. Small things to start to hopefully ease into big change later! Though it’s still early in my adult life, I feel optimistic about the impact I’ll make on my work and friends, without sacrificing one or the other.

Read Across America With Angela Laird!

Angela-Laird-Miss-Contra-Costa-1Hi everyone! I am Angela Laird, Miss Contra Costa County 2015. In honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday today, I wanted to talk to you about the importance of education, reading, and never giving up. My mother has been an elementary school teacher for almost 25 years. Now, growing up with a teacher for a mom wasn’t always easy. You most likely had extra homework during the summer, and you couldn’t get away with anything bad at school because your teacher would talk about you to your mom in the teacher’s lounge. Regardless of the downsides, I would not change my mom’s profession for anything. Her passion for education has given me a passion for education and learning. From a young age, I was taught to read from Dr. Seuss books. By learning how to read early, I was given an educational advantage. Reading just 20 minutes a day can help improve writing skills, listening skills, and can help to expand your vocabulary. Reading is the foundation of learning.

While it’s not my platform, encouraging children to read is a duty that I have taken on as Miss Contra Costa County. Being heavily influenced by my mother’s love for education, I can’t help but take a role in bettering the education of my community’s children. I have a working partnership with my county’s library, and just the other day I was given the opportunity to read at one of our local libraries as a guest storyteller. I loved watching the children’s faces light up as I turned the page and to watch them so enthralled by a story brought a smile to my face.

Angela-Laird-Miss-Contra-Costa-2As we celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday, also known as “Read Across America Day”, it is worthwhile to remember his perseverance. Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Geisel, tried to get his first book And to Think I Saw it On Mulberry Street published 27 times and each time it was rejected. To me, he is a role model and shows that you should never give up on a dream. Can you imagine what our schools would be like if he had given up?

One day, I hope to follow in Dr. Seuss’s footsteps and write my own book. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook asks, “What could you do if you were unafraid?” and with the confidence I’ve gained through the Miss America Organization and my love of reading, I will one day be a published author in the genre of fiction. I am unafraid of failing because we can achieve whatever we put our minds to! Thank you, Dr. Seuss, for inspiring us and teaching us to love reading. Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss!

xoxo Miss Contra Costa County

The Miss California Evolution: From Contestant to Director

I guess the best place to start this blog would be the day I received my acceptance letter into UC Berkeley and was told by my mom that there was no money for college. Yes, I had spent four years of high school killing myself to get good grades, participate in sports, student government, church, and piano lessons just to have the brutal reality that there was absolutely no money for me to attend college.

My grandmother sat with me on the piano bench, looked at me and said, “Paula-Sue if you put your mind to it, you will figure out how to get to Cal and graduate.” With that vote of confidence I was set on trying to construct a plan to get myself to Cal. I spent countless hours searching the web trying to figure out what I was going to do and low and behold I found the Miss Contra Costa County Scholarship Organization as an option to earn money for college.

10968272_10204204084394547_1008432524_nPageants? Me? No! I’m a tomboy and I don’t wear makeup, BUT… I do have a talent, I can interview, I don’t look half bad in a swimsuit…I can learn to walk in heels. So, with all those thoughts looming in my head I contacted the Executive Director of the Miss Contra Costa County Program and attended their orientation.   What I found was that I could compete and earn money for college by just attending a few rehearsals and going on stage for various areas of competition. DONE! Well, shockingly I didn’t win, but I walked away with enough money to get myself to the next semester of Junior College! Whoo Hoo! That’s all I wanted at that point… but a few years later, now a UC Berkeley graduate, I wanted to go back and get my Master’s Degree, so I looked back to the Miss California Organization. This time, I won!!! I was going to Fresno in a few short months as Miss Oakland to compete for Miss California! Again I walked away with scholarship dollars for my education and was elated that all I had to do was what I already do daily, volunteer, work, interact with people in my community.

10966800_10204204084354546_1284776410_nMy year of service as Miss Oakland 2007 seemed to fly by. I made amazing friends like Nicole (Honaker) Cook, Brittney (Rice) Arrendano, Stephanie (Schutt) Quintal, and GH Armour. These women along with many others helped me grow outside of my comfort zone, be goofy, and yes, even how to dance…thank you Stephanie for spending so many hours during pageant week working with my two left feet so Season didn’t put me in the back!

As a titleholder I took it seriously. I made it my mission to be out in the community to share my experiences in the program, reach out to other young ladies and give them hope for higher education. Since I was new to being a titleholder, I learned as I went along and one of my fondest memories was going to the Reading Room at Children’s Hospital weekly to play and read with the children there.

Being a titleholder to me was a huge responsibility and job as you are the face of the program you represent. Through the Miss program I found amazing organizations to partner with and join like the Rotary Club of San Ramon where I have now been a member for 6 years.

10958255_10204204084434548_1802021877_nFast forward eight years… and I am now the Executive Director of the Miss Contra Costa County Program. I never imagined that I would ever be running a local Miss America Scholarship Program. However, when I was presented with the opportunity to revive an amazing and influential program in the community I couldn’t turn it down. It hasn’t been easy, it hasn’t all been fun, but what I have gained is fabulous friends in the program, two amazing, talented, bright and fabulous young ladies as my titleholders and an extended family throughout the Miss California Program. I’ve been given the awesome platform to provide a forum where young women are given the opportunity to learn how to achieve their maximum potential through public speaking, community service, while developing self-confidence.

Looking back I believe it was fate that I found the Miss California Organization all those years ago. I believe that all the struggles to get my degree, resurrect a local scholarship program, and getting involved in the community at every level was (and is) well worth it!


Paula (Silva) Gross
Executive Director, Miss Contra Costa County
Miss Oakland 2007