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 Amazon.com 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.