My experience was a summer internship at Amazon. I’m not sure how to describe what the company does at this point, because well, it does anything and everything. I was on the consumer side of things (generally the company is split between AWS and CDO, CDO standing for consumer, devices, and other). My team oversaw Seller Central, the website sellers go to post and manage the items they are selling on Amazon.com.
My role was a software development engineer internship, and I was responsible for executing a software project that catered towards the user’s use-cases and considered the broader team’s context. I was responsible for participating in team meetings such as standup, sprint planning, and also went to weekly meetings about operational excellence.
At Amazon, I was given a broad problem statement, but was given a lot of autonomy to innovate and find the best solution. My project was to lessen the burden of our team by enabling other teams to easily mock up and visualize how their information would look displayed on Seller Central. I was the owner of my project, which meant that I was fully in charge of the design, implementation, documentation, and overall execution of my project (with oversight). This gave me a lot of room to innovate, and I took advantage of the self service culture within the company by exploring various technologies, and ideas. I chose to use some of the cutting edge technologies within the company that were brand new, and not particularly well documented because I loved to see what boundaries these tools could push and how they could benefit my project in practice.
I chose this experience because previously I had interned at a tiny startup, and I wanted to see how innovation could still be possible in a giant company. I expected to encounter bureaucracy everywhere hindering innovation, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that was rarely the case. Change is embraced at Amazon, unlike my friends who work at some other big companies where I hear “that’s how it’s always been done” is used as a regular excuse to not try new things. While I did find it a bit cult-like how into the leadership principles a few people were, they have 16 principles governing their work, and they are readily prevalent in the culture at the company. As it relates to I&E, I think having a bias for action was absolutely the most important leadership principle. During my internship, I found that waiting around for others to get back to me about how to do things was not usually effective. It took a while because their work life didn’t revolve around me, and sometimes in the meantime I found a better solution than what my team was used to doing and I could bring that back to them.
I also had to cater my design towards the customers of my project (in this case internal teams) and was encouraged every step of the way to think about the business side of my project as well as the technical side, considering use cases and implementation cost. I discussed with program managers as well as software experts about the user’s wants and needs and the pros/cons of various implementation strategies.
Overall, I was very glad I could experience the innovative culture at Amazon. It was far from the bureaucratic nightmare I thought working at a big company would be, and for better or for worse, their growth is absolutely staggering, probably due to the entrepreneurial and scrappy culture.
My learning objectives for this experience as it relates to I&E was to discover how innovation can exist at a big company compared to the tiny startup I had interned at for my 300 hour experience. I can safely say I achieved that by witnessing the vast amount of cutting edge projects, ventures, and more than Amazon is launching. For this company, it isn’t enough to just be at the top, it’s critically important to continue to expand and introduce new ideas to the market, and it shows in the company culture (on the corporate side, at least).
This experience relates to my pathway, technology and design, in that the role itself was completely centered on software. I saw first hand how the business side of software projects influenced decisions and market forces drove innovation within software. I had many insightful discussions with my manager about the business side of the role as well as discussions with some PMs. Through my coursework in I&E 352, we discussed a case study of Dropbox, which I thought this experience was really nice to have as a context of innovation in the tech sphere while learning and discussing the case.