The Amazon Internship : An inside look
Mustafa Buxamusa (MBA2021)
I began my LBS journey with a background in healthcare technology consulting and I knew that I would be at a cross-roads in my choice of a summer internship as well as my post-MBA career. Would I stay true to Consulting? Specialize into Healthcare? Dive deeper into Technology? After a part-time internship with a biotechnology startup during my first year of studies, I decided to pursue a summer opportunity that was true to my interests but least like my previous experiences: an internship with Amazon.
An inside look at my summer at Amazon
With Amazon’s scale and omnipresence in the media and even in some of our daily lives, we end up hearing a lot about the company. Its peculiar culture is quite transparent even to outsiders. For example, you can read about its guiding Leadership Principles that permeate throughout every Amazonian’s career and even structure the hiring process. In this reflection, however, I want to share with you a couple of lesser-known inner-workings of Amazon that I got to experience during my summer as a Product Manager in the Alexa Smart Home business. Below are two forces that drove my everyday work, from which we can apply lessons to our future studies, work and even our personal lives.
Think back to the last time that you had a ‘good intention’ to do something, but for whatever reason you didn’t get around to it. Maybe you forgot to follow up on that comment from your boss, or you released a piece of code to production before realizing you missed a QA test, or maybe you told yourself that you’d wake up at 7am every day to hit the gym, but…alas. It happens to us all the time. But when it comes to the work of Amazonians, mechanisms are designed to cut out our forgetfulness, negligence and other natural human error (i.e. the pitfalls of good intentions). These robust processes come in many formats at Amazon, but roughly speaking they consist of a tool to physically host data and information (e.g. an action item tracker), an adoption strategy/method to enforce its usage (e.g. an assigned note taker) and a consistent inspection of the outputs to make sure the process is working and tweak it as necessary (e.g. weekly meetings). That’s right – if you’ve been a part of a weekly team meeting done right, you’ve already experienced a mechanism. But they can of course be more complex, and at Amazon, they’re everywhere. This summer, part of my work was to improve an unstructured cross-team collaboration in which feedback and information across product teams just wasn’t flowing as intended. Though a mechanism was the answer, the components were less straightforward. For example, I had to account for the fact that different teams have their distinct tools and processes, and certainly don’t want another meeting thrown on their calendars. Still, the mechanism approach proved to have demonstrated business impact and thus earned a go-ahead approval. So the next time you catch yourself, a colleague or classmate making a good intention in any setting, ask yourself…’how can I consistently record this and follow up on it to make sure it gets done?’
2. Working Backwards
The second takeaway I want to share with you is actually a similar concept to what I learned during my tech consulting days of building dashboards and reports – you always start with what the end-user wants and draw up those requirements first before you start building anything. But Amazon takes this concept leaps and bounds further. Before investing resources to build a tool or process, either internal- or external- facing, Amazonians will first build a mock Press Release (PR) for that build, written for the end-customer and designed to be a sense-check to convince and energize internal audiences of the merits of the proposal. These PRs are supported with data, anecdotes and tactical details such as how to implement the solution as well as the timelines and resources required among other details (the so called, FAQs). Together these PRFAQs comprise the “Working Backwards” process at Amazon. Though this process isn’t unique to Amazon, it isn’t made easy, and in fact Bezos is quoted saying that the Working Backwards process is designed to be difficult and time-consuming. But staying true to this process gets a lot of the work done up-front and gives Amazon an infrastructure for innovation in order to keep up its Day 1 culture. Nearly all Amazon interns are exposed to this process, either as the centerpiece for their summer deliverable or as the destined down-stream product of a piece of their work, and the mechanism that I created and described earlier is certainly no exception!
A final reflection
I really loved my internship at Amazon and I highly recommend it to those considering. Even despite the virtual format, I took advantage of countless opportunities to learn about many parts of the tech and retail giant. I found Amazonians to be very genuine and approachable and I especially loved the high-growth space of Alexa. I even got to plug in my passion for healthcare in multiple instances, by learning about AWS’s enablement of NHS services in the UK, the Retail team’s expansion strategies for medical products in France, and Alexa’s upcoming use cases for health and wellness, to name a few examples. Especially given the relative ease of mobility inside the company, I felt that Amazon creates an excellent opportunity for its employees to realize their intersectional interests and passions.
Mustafa Buxamusa (MBA2021)
MBA2021, London Business School