I've been rather interested to see how the media has reported on 'working conditions' at Amazon, the notoriously data driven business. Like all partners with Amazon Web Services, I'm always glad to see them get more press. The inevitable benefits of cloud computing architecture are becoming more well known to new industries every year. At the core of the kind of work we do, Business Intelligence, these benefits include allowing downmarket businesses afford the kind of IT environment only available to multinationals just a few years ago.
But the NYT article (behind a paywall of course) 'Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace' strikes the wrong tone. I'll simply sum it up like this, the article and many like it are anti-meritocracy.
I am working with some of the smartest hard-working people ever in my career, and we are a small agile company. We keep thinking of ways to innovate in our particular business and our CTO is notorious for keeping us on our toes by introducing new technologies, fresh from open source development worldwide. And still, we can only keep about nine months ahead of what Amazon makes virtually infinitely scalable. This is unprecedented in computer science. At Amazon, information technology goes essentially from research to global industrialization in about two years. These are space race times.
I'll tell you what Amazon's reputation is. It's that if you have a masters degree in computer science and 10 years experience you will make about 125K per year plus full benefits and you will work hard. In other words, you'll have a great job with an awesome company on the cutting edge of technology, but you'll never get rich. You're better off working in some small, young company where you'll be the smartest dude and closer to the top. That way you can do some fraction of what Amazon does, get stock options and make money on the exit strategy. In other words, the way to do it is to let VCs throw ridiculous financing at your hot, trendy Silicon Valley startup, take the money and run.
Having been in this segment of the computing industry for nearly three decades, I can tell you how I have been continuously surprised by the inability of many companies to do what makes sense. If that weren't the case, Dilbert the cartoon would seem alien and non-sensical. Instead, Scott Adams has nailed the kind of mediocrity and dysfunction that plagues the best of our businesses not only in America but worldwide. You don't have to be a revolutionary to make improvements in business. In fact, you don't even have to be a 'data scientist' to enable data driven decision making. You simply need to know what to count, and build a system that counts it for you. Deliver those numbers to the decision makers and you're on your way.
It might seem odd, but the best businesses are already data driven, it's just that the data is not necessarily in digital form. If you're a bus driver, you have an idea if you are having a busy day on your route. When you stay in business, you know what you need to do to keep your head above water, you know where your nose is, but not exactly how many centimeters above the waves. Digitization of these metrics helps your organization under certain conditions, and this is what we identify together with our customers. We make a data model that follows the business model. We enable more people to see what the leadership sees. We socialize the metrics of the business.
Obviously, Amazon has been doing this and clearly the details are not shared with the editors of the New York Times. So it shouldn't be surprising that we hear from the outliers in their seat-of-the-pants description of the waves that overcame them. But that's human nature. We listen to outliers. Part of what we try to do as data experts is separate the signal from the noise, help identify if outliers are just loud squawking pests or the coal mine's actual canaries.
We are always happy to discover with our clients what kinds of accurate instrumentation we can provide by harnessing the data at their disposal. Every business can be data driven, it's just a matter of disciplined collaboration with us at Full360.