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Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon

Colin Bryar, Bill Carr · 2 HN comments
HN Books has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention "Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon" by Colin Bryar, Bill Carr.
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Amazon Summary
Working Backwards is an insider's breakdown of Amazon's approach to culture, leadership, and best practices from two long-time Amazon executives―with lessons and techniques you can apply to your own company, and career, right now. In Working Backwards, two long-serving Amazon executives reveal the principles and practices that have driven the success of one of the most extraordinary companies the world has ever known. With twenty-seven years of Amazon experience between them―much of it during the period of unmatched innovation that created products and services including Kindle, Amazon Prime, Amazon Studios, and Amazon Web Services―Bryar and Carr offer unprecedented access to the Amazon way as it was developed and proven to be repeatable, scalable, and adaptable. With keen analysis and practical steps for applying it at your own company―no matter the size―the authors illuminate how Amazon’s fourteen leadership principles inform decision-making at all levels of the company. With a focus on customer obsession, long-term thinking, eagerness to invent, and operational excellence, Amazon’s ground-level practices ensure these characteristics are translated into action and flow through all aspects of the business. Working Backwards is both a practical guidebook and the story of how the company grew to become so successful. It is filled with the authors’ in-the-room recollections of what “Being Amazonian” is like and how their time at the company affected their personal and professional lives. They demonstrate that success on Amazon’s scale is not achieved by the genius of any single leader, but rather through commitment to and execution of a set of well-defined, rigorously-executed principles and practices―shared here for the very first time. Whatever your talent, career or organization might be, find out how you can put Working Backwards to work for you.
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All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this book.
“Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon” - by Amazon executives. Gives overview of Amazon’s core practices that made them successful.
I liked this book too! But not at all in the vein I'm talking about here. Thinking books that actually talk about software/programming in technical depth.
I loved that book I'd recommend it to everyone. It's more of an Information Theory book than a software development book.
I wonder how widespread this is outside Amazon. Compare it to, say, Google: In Bay Area, the cultural influence of Google is strong both in good and bad ways. Things like OKR, monorepo, snippets, go links etc. seem to be adopted by many younger companies. I don't think it means these cultural artifacts are always superior. It'd be more about familiarity for ex-Google employees.

There must be a lot of ex-Amazon talents, but I haven't heard or read this outside the context of Amazon. If this is unique to Amazon, why?

Maybe the book "Working Backwards" [1] is changing the situation? I'm very curious, and honestly, a bit envious.


Is all that stuff just like cargo culted from these giant companies? My company does these things and I've always kind of found it weird that so many unrelated people seem to use the same terms. Like one year we just started using okrs and seemed like everyone else was too. Silent reading was a fad for a year too. I think everyone found it be annoying though no one does the silent reading thing anymore
Yup, these are fads.

Fads come and go. If they significantly improve life, they tend to stick around until they are near-universal. If they significantly detract, they tend to go away.

What people notice are the new fads and the ones which are negatives but for some reason are still being used.

Properly run meetings with proper documentation and procedures are not a fad.
Hence the staying power of Robert's Rules of Order.

But if I insist on getting a motion, a second and a voice vote by acclaim during a monthly poker game, I'm not getting invited back.

We've used the document-driven approach effectively at our company retreats ( We plan to use it more frequently as we grow (we have 12 engineers and are hoping to hire a couple more this month).
Flexport does it.
Apollo Agriculture does it.
> It this unique to Amazon, why?

I think it's because despite it working really well at Amazon, working at Amazon isn't considered impressive (the engineers are considered less intelligent, inherently less impressive etc). Nobody from Stanford or CMU goes to work at Amazon after college, while like a third of the class goes to Google. Because of that, the culture and people filter don't filter into Bay Area startups (which Amazonians usually can't get interviews at).

This might have been true a 15 years ago, but is certainly not true in the days of AWS. Amazon is solving some of the world's toughest technology problems at scale.
> Amazon is solving some of the world's toughest technology problems at scale.

This reads like an ad straight out of the recruiting material.

Let’s be clear, all of AWS’s products are impressive because of the scale and self service model. They absolutely are not “the world’s toughest technology problems” though.

EC2 is virtualization, which has been a solved problem for 15+ years. The other products are also scaled up solutions that have existed for a long time.

The world’s toughest technology problems are being worked on in academia and dedicated research labs with results that have no apparent business viability right now. Working on those types of hard problems that suck lots of money with no obvious upside is absolutely not in Amazon’s culture.

Scale is its own problem. Engineering anything at 10x the size or 10x the reliability, which Amazon does, is incredibly more challenging than the original problem.
I didn’t say scaling wasn’t a hard problem. I said that they aren’t doing the hardest problems at scale.
I've got multiple coworkers from CMU at both Amazon and Twitch. Not that that's a good school, and their football team is a joke :) Go Bears.
Also went to CMU; Amazon has been the biggest recruiter for a while now. They took something like 25% of the graduating class one of the years I was there.
This is objectively false though -
CMU has a lot of programs outside of CS.
Ok, but CS is the most prestigious one. And I’m sure Google and FB hire a bunch out of the ECE and Tepper IT programs too!
Amazon is still a top 1% SWE employer.

Note: I do not work for Amazon, and never plan to. I was considering it prior to making it into FANG.

Unless they offered me a bunch of money, I guess. Like a million dollars year.

Your top 1% feels pretty expansive to me, I don't think many people consider it to be that impressive. I've talked to a lot of people about this, and they consider working at Amazon to be pretty similar to going to a state school - it's not "bad", but you can tell from the way they talk about it they think people that go there are objectively inferior to them.
I mean, Amazon has problems no doubt, but that's just straight up misplaced elitism.

Remember, IBM was once where Google is now.

It's the A in FANG...
The A is for Apple. You're thinking of FAANG
I have never heard anyone claim that previously. Here is the first result I see when I search Google for FANG. It claims that A is Amazon, and that Apple was added later to make it FAANG.
I'm definitely using FANG as FAANG without Amazon. So does everyone else that I've seen use it on HN, Reddit, and Blind.
You're the first I've heard of. FANG was the original designation for the group of high-growth tech stocks, and the A stood for Amazon. This is pretty well known and verifiable.

Are you sure you didn't just assume the A was for Apple when you read it? I don't know how you could possibly know what people were referring to from the acronym.

I'm going to respond to this question with one of my own: how much time have you spent on Blind in the past few weeks?
Im sorry but what does that have to do with anything? I would have assumed the A is Amazon too
None, I try to avoid it unless I'm scoping out a new job. Are you saying Blind users include Apple in FANG? I haven't seen it.
Go back to Blind.
Anecdotally, I turned down Facebook for Amazon. Of my 10 person team, we have 2 Princeton, 2 Berkeley, 1 UPenn, 3 CMU, and 1 Stanford alumni.

P.S. - talking’rank’ is something you don’t see outside of blind or college. Just pure cringe, lol. There’s more to your worth than your employer, especially if you’re (presumably) in the top 1-2% income bracket.

> Nobody from Stanford or CMU goes to work at Amazon after college, while like a third of the class goes to Google. > Because of that, the culture and people filter don't filter into Bay Area startups (which Amazonians usually can't get interviews at).

This is so blatantly wrong. A ton of my peers went to Amazon after graduating, very few went to Google, and certainly nowhere near a third of the class. I can confirm this from my linkedin connections/groups, but I can't even believe you're making this claim. It's also ridiculous to state Bay Area startups wouldn't give interviews to Amazonians - in my experience they would kill for a solid engineer from Amazon. Do you have any evidence this is the case?

> . A ton of my peers went to Amazon after graduating, very few went to Google,

For CMU at least:

Only 8 to Amazon + 1 to Twitch, 18 to Facebook + 1 CZ Initiative + 2 to WhatsApp , 32 to Google + 1 to DeepMind.

Considering Stanford is even more elite, and presumably has more discerning undergrads, I doubt it's much different there (and most likely even fewer Amazon folks).

> Do you have any evidence this is the case?

I can't get interviews at Airbnb, Stripe, Coinbase, Lyft, etc as an L4 or as an L5.

I have worked at both Amazon and Google. The document writing culture is 10x more serious at Google. If you didn’t write a doc for a project, it didn’t happen.

However, the review process is different. People are expected to comment on the document beforehand and use the meeting to discuss any contentions. The google doc comments accurately capture the history of why a particular decision was made.

I found the Amazon wiki and quip terrible tools for writing docs. In practice, folks spent only the first five minutes reading a doc. That is rarely sufficient so you’re expected to read the document beforehand.

I think the key here is that the pre-meeting review provides a time-efficient way to highlight gaps in the document and highlight the areas that are contentious and need more justification. The doc can then be filled in more before the meeting where the final details can be discussed.
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