by Sarabjeet Singh (WG ‘15)
It was 15:30 Pacific time, August 5th 2014. I was in the Human Resources floor in Day One North (Amazon headquarters) to accept my “Exit Gift”. I was excited about finishing the next day, and then I saw the gift. I faked a smile and quickly left the room embarrassed.
During my last weeks, rumors about exit gifts were circulating the inboxes of MBA interns. “Is it a Kindle! Which model?” “I bet they will give us the Fire phone.” When the moment had arrived, it was not a happy ending. I kept staring at the coffee mug, the bag of chocolate coffee beans, and the two cookies. The cookies intrigued me and I bit into the first one. It was soggy. “Weird, maybe it’s just me”, I thought to myself. I asked my co-intern to taste it and she spit it out immediately. “Now you know what frugality tastes like”, I said to her. We both burst into laughter.
The cookie was yet another lesson on “FRUGALity”, one of fourteen leadership principles Amazon prides itself on. It’s also one of ten reasons I believe you should consider a summer internship at this Amazon.com:
- Taste leadership: The leadership principles at Amazon are not the typical “lets put them on the wall and forget” ones. Employees live and breathe them every day. Whether it’s hiring, firing, investing, divesting or planning, the principles guide most decisions. It’s fascinating to observe a company enable and empower employees to do that. There’s definitely some lack in consistency but overall, it seemed Amazon got what it wanted out of its employees.
- Kayak to work: Seattle is home to several lakes and Amazon is located on the south end of the beautiful Lake Union. If you choose corporate housing and you are lucky, you will end up living along the east or west sides of the lake. During the summer, the lake has boats, paddle boards, yachts and ships and technically, you can even kayak to work. I preferred walking but during evenings after work, I often kayaked with Wharton classmates.
- Become a leader: Amazon will remind you to be a leader often. It’s funny how they print that out (in bold) on their “Leadership Principles Poster” and hand it to you on Day 1 of the internship. Having said that, Amazon employees are entrepreneurial and love to dive deep. They take initiative and get things done. As Amazon says, they “work hard, have fun and make history.” You can too.
- Eat gluten-free only: Whether you have gluten allergies or not, Seattle makes sure you eat gluten-free stuff all the time. From healthy organic cereal bars to beer and quinoa salads, gluten has been sucked out of anything and everything. You’ll soon start loving it, until you return to Little Pete’s.
- Meet the S Team: Top management at Amazon (i.e., senior VPs who report to Bezos), form the S or the Senior Leadership Team. One of the best initiatives HR has taken includes a speaker series from the S Team. You get to meet people managing Amazon’s global retail, devices and web services businesses and the CFO of the company. I learnt Amazon’s view on innovation, diversity at workplace and bringing efficiency in teamwork through machine learning; it was a super cool experience.
- Feel the nature: Seattle is so close to nature. Where else can you see a giant gorgeous mountain (Mt. Rainier) while living in the city! My favorite hike was around Mt. St. Helen – an active volcano which last erupted in the 80s and killed several people. The Wharton alumni at Amazon also organized a trek to Mt. Rainier. There are numerous hikes you can go to less than two hours away from the city.
- Network: Wharton had the highest representation amongst MBA programs at Amazon this summer. We (and interns at Microsoft, Expedia and Nordstorm) ate, hiked and partied together. I also met students from Columbia, HBS, Stanford, Booth, Darden, Duke, NYU and several other schools and made new friends. It was refreshing to get out of Wharton bubble for a while.
- Learn: We all know a fast-growing company like Amazon can be a great place to learn and I cannot emphasize that more. Equipped with the most sophisticated logistics system and a unique culture, Amazon has a lot of teach. Starting from its culture of white paper writing and data driven decision making to allowing multiple teams to work on the same project, its management practices are fascinating. Be weary though; it can be easy to get lost during the self-driven eleven week internship and that experience can be very frustrating.
- See the Pacific Northwest: Even though I did not travel to Vancouver or Victoria in Canada, I heard only great things about them. Same goes for Alaska. And Portland (I did go there). Think about it – when else will you be living in Seattle (at least once you have decided you do not want to come back fulltime) unless you are from around there! There’s so much to see in the Pacific NW including national parks, mountain ranges, lakes and forests. It’s THE place for outdoor lovers.
- Attend festivals: It rains in Seattle for most of the year except the summer. So, the months of June and July are packed with events and festivals. Every weekend is a fiesta in some part of the city. Be it the Fremont Solstice Festival or the Ballard Seafood fest, there are fantastic live-music and local-food events. I attended five festivals this summer and could not get enough of the fun.
I could not have sold Amazon and Seattle more and I did have a fun summer. Having said that, my internship personal experience was below average. Amazon is a great company but it is not for everyone. Depending on the team, work can be demanding and not the most rewarding. For most part, I felt documentation was limited and resources were often constrained, meaning I had to fight for them. As an intern, that experience was tough. People who dislike working alone on projects might not find themselves in the best place. In fact, it is not rare to find another person in a different department working on the same project as you! So, you must talk to current and past employees to evaluate fit. Additionally, Seattle is a gorgeous city but smaller, slower and limited in terms of opportunities. Summer time in Seattle may be a poor reflection of what life is during rest of the year.
Fear not though, 1Ys. I’m happy to discuss my experience with you in person. And good luck with recruiting. You will do great!