Seven Valuable Lessons from a New Amazonian

by Sandy Carter

Seven Valuable Lessons from a New Amazonian

It has been just over 100 days since I began my new role at Amazon Web Services (AWS). I have received hundreds of LinkedIn questions, Facebook comments, and even DMs on Twitter asking what it is really like on the “inside” of one of the world’s most innovative companies. Here are 7 of the most valuable lessons I have learned so far.

1. Create a Personalized Launch Plan for Success

Like at many organizations, new employees from all over the company attend orientation together. For me, one of the unique and impressive components was what Amazon calls, “The Launch Plan.” This document provides an individualized roadmap for your success. My plan listed people I needed to meet, things about the culture I needed to grasp, and emphasized self-service. Everyone takes this seriously and moves quickly to schedule time on their calendar. Employees are welcoming and share a love for imparting knowledge and insight. It was one of the best ways to get up to speed that I have ever experienced.  Special thanks to Matt Garman, my manager and super smart “Compute” expert, who spends time with me on complex situations that are so simple for him. His commitment to my success is impressive.

2. Prioritize Rewards and Constant Improvement

During my first week, I attended AWS’s weekly operational review. It is run by Charlie Bell, AWS’s SVP, and showcases AWS’s culture at its best. In the meeting, he recognized an engineer for some outstanding work he had done not just for his area of the business but for the fact that he ensured that he shared the work with other engineers. Imagine a room filled with 200+ engineers applauding the work!!   An award was given to this employee, and afterward, Charlie asked how we could replicate this type of leadership across the organization. This process happens every week. Praise is given, and then we dive deep into our services’ operational metrics and identify where we can improve. It is authentic and embedded into the fabric of the company.

3. Make Customer Obsession Real

For every proposal, the executive team will ask what the customer wants and needs. Customer obsession is a business, and we leverage consumption data and outcomes as a sign of a customer’s desires and willingness to use our platform more.   We always start with a press release and a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) document. For my first review, I spoke with over 40 Windows on AWS customers, did a customer survey, and listened to many partners. While I have always engaged with customers for knowledge, here it is expected. It is not a nice to have; it is a must have. This practice starts at the top with Andy Jassy, our AWS CEO, who meets regularly with customers and engineers.

4. Complex Problem Solving and Critical Thinking Matter

At Amazon, we don’t use PowerPoints! We write detailed, six-page papers, called narratives, to describe opportunities and how to address them. You must dive five levels deep. No high-level ideas gain traction without a deep analysis of solutions and options. It was harder than I thought it would be, but the end result makes execution more efficient and impactful.

5. Innovation Requires a Focus

How many times a day are you asked for your most disruptive idea to help customers? At Amazon, it’s more than I can count. Earlier this year I published a book on Extreme Innovation (ExtremeInnovationBook.com), based on research conducted with Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley, which reviewed data from 5,000 startups and 50 established companies. For example, from the Carnegie Mellon study, I discovered that innovative companies use technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) inside their businesses to improve the value they deliver.

Amazon uses machine learning, artificial intelligence, and deep learning across many areas of their business such as our autonomous Prime Air delivery drones. The drones use a tremendous amount of machine learning, machine vision systems, and natural language understanding. And I love Amazon Go – a grocery store where you can just grab and go! Users simply visit the store—located in Seattle—and shop for the items they need. The technology detects what you take and charges your Amazon account after you leave the store – using massive machine learning that I had written about before I worked here! It is this rapid innovation and big thinking that enabled AWS to be successful and ultimately disrupt the traditional IT industry.  

Sandy Carter at AWS6. Get Serious about Diversity 

AWS continuously innovates on behalf of the customer. We have a keen understanding that innovation is driven by a diverse and inclusive workforce. We are always looking for ways to engage with our community and find top talent. I lead the Board for Girls in Tech, and Amazon jumped in immediately to sponsor their conference and leverage this experience to recruit great new talent. They are purposeful in the way they approach diversity.  

7. Small Decisions Have Big Impacts

This one is actually from just before I started at Amazon. I was elated when I received my job offer from AWS. The executive recruiter, Aloka Naskar, one of the best in the business, had me so jazzed that I didn’t seriously consider other opportunities. She convinced me that I was “Amazonian.” Having seen me deliver a keynote on the Top Trends in Technology, she liked that I carefully and skillfully went deep enough to showcase knowledge, but made it fun and exciting as well. I almost missed that keynote as I flew in the night before from Japan, which just goes to show you how much small decisions have big impacts on your life – but that’s a blog for another time.

I love my work at AWS but especially love working with my team and my colleagues. I hope these experiences will entice you to consider coming here or putting these lessons into practice at your place of business!

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Sandy CarterSandy Carter is an AWS VP focused on Enterprise Workloads and helping companies with innovation.  A leading pioneer in the digital business revolution, Sandy was a driving force of Innovation at IBM for the last decade. She is an extreme innovator and bestselling author of her 5th book Extreme Innovation, built on research with Carnegie Mellon.  In 2016-2017, Sandy was named Top 3 Innovation Influencer at SXSW, Top 5 Social Influencer at Social Media World, Top 4 Bot Influencer by BotsCamp, Digital Influencer by Forbes, Top 10 Women in Technology by CNN, and top 100 AI Influencer by Onalytica.

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