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

I recently read this book, or to be more accurate, I skimmed through the parts that were interesting and completely skipped the chapters that I thought would be less useful.

Part One: Being Amazonian

Part One talks about the processes and mechanisms that Amazon has in place, starting with the Leadership Principles and how they form the basis for all work and discourse at Amazon, moving on to their hiring process, how they organize to have autonomous single-threaded teams, their obsession with narratives and written communication, the idea of starting product / feature development with the press release, and closing with their philosophy on metrics, specifically which metrics are interesting to them.

I’d heard much of this information before, but never condensed into a single source like this.

For me, the most interesting part of the entire book was the chapter on their hiring process, not because I’m interested in working there (frankly, this book turned me off even further from the idea of going to Amazon) but because I love the description of what they do. The role of the Bar Raiser in all aspects of the process is intriguing, especially this bit: “In addition to conducting one of the interviews, the Bar Raiser coaches others on interviewing techniques, asks probing questions in the debrief, makes sure that personal biases do not affect the hiring decision, and determines whether the candidate meets or exceeds the hiring bar set by the company.” Having a set of trained interviewing experts who can teach and train others, folks who are involved in every interview loop, sounds fantastic.

Part Two: The Invention Machine at Work

Pages 153-259 are split into exploring how the principles, processes, and mechanisms from Part One were used in creating Kindle, Prime, Prime Video, and AWS. I skimmed the chapter on AWS but completely skipped the others. You may find them more interesting, but to me these case studies were not thrilling.

Overall

I enjoyed the way the material was presented and there was a lot of useful information in there. The authors don’t try to pretend that everything was easy and don’t say that everything will work for everyone; they just share what they know of how Amazon works.

I’d give the first half of this book a solid thumbs-up.

Check out the book here:

Have you read this book? What did you think?

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This is a really interesting concept. As someone who’s fairly new to interviewing, this sort of mentorship would be invaluable to becoming confident as an interviewer and getting a better sense of what to look for.

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Agreed @madelinev ! Here’s another quote that I found really interesting about the Bar Raiser role:

one of the roles of the Bar Raiser is to teach and coach the other interviewers on every loop. If the Bar Raiser observes something amiss with the process, they are expected to give real-time coaching and feedback and help get things back on track. A good Bar Raiser sometimes spends more time coaching and teaching in a debrief meeting than assessing the candidate.

I think a lot of organizations would benefit from this sort of coaching and process.

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Excellent point here. Makes me realize that is a gap probably missing in a lot of companies. There is usually some sort of management training but I don’t think I’ve ever seen much on interview coaching.

A little off topic maybe but related, we were struggling with hiring a devops person and we didn’t like the results of the programming tests we were using. I read a blog that suggested that you pull some bad or problematic code from your company’s projects (obviously nothing proprietary etc) and have the applicant look at it and tell you what it’s doing and make suggestions for improvement. I thought that sounded like a great idea. We haven’t really been able to implement it but it’s food for thought.

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