Amazon Built Secret New Unit to Fix Its Crumbling Engineering Culture
- Amazon created a new team called “Amazon Software Builder Experience,” leaked documents show.
- The team’s goal is to help Amazon become “Earth’s best employer for software builders.”
- The creation of ASBX comes after internal complaints about a slowing engineering culture.
Amazon software engineers are so frustrated by bureaucratic inefficiencies that the company has created a secret new team to address their concerns.
Earlier this year, Amazon formed the “Amazon Software Builder Experience” group with the ambitious goal of turning the internet giant into “Earth’s best employer for software builders,” according to internal documents obtained by Insider.
Since launching, the ASBX team has grown to more than 400 employees, working on code automation, improved developer tools, and enhanced tutorials and safety infrastructure, said a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
“The Amazon Software Builder Experience (ASBX) organization was created to singularly focus on improving the experience of software builders across Amazon,” one of the documents states. “Our initial focus will be on some of the foundational pain points that we have been hearing from you, including how you manage and deploy code on a daily basis, the usability of your operational tools, and the campaigns that get asked of you from around the company.”
Concern over Amazon losing its innovative “building” edge has come to a head in recent years, with many longtime executives responsible for the early growth of the company leaving for smaller startups or competitors. Some current and former employees call this “Day 2,” an ominous departure from Amazon’s speedy, entrepreneurial culture, dubbed “Day 1.”
The ASBX initiative has added importance for Amazon, as the retail giant has pledged to become the Earth’s Best Employer, not just for frontline warehouse workers but for corporate and technical employees, too.
In an email to Insider, Amazon’s spokesperson confirmed the existence of the team, saying it’s part of an effort to maintain its Day 1 culture.
“Maintaining a Day 1 culture means having the courage to constantly listen to our employees, hold ourselves to the highest standard, and never stop looking for new ways to deliver better tools and mechanisms that help our builders thrive. Being vocally self-critical is another part of our Day 1 culture that you can see at play here as we strive to make Amazon the best place in the world to be a builder. Our investments in recent events like Builder’s Day and DevCon 2022, combined with a first-of-its -kind Amazon Software Builder Experience team, are some of the many recent examples of our Day 1 culture having a positive impact on builders,” the spokesperson said.
‘More button-clicking than development’
The ASBX team came under the spotlight last week when it led the keynote speech for DevCon, the largest Amazon-internal event for engineers.
One of the slides presented during the speech, obtained by Insider, shows mounting frustrations among Amazon engineers. It said they are “overwhelmed” by mundane software upgrade work, manual testing and deployment, and hard-to-use developer tools that prevent them from engaging in more creative building activities.
“Being an engineer at Amazon is more button-clicking than development,” the slide said, quoting an unnamed Amazon developer.
Amazon created ASBX after CEO Andy Jassy made it a priority to improve the working conditions of its engineers. At an internal staff meeting in November, Jassy told employees he was aware of these concerns, saying they relate to the company’s goal of remaining “speedy and fast,” as Insider previously reported. The CEO noted that he had already told two of the company’s most senior technical executives, Dave Treadwell and Peter DeSantis, to lead an effort to “make things even faster for our developers.” The ASBX team is run by VP Eric Docktor, who reports to DeSantis.
“I still think it needs to be meaningfully better than what it is today,” Jassy said at the November meeting, referring to Amazon’s building culture. “We also want developers to feel like they can spend most of their time building as opposed to reinventing manual tools that are being repeated. And we intend to fix that.”
A major pain point for many Amazon engineers is the time they spend on “undifferentiated” work, defined as “manual, additional, repeated work that takes up a developer’s core coding/productive time,” according to one of the documents.
In a recent internal survey, seen by Insider, 34% of the engineers said they spent 4 to 8 hours on undifferentiated efforts weekly, or roughly 10% to 20% of their week on things that are not related to building new products. Another survey found that engineers spend 30% of their time on “repetitive tasks.”
The ASBX team intends to solve those problems by building new tools and educational content, among other things. ASBX is composed of seven smaller units, spanning Builder Tools and Engineering Knowledge Growth teams to Mechanic, Safety Infrastructure, and User Experience. It’s also investing in roadshows, surveys, and conferences to hear from the engineers, the documents said.
“We empower Amazon’s software builders to focus on unique innovation by reducing undifferentiated work, building world-class tools, providing unparalleled growth opportunities, and championing software builder experience across the company,” one of the documents said.
And here are the six tenets, or guiding principles, the ASBX team is using, according to one of the documents:
- Software builders across Amazon require consistent, interoperable, and extensible tools to construct and operate applications at our peculiar scale; organizations will extend on our solutions for their specialized business needs.
- Amazon’s customers benefit when software builders spend time on novel innovation. Undifferentiated work elimination, automation, and integrated opinionated tooling reserve human interaction for high judgment situations.
- Our tools must be available for use even in the worst of times, which happens to be when software builders may most need to use them: we must be available even when others are not.
- Software builder experience is the summation of tools, processes, and technology owned throughout the company, relentlessly improved through the use of well-understood metrics, actionable insights, and knowledge sharing.
- Amazon’s industry-leading technology and access to top experts in many fields provides opportunities for builders to learn and grow at a rate unparalleled in the industry.
- As builders we are in a unique position to codify Amazon’s values into the technical foundations; we foster a culture of belonging by ensuring our tools, training, and events are inclusive and accessible by design.
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