Thoughts from my time at AWS Re-Invent


 Thoughts from my time at AWS Re-Invent

Greg Meyers, CVP and CIO, Motorola Solutions

This week, I had a chance to attend my first Amazon Web Services (AWS) Re-Invent conference. More than 15,000 people descended into Las Vegas to immerse themselves in all things AWS. I was blown away by how a company the size of Amazon, with a nearly $12B as-a-service business, is able to manage innovating at the pace and magnitude that they have. There was an amazing amount of technical innovation, particularly in the Platform As-A-Service (PAAS) side of their business. They announced several new AI/Machine Learning offerings that essentially make Alexa's guts accessible to developers for natural language processing, translating and semantic understanding. They announced a ton of new features and capabilities, too many to list here, most interesting (and kitchy of which) was SnowMobile - a tractor-trailer that drives to your data center and allows you to extract 100 Pedabytes of data over a fiber connection, and they drive it back to AWS to upload it into their infrastructure. But rather than blogging about all the nerdy stuff I learned (read here if you want a recap of what was launched), I thought it would be better to share my experiences from a very small and informal session that most people that attended the conference didn't get a chance to see, but I was fortunate enough to attend. It was between Andy Jassy, the CEO of AWS and Jeff Wilke, the CEO of Amazon.com (the website). Both report to Jeff Bezos and its clear they are good friends. We spent nearly an hour and a half talking about Amazon, their culture and how the company is wired. I learned that right before they start working on a new product or project, the first thing they do is write the press release. That's right, they write a press release to ensure that whatever ends up getting built is the thing that will best serve customers. They call it "working backwards" and I loved this concept. Its something those of us in the IT profession could really learn from. In addition to the press release, they write a FAQ designed to answer key questions as if all the complicated details are already worked out. Since these are done in advance, the developers are able to get their work done without having to get stuck on decisions way above their pay grade - really smart! The next thing they discussed were the Amazon leadership principles. I've seen similar principles from other companies like Zappos (which Amazon bought) and Netflix, and while their principles are less rhetorical, they have an immense amount of substance. So much so, that it is super clear what is expected of you to be an employee of Amazon. Here they are:

Customer Obsession

Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

Ownership

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job".

Invent and Simplify

Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here". As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.

Be Right, A Lot

Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

Learn and Be Curious

Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.

Hire and Develop The Best

Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.

Insist on the Highest Standards

Leaders have relentlessly high standards - many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

Think Big

Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

Bias for Action

Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

Frugality

Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size or fixed expense.

Earn Trust

Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

Dive Deep

Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Deliver Results

Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.
When I read these and heard about how they are used in practice both Amazon.com and AWS, it made it easier to understand how they manage to perform so well. They are a firm filled with paradoxes: extreme accountability, but high tolerance for failure; exceptional empowerment but an expectations all levels are into detail; Play well in the sandbox with others, but fight rigorously for what you believe in.

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