My ability to acquire an augmented reality Pikachu is not the only reason July 2016 is a momentous month for me.
Today marks my final day in just under 2 years at Amazon. I am genuinely grateful for the opportunity to work on so many historic projects – almost all of which remain unannounced, but most of which will eventually see the light of day. Thank you to everyone who I had the chance to collaborate with on this journey. I will, of course, point out what features and products I worked on as they launch.
As job changes are often met with more than the average amount of conversational interest, I present to you some frequently asked questions!
1. Why are you leaving Amazon?
A complicated question, to be sure. A combination of new opportunities and the need for change. Choosing to work on high-profile consumer hardware projects comes with a price; after running at 2 years full tilt (and losing 4 family members last year in unrelated but taxing circumstances) it’s time for a reset to avoid intellectual burnout and to break the migraine cycle I’ve been fighting for the past year.
2. Where are you going now?
On August 1, I return to Microsoft as a Senior UX Designer on the Azure team! It’s a return to enterprise software for me after spending the last 4 years in consumer products (automotive, Cortana, Alexa, and other unannounced efforts). Working on the software that pulls the strings behind the scenes.
On the surface, this may seem a strange change – but I’ve always been drawn to complex problems, and they tend to crop up even more in enterprise products than they do in consumer products.
3. Are you excited about the change?
Change is always exciting and terrifying; so: of course. I’ll be rejoining several former coworkers, which is a luxury; and I’m excited about the structure and charter of the design group I’ll be a part of. Azure has made some big announcements about new partners in recent days – momentum I’m looking forward to capitalizing on as we look towards our next round of design challenges!
I’ll also be regaining 60+ minutes each weekday from my commute, plus a return to some improved benefits. AND my new office is literally walking distance from HyperRPG’s studios.
There was also a great deal I really liked about Microsoft for many years and I’ve heard lovely things from friends inside about the changes since Satya took over, so I’m excited to see how things have evolved in my absence.
4. Wait, didn’t I just see you in a recruiting video for Amazon?
Yes. Yes, you did. You might have even seen me in paid advertisements for Amazon on Facebook. Those videos were recorded in January. Due to a reorg and some other circumstances, that video series released 2 days after I’d given notice. Ironic and bittersweet? Definitely.
5. What are you doing with your time off? Why aren’t you taking more?
The team I’m joining is very eager to get started, and I also don’t particularly want to deal with things like COBRA. We took 2 weeks vacation in May and went all the way to the Panama Canal and back – I am content staying local (probably) during the week between gigs. My next vacation is in November.
However, I do very much enjoy my time at HyperRPG, and will be stopping by a number of shows during that week off BECAUSE I WANT TO. Including The Gauntlet on Tuesday night, CorpSINs on Wednesday night, maybe Pokemon Go on Tuesday afternoon, and who knows what else. If you haven’t seen me on HyperRPG yet, GET ON THE TRAIN ALREADY. #CorpSINs alone has over 60 hours of content now. It’s crazy. Crazy awesome.
I will also catch far too many Pokemon, may dabble with Twitch streaming on my own, and will continue my training for my half-marathon coming up on Labor Day weekend.
6. Does this have anything to do with the NYT Amazon piece?
There is certainly truth in some of those reports, but everyone’s experience is unique. I do not correlate my experience to the experiences mentioned in that piece. I also like to remind folks that Amazon didn’t invent high-stress work environments, particularly in tech. Hell, my first full-time job was at Electronic Arts during the EA_Spouse debacle – that resulted in several (successful) class-action lawsuits. And they did NOT provide the kind of compensation Amazon or the other giants provide. We all make cost/benefit judgements, and our priorities change over time.
My personal stress these last few months was being spread too thin across between 6 and 9 projects, depending on how you count it (that plus a worsening commute and some other factors). My team has since hired a number of new folks, so I’m optimistic the conditions will improve even with my absence. I’ll miss my coworkers; they continue to be a really cohesive, creative, and supportive group of designers and producers. And to their great credit they have been completely supportive of my transition. I can’t wait to see the progress they’ll make in the months ahead.
7. Why Microsoft again? Did you talk to other companies?
Something I’ve learned over the years is that one must always be open for life’s next opportunity. If you wait until you WANT a new job to start conversations, you’ll be satisficing instead of truly making well-informed decisions. I’ve had discussions with a number of companies in the last 12 months, but in the end Microsoft ended up being the right combination of opportunity, culture, compensation, and situation. The fact that I’ve worked with my soon-to-be-manager before and that Microsoft was willing to wait until the timing was right for me went a long way.
Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)
8. What did you like about Amazon?
More than anything, I was wowed by Amazon’s willingness to take big risks, even when there was a high risk of costly failure. That isn’t always the case, but where they do take big risks I’ve seen them pay off in spectacular ways (and they aren’t done yet.)
I also found the design community warm and welcoming, with a number of grassroots efforts to uplevel our thinking and our network together.
Alexa is damn near miraculous tech – when was the last time a company showed up late to the technology party and turned the industry on its head? And Amazon really knows devices, perhaps better than even the typical players like Apple and Google. I learned SO MUCH there.
And the company’s customer obsession is real. I mean, at orientation they played a video that talked about the negative effects of cognitive load. As a designer I was over the moon. They’ve created a fabulous brand that really inspires customer happiness and loyalty unlike anything else I’ve seen.
9. What’s this about migraines?
I suffer from chronic hereditary migraines. Yes, I’m on Excedrin Migraine and Sumatriptan. No, they don’t work all the time. I’ve been to the ER twice in the last year. One resulted in IV painkillers to break a 4-day migraine.
At some point, life with migraines becomes one of those finger trap puzzles. You can wrestle all you want, but eventually you’re going to have to push instead of pull in order to break free. Switching jobs is my “push” moment.
NOTE: While I deeply appreciate empathy and concern for my migraines, I’m not looking for treatment advice at this time – I have doctors and some trusted friends for that purpose. Migraines run deep in my family, ours are caused by hormones and stress, we’ve ruled out digestive causes in great detail, and they will get better with time, but probably not for at least another decade based on my mother’s experience. Years of suffering have led to an overdose of suggested cures…
10. You totally quit your job for Pokemon Go, didn’t you? This is all a ruse.
NO. I can prove that with paperwork! It just LOOKS like I timed my gap week perfectly. How could I have ever known?
11. Let’s turn this Q&A up to 11. What the hell did you work on at Amazon?
A LOT of things, but almost all are a) still confidential and b) still in development. You’ll have to sit tight. Trust that I will be over the moon to start talking about some of the work once it’s live. This is, of course, the problem with working on really cutting-edge stuff. Designers thrive on conversation and feedback, but in many cases you can’t have those things on new products without compromising a launch plan.
Change is tumultuous and bittersweet but often necessary. Time to tackle my next adventure. Thank you to everyone who made this Amazon adventure possible and memorable.