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Joel Kitching Engineer and creative mind

Amazon intern day 3: first day at Amazon

May 02 2011

I set my alarm for 8 AM, but woke up of my own accord. I showered, attempted to extract a semi-professional outfit from my still very packed collection of clothing, and then called Aboda about housing. Apparently they can’t do anything without authorization from Graebel. So then I called Graebel.

The housing crisis continues

The man from Graebel with whom I spoke said that he would call Aboda and look into possible options, and might also be able to see if Amazon would further subsidize the $900/mo place so as to avoid further inconvenience for me. I probably should have made it clear that this was the preferred option. He said he would call right back (yeah right) after talking to someone at Aboda. At this point it was just a waiting game until I had to leave for work, and then I might not have a chance to call them again until after business hours. Oh boy.

After tapping my fingers and toes for a bit, I gave up waiting and just followed up with my Graebel contact in an email saying I would prefer a subsidy for living in the current place I have, but would also like to consider any options of moving in with a roommate.

First encounter

I grabbed all of my stuff (mostly identification documents) and headed to Amazon for my first day. When I arrived at their lobby, there were about 25 students waiting around. I chatted with two of them for a bit, and worked up the nerve to ask them for their names and numbers. I’m very aware that I have to be extremely proactive if I wanted to build myself a social life here, so I figure I will take every chance I can get.

Later on, we were herded into a room where we had some minimal lunch (catered sandwiches), and did some more mingling. I actually found one other student from UBC in the engineering program, which was very cool! I also came across a UVic student, and a Waterloo student who was originally from Vancouver. The vast majority of the other students were all from Waterloo. I think it is because most American universities haven’t gotten out yet. Anyways, in said room, we ate lunch, continued to mingle, and then were presented quite a long talk about Amazon culture, things to do in Seattle, and things to do at Amazon.

Forms, forms, and more forms

After that, we were herded into another building where we got our ORCA passes. These wonderful little guys will get you onto any public transit in the greater Seattle area free of charge—including the Light Rail that takes you to the airport. Woohoo! Now I just need an opportunity to use it… this is one of the few downsides of living within walking distance to work.

Then, we were led into a conference-type room with mounds of forms in front of us. After settling in there, we were brought temporarily to another room to fill out some web-application form with our work permit authorization information. After that, I begrudgingly gave up my passports for them to process while we all returned to our conference room. (Only later would I realize how important the conference room is to corporate culture!)

There, it was a lot of hearing about forms, filling out forms, and getting pressured into signing forms without having the chance to read what signing them actually meant. (If anyone from HR at Amazon is reading this—please give people more time to read these forms, or send them in advance for people to review!) We were told more information about Amazon and its intranet, shown an inspirational video of Bezos, and then our badges and passports arrived. Amazingly, I think the picture on mine is one of the best ones I have gotten on any piece of ID.

One point of confusion was the difference between our laptops and our desk workstations. It wasn’t even made clear at first that we had workstations at our desks. And so, when we were told that in no case is it allowed to install an operating system other than the default Windows on our laptops, or even any third-party software, I was slightly confused. But later on, I essentially discovered that the laptop is mainly used for word-processing, emailing, and non-technical tasks, while the workstation (which runs Red Hat Enterprise) is used for everyday development. It’s also possible to have one machine’s keyboard and mouse control both (see synergy).

We were then distributed laptops and backpacks. Unfortunately we were not able to keep the backpacks—as you may discover, Amazon likes to be frugal in every sense of the word, and so swag is hard to come by. But we did end up having awesome messenger bags given to us for keeps later on!

Finally, we all headed downstairs to meet our managers, by which time it was about 3:30 PM.

Welcome to Prime

I met my manager, Mark Aiken, and he led me towards our building, SEA27, where we went up to the ninth floor. I was introduced to my sole other teammate, Chris (who would double as my mentor, and with whom I would become good friends), and shown the gorgeous view of Lake Union. Yep, it just so happens that I lucked out and was placed on the ninth floor of a building facing Lake Union, with my desk even pointing in that direction. Awesome!

Following that, I was taken around the Amazon Prime area of the floor where I met about 30 other people whose names I have all already forgotten. We came back to my cubicle, where I got my head talked off about different technologies (and acronyms—always acronyms) that I don’t understand, and finally it was time to head home (after staying late on my first day until about 5:45 PM!). Apparently we might go out for drinks tomorrow after work, which would be fun.

Dinner with a friend

I rushed home, bought bagels en route, and then headed out to meet my friend Angela, who used to go to my university in Vancouver, for dinner at Pike Place Market. (On the way out from my apartment, I actually came across a guy I had met on my move-in day in the elevator. I told him it was my first day of working in Seattle, he asked me where, I said “Amazon,” he asked me what team, I said “Prime,” and then he told me he worked on the Kindle team. What a small world!)

Angela and I went to the Pike Brewing Company Pub, and had burgers (great burgers but on the expensive side). It was good to catch up with her, and I am very glad to know someone who lives nearby! Hopefully we will hang out again soon.

I then almost got lost, and headed home amidst throngs of sketchy people downtown. I realized that my area of town, Belltown, is probably one of the safest ones. I got home, talked on the phone for a good hour with the parental units, and finally had a break before the next day’s undertakings…