The Blog

New CEO Onboarding at AWS

Calendar Icon 05.19.2021
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Hello, and welcome back to AWS as the new CEO, Adam Selipsky!

As AWS’s de-facto head of marketing, I’ve been assigned to show you around as your onboarding buddy. I should probably point out that I don’t actually work for AWS; I showed up one day and started cracking wise, the company didn’t really know what to make of me or how to handle it, and now I’ve been around long enough that it’d be awkward to say anything. But don’t worry; you’ll get used to it. If you’re still confused, you’re far from alone. I’m very hard to describe.

You’ve been gone for the past five years, and a bunch of things have changed in your absence, but some things should seem familiar.

Take your old team, sales and marketing, for example? It should be quite familiar: marketing hasn’t changed one iota in the last five years. I’m serious: the entire approach has been frozen in amber since you left, paving the way for jackasses like me. Conversely, the sales organization has had what feels like 500% turnover since you left; just ask any AWS customer how many new account managers they’ve been introduced to in that time.

While we’re headed to your new office, I have a few things to mention that you should check into sooner rather than later.

What the hell is up with compensation?

You probably want to revisit your compensation strategy sooner rather than later. Your competitors (remember, AWS’s competitors are not Amazon’s competitors; they’re tech companies, not e-commerce shops) uniformly have superior compensation for their staff, and have clearly articulated their philosophy on remote work post pandemic, while AWS appears to be pretending nothing has changed.

Further, “cash is king” and your competitors are offering significant salaries, whereas AWS primarily compensates in stock grants. Coincidentally, Amazon stock has been largely flat for the past year despite the company seeing record revenue and profit.

Oh, you’re curious what I would do? No clue, honestly. Fortunately, the “head of marketing” chair that I stole wasn’t your CEO stool. Though, I will point out that you’ve just inadvertently demonstrated that the best way to realize significant advancement at AWS is to quit, join another company, and then “boomerang” back to AWS at a higher level later. Perhaps you could start there?

The whitespace is killer

While the concept of decentralized service teams has been one of the biggest reasons for AWS’s success since inception, it’s created a lot of whitespace–the gap between teams–that continues to get bigger the more AWS grows.

Teams not coordinating with each other has always been a core pain with AWS, and that hasn’t changed during your wilderness years. While this decentralization has allowed AWS to launch things with shocking speed, your distributed nature also means that there’s a lot of whitespace around bigger things–namely, billing and UX.

This has led to a lot of customer pain, as you can imagine. Remember, when the UX doesn’t cooperate with the customer, the customer defaults to thinking they’re the one who’s wrong. When it comes to AWS services, the customer is very rarely wrong. Every time a customer has a bad time due to UX, they feel as if they’re “not smart enough” to use the service; that’s something that just can’t be. It’s a similar story when it comes to billing.

You might wish to consider hiring two new VPs: one to oversee all billing across all services, and the other to oversee all user experience. These are two incredibly painful areas that a distributed culture doesn’t lend itself to fixing on its own.

Oh! Here’s the company coffee cart, you want anything? Unlike Tableau, AWS believes in being Frugal, which is a semi-polite way of saying that employees need to pay for their own coffee. You’re higher up in the hierarchy than I am, which means:

Surprise, you owe me a coke!

If you count the zeros in the company P&L carefully, you’ll note AWS is now a ~$54 billion a year entity. I think it probably goes without saying that the next $54 billion isn’t going to come from the same place, and that’s probably why you’re here, eh?

It should come as no surprise to you that a student doing their capstone project on AWS today is going to be in the corporate sector making technology decisions tomorrow. If you start them off with a fear of exploding the bill, they’re not going to have warm and friendly impressions of AWS. This will obviously impact their decisions down the road. You’ve really got to revisit the Free Tier to make this less hostile to newcomers. After all, when even Oracle Cloud has a better free tier than AWS does, it’s time to ask some hard soul-searching questions.

While we’re on that point of not scaring away new customers who are coming from different places than the current customers, there’s an entire ocean out there of “point and click” IT Ops folks; once upon a time it’s where I started my technical career.

I think the way to remain competitive requires that you flex AWS’s entire approach when it comes to the new user experience. “Oh, you set something up in the console? Great, throw it away and rebuild it in CloudFormation” is barely tolerated by born-in-the-cloud infrastructure engineers; the IT Ops folks won’t stomach it.

Ahh, and here we are–your new office.

Welcome (back) to AWS, Jeff Adam

It’s great that Amazon’s executive leadership is diversifying away from “guys named Jeff,” though there’s admittedly still something of a “Dave” problem to tackle. You’ll no doubt discover other changes as you get reacquainted with the company and meet a mix of new and familiar faces.

Remember, despite my slings and arrows that I hurl in copious quantities at AWS’s direction, I believe you have some of the best people in the world working for you now, and building the finest cloud offerings to be found anywhere.

As your onboarding buddy, if you have any questions that I can help answer you can find me on the under-resourced shade of a messaging product you call Amazon Chime.

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