Leaving Amazon (kind of), Embracing Change

At first I felt this title might be catchy like a clickbait. But then on pondering about it for a few minutes I realized that it is more truthful than catchy. The idea of leaving amazon is almost like the idea of embracing change. It makes me think about the transitions we make which are almost unbelievable before we do them and simplistic once we do. For example using Facebook in times of Orkut seemed pointless and my first year or so with FB account had no real activity but now I can’t imagine using Orkut 😛

The short story is that I decided to leave my current role without really knowing what I am going to do next. The long story follows below.

I joined Amazon almost 6 years ago. I joined Amazon as a fresh graduate having really no experience with any major technology or project. I joined Amazon when I used to consider companies like Amazon a distant dream and something I didn’t even consider I could be a part of. When I say I joined Amazon, I mean I joined a team within Amazon called Pricing. And this is the interesting part of the catchy title, I am not really leaving Amazon, not yet at least. I am leaving my role within the current team within Amazon. And for me the idea of possibly leaving Pricing is synonymous to leaving Amazon for me.

I joined this team of 8-9 people back in 2011. The complete team was in Seattle and I was the entire Pricing team in Bangalore of 1 person. Over the years the team in Bangalore waxed and waned. Over the years I moved from Bangalore to Seattle, then back to Bangalore, and once more to Seattle. Over the years I pretty much worked on every major system that forms pricing. Over the years I took up most every role that was available to me. Over the years this team grew to a size of 50ish.

When I started 6 years ago, I was a shy simple engineer who didn’t think he can code much. I was fairly average in my under grad. I didn’t have any major coding chops or awards. My achievement in my 7 months of work experience prior to joining Amazon was to read Atlas Shrugged. But the last 6 years have taken me on a journey I couldn’t have imagined. I grew personally and professionally to become more and more confident of not only coding, but doing the right things, and of standing up for what I believed was right. I grew in my career to a role of Senior Engineer, that once again I never even used to dream of when I graduated. I never really thought I had it in me.

When I started 6 years ago, my method of ending discussions was to accept what was told to me. This slowly changed to challenging what others told me based on what I understood of systems and customers. Eventually it changed to me being on the other side and telling people what to do. Finally it did reach a point where I thought my job was to tell people what to do and hope they do it. It took me a few difficult months to realize that that wasn’t my job. My job was to help people actually figure what I was telling them to do and help them achieve that. That is when I transitioned from the guy who shouted at SDE’s to collaborating with them. It was this confidence in persuading people to do right thing than forcing them, that persuaded me to move to a role of a manager.

Over the last year I have had the pleasure (and pain) of being responsible to help other people achieve whatever I could do myself. The trick was in realizing that doing things yourself only scales 1x, while building a team is about doing the same things while scaling 10x, 100x. Over the last year I realized that psychology is not just a weird science but also a tool that can be used to develop people (and also manipulate them). The key to “developing” and not “manipulating” is transparency. If people understand what you are doing to them, they work with you. If you are like a mad shaman though, just handing out secret potions and formulas, people would think you are playing with them. The key was in finding the balance of asserting and accepting.

Anyhow I always used to think of Pricing as my home. Not a place where I work but a place where I live as well. I used to believe that I would forever be here and keep doing different things within Pricing. I was in a very comfortable place in life. Everyone I knew trusted me and I trusted them. It was like a virtuous cycle where everything I did was helping me in return. Seriously I did not have a reason to leave.

But it was only last year when a sudden realization hit me. I had previously thought of doing other things in life but never seriously. But last year when my grandmother suddenly fell ill and I took the next available flight to India, I realized that life is really unpredictable. You can really not plan for what comes next. Till that point in life I had kept postponing various random things I wanted to do in life to a future. The future seemed long and full of potential and hence a good dumping place for ideas and desires. On that flight to India, I realized that the future may not be 100 years but can be 100 hours.

That was kind of the turning point for me. I realized I wanted to do more in my life than whatever I was doing. I wanted to at least experiment with whatever I wanted to do, to see if I really cared about doing it or if it was just something that seemed randomly attractive.

This break that I am taking starting mid-Feb 2017 and of uncertain duration is to experiment with a lot of small things in life to see what are the bigger things worth pursuing. I have no idea of what I will do next but I want to read a lot, spend some time at home in India, write fluently and regularly, become fit and travel. I want to completely get away from being comfortable with a salary and a secure work future and see how it helps me grow. Growth only comes from discomfort and pain. There are no 2 ways about it. And that is the long reason of why I decided to take a decision, a firm stop to whatever I am doing and trying out what else can be done. Who knows maybe my real potential is being a baker and I will never find it until I get out of my comfort zone.

The truth is I still don’t know if I am leaving Pricing. I cannot come to think of this as 100% certain but I know that it is highly likely based on what transpires in the coming few month. And hence in my heart I feel like I am leaving Amazon. Even the thought, however uncertain, that I may not return to Pricing feels like one of those decisions that seemed unbelievable at first and might seem straight forward in the coming few months. Now it is just a matter of taking the plunge into the unknown…

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