The Times’ piece describes a “bruising workplace,” where employees are asked to harshly critique their peers and those suffering personal crises are often pushed out of their positions.
Shortly after the story was published, Amazon engineering manager Nick Ciubotariu wrote a line-by-line rebuttal of the points addressed by the New York Times, which he says was a “hatchet piece.”
Ciubotariu has worked at Amazon since March 2014 and has contributed to projects in Marketplace and Search and Discovery.
During my 18 months at Amazon, I’ve never worked a single weekend when I didn’t want to. No one tells me to work nights. No one makes me answer emails at night. No one texts me to ask me why emails aren’t answered. I don’t have these expectations of the managers that work for me, and if they were to do this to their Engineers, I would rectify that myself, immediately. And if these expectations were in place, and enforced upon me, I would leave.
If Amazon used to be this way (and it most likely was, as you’ll see in the quote below), from my 18 month experience working in two of its biggest product groups, that Amazon no longer exists.
In December 2014, Ciubotariu published a post in which he describes the work environment at a previous employer.
During one seven-month stretch at that unnamed employer, Ciubotariu writes, he and a team of engineers worked brutal 90- or 100-hour weeks. He refers to that period of time as a “death march” that was “the worst professional experience of [his] life.”
His description of that working environment sounds as bad as — if not worse than — the Amazon office culture as described by the New York Times.
We were walking zombies. We were now averaging 90 hours of work a week, and weekends were workdays as far as anyone was concerned. Most of us hadn’t slept more than an average of 2 hours a night in months. Half the time, I slept on the couch in my office, and had already lost 15 lbs.
We had so much work to do, by this time, most of us had forgotten we had homes. Bodies were being borrowed from team to team just to cover work. Pets went unfed for 3 days, in one case. I wound up in the hospital at least once from work-related stress.”
Ciubotariu doesn’t say which of his previous employers he is referring to in this post, and he declined to comment when we reached out to him. According to his LinkedIn profile, he did stints at Reliant Energy, AlphaCircuits, and BP before spending more than five years in various roles at Microsoft.
In his post, Ciubotariu makes reference to himself as “HiPo,” a term that Microsoft uses for a select group of “high potential” employees.
Regardless of whether Ciubotariu’s horror story does indeed describe his time at Microsoft, there’s a larger point to be made about how difficult it is to work at a top-tier tech company. Though companies like Facebook and Netflix have instituted policies meant to improve work-life balance, long hours are still very much the norm.
“Gruelling competition remains perhaps the defining feature of the upper echelon in today’s white-collar workplace,” The New York Times’ Noam Scheiber writes in a follow-up to the newspaper’s Amazon exposé.
“Even the steps that many tech companies take to make the workplace more engaging often result in employees spending more time consumed by their work. Increasingly popular workplace messaging programs like Slack and HipChat, for example, both increase the amount of casual, friendly interactions among co-workers, but these messaging systems may also have the effect of keeping employees on their computers or mobile devices at all hours of the day and night.”
It all depends on perspective. If you had worked unrelenting 100-hour weeks at your previous job, Amazon’s “bruising workplace” may not seem all that bad.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.