Why Everybody In Seattle Suddenly Wants To Work For Amazon

jeff bezos

Photo: AP

Amazon has been a cornerstone in Seattle for more than 15 years now, but it wasn’t always seen as a great place to work.Employees talked about long hours and a pressure-cooker atmosphere, and the core business — e-commerce — didn’t seem very sexy.

What a difference a couple of years can make.

Over the New Year’s holiday, I visited Seattle for the first time since late 2010. A bunch of people in the tech scene told me the same thing: Amazon is THE place to work now.

Here’s why….

The company used to be in this ugly old building in a boring neighbourhood.

It used to be a VA hospital, and Beacon Hill isn't near much of anything.

Now, it's got a gleaming new campus with all the modern conveniences.

In spring 2010, Amazon began moving to a brand new campus in South Lake Union, near downtown Seattle. The move finished this year, although some buildings are still under construction.

The new campus is easy to get to, walkable, and has all the modern conveniences expected in a hot tech company -- like energy-efficient buildings, parking for carpools, bike storage, and locally sourced food vendors who use sustainable and local ingredients. (If this sounds like a sketch from the TV show Portlandia, well, yes. But Google started it all years ago, and they're in California.)

Plus, Amazon loves dogs almost as much as Zynga -- there are almost 300 at work every day.

It's also in a way cooler part of town.

The best part of the new campus is its location.

South Lake Union used to be a dead zone in the 1990s, but over the last decade it's been built up with big commercial developments from Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, city projects like a streetcar, and a bunch of new biotech and Internet startups. In the last two years, hot restaurants and bars have relocated from formerly trendy parts of Seattle like Belltown.

Now, thousands of Amazon employees are in the neighbourhood every day, bringing even more energy and supporting other new local businesses. It really is an amazing transformation in a very short time.

(The company won't say how many employees it has in Seattle, which seems like a really strange fact to keep secret, but it's in the 'thousands.')

The company has some other perks as well.

Amazon is still a hard working place -- the company's motto is 'work hard, have fun, make history*,' and the order of those items is no accident.

But it's not all work -- for instance, the company has an internal program called 'Fishbowl' which features musicians and authors.

This is author George R.R. Martin promoting his book 'A Dance With Dragons' at Amazon earlier this year.

*The third point of the motto is 'make history,' not 'make money' as we originally had it.

But it's not just about the workplace...

Remember when Amazon was just an online bookstore? Or just an e-commerce site?

Now, it's got a lot more interesting projects cooking....

Amazon Web Services is powering the latest startup boom.

Many years ago, Amazon engineers would whisper about all the sophisticated technology the company was building, but nobody else knew what was going on. It was basically a black box, which isn't sexy.

About five years ago, Amazon decided to take some of the technology that powered its own sites and make it available outside.

The result, Amazon Web Services, is now estimated to be a billion-dollar business, and many high-profile startups now rely on it for core business functions. That's a lot sexier than being the plumbing behind an e-commerce site.

The Kindle kicked off a thriving mobile business that will only get bigger.

What would a developer interested in mobile platforms want to do at Amazon? Five years ago, the answer would have been 'not much.'

Since then, Amazon has rolled out mobile apps for all major mobile platforms. More importantly, the online retailer started off slowly with a few basic e-readers before hitting the jackpot last year with the Kindle 3. This year, it released a $200 tablet, the Kindle Fire, that has the best chance to take on Apple's iPad in the 'post-PC' space. The company may also be designing a mobile phone for later this year.

Amazon's hardware design comes from its Lab 126 subsidiary in Cupertino, CA, but the software and services are mostly built in Seattle.

It's turning into a media company, too.

It's not like being in Hollywood for movies or New York for publishing, but Amazon is increasingly looking more like a big media company.

For instance, Amazon Prime has morphed from a discounted shipping deal to an online video streaming service with thousands of movies. There's also a thriving online music store and related music locker service, and a publishing house that plans to put out more than 100 books this quarter.

People are starting to say Jeff Bezos is a genius.

Last year, former Amazon engineer Steve Yegge -- now at Google -- posted a couple of long rants about Amazon on Google+.

In one (which wasn't supposed to be public), he called Bezos a huge control freak.

But he followed it up with a public post in which he claimed Bezos is 'an incredibly smart person, arguably a first-class genius' who has been collecting information about his industry for more than a decade.

The result? 'People like Jeff are better regarded as hyper-intelligent aliens with a tangential interest in human affairs.'

This is how people used to talk about Bill Gates back when he was leading Microsoft.

It's not just in Seattle, it is a Seattle company. (There's a difference.)

A talented engineer in Seattle could work for Google, which opened a big office in nearby Kirkland in 2004. In the last year, Facebook, Salesforce, and Zynga have opened local offices as well.

But Amazon is part of the home team.

Microsoft was once viewed the same way, but it laid off more than 5,000 workers a couple years ago, and people wonder if it could happen again.

There's no such doubt with Amazon, which grew by 8,000 people just last quarter (worldwide, not just in Seattle) and is increasing its revenue around 40% per year.

NOW WATCH: Tech Insider videos

Want to read a more in-depth view on the trends influencing Australian business and the global economy? BI / Research is designed to help executives and industry leaders understand the major challenges and opportunities for industry, technology, strategy and the economy in the future. Sign up for free at research.businessinsider.com.au.

Tagged In

features sai-us