How I got hired by Amazon.com (2008)
(this story was published more than 10 years ago, on May 22nd, 2008, on my blog. I decided to repost it here on Medium.
I have worked at Amazon from 2008 to 2014. I no longer work there. Please don’t ask me how to get a job there. Thanks.)
My name is Simone Brunozzi, a 30 year old guy from Italy.
What’s interesting about me? Well, I’m a brand new Technology Evangelist for Amazon Web Services in Europe!
I’m going to tell you how I landed the job of my dreams, and I suggest that you pay attention because it’s a story you don’t hear every day.
It was an ordinary day in Italy on November 28th, 2007, when I logged in to Second Life.
I had planned to visit the Luxembourg Virtual Job Fair to report my impressions on my Second Life blog. Tired of being a disposable system administrator (CTO) at the University for Foreigners in Perugia, without any good career opportunity ahead, I was looking for a new job, and the fair was therefore a chance for me to look around.
I landed on the island with my avatar, almost half an hour before the end of the fair. With surprise, I noticed that banks and financial companies weren’t the only companies attending: there was also… Amazon.com! Wait a minute, I thought, what brings the great Amazon.com in a tiny place like Luxembourg?
You have to know that working for a company like Amazon, Google, Ebay or Yahoo! has been my dream since my studying experience in California in late 2003; no doubt I decided in less than zero seconds to check it out.
I showed up at the Amazon.com’s booth, with my well-dressed and custom-skinned avatar which, as a bonus, has my same name, Simone Brunozzi (don’t ask me how I got it because it’s a secret). Virtual job fairs are not so common, right, but having used Second Life for almost two years, and having led one of the biggest and greatest project in Second Life, the construction of the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, I was confident and relaxed, able to move and interact like a pro.
I met Jennifer, from the Human Resources department of Amazon.com in Seattle, who explained me what Amazon was doing in Luxembourg, which positions were open, and something more about the most interesting one: the technology evangelist for Amazon Web Services.
Tired of being a programmer, a system administrator, or any other kind of pure technician, and not being able to stand out in any of those field because of my diverse experience, I was looking for a position in which my broad knowledge could be valued, along with my speaking skills and my natural attitude in connecting with people. The evangelist role, therefore, was a perfect fit.
Basically, a technology evangelist for Amazon stays in tune with the Amazon Web Services technology, travels a lot to present AWS at conferences, camps and such, codes some examples, and connects to people and developers to be the voice, and the ears, of the company.
My dream job.
I left a great impression on Jennifer, both for my traits and skills, of course, but also because of my Second Life expertise. I can guess she wasted half of her time explaining to people how to use the Second Life viewer, so no doubt she appreciated to deal with someone even more seasoned than her.
First rule to get the job of your dreams: always arrive prepared.
After that short and generic interview on Second Life, I sent her my resume and my Linkedin profile, and she mentioned me that a certain “Jeff” guy would evaluate my profile and let me know how to proceed.
I was thrilled by this opportunity, and felt that this was “the one”. Instead of passively waiting for her answer, I investigated a little bit, and discovered the complete name of the guy, Jeff Barr, senior AWS evangelist. I then tracked his blog, and get some precious information about him, discovering a strong interest for Second Life.
One of his last posts was about a three-dimensional simulation of some AWS services (EC2, S3, SQS) using Second Life, and we’ll get back to it in a minute.
A week later I emailed Jeff, simply explaining that I found his blog, and I was looking forward to talk with him. I added a couple of lines about my interest and skills in Second Life, and he seemed interested. He’s a very busy guy, but he found the time to send me a long email, with details about the position, and some big questions for me to answer.
It was Wednesday, and after coming back from work, I found his message, and decided to show him my commitment in getting this job.
I wrote, googled, coded, wrote again, and around 3:30 a.m. I sent him a very, very long email, which I honestly and humbly consider a small masterpiece of art, given the circumstances.
I spare you the details, but the email was basically saying: I’m focused, I’m good, I’m passionate about cloud computing and web services, and I am willing to squeeze my last drop of energy to deliver you something you’ve never seen before.
Why I was doing this? For two reasons.
First, I believe that when you look for a job, or for a woman, or for a friend, it’s better to focus on few opportunities, and give them your best shot, instead of firing around at the dozens that cross your life every day.
Second reason: the job requirements were really high, and I feared I was positioned “below the bar”, at least on paper: this is the kind of problem you face when you think you’re good, but you’ve studied and worked in a country town in Italy, a poorly developed nation from a technological point of view.
To remedy, I decided to impress him again: on the following weekend I spent almost thirty hours in building an improved three-dimensional simulation for AWS, with a fully functional messaging system. At 2 a.m. on Monday, exhausted, I sent him the results of my hard work.
Jeff got the message right, and in a subsequent phone interview I clearly understood that he was favorably impressed, and definitively on my side.
I don’t feel guilty at all about this: Jeff is a smart guy, and he perfectly knew what I was doing with him; if you want to work for a big and successful company like Amazon, you’ll always face smart guys on your path. Giving them an honest, straightforward, unexpected example of your good side and your talents is what they expect from you.
Rule number two: stand out from the crowd. Be “unordinary”. Show passion, and commitment.
From that point on (it was late December 2007) I got two other phone interviews, before they asked me to come in Luxembourg. On early February I went there, had three face-to-face interviews for a total of almost three hours, and discovered what Luxembourg was like. My father and my girlfriend decided to come along, so I spent the weekend with them, and faced another big question for my life: do you want to move to another country? Are you prepared for this?
This wasn’t an easy question to answer. Americans are used to be relocated around the country, and they do it three to four times, on average, in their lifetime. Italians are different: for us, a house is like a root for a tree: pulling it up, together with friends and such, is a tough step. Imagine how tough it is to move to a different country.
For me, the decision wasn’t easy for another reason: I had my super-safe job (in Italy you can’t get fired EVER, if you work for the government or for a university), and I had other interesting job opportunities nearby.
After some thoughts, anyway, I decided this opportunity at Amazon was the best I could do for my life, and ended my internal discussion.
My strongest, and purest reason was that I was looking for a workplace in which you have no roofs; in which my skills and commitment could bring me to the top. Amazon.com seemed to be the right one.
Rule number three: be prepared to go forward, and be convinced of your decisions.
As a final step, I was invited to Seattle in early March, where I faced eight interviews in a row, for a total of seven hours and a half, with only about fifteen minutes of break during lunch.
I tried to study and review some things, but the spectrum of topics was too broad. I decided instead to focus on basic concepts and information, assuming I would be able to elaborate more complex constructions based on them. It worked, at least for my morale: if you work hard for something, in the moment you stand in front of your challenges you’ll feel stronger than ever, because you know you did everything you could.
It was tough to bear a conversation for so long, and despite the fact that my English is quite good I started to lose concentration at the very end. I was exhausted, but the happiest guy on earth: the interviews went really well, and Jeff guided me at the exit assuring it was almost done and well.
Rule number four: work hard, and you’ll have the right attitude in front of any situation.
In mid March they offered me the job, which I gratefully accepted.
Tomorrow, May 20th, will be my first day at Amazon.com, and I’m in Seattle, for a training period, after which I’ll get in Luxembourg and start evangelizing Europe.
It’s difficult for me to show you my feelings now, because, despite my new life hides some negative effects, especially the distance from friends and such, I’m really happy and satisfied.
This is where I work: despite the bad picture, you can see that the view from my office is astounding!
A job is not everything in someone’s life, but it’s very, very important to love your job. My past one was horrible, and it negatively influenced my life. Today, despite everything, I’m happier than ever because I’m doing something for which I have a genuine passion, and I’m lucky I’m working in a nice and friendly environment.
Of course, Amazon should have its defects, too, but from my point of view, this is just a great place to work and thrive.
Rule number five: choose a job you love.
Second Life had an interesting role on all this: being updated and experienced with the latest technologies brings a competitive advantage in some way or another. In my case, Second Life helped me in being the coolest candidate, among the few being able to use Second Life and not scared of a virtual job fair.
Such a good start gave me the energy to focus on unexpected commitment, which convinced my boss that I was a good hire.
I can guess that without Second Life, I would probably not dedicate so much time to this job.
I hope you enjoyed my story.