Sep 10, 2018

My Summer Internship at Amazon

By Alpana Srivastava T’19

By Alpana Srivastava T’19

I became interested in the innovative technology space while managing the fintech portfolio of a socially responsible venture capital investment organization before business school. Having arrived at Tuck with no background in technology, I wanted to intern at an organization where I could learn fast and nurture my interest in innovative technology development. Thus, when I received an offer to intern at Amazon, I was overjoyed. Going into my summer internship, my hypothesis was that Amazon would provide me with fast-paced learning opportunities and I would like to be a part of such an environment. Now, I can easily say that I not only liked, but loved my summer experience.

My summer team was one newly formed in the cloud space and my project was focused on defining core features and metrics and initiating development of my team’s core product. For a person new to this sector, Amazon’s structured MBA internship program guided my learning and output delivery throughout the summer. On the first day of my internship, my manager introduced me to multiple Amazonians (a.k.a. Amazon employees) who could support my project by providing me with information and feedback on my ideas. I was also introduced to my buddy and mentor who were very hands-on in reviewing my outputs and introduced me to people in different teams who had worked on similar products before. Through multiple interviews with Amazonians across the globe and by extensive reading and visits to Amazon’s data centers, I developed an understanding of the technology and my product’s fit in the larger scheme of Amazon’s cloud business. I was blown away by how this technology interacts with the physical realm and how impactful it is for the target customers.

I come from an impact investing background, where everyone is super dedicated to the cause of mission-driven investing and positively impacting underserved populations. At Amazon, I observed a similar zeal among employees where everyone was completely dedicated to improving, innovating, and being the most “customer-centric company of the world.” Another highlight of my internship was Amazon’s culture that is woven around its fourteen leadership principles. The leadership principles permeate all aspects of the company, from hiring to strategic decision-making. Case in point: My first experience of the “customer obsession” principles came on the first day of my internship. I was trained to think backwards from the customer’s viewpoint, identify their challenges, and build my product based on addressing those challenges. Over the course of the internship, other leadership principles manifested in multiple ways and helped me prioritize my work and decision-making.

My favorite part of the internship experience was Amazon’s six-page memo culture. Picture the stereotype of a top leader: a glib public speaker who captivates the audience and has them hanging on her every word. While we are told that great ideas can come from anywhere, many times the ideas are only as good as the presenter. I had never experienced a situation where an organization allowed ideas to compete on the basis of their quality alone. That is why Amazon’s six-page memo culture is so powerful for me. For my interim and final deliverables, I was required to write a six-page memo that allowed me to back my ideas thorough analysis, providing a way for them to be judged on the merits of critical thinking, analytical abilities, and customer obsession. My review meetings began with people walking into a room, grabbing a copy of the relevant memo, and poring through it in silence for the next 30 minutes before launching into discussions. In large part due to this practice, the summer was an extremely liberating experience: the efficiency and depth of discussions that ensued from the memo readings set a benchmark for me in terms of the quality of team discussions.

This internship gave me a good glimpse of what life at one of the world’s most fast-paced technology firms looks like. I was constantly challenged, I learned a ton, and I was delighted to find my solutions going into build mode soon after. On the first day of my internship, I was told that “it’s always day one” at Amazon—Amazonians are constantly innovating and improving. And it proved to be true: even on the last day of my internship, I felt as if I were only on day one, as there was still so much to learn and build.