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Working at Amazon Prime Air

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The views expressed here are my own, and do not represent the views of Amazon.

In May, I started working at Amazon Prime Air, a project within Amazon that’s using drones to safely deliver packages within 30 minutes. Prime Air is doing a lot of innovative work to make this vision a reality, and I love being able to contribute to such an awesome project that will change the way we imagine delivery in such a drastic way.

I can’t describe the details of what I do here (despite all the publicity, Prime Air is still a secret project), but I can give some general information. I work as a Hardware Development Engineer, and my intern project involves developing system infrastructure for automated test and evaluation of new sensing technologies. The work is very interdisciplinary: I’ve had to develop mechnical, electrical, and software components for my project. My work is very closely associated with some of Prime Air’s research goals for this year. For these reasons, I’ve been interacting very deeply with all sorts of experts at Prime Air: research scientists, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, and software developers, among others. The end result of my project will allow for much more rapid development of the new sensing technologies that my project is meant to test and evaluate.

I can’t have a discussion about Prime Air without discussing its workplace culture, but we can’t talk about that without first talking about the broader Amazon culture. Amazon is built around a constantly evolving set of 14 Leadership Principles, phrases like “Customer Obsession,” “Dive Deep,” and “Bias for Action” that dictate how employees at Amazon should make decisions. Sometimes, like in the second two examples I mentioned above, these principles conflict, and employees are expected to reflect on which principle is more applicable for the occasion. It’s a system that I greatly admire, and probably one of the greatest things I’ve been exposed to at any of my internships.

Prime Air’s culture derives heavily from the broader Amazon culture. However, one of the interesting things I’ve noticed is that the novel goals of Prime Air can make it more difficult to apply some of the Leadership Principles. For example, because of the new technologies we build to satisfy our goals (for which we “Think Big”), identifying the best solution to an engineering problem may require many complete redesigns. However, our “Customer Obsession” gives us a laser-focus on ensuring that even details of our product are easy for customers to use. But what happenes when these details worked well with previous designs, but are difficult with new designs? It can be hard to constantly focus on every Leadership Principle at once. So, we end up applying the Leadership Principles in new ways since we are such a long term project. Also, I’ve gained a new appreciation for data-driven decision making, the type that Amazon is known for, which is just as much a part of what we do at Prime Air as anywhere else in Amazon.

I’ve considered this the most influential internship of my life because of how much I’ve grown this summer. The Amazon Leadership Principles are a huge part of that growth, and I look forward to seeing how I can apply what I’ve learned in new ways at school. “Deliver Results” could be a way for me to move more quickly to get to data that I can evaluate during my Senior Thesis, for example. The possibilities are endless, and my amazing experience at Prime Air is sure to positively affect my future work.

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