Hey, I'm Dan! I invest in early-stage startups at Madrona and write the DL, a weekly newsletter about tech in the PNW

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Amazon Engineers on Amazon

Last week, Tim Bray, a VP/Distinguished Engineer at Amazon, quit and wrote a viral blog post explaining his decision:

  • I quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19.
  • But… at the end of the day, the big problem isn’t the specifics of Covid-19 response. It’s that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential. Only that’s not just Amazon, it’s how 21st-century capitalism is done.
  • At the end of the day, it’s all about power balances. The warehouse workers are weak and getting weaker, what with mass unemployment and (in the US) job-linked health insurance. So they’re gonna get treated like crap, because capitalism.


Another VP/Distinguished Engineer, Brad Porter, wrote a reply, which got a ton of engagement and discussion on LinkedIn:

  • I believe a strong case can be made that Amazon has responded more nimbly to this crisis than any other company in the world.
  • When I first joined World-Wide Operations to lead Robotics, the very first thing I learned was that safety dictated everything…
  • Do we want to do more? We do and we are… Is everyone going to be convinced we are doing enough? No.
  • Ultimately though, Tim Bray is simply wrong when he says “It’s that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential.”
  • For those of us who work in World-Wide Operations, nothing could be farther from the truth. Our associates are the most amazing people you will meet anywhere and the heart of everything we do.


What do you think? (btw - here is Tim Bray’s re-response to Brad Porter)


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