My Interviews with Amazon

Last Fall in 2015, I interviewed with Amazon Web Services for a senior web developer position and was eventually offered a job with one of the AWS teams. Interviewing with a massive tech firm like Amazon was a significantly different experience than with any other company I’ve interviewed with, and I want to talk about how it all went down. How the interviews were structured, what all was discussed, what questions were asked – all the way down to getting flown out to onsite interviews and eventually getting the offer. As I was going through the interview process, I read posts on several forums by people who went through the same thing – and they were helpful, but they never got very deep. Not much of it applied to me, and it would have really helped me to feel more comfortable throughout the process if I could have found a true documented experience by someone who had gone through this before. This is my chance to make that happen for you, the future developer interviewing at a global tech firm. Spoiler alert – I did not accept the position, even after the entire interview process. We’ll get to why I made that decision, but first let’s start from the top.

Interview Structure

You can break my particular interview process up into a few segments – and that’s how I’m going to talk about them:

  • Phase 1 – Getting Recruited
  • Phase 2 – First Phone Interview
  • Phase 3 – Second Phone Interview
  • Phase 4 – Onsite Interviews in Seattle, WA
  • Phase 5 – The Offer

As far as my research went, this is more or less the same process that most developers went through who interviewed with Amazon, Microsoft, Google, etc. However, I read a few stories of developers having 3 phone interviews instead of 2, so your mileage may vary. I’ve bored you with enough of this meta-information – let’s get to the meat of the process.

Phase 1 – Getting Recruited

As a developer, I get hit up a lot by tech recruiters either through email or LinkedIn, and honestly I tend to ignore most of them or – if the recruiter sent a half-way decent message – respond politely, declining their request. However, one day in August of 2015, I received a message by a recruiter – but not a normal 3rd-party tech recruiter like I normally see. This was a recruiter working at Amazon Web Services, specifically searching for a Senior Web Developer with one of the AWS teams. From the very beginning, I took it very lightly. I responded saying that working for Amazon would be awesome, but for me and Layla to move up to Seattle would require a 170-200k salary. I assumed this recruiter would take a look at that number, scoff, and politely end our conversation – but she affirmed that they could work with that, and asked if I wanted to set up a phone interview.

I was pretty shocked – but I told her I’d bite. I’ll play along for now. After all, how many times do you get to interview with one of the most influential companies in the world?

Over the next week, I emailed with this recruiter and her hiring manager to complete some basic paperwork and to schedule a date and time for my first phone interview with AWS.

Phase 2 – First Phone Interview

My first phone interview was scheduled at an exact time (2pm) with the manager of the service that I was interviewing for – so basically my intended future boss. I remember I spent the whole day looking up common interview questions for programming, and watching a lengthy video series over data structures so that I knew the time and space complexity differences over iterating between arrays, hashes, binary trees, etc. A few minutes after 2pm on a Friday, I received a call from the manager – we’ll call him Bob (not his real name). All in all, the phone interview lasted about 1 hour and 10 minutes – and it really wasn’t technical at all. No coding, no super-deep programming questions. Initially, the phone call seemed a little bit “bureaucratic” in the sense that I had to verify that I was expecting this call and made sure I had allotted a full hour to speak – but it quickly became very relaxed.

Bob started off with just asking about my general skill-set, and told me a little bit about what the position entailed. After about 20 minutes, we segued into other questions. He asked me if I could explain a single-page app, what MVC was, and he asked me a time when I disagreed with my manager. I hate those types of situational questions – but it wasn’t too bad. We spent about 20 minutes talking about that one question. After that, we just made some small talk about weather, what Bob does, the fact that it was Friday and he was taking it easy, etc. The last 20 minutes were really chill, just 2 people talking. Neither of us were bothered by the fact that the interview had gone about 10 minutes late.

Before we got off the phone, I asked for Bob’s email address (with the intention of sending a thank you email later in the day). I was told that I would hear back within the next week about whether I made it to the next interview. This part was pretty crazy to me, because it wasn’t even a full hour before I heard back from the Amazon hiring manager saying that I had passed the interview and they wanted to schedule another phone interview with someone else to assess my coding abilities. This next interview was scheduled for the following Thursday, this time at 3pm.

Phase 3 – Second Phone Interview

Unlike the first phone interview where I had no idea what it was going to be like, I knew ahead of time that this interview was going to involve me coding for an hour. I was given a link for a service called CollabEdit where I would code inside of a text area and the interviewer – let’s call him Jim – would be able to see in real-time what I was coding.

Jim called promptly at 3pm, and told me a little bit about himself. He was also a manager, but in no way related to Bob or Bob’s team. Jim was someone who I would never work with, and was strictly there to assess my coding skills. He told me he had 4-5 questions for us to get through, but if we only got through a few, then that would be fine. The emphasis was on him assessing me, and not necessarily completing the questions.

For about 45 minutes, I coded with him on the phone. I had a bluetooth headset and mic while I was coding, which I highly recommend anyone else do. I couldn’t have done this with my phone held up to my ear by my shoulder. We spent the entire 45 minutes on one question. Just one. And it was about client-side javascript. The single question was about how would I find all HTML elements on a page by class. Within the first line, I started with a simple jQuery selector – which he said worked. But then he slowly started giving me constraints. How would you do this without jQuery? How would you do this with multiple classes? Can you use a wildcard selector? etc. We spent the whole time on that one question; it was actually pretty fun – we both got really into it. My biggest tip here for anyone in this same position is to talk about what you’re thinking. Jim’s just a man on the phone who can see what I’m coding – but he doesn’t know what’s going on inside my head, so I need to help him with that as much as I can.

Towards the end of the hour, Jim stopped the coding session and asked if I had any questions for him. We then talked for a minute, and he told me something similar to what Bob said – that I would hear back within the next week, but this time, instead of another code interview, the next step would be an onsite interview. He did tell me that he’d had good interviews and bad interviews in the past, and he felt good about this one. This interview was on a Thursday, and I heard back the following Tuesday evening that I had passed onto the next (final) round of interviews.

I was going to Seattle.

Phase 4 – Onsite Interviews in Seattle

I got the email that I had made it to the next stage of interviews, and was asked what dates would be best for me to fly to Seattle for the interviews. This email exchange took place on September 9, and the dates matched up for me to interview in Seattle on October 12. Once the date was set, I was given the information of an Amazon travel agent (run by another company) to call and schedule airline times and whether I was staying 1 or 2 nights. My interview was on a Monday, and I was offered to fly up on Saturday and stay two nights – but I opted to fly up on that Sunday, and then fly right back to OKC directly after my interviews on the Monday. Just a 1 night stay. This is all paid for by Amazon, by the way. I didn’t have to give a credit card number at any point in time.

Once October 11th came, I flew to Seattle and stayed at Hotel Ändra in downtown Seattle. To get around, Amazon told me I could take a cab, Uber, public transportation – anything, and they would reimburse me up to $100/day for food and travel combined. I took the Light Rail directly from the airport to downtown Seattle for $3. Talk about a deal. For dinner, I just got room service. Eating dinner out alone is just … lonely.

My interviews were scheduled to start at 9:45 am on Monday, and were to finish at 2pm. I woke up early, got breakfast by the sea, and explored Pike Place while it was opening up for the day. Definitely a neat experience. From there, I just walked to the interview building.

Amazon encouraged me to dress casually, but I still dressed business-casual (button up, dress pants, no tie). Throughout the day there were 5 back-to-back interviews, each one-on-one. All coding was done on a white board. No electronics involved at all (except for the interviewer taking notes). Here’s the breakdown of my interviews:

  • Initial interview with a team member I’d be working with. 50% discussion, 50% coding.
  • 2nd interview with a developer on another team. 20% discusion, 80% coding. This coding session involved more “traditional” coding interview questions. The main question was about how to build a circularly linked list, and how would I add a method to delete a node and have the linked list still be circular. I started answering this in C, but after my knowledge failed me, I just moved to ruby, which was significantly easier for me. The interviewer was cool with it, even though he didn’t know ruby.
  • 3rd interview with a developer on another team – strictly to assess my personal skills. These were the “fun” situational questions (mixed in with some personal experience questions). 100% discussion, no coding.
  • 4th interview with Bob – the manager of the team. This was over lunch which he paid for. It was mostly casual talking, but he asked me some technical questions as we were eating.
  • 5th interview with a developer on another team. 20% discussion, 80% coding. This was a very front-end oriented interview. All code involved web development topics, HTML, CSS, and Javascript. One question was how an interaction with a JSON API is different from standard HTML, leading up to how single page apps work – so I basically drew a simple diagram of the request process for a single page app. The main coding question was how would you build a slider (like the ones you see on every page). I stumbled on this at first – as it seemed like a crazy interview question, but I took it one step at a time, i.e. a slider is just a wrapper element with child elements. The CSS should just position them absolutely next to one another. Clicking arrows should just issue JS to shift positions of those divs.

After my final interview, I had just over 2 hours until my plane took off (I wanted to get back home as early as possible). I booked it to the Light Rail station, spent another $3 to get to the airport, hustled through security and made it minutes before my boarding time.

If you go through an interview process like this, here’s a big note: don’t bring checked luggage. You’re staying for a very short time, try to keep everything carry-on. Checked luggage will just be a pain to deal with.

Phase 5 – The Offer

Back in OKC, it was either the next day or the day after that I got a call from Amazon’s HR department. I was told that Bob liked me and they had an offer for me. I won’t get too specific, but it was in the low 6 figures (plus a bonus) – definitely not the 170-200k the initial recruiter told me they could do. Restricted stock units (RSUs) were a part of their overall benefits, and made up about 2k of salary for the first year. They made up a little more after the second year, and would have maximized by year 4. In total, it probably would add up to 40k of stock after 4 years – which isn’t a petty amount. Regardless of salary, I was honestly pretty shocked that I had gotten an offer, and told the HR person that I would get back to them within a week after I discussed this with my family.

This is probably terrible to say, but everything was a game to me up until this point. I never in a million years thought I could get picked up by Amazon – but here it was, the opportunity. We spent that whole weekend deciding what we wanted to do – but in the end, we made the decision not to take the offer.

Relocation cost wasn’t an issue – Amazon pays for all of that, and goes above and beyond to make sure you assimilate to Seattle well. The other benefits that Amazon offered were pretty stellar too, but there were two big reasons holding us back:

Cost of living. Here in OKC, we have super cheap cost of living. In Seattle, we would be paying twice our current house payment for a mid-level downtown one-bedroom apartment, and 2.5 – 3 times our house payment for a two-bedroom. Houses were pretty much out of the question – anything comparable to what we had here that was near downtown Seattle was anywhere from 600k – over 1 million dollars. Sure – the offer I got from Amazon was twice what I made here in OKC at the time, but that was still just too much for us.

Family. This was the big deal. We never really thought about leaving family – until we were forced to. We just couldn’t do it. We have parents, friends, siblings, and nieces all within a few miles that we see just about every week, and we just didn’t want to give that up.

It was difficult, and I did wonder for a few days or so if we had made the right choice – but I’m positive we made the right decision to deny the offer. I explained the whole situation to the HR person I was working with, and he was very kind about it and congratulated me on getting the offer nonetheless. For me, this was truly the opportunity of a lifetime, and I’m so thankful that Amazon was awesome enough to let me have it.

Final Thoughts

I’m sure some of you out there would kill me for not taking the opportunity to work at Amazon – but I promise you, we made the right choice for us. We belong here for now, and going through this process showed me that big time. Plus, with the OKC developer community really growing within the last couple of years, I’m not sure I ever want to leave now. We’re rooted, and I’m happy about that.

Thanks for all of this, Amazon.

  • Johan


  • mack solomon

    rad, congrats on the offer

  • Thanks for taking the time to write this up. Informative and entertaining.

  • rob

    Nice read, that’s proper validation right there 🙂

  • JeremyTiki

    It’s interesting this popped on reddit for me today. I’m just going through the same thing except with Facebook. I was contacted about 2 weeks ago by a recruiter (who I usually ignore also), but this one caught my eye by claiming to be from facebook. We talked and had a first interview in which the guy was pretty impressed, and now I’m getting schedule for the online code interview.

    It’s pretty validating being someone from a small town and getting a big business finding you like this. I never really thought I was that good at what I do but apparently some companies think I am.

  • jose

    Well done on assessing your priorities. I had to move abroad to be able to make a living when my nephew and my niece were very little, and they don’t remember me.

    The interview stuff sounds very familiar it’s pretty much what agencies do around here (although many squeeze the two phone calls into a single one). Slightly disappointing in an “I didn’t know what I was expecting” sort of way. Still better than Google’s legendary crazy questions.

  • gna

    thnx for this info , but can you post the “lengthy video series over data structures”?

    • alkrauss48

      Yup, just updated the post with this link.

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  • Vernon

    I’m here just imagining shaking your shoulders and saying “it’s A-MA-ZON!!”

    The bold, italicized letters saying Amazon on your resume. You gave it up!

    Good choice tho haha. Good luck in OKC and good blessings to your family.

    • Engineer

      I worked at amazon. It added no value to my resume. I have worked for a couple major companies. Not once has anyone brought it up in a hiring situation. People don’t care. Ok, there are a few people I’ve known who were impressed by this but it’s silly. Big tech companies hire a lot of people. They hire a lot of low quality people too. (Amazon is full of engineers I would never hire, which is hilarious because they make a big deal about their “bar raisers” to make sure they “just get the best”. The result is the hiring process is arbitrary, and they are mostly targeting junior people they can under pay.)

      • Vernon

        I’m just a poor community college student in CS trying to get in the industry. Big companies like Amazon seem so far to me haha.

        I only get to see the grass on the on the other side of the fence with comments like yours and articles like these.

        • s mann

          Vernon, simple people like you make America great! And Amazon is Amazon due to Americans like you

  • FinalDodo

    Fabulous write up. Thank you so much for sharing. Hearing that you made the decision to remain where you are based on the “big deal” of leaving friends and family was the icing on the cake. You sound like a great developer and a great family. Congrats and all the best on future success!

    • alkrauss48

      Thank you for the kind comment!

  • Šimon Tóth

    Pretty much identical to how Google does hiring. Just went through it myself.

  • mikemikemikemikemike

    The reason scum companies do this sort of thing is because they get you pot committed. It’s an attack on the sunk cost fallacy that most people commonly commit. The idea is to get you thinking, “Shit, I’ve wasted so much time on these guys. I can’t just walk away now.”. In reality, their complete lack of any respect for you whatsoever should be your first indication that they’re the last place on Earth you want to work.

    Imagine going to a car lot, having the sales person show you a car, then going back a day later to have them show you it again. Then, go back and have them take you on a 1 hour test drive. Then again the next day. Then, you make an offer for 60% of the car’s price…

    • Siddharth Gopi

      this is what i was thinking. the hr shuoldnt have committed to 170k -200k if they were going to offer in the low six figures

      • RefriedBeans

        Most companies start with a lowball offer, and they expect to go higher. Yes, it’s scummy (especially since they knew his salary requirement) but it’s also standard practice. The author doesn’t say whether he tried counter-offering.

      • Demon Teddy Bear

        I’d feel pretty angry at wasting so much time and energy if they welshed on the initial agreed salary range. Bait and switch scam.

      • Stop Censorship Now

        Think telemarketer in place of the word recruiter. They are commissioned sales people who play a numbers game, and some will continue to over promise until they are called on it.

        • William Nile

          Amazon recruiters don’t work on commission.

          • Stop Censorship Now


      • William Nile

        Amazon easily could have done 170-200k and well higher. Up to 160k base salary + signing bonsus (two years worth) + Stock easily gets a lot of level 6 folks into that range or higher.

        That said, Aaron did well enough to meet and raise the bar in certain areas, but not enough to get an initial offer in the range he wants. This leaves Amazon in a bit of a pickle, doesn’t it? He’s a qualified candidate that people loved, but he has areas to work in to grow. Do they not give him an offer knowing it’s below his minimum? Or do they give him what they think is a fair offer and let him decide on things, and negotiate if he so chooses?

        I’m actually happy Amazon (and most companies in the us) error on giving the feedback on where they feel you fit based on the offer details rather then blindly telling you no.

      • eat_swim_read

        Recruiters earn bonuses (and brownie points for raises) by reeling in talent. That he bit and interviewed helped her career.
        Obviously had he taken the job it would have been better for the reruiter but she got a fish on the hook. A partial win. She sweet-talked him –

    • Stop Censorship Now

      Well, that is actually how to negotiate the price on a car. Plus, even those “one price no haggle” dealerships will bait and switch when selling you a car. The exact car you wanted is being sold. Warranty. Extras, and so on. If you aren’t doing this, then you are leaving a lot of money on the table.

      I get your point, though.

    • nashwan

      Totally, just shows what sort of company it is and what sort of respect it really has for its workers.

  • At least that’s more notice than they gave me.

  • Damian Mazurkiewicz

    Thanks for writing this up – a very nice read! I think you made the right choice for you and your family. I definitely would do the same.

  • RefriedBeans

    Thanks for writing this post. Two thoughts come to mind. First, did you negotiate at all? Most companies will start by throwing out a lowball offer, just in case you don’t know any better. They fully expect you’ll negotiate. Given that the HR person said she could work with your $170k-$200k requirement, there might have been substantial room to negotiate. It sounds like you felt honored to receive any offer from Amazon, and I know it can be tough to negotiate in that situation.

    Second, I haven’t worked for Amazon myself, but given all the bad press they’ve received lately about their company culture and working conditions, you might have dodged a bullet!

    • alkrauss48

      No, I didn’t negotiate. After we got the offer – we thought really hard about how much we wanted to move to Seattle. As you read, the answer was no for a couple reasons. Perhaps if the offer was closer to what I requested from the beginning, then we would have tried to haggle – but it seemed a little pointless to try to negotiate 60k or so. Even if the money was closer, after thinking about truly leaving family, I still think we would have turned it down.

      • RefriedBeans

        $60k would probably be a stretch, although here’s a guy that supposedly got Google to raise their offer by $50k:

        For what it’s worth, it sounds like you made the right decision. I’m like you guys and close to my family. I moved away for a job, and wound up unhappy getting to see my family so rarely. A paycheck won’t replace that, and reality sometimes falls short of the reputation these companies have constructed.

    • Anne Moss

      I was contacted by a recruiter – I’m interested in hearing more about the bad press / working conditions. This is something I missed but is important to take into consideration.

  • Nice writeup!
    I also second your choice. You will probably change jobs more than once in your life. But family… Family you have one!
    You could probably hit close or even above what they are offering you if you search for remote jobs. They will probably allow you to live anywhere your family is but keeping all the benefits and pay.
    And, of course, there is always the alternative of you having your own business, which nowadays, can be completely location-independent.

  • RaoulO

    You can’t use OKC as a price anchor. Almost no one wants to live here.

    That being said, my quality of life in the OKC Area is like being a multi-millionaire in San Francisco (where I lived for over 3 years). I did the math, I’d need 3-5m in assets in SF and 350-400k in income to have the same lifestyle.

    Got sick of working with H1b as well. Seems they all migrate to SF.

    • It’s not cool to slight all H1b workers like that. What did they ever do to you?

      • aubreykohn

        Oh it’s totally cool to slight H1-B workers as a class. The characteristics of the class are aggregate statistics. And what H1-B workers have done to me or for me is merely anecdotal information correlated with those bulk characteristics.

        An extreme example, to bring the issue into sharp relief: It is totally cool to dislike invading armies as well. Tshe analogies are remarkably strong, in terms of the statistical effect of the selectors. The factor intensity is merely different. Don’t get me wrong: I am totally in favor of open borders, of refugee resettlement, and generally prefer multicultural, multiethnic environments, such as NYC, etc. But H1-Bs are simply slaves imported for pennies to drive down salaries in the U.S. The policy is evil, and the people who participate in the policy are mercenaries.

        • William Nile

          “But H1-Bs are simply slaves imported for pennies to drive down salaries in the U.S.” [Citation Needed]

          • aubreykohn

            Dell just fired 3000 workers while applying for 5000 h1bs.

          • _UnknownMale_

            You haven’t seen how infosys, TCS etc work…

        • s mann

          There are many facts about H1B holders that average American is not aware off. Americans believe that they are here because of low cost but there are other reasons too. Majority of H1B ( around 70%) are from South India and from 3 States(Tamil nadu,Karnataka and Andhra) , they perpetuate high degree of corruption, nepotism and cronyism. The reverse discrimination is rampant now a days. They never hire Americans or even anyone from India who is not from their State, caste or religion. And many are just coders and should not be labeled as engineers because either they have fake degrees or inferior quality of education. Yes few among them are smart, brilliant but almost everyone is biased. There is a strong nexus between recruiting companies and hiring managers. The owners of these companies and hiring managers are generally buddies from South India and hiring manager receives handsome kickbacks. They have created ghettos in MS,Oracle, CISCO, Expedia, brocade, American Express, Amazon etc.

          • _UnknownMale_

            Recruiters bribing hiring managers in Cisco is an open secret now..

        • Hal Lee B

          How about “exploited” instead of “mercenaries”?

        • Claude

          If I understand you correctly you are not OK with “slave labor” being imported on H1B visas because it drives down wages for the professionals with which they compete. On the other hand, you are OK with open borders and resettlement of refugees because of the diversity it brings.

          Do you not think that those who would flock here fleeing whatever ills exist in their countries would, for the most part, be less skilled than the H1B folks? And how would a flood on unskilled labor affect the wages of those in non-professional jobs already here?

          It is an economic fact that a nation state cannot survive unfettered immigration (open borders) and a massive welfare system.

          • aubreykohn

            It may have been a fact but theories often outlive their facts.

      • Jeff Price

        That’s funny. They generally they do crap work for slave wages. One could feel sorry for them being exploited except they cant do the work they claimed to be able to do to get exploited. So really it is scammer vs scammer from beginning to end.

  • > After all, how many times do you get to interview with one of the most influential companies in the world?

    All the time? 🙂

  • This was a great summary of your experience, thank you for taking the time to put it out there. It’s hard to leave a support structure, especially if it’s as big as it sounds, and I trust you won’t look back on this decision negatively.

  • chryton

    This sounds a crazy amount smoother than the 2 times I have interviewed with Amazon for a front end position on AWS.

    The first time (2012) consisted of them giving me a technical interview for my first phone interview without any notification that it would be a technical/live coding exercise then not responding to the fact that this happened until 3 weeks later when they decided to move on with other candidates. Plus the coding exercises I was given (algorithms, questions about DB queries, and some specific back end questions) had virtually nothing to do with the UI position. They later admitted this was a problem but didn’t offer a re-interview or re-application for a similar position.

    The second time (2015) I had the correct series of phone screenings and then they would get in touch with me to schedule something on site. After a few weeks of silence and no responses they finally admitted they had filled the position and that I would be fast tracked for another position. Then silence. Then “oh, that position was never opened. We’re sorry, we’ll keep you in our pool.”

  • scott332

    Thanks for the write up…I’m flying up to Seattle next week – had a very similar experience thus far. Not quite as rooted as my family is pretty scattered, but still leaving my friends would be a very difficult decision. Also, Seattle is quite a bit cheaper than Southern California. I do hope I get the offer though!

  • Tiểu Bảo

    Thanks for the post. It’s really helpful

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  • Awesome story, thanks for sharing! Wishing the best for You & Your family 🙂

  • nashwan

    Is this common in the USA to go through all the interviews and then work out how much pay you want at the end?? Seems like such a strange way of doing things that allows companies to do over potential workers before they have even begun!

    I’m in the UK (and work as a software dev) and the first question I always ask is what is the rate? If that isn’t acceptable at the beginning then I don’t see the point in continuing. Also if a company were to say the rate is X and then offer less after I got through the interview process then I would just walk, regardless of who they are (BTW this has never happened – so in the UK I don’t think companies generally do this).

    • Dave Davidson

      Yeah its common unfortunately. However I don’t care I still ask the rate up front too. Especially if I am employed at the time.

      • aud_the_fraud

        yes i am in the process right now and find it very odd they haven’t told me the range for the position and didn’t ask for my requirements until after the recruiter, who reached out to me, screened me via phone and i had the hiring manager screen me via phone, I don’t want to ask at this point what the range is, but I also don’t want to fly from NoVa to the west coast for no reason!

        • Claude

          It has been 8 months since your comment. How did it work out in the end?

    • Jason Daniels

      Yes. This is very common. I guess it’s US corporate culture to discuss money last, and qualifications first.

  • Engineer

    You dodged a bullet. I worked for Amazon, and it is a terrible place to work. IT has the culture of a retailer, not a tech company. They pretend to be a tech company, they think the are a tech company, but at the end of the day it is extremely political. Do you want to work on a team where taking credit for others work is a daily occurrence and kissing up to bosses of other teams is necessary to keep your salary?

    Also, the lowball offer is standard. They often do this, and then give you a “hiring bonus” with the claim that by the time the hiring bonus is finished paying out, your salary will have risen to be market rate.

    It is a lie.

    Finally, the managers they have for engineers know nothing about engineering. I literally worked for a prison guard whose boss was an ex-DMV lady. Neither of them could write hello world.

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  • Thanks man, I’ve wondered what this process was like!

  • So, I am wondering if you took this idea into your mind: Flying back home for the weekends and negotiating for some work from home time.

    In my mind, to work for amazon, that is what would be required. I would have to be able to afford a small efficiency or live with someone I knew out there during the week. Then I would fly back home on the weekends. I would want to be able to work from home some weeks so that I could stay back at home long enough. I would also need to know about vacation time.

    That is what I started at to define how much it would cost me to live like that, and commute.

    Did you ever take into account those items? Do you think you could have made that work?

    • TheUnfrocked

      Nick, I know you posted this a year ago – but you do understand that Amazon (and AWS) is hiring all over the world for positions all over the world, right? I have recently been hired and I chose to work in Seattle, but my training was conducted in Herndon/DC area and the teams there represented people from Colorado, Arizona, Tennessee, New York, etc. Depending on role you could be in many different locations, SD types are more limited than CSE/Account facing types but it is not that bad and the salary compensation makes up for it.

      • Lisa


        I know you wrote this a year ago, but how did you like the Herndon area? I’m from Virginia but only been in that area a few times. I’m not keen on the idea of moving my entire life to Seattle. My entire family lives on the east coast so I would be out there completely by my self. I’m moving on the the second phone interview next week!

        • TheUnfrocked

          Hey there! I will say that the Seattle area, while a bit scary, was a great boon for understanding AWS, how it works, and the people involved. My next move is going to be to Sweden with AWS; when you get inside it is easy to transfer every couple of years to wherever you want, you just reach out on open positions with paid relocation and chat with the managers.

          That said: I would not be afraid of staying in Herndon either. US-EAST-1 is a very big region so Herndon has full offices and very good representation of Services and Support, so if you need to track down help you can do so easily. When I interviewed I had a choose between Seattle and Herndon and it was super tough, I’m anticipating that my move back from Sweden in a few years might be there. What team/position are you interviewing for?

          • Lisa

            Wow! Sweden. That sounds interesting. Global opportunities has been a huge factor in my decisions with the companies I’ve been applying for so thank you for providing that piece of information. I’m interviewing for a Business Operations Resource Analyst role. I assume that’s the professional services team. My mother lives 3 hours from Herndon so it would be nice to be able to live closer to her after so many years.

          • TheUnfrocked

            ProServe isn’t a bad gig, the teams I’ve met and worked with in Herndon have been top notch. As for global opportunities, Amazon wants people to be well-rounded and experienced, they encourage job movement (transitions between roles) and transitions between teams. We have a large job board internally that tells you the positions, the levels, location, hiring manager, etc. We have an internal documented process for how to do these reach-outs which makes it convenient to test the waters. I was up in the air between Sweden, Luxembourg, and Ireland myself!

  • KBrent Alexander KThomas

    I’ve got a second phone screen tomorrow with Amazon. This was a very good write up. Thanks for sharing with us and wish you and your family the best!

  • Tony

    Good read! Thanks for sharing your interview experience with Amazon. I have gone through the first two steps: two phone interviews with Amazon. Shortly after the second phone call, I was invited for an on-site in Seattle. I really wanted to go and have thought about it for a few days. But I finally declined the invitation and decided not to continue with the on-site interview. Amazon may be a big name for many software engineers, but from my research, it is more like a sweat shop without much respect for its engineers. btw, I am a software engineer in the east coast of the United States, and I am not big fan of the Seattle weather, either.

  • Brian Sullivan

    These are great notes here.

  • _UnknownMale_

    Why are all interviewers in all companies obsessed with linked lists?

    • Dennis Graham

      Because it’s a fundamental data structure that a lot of software engineering depends on when building performance/scalable systems.

      • _UnknownMale_

        I know. I have been answering same linked lists questions for last 20 years! 🙂 Some questions are so commonly asked that now everybody (even if he/she doesn’t know linked lists) can answer just by reading some websites prior to the interview!

        • Jason Daniels

          One would think linked lists and binary search should be trivial for “just any programmer” to do on a whiteboard, muchless behind the keyboard. They aren’t. I’ve been in the position of interviewing others. It’s amazing how a candidate’s skills can look dramatically different, once you see them in action. And yes, as the OP mentioned, the candidate must talk you through it for you to understand how they reason. HOW a candidate reasons is more important than did they memorize a webpage. As an interviewer you can easily throw a monkey wrench in their works by varying the question so it’s not what they memorized. A sharp candidate will see how to alter the algorithm, and then talk you through their thoughts. I do commiserate with you tho, it would be nice to have something like, say “data driven method of parsing a roman numeral” instead. Wouldn’t it? (That’s actually what Amazon gave me. I’ll be doing the onsite interview in a few weeks.)

  • Tyron Giuliani

    Your stocks would now be worth over $110,000 now. Starts to get interesting. A 4 year stint at a top tier world innovator could set you up very nicely for the future. I think when someone gets a chance to get in the Majors they should take it.

    • Dave Davidson

      I disagree. There are things more valuable in life than money.

      • TheUnfrocked

        Of course there are, and these need to be analyzed too. This is what Tyron is saying that you are dismissing. Working for an organization that is considered top tier innovation does set you up nicely, especially for other jobs. There are many ways you can play the career ladder to end up in happiness, and this is one of them.

    • Santa Claws

      Actually his stock wouldn’t be worth shit yet, he has to vest, even if he manages to vest his RSU’s right now, he only vest the first 20K in 2 years its not very likely that this market will sustain its ride.

      The house he would have bought would likely also eat him in the next 2 years.

      • TheUnfrocked

        There is an intrinsic value whether it has vested or not, the unvested RSU are applied to the stock account of the employee and have a value. Yes, there is a vesting cycle. As for your comment about likelihood of the market sustaining, please rock that info, looks like the market and analysts all tend to disagree with you. Give me those insider tips?

        Of course, I don’t know how every different role fares with RSU, but it sounds like his offer was a bit low in my opinion.

        House is what it is, this guy probably made a good choice for his situation but let’s not pretend this is applicable to everyone. I ferry commute to work, the ferry is fast and I get a work-provided bus to the office. Takes me about 45 to 50 minutes, much less than some people commuting from Seattle edges and I don’t have to stress driving. Telecommute 3+ days a week and my house cost 1/3rd to 1/4th of what those in the city are paying.

        That market (housing) is one that really will not sustain.

        • Santa Claws

          Well I tend to remember a lot of market analysts disagreeing with me in 2007, I might have bought a few of their foreclosures in 2008. As for AMZN stock values… all you have to do is take a good look at thier cash flow numbers… as of today, their free cash flow is sitting at last years spot, and thier Cash from Ops is diving hard.

          Yet thier price is still going up, on what? Future value… and yes while GPM is up to 36% (great for AMZN) margins from everything else have flatlined..

          Now consider for a moment that AMZN is already 44% of commerce, and walmart is heavily encroaching on thier market….. whats the likely scenario for their retail sector? Growth? unlikely.

          AWS then? With Azure gaining market share everso slowly and google gaining market much more quickly… at the very least, AWS will not likely see growth in that space either.

          Do you know what happens to a stock when its been rising for a year on future growth, that has had none? …… severe pullback.

          I guess in the long run he would get payback on that stock, but 2 years of hell for 100k … no thanks.

          Personally, I am with you on NEVER living in seattle, not sure I could stand a 45 minute commute, but maybe if it was on a ferry… for me I will stick with the east side, and just collect the rent checks.

        • Santa Claws

          And one year later…. and looky there

          …. would that be a market starting to trend down?

          HMMMMMM exactly as I said it would … it almost as if I predicted it before (like 2008) and knew it would do it again.

          Here, I’ll hit ya with another one, 2019 fall season will see a collapse of the markets, because as much as I love all this growth, you can’t sustain it, and politics is political.

          • TheUnfrocked

            I don’t think you’ve magically called out anything; markets constantly move up and down. In both of your posts you specifically called out AMZN as one that would fall and it is currently 32% up on the year while the NYSE is down for the year by $752. Compare that with GOOG who is down by almost 1% for the entire year and MSFT (good) at 24%.

            I honestly can’t see where you’ve shown correlation with your prediction at all; the analysts are still holding strong and still seeing growth. Sure there was a spike and pullback mid year – on most of the entire tech. market and AMZN fared the best so still showed its strength. I’m fine circling around in a year, but let’s not try to change this to ‘the markets are falling’ when your initial comment was that AMZN was falling due to their numbers (see below) and compared them to MSFT and GOOG which they outperformed anyways.

            THAT ASIDE:
            Specifically in this situation where my original point was that there was intrinsic value to the RSU offered. If this guy had he taken the job in Fall of 2015 he could have joined in the low $400. Let’s assume $523 to be fair and say if $~20k was his first two years of 20% vest that’s equivalent to ~38-40 shares. Which means his total RSU would have been 190-200 shares.

            That means his third year, this year, would be ~76-80 shares. Using either the strike price date 3rd year value of $2k or the current of $1600 would mean his third year payout would be between $121k and $160k. You said “2 years of hell for 100k… no thanks” a year ago, but for analysis that would be 2 years for up to $180k – and you know what? I don’t think many people would agree with you.

            With AMZN you don’t have to move to Seattle at all so he could have kept that $180k on top of his salary throughout any low COLA area and made some fine money. To pretend that doesn’t have ‘intrinsic value’ as I said is flawed thinking.

            As for “years of hell” – I will let you know that I have had no problems whatsoever in AWS, it is one of the lower stress jobs I’ve had. I’m sure there are some teams that are shit, but having worked in Tech for 20 years in retail, consulting, federal, state, startup, mid-size, and now large-scale I can justly say that this is true of *every company*. The great thing about AWS/Amazon that the other companies didn’t have is mobility. Applying and moving between jobs and locations is something that Amazon encourages and makes a breeze, and I’m almost done with my own transfer out of country, fully paid, now that I’ve had a couple years in my current location.

            We can loop back in a year if you want – but if it is due to market depression then I won’t contest anything. I am contesting your specific call-out on AMZN only; I believe both the stock market and the housing markets (again) are bound for a pullback before the end of 2020.

        • RefriedBeans

          Looks like the stock market didn’t go up forever. In fact, it’s deflating just as the bulk of his shares would be vesting.

  • Farzam Ghanbarnezhad

    It was great explanation and I really appreciate your kindness and time you have spend to writhe these details.
    I am an Immigrant and got an online assesment from amazon in software development, I got 2 quesrions and my codes compiled but it said the answer is not what the program expected. Is it possible for me to get to the next step?
    I really want to work in Amazon and can accept the lowest possible salary but Amazon.

  • Dave Davidson

    I would start my own business before doing 5 interviews.

  • Yuvaraj Prakash

    Very informative, thanks for writing this.

  • Balaji Rajagopalan

    wow you gave up a nice job to be with your family , you could have tried to see how it worked ?

    • RefriedBeans

      Some people just know what’s important in life.

  • Bapi Loya

    Great post! All the best for your future endeavors!

  • Hal Lee B

    I’m a tech writer and instructional designer, but this is still helpful to me. I do have a question: do most companies have developers code in real time at the second and higher levels of interview?

  • enlightened11

    I have a in person interview coming up in a few days with Amazon. The position is Senior Technical Program Manager. I’ve had only 1 phone interview so I am assuming either they didn’t have a 2nd phone or they chose to bypass the 2nd one.

    Does anyone have any advice they can offer?

    I completed a 2 page written to a question they require for which a recruiter called and assisted me with for the last day or so.
    My interview will consist of 5 interviewers (45 minutes each). I am told there will be 2 technical interviews (System Design) and 3 non-technical (Leadership principles).

    I do remember the program manager who did my 1st phone interview immediately after the interview connected and began following me on Linkedln. Does anyone know if this is a good sign or am I dreaming?

    What kind of system design questions can I expect?
    Basically what does it take to get hired? And is this a company more so on culture than substance?


  • Jason Daniels

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been invited out to Seattle for their onsite interviews. It would seem you’ve helped prepare me for what I’ll be seeing there. I can’t say it’s a big surprise, however. But it’s good to have my suspicions confirmed.

    As far as price differential, I’m in an expensive suburb on Minneapolis. Seattle is only 20-30% more expensive, outside of real estate. I’ve done my calculations on what a lateral move looks like to me. And given my life circumstances, I’d do a lateral move for Amazon, should I get an offer. Of course I’ll try to negotiate more, if possible. 🙂

    • TheUnfrocked

      Hey Jason, how did this go for you? Realize that living outside of the city here also lowers costs. All depends on what you want to trade off! I will let you know that the experience differs a bit per role (as to what to expect i.e. whiteboards, and also as to what to expect re: salary). I hope it worked out for you.

  • Vincent Huang

    Thank you for sharing this awsome experience from yours, and I truly repsect your decision. This is my first ever onsite in a big company, after reading through your experience, it really does calm me down alot. I guess, I really shouldn’t be panicing and really should revisit the thing I know and give my 100% when they trying to ask me something. Overall, thank you for the post!

  • Rodrigo Oliveira

    My wife just did the first interview yesterday and we are now freaking out with this opportunity, not justa because we are alking about a huge comapny such as amazon is, but bc she unmotivated to do what she being doing for the last 5 years. Noe we live in Houston TX and probably, if all progress, we’ll face this situation about costs between these two cities. But thank you so much for share youir experinece… Good luck

  • Alex Phillips

    `thank you for this.

    going up for a senior design technologist interview – at the first stage. so I have no idea what to expect 🙂

  • AJ

    Irrespective of the company (Amazon, Google, or any other big company), I think you made the right decision. You decided to stay in the place where you find happiness. Lot of people cannot do that, in that terms I think you are great!

    Wishing the best for You & Your family 🙂

  • E DD

    Very interesting! Thanks for the share. You never know OKC might be Amazon’s hq2 and bob calls you back!

  • AJ

    It was one of the most articulate story I have read with a keen interest. Thanks so much for sharing, Personally I don’t like such lengthy interview process where you ups and down and lots of emotions involves

  • Patrica Millie

    Thanks for writing your interview experience in detail. I also have interview with amazon in next 2 weeks. Any tips for me? I’m preparing with this –

  • Lisa

    Thank you so much for this write up. I know you wrote it some time ago but it will definitely help me calm down a bit. A recruiter reached out to me on Wednesday and I had my first interview yesterday. Apparently she liked me and the hiring manager wants to interview me next so I’m waiting for that to be scheduled. This is my first interview with a huge company like Amazon so it will certainly be a learning experience. I currently live in Nashville, so I would prefer to move to Virginia (where I’m from) since the cost of living would only increase by 30-40%; whereas Seattle would be 85% more. My role is for a Business Operations Resource Analyst so I have a lot of preparing to do!

    • I’m glad it helped – you would be surprised at how relevant this experience still is for me today. I just gave a talk yesterday about it. Good luck – both with the interviews, and the upcoming difficult choices.

  • Angel0J

    I have interviewed twice with Amazon and both time I didn’t get offer. I went through phone screen coding and technical session to make it to onsite both the times.
    My first interview I couldn’t do well so didn’t get offer (Onsite)

    Second time I had more or less same number of interviewers as you mentioned for yourself and they asked lots of behavioral/situational questions for almost 35 minute and gave me only 10 minutes to code.( I am not making it up, All three interviewers gave only last 10 min of interview time for coding). The other one was Amazon principles and last one was system design.

    So I could only write stub of code and we timed out. Obviously I didn’t get offer. (3 coding +2 behavioural questions session). I am a Wireless engineer with 12+ years of experience with lots of patents and coding/debugging skills but I find it so hard to understand what goes wrong when I go onsite? I never cooked any stories about Amazon principles etc. Whatever situation I faced I just gave an answer based on that.

    I really wanted to work as I was looking funding for my ideas which I have build for so many years but I never got offer from Amazon. I heard they allow funding for ideas. In my current company (which is really awesome place to work) there is no funding for such things.

    Anyways I would like to know if anyone who was successful would let me know how you approach onsite interviews? Feel free to educate me.