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Silicon Valley Thinks Amazon Sounds Like a Great Place to Work

A New York Times story becomes a Rorschach test for the modern workplace.

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

A New York Times report describes one of the most successful consumer tech businesses in history as an awful place to work.

Not surprisingly, some people in the tech world have a problem with that.

Here’s a sample of responses from Prominent Tech People On Twitter, whose beef with the NYT’s Amazon story tends to fall into two camps: This Story’s Not Accurate and So What, You Whiners?

There’s no point in trying to referee the accuracy of the Times’ work — that’s between the Times, which says its writers spent six months on the piece, and Amazon. Though my hunch is that people who have spent time in the spotlight tend to be much more skeptical about something the Times writes than people who haven’t. And that reflexive criticism isn’t necessarily a good thing. It’s just a thing.

(Update: Bezos has responded to the Times, via a companywide memo: “I don’t recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don’t, either.”)

The notion that the Times is wrong to write a critical story about a successful company is the much more interesting thing to think about.

As I noted this morning, there are lots of elements about Amazon that might sound familiar to you, depending on the place you work. Perhaps you, too, work very long hours, at the expense of your relationship with your family. Perhaps you, too, work in a place that evaluates its employees using an unsparing mindset, and routinely cuts low performers. It’s possible that you, too, think these are good qualities for a workplace.

And it’s certainly possible that people who work in Silicon Valley, and who have worked at or backed companies that cherish those values, wouldn’t understand why the Times has a problem with them.

One distinction that might be helpful to think about, if you’re a fan of these workplaces: While startups may need/want to work that way early in their development, Amazon is now 21 years old and has 150,000 employees.

Update: Venture capitalist Josh Elman, who I cited above speaking admiringly of Amazon, says I should have also included his comment where he worried about the way Amazon reportedly treated employees with medical problems. He’s right.

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