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Amazon on the hunt for Australians

Amazon has launched a recruiting drive seeking Australian engineering talent for its Seattle headquarters, saying past success in hiring engineers from Australia has driven the company to “keep that momentum alive”.

An advertisement, recently posted on Amazon's website, issued a call to Australian engineers, with a promise successful hires will “join one of the world's most innovative companies and we want you to help share and shape our mission: to continue to be Earth's most customer-centric company … driven by the spirit of invention, which is part of our DNA”.

The ad also claims the city of Seattle, where Amazon's headquarters are located, “offers a great lifestyle in all areas, especially for the outdoor enthusiast. We have many great places to hike, ski, camp, and are located five hours from Whistler, Canada.”

But an Australian Amazon veteran says any potential applicants thinking a job at the e-commerce giant will be a perk-laden glamour gig need to realise the company has a frugal, no-frills culture and there is little job security.

“I think the mythology of working for a dotcom in the US is that employees are treated lavishly with free food, massages, glamorous offices with lots of toys,” Andrew Wood told ITPro. “Working at Amazon was not at all like that”

“Amazon has a very strong culture of 'frugality',” he said. “This stems from the root premise of being 'customer centric'. The first things that customers want when buying things is the lowest possible price and this means that Amazon needs to keep cost structures low.

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“Also Amazon culture is to be smart and pay attention to details -- this also plays into not throwing money around without good justifiable reason. So there was no free, or even cheap, food. The only things free were stimulants and pain killers – free drip-filter coffee, tea, and ibuprofen.

"There was minimal stationery in the cupboard - basic pens, pencils. No sharpeners - just a single electric one. And oddly, no scissors. I never figured that one out.”

Wood spent five years in Seattle with Amazon after the company sought out talent following the introduction of the E-3 visa that allows qualified Australians to work in the US.

The visa, introduced in 2005 after Australia and the US signed a free-trade agreement, is also understood to be tied to Australia's contribution to the 2003 Iraq war. The visa is open to 10,000 applicants a year and also allows spouses to work without restriction. Amazon's latest job advertisement offers work visa and relocation assistance.

Unlike Australia, however, American employment law means Amazon offers very little job security even if an employee has moved across the world to take up a job offer.

“I was hired as an 'employee at will',” Wood said. “That meant that I was free to leave at any time without notice and Amazon were free to sack me at any time without notice.

“In practice, no one left voluntarily without giving notice, but Amazon certainly sacked people without notice. I saw a number of [high] level people sacked. Amazon were ruthless about keeping their organisation functioning with the best people - especially in senior positions. The organisation had no dead wood.”

Angus Barnett, an Australian who has worked in the tech sector for American companies for the past 14 years, said Australians should jump at the opportunity to work for any of the big tech names in the US. According to Barnett, the experience is impossible to replicate in Australia.

“I would not have any hesitation in saying do it,” said Barnett, who includes IBM and KPMG, as well as some Californian start-ups, on his CV.

“It is a new experience. The reality is that in this lifetime you are not going to see tech companies [like Google, Facebook, or Amazon] growing out of Australia. How many worldwide tech names do you know that are Australian? I'd put that number at a big fat zero.”

Despite his observations, Wood, now employed by Fairfax Media in Sydney, agrees. He described his time in Seattle as incredible and “could not recommend the experience enough”.

“I worked with the sharpest, smartest, nicest people,” he said. “The place was buzzing, people were working hard together. There was a very strong sense of community and teamwork.

“Everyone was there with purpose and reason and because they were needed. I made very close, strong, and long-lasting friends there. We worked long, hard and smart and we got stuff done that made a difference. My work was on show, being used by millions of people around the world.”

And it wasn't all work. The job did come with some perks – in Amazon's unique style.

“From time to time we would get great speakers talking at lunchtime,” Wood said.

“Being a major seller of books, people promoting their new book would give lunchtime talks. So I got to see people like William Gibson, David Lynch, Steve Wozniak, Douglas Coupland, Richard Dawkins and quite a few others. Oh, and I got to meet Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders - that was a good day! This of course cost Amazon nothing but our lunchtime.”

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

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