Amazon Culture, No Good? Time to Cut The FAANGS
Here are some questions to stop asking:
“How can we make our process like FAANG companies?”
“How can we make our culture better, like FAANG companies?”
I’m going to focus on culture because there are more numbers there. But I’d claim that anything here true of culture is also true of process. And while I personally think Amazon culture isn't all it's cracked up to be, these conclusions largely apply to all the FAANG companies - Amazon, Apple, Facebook/Meta, Netflix, and Google.
The gist of it is, you might think that the following happened:
FAANG did the culture real good -> Everyone says FAANG is great
And thus, asking how to replicate FAANG culture would be a reasonable question.
However, what actually happened was this:
You heard of FAANG -> They must be important for some reason
This is an example of the mere-exposure effect; and it’s one of the main reasons we even have what I’ll call ‘celebrity’ companies.
So we have to ask, is FAANG culture even that good?
This is despite us hearing that FAANG culture is great.
Though Google isn’t even top five. (And, this is just, like, my opinion based on my tenure in tech. But I’ve seen enough from Google like it’s re:work series to at least give Google the benefit of the doubt when it comes to culture.)
But then you might say…
“Wait, still, they are top 100!”
And it’s true, Facebook is 47, Apple is 56. Netflix and Amazon, sadly, are no-shows on this list. So much for Amazon culture.
But… Glassdoor’s methodology is pretty flawed.
"Are you saying that they are juking the stats?"
Not really, but I would question whether Google, Facebook, and Apple employees are experts on what is an excellent place to work.
Because many of them are very early in their careers. If all they’ve known is micromanagement and long hours and have been told having a foosball table is a sign of a good culture, they may believe it.
In other words, FAANGers often don’t have enough experience to know whether something is a good workplace or not. They’re usually just really impressed that they work at a celebrity company. It’s essential to their self-image that people keep thinking FAANG is good, even though it’s probably just average.
I’m not trying to be harsh. To be frank, I think most of us were like this early on in our careers.
This is similar to the criticized methodology for US News’ College Rankings.
The flaw in the US News approach for years has been the following:
“We asked a group of Harvard and Princeton grads which was the best school, and lo and behold, they voted for Harvard and Princeton.” -Scientists, probably
They’ve tried to get better, but they’re often not measuring ‘best,’ but most ‘popular.’
To a great deal, Glassdoor’s reviews have become a popularity contest. One in which the voters have a vested interest in the outcome. If you are writing a review because you believe in the company, you want others to see your company win.
Is there a better way?
A little more rigorous approach for colleges might be to take the expected earnings of the graduates and minus out the cost of the school. This generates a different set of rankings.
While some celebrity schools are still up there, things are very different because the rankings aren’t weighted by how important the graduates think their school is.
One similar methodology we can use on FAANG is to see who’s voting with their feet. Their glassdoor rankings may be great, but are people actually sticking around at FAANG? Apparently not.
The average tenure at Google, Apple, Amazon is less than two years. The average term at Facebook is just 2 years. Netflix is 2.7 years. For most of them, that’s less than half the average for the information industry.
If culture is really great, people tend not to leave.
Take a second look at the two lists - Nvidia shows up on both. What’s Nvidia’s foot vote? How long do people last there? Apparently more than 5 years.
“So then, why do we hear FAANG is good, and why is Glassdoor different than Fortune?”
Let me ask you: why would you think FAANG's processes or cultures are better than average?
Yes, Jim Cramer. Known expert on workplace culture and software development process.
FAANG is, was, and will continue to be a stock market designation, applicable only to a certain kind of investor. It was never meant to be a helpful categorization to employees. There’s a good argument that you should explicitly steer clear of top stock market performers. They’re getting their returns somewhere and that often is labor costs. In other words, the companies that have the best returns may not be the companies you’d want to work for.
Indeed, this is patently obvious to everyone outside of engineering. It’s pretty well known that people don’t seem to enjoy working for, say, Amazon or Uber. It seems naive to think that the same culture that (allegedly) has employees peeing in bottles somehow elevates the engineering department and treats them right. I know that is harsh to hear.
There is no compelling reason to attempt to replicate FAANG culture
I personally think the argument can be extended to process
When you hear ‘that is how FAANG does it,’ counter with ‘Yes, but that’s not how 18th century Prussia did it’. Neither reference has any actual applicability to most engineering problems.
I’m not arguing culture or process from FAANG are bad. Instead, it’s an arbitrary grouping of companies with different cultures and operations. Moreover, it’s a grouping primarily created on market cap and prior financial returns, which have a tenuous relationship to process and culture.
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