Daniel Immke

Laying myself off from Amazon

Yesterday, I resigned from Amazon. My final day is next week, right before Thanksgiving. I realize the timing of this is quite coincidental— as this week Amazon began layoffs. My team was not affected by these layoffs (as far as I know, apparently the full scope is not yet known at the time of this writing.)

A lot of people might think this is a terrible decision. Quitting your “cozy” job in big tech during a time when every company seems to be tightening their belt and the economy seems to be in a recession? I certainly empathize with the fear that comes with a job loss and with the people who did not get to make this decision voluntarily. They’re right to be worried. Most people have mortgages, kids, debt, and maybe little to no savings to cover those expenses while they look for another job.

I don’t have any of those obligations. That doesn’t make me a better or worse person, it’s just the circumstances of my life right now. What I did have was a job that I really didn’t like. A job that paid more and was more “prestigious” than any job I’ve ever had, but also a job that made me feel more unhappy than any other job I’ve ever had.

I’ve always thought of writing code as a form of art. I think of creating software almost akin to writing a novel. The popular open source project WordPress has a tagline that I’ve always enjoyed: Code is Poetry. Of course, the metaphor isn’t perfect. Features get added and removed, software can be very ephemeral.

My role didn’t allow for a lot of that. If I had to split my time into rough percentages, I’d say I spent about:

  • 40% of my time trying to tame the bad internal tooling I was forced to use to submit my code, get it merged, deploy it, check logs, etc…
  • 20% of my time in meetings
  • 20% of my time writing unit tests to hit the 100% coverage requirement of the codebase I worked on.
  • 10% of my time tracking down bugs in other team’s codebases for either internal tools or frameworks and trying to get them to acknowledge the problem by filing tickets.
  • 10% of my time writing code for tasks I was assigned.

This is not counting the weeks where I was “on call” and forced to drop all of this to work on a backlog of DevOps related issues.

This felt severely dysfunctional. And the worst part is, I feel like the product we were shipping was really bad. It was slow and kludgy. It was the opposite of the qualities I value in software products. I didn’t feel like I was adding any value, and I was miserable. I had a meeting scheduled with my manager to “retro” or go over what went wrong with a particular feature launch, and I realized that there was no outcome of that meeting that would make me want to continue working there. That’s when I knew it was time to leave.

I could have stayed a few more months, built up more savings. But I know that I have enough to get by for a while. I would have just been chasing that feeling of security and safety, that no matter how much money I have never seems to quite materialize. It felt so much better to just rip the band-aid off.

Maybe I will look back on this as a bad decision. Something that sets me back financially several years. However, through years of work in therapy and self reflection my tolerance for uncertainty in my life has risen. At Amazon, they emphasize the idea of a “one way” or “two way” door decision. This is a two way door decision. I feel fairly employable as a front-end developer, if I end up having to take another job.

I don’t hate Amazon, my manager, or any of the people on the team I am leaving. I also know that every team at Amazon is different, so please don’t take my description for what it’s like working there as a whole. I just was not a good fit and wasn’t willing to continue to try to contort myself to fit the mold needed for that job.

As for what’s next, I have an idea for a product that I want to build. It’s something I feel really passionate about right now. So I’m going to take some time to do it. I’m really glad I’ve reached a point in my life where I can make a decision like this and feel confident and at peace in it, instead of terrified. It’s something I’d wish for everybody to feel.

Hey — My name is Daniel Immke. I’m a designer & developer currently building Pickwick.

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