What I Learned by Quitting Amazon Web Services (AWS)

In January 2021 I thought I had finally made it. I had been hired by Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a Cloud Support Engineer II. Even though there had been a few red flags along the way, I told myself this was a pinnacle moment in my career. This company was even sending me a MacBook Pro! Most other companies would send out Windows laptops. Everything felt different about this role. It even felt like I had “made it.”

TL;DR Take me to the list…

I had friends tell me that taking this job would work wonders for my resume and propel my career to a whole new level. Everyone around me said that other tech giants would take a serious look at my resume, were I to apply for other roles in the (Silicon) Valley. Much to say, I was pretty excited about this role.

As most people know, I am no special story. I don’t have a college degree. I did not graduate high school with honors (or even a high GPA for that matter). I had helped start a few businesses, but they died in their infancy. Nothing stood out as a clear pointer as to why I would stand out enough to get hired by such a large, demanding company. But, don’t worry; I’ll get to that in the end.

But, once I was in the on-boarding process with AWS, my feelings towards the role began to change. I was challenged in tremendous ways. I took this challenge seriously and stepped up to the plate. All I could think was, “this is my shot.” They were teaching me a lot of things very quickly to bring me up to speed on their platform. But, as the weeks wore on, that challenge became abrasive and it started to wear me down. Plus, something that became clear for me after the fact, but not during the interview process, was the fact this would be a customer-facing role. Now, I have no issue with a customer facing role when I know what I’m doing. I have worked as a consultant before. It’s when I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m expected to give an educated answer to a customer anyway, that I did not like.

So, as my expectations of the role began to diverge from reality further and further, I began to become disenfranchised with the entire experience. That quickly led to me finding a new role just two months into the AWS role and ultimately leaving a company for which most people dream to work. Now that enough time has passed and things have slowed down, I feel comfortable laying out a few things I learned from this experience.

Lessons Learned

  1. When interviewing with a company, ask them as many questions as they ask you. Sure, you think you know what it’s going to be like, but you don’t. So, ask a lot of questions. Not only will this ensure you know what you’re about to dive into, it will also make a hiring manager sit up and take you seriously, because you seem interesting and engaged with the company and team. Understand the role in and out. Do not get caught by surprise and wake up to a painful realization.
  2. If you see a red flag in the interview process, do not ignore it. If something smells wrong, it might be wrong. Investigate it. Ask questions about it, even if it’s uncomfortable. Remember, in the end you have to spend at least eight hours a day with these people and working for these managers. Don’t ignore anything.
  3. Read reviews of the role on job review sites, such as Glassdoor or Blind. If you are interviewing with a tech giant there will be plenty of people who have walked this path before you. Sure, most reviews are horrible, but if you see something that recurs in a lot of them bring it up in your interview and give the hiring manager a chance to discuss it. Do not ignore the signs along your interview journey! There will be plenty of time between interviews to put in the research and it’s worth it.
  4. Remember that the team you work with matters a lot and has a huge impact on your job experience. We only have this one life and most of us have to hold down a job to make it through. Don’t make it more difficult than it has to be. If the most senior person on the team has only been there for 18 months, perhaps probe into that (See 1. and 2. above) to see why. Ask questions and do not ignore red flags! I cannot stress these two points enough, honestly. They summarize this entire post.
  5. Allow yourself to admit you made a mistake. Not every role is a good fit for your career, depending on where you are in that journey. Just as a Senior Executive would never take a new role as a Junior Analyst, figure out where you are in your career, too. If you took a role based off of the wrong criteria, as I did, admit the mistake and make the necessary course corrections. Don’t wait. It will be water under the bridge before you know, just six months later. You will thank yourself for it.
  6. Bonus: Ask about the benefits. Each company can customize their healthcare plan to their needs to cover what they want, how they want. Ask for paperwork on from your recruiter if you’re getting into your second interview. Sometimes higher premiums and lower coverage can make a big difference in your take-home pay.

I now work for a new company after only two months with Amazon Web Services. I love the team with which I work. The work is demanding, but reasonable. I’m able to make a real impact and help make real decisions for a large company. There is huge potential for growth in my career over the next several years and I’m now back on the right path. I do not regret the decision to leave AWS for even one second. I’m happy I made the right choice for me.

All of this was not easy. I had to fight nights of anxiety while waiting for recruiters to get back with me; loss of sleep as I tossed and turned due to stress; and the miserable feeling of waking up each morning to perform a role in which I was not happy. Please, if this describes you, do yourself a favor and start working on a way to get out of that situation. It’s not worth it, even if the pay is amazing.

So, as for me being hired by such a demanding company, as promised in the start of this post… It turns out when AWS reached out to me they were in a hiring frenzy and had been since the start of the pandemic. As more companies have been making adjustments for remote work, that led many of them to go to a cloud-first model in a rush. That rush brought a surge of smart system administrators with little knowledge of AWS having to migrate all that infrastructure from on-premise into AWS. That resulted in a sudden demand for Amazon to hire more support staff to compensate for the deficit of knowledge. As it turns out I didn’t need knowledge in AWS, because they were going to teach it all to me inside of four months. I just needed a pulse. Over the last 12 months many people were hired this way and got their foot in the door with a prestigious company by the same means. They also left quickly when they discovered the truth behind the position.

Don’t be blinded by the money, the brand, or the title.

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