Key Takeaways Working at Amazon

One of the many nice things about working at Amazon is that I have a lot of time to think while I work. You need to be focused on what you’re doing, of course, but it’s the kind of work where there’s a lot of muscle memory involved, which allows you to get into a groove, and while you’re working away, you can start getting into some pretty deep thought about things. Part of my job is “picking,” which is going around and grabbing items people have ordered and loading them onto totes to put on conveyors to be evaluated, packed, loaded, and shipped out. I do a lot of picking and packing. I’m fast at both, and when I do it, I almost go into a trance where I’m hustling about doing my job, and at the same time, I’ll be thinking about all sorts of life concerns.

I do a lot of my best thinking when I’m walking because the blood is pumping to my brain, and I’m alert. Very alert. I work hard and fast, so the adrenaline is going, and the juices are flowing, and I’m focused. So I’ve learned that I can come up with some excellent thoughts while I work, which is another reason I like working there. I’m going to miss it, honestly.

One of the reasons I like it is because everything there is the best. It’s not the fanciest or most elegant, but it’s the best. Tools and vests are DeWalt, for example. The company has a lot of money, and it spends it on where it should. Everything is kept in tip-top shape, and it’s kept clean and working, and the temperature is very comfortable, and working there is pleasurable. You have to understand what it could be like, and is like, at other such companies doing the same things to have an appreciation for Amazon. When you used to think of “warehouse jobs,” you were talking about dark, dusty, dirty, rat-infested, hot, noisy metal and concrete buildings with filthy, cracked old cement floors. It smelled bad, had safety hazards everywhere, and was run by people that cut corners and, let’s say, weren’t focused on their jobs. Whether that was because of being on drugs, unhappy about being there, or just slack, or all of the above, it makes for a pretty poor work area. There are lots of places like that out there. Amazon is nothing like that, and for the young people that work there, they have no idea how nice Amazon’s operations are.

When you have as much money as Amazon does, everything is done right and done well. It’s often seamless and invisible. It just happens. Everything is kept clean and neat and loaded and working, and there’s no dust, grime, or germs anywhere in that building. It’s disinfected every day around 6 am, and everything is constantly wiped down, cleaned, and sanitized. There are workers constantly wiping down every nook and cranny and piece of equipment with sanitizing wipes there. It’s not just tidy. It’s sparkling clean. You could build semiconductors in that warehouse, which is crazy, as big and busy, and as much that goes on there. A lot of dirty people milling about moving a lot of dirty boxes and pallets and items: Amazon spends a lot of money and time making sure people are safe and healthy. LOTS. You can read all about it on Amazon’s blog.

They pay a lot of attention to the temperature there, which is really nice. The air control there is outstanding. Fans and cold air and huge tubes of conditioned air being spread and fanned about the building strategically. Where the inventory is, there are high-output fans that blow down the aisles, carrying airconditioned air from the giant outlets along the side of the building. Massive propellor fans spin around at the top of the ceiling in the open areas. Long sea-worm-looking tubes of air with holes along the sides and ends are distributed along with the packing stations. Keeping a building like that comfortable with that many people and machinery working in it has to be a massive effort. Amazon asks us how we like the temperature in there often, to make sure we’re happy with it. It makes a big difference. For one thing, the inventory has to be kept at a reasonable temperature. But that building’s temperature and air circulation are outstanding. It’s probably too cold for some of the women that work there, but for the hard workers and the many people who, let’s say, are quite overweight, the cold temperature is awesome. It really makes a huge difference between what could be Hell and what’s like being on vacation. It’s really something. It’s like a brisk fall day in there. One funny thing I notice is that the overweight workers that stock the bins all congregate in aisles where the coldest air blows out, like sea creatures all gang around volcanic releases of warm water deep down in the ocean.

One thing I think about is the shrinkage factor, meaning items that go “missing.” The building houses what must be a billion dollars worth of goods at any given time. You wouldn’t believe all the things that are stored there. It’s all categorized and put into cardboard drawers, and there isn’t a lot of rhyme or reason s to where things go sometimes. Bras might be in a drawer with charging cables and books and a box of cat food. But it’s all accounted for with ASINs. The items’ whereabouts are tracked throughout with scanners and travel through the building in big yellow totes. There are so many yellow totes in that building I’m sure they would stretch to the moon and back.

And the totes travel around on conveyors scanned by lasers and air and move throughout the place. Miles of conveyors. All leading to the core of the building. It’s one way I know how to get around there; follow the direction of the conveyors. They all lead to the “heart” of the building. And from there, they’re parsed out to the packers to process and prepare for distribution. The engineering is pure genius.

So back to controlling theft. With so many items around and that many employees in that big building, it seems like the theft would be rampant. We sell small items, too, like jewelry, accessories and clothing, and electronics. You’d think Amazon would be getting robbed blind.

But they don’t. There are security cameras everywhere for one thing. But traditional security isn’t what keeps shrinkage down. What does is a combination of a few factors.

One is that workers are kept so busy that they don’t have time to take anything. If you’re really doing your job, you don’t have time to pause and evaluate how to “steal” something, which brings up the point where the thief would put it. Most items can’t be shoved into a pocket. Bags aren’t generally allowed in the building. Women bring clear bags with their things in them. And most of the items are packaged, so you don’t even know what’s in them anyway. You’ll know the ASIN, and some general descriptors, like color, brand, size, etc… but nothing to indicate the value. Very plain generic packaging with a general description and an ASIN assigned to it. But there’s no time to steal if you wanted to. You’re timed from picking point o the next, and once you’ve grabbed your item, it’s off ot the next bin. And when you’re packing, it’s just a flurry of putting items in bags and boxes and applying shipping manifests on them and onto the conveyor to the shipping department they go.

I notice a few things around there. One is all the diversity. Everyone who wants to be an individual by applying tattoos and coloring their hair and getting strange haircuts, just like everyone else, is there. I must be the only person without a single tattoo. Some must spend all their money on tattoos because they’re covered. Male, female, in between, whatever. And lots of piercings, nose, lips, eyebrows, and stretching out the earlobe like play-doh. When they come in without jewelry, and it’s just dangling, it looks so, so nice.

People of the same culture seem to be able to find one another without any problem. When I’m picking items for packing, I’m hustling around the bins and will see groups of people talking in their native language. Spanish is common. But there are a lot of Africans that work there, with a very foreign tongue. No Europeans anywhere. I hear a lot of Spanish. And I see a lot of French on monitors. Women wear the full hajib ensemble, covering every inch of their bodies. At the same time, they pick and pack lace corsets and all kinds of sexy clothing and accessories and trinkets and toys and erotic items.

A secret Amazon has is that it sells a TON of sexual goodies. Whatever your desire, they have you covered. I see some eye-opening products coming through that warehouse, which I won’t get into due to decorum. But there are a lot of people having a lot of fun out there. And there are a lot of twisted people out there. Cosplay is HUGE. As is bondage. Who knew?

Walking through the building reminds me of walking around NYC and going through the ethnic districts, back when you could safely walk around NYC. You hear all sorts of dialects and see lots of traditional clothing, which Amazon sells. And is made in China. Nearly everything going through that center was made in China. I picked out a Dashiki ensemble the other day. That was made in China. And I see lots of “African” clothing that’s made in China. It begs the question, at what point does it just become a costume? China is supplying America with anything we can dream via Amazon.

Something that’s equally as hard to come to terms with is the sizing of clothing Amazon sells. There are a lot of familiar brands that go through there. The North Face is doing HUGE business. So is Spanx. And Under Armour. Burton’s another. If you wanted to invest in stocks, those are some solid players: champion, PUMA, and Levi’s. And I constantly see 5XL and 3XL, and I saw a 50-inch waist and 30 inseam for jeans, until the other day I saw a pair of 60/30 jeans. There’s no way someone that has a waist twice the inseam is putting on jeans by themselves. I need video.

But America is FAT. And shameless about it. Buying “clubbing” clothes in 3XL. Bright yellow and neon green and sequins everywhere are unnecessary when you’re the size of a house. I’m amazed by the clothing I see bought. The amount of material that goes into them is enough to set up a circus tent. People’s pants are packaged like sailboat sails. I’m not kidding.

Incidentally, the lights on each row of bins will light up when you approach and go off as you leave to save energy. Like at the grocery store. That’s gotta save some major $. And in the packing area on the Mezzanine, the lights will brighten and fade/shade as if you’re outdoors and the clouds are going in front of the Sun. You notice it sometimes, but I have to imagine that’s intentional. We have windows, but they’re microscopic compared to the building’s size, so there’s not much functionality to them.

The building is immense. And it’ll play tricks on your brain. Everything there is standardized and a lot of stuff looks similar so you’ll see engineering repeated throughout. and there aren’t a lot of decorations or things you can use as mile markers to get your bearings. It reminds me of deep-sea diving when you get so deep you lose the light of the Sun, so you don’t know which way is up. You have to use instruments. And bubbles. It’s a similar experience astronauts must experience in space, being weightless and having no “up” “down” or horizon to position yourself. You’ll find yourself in the building with nothing to grasp onto to find your way out. It’s crazy.

Something else worth noting, albeit anecdotal, is that there is a TON of Donald Trump stuff selling. Coins, flags, pins, hats, shirts, you name it. There is tiny Biden/Harris coming through. Quite a bit of #BLM stuff, like buttons and rubber bracelets and ANTIFA, wear for scrawny 120 lb. nerds that have decided to come out of the basement and try their LARP moves on real people that will crush them into gorilla cookies. I also see a lot of steampunk clothing moving through there, which makes me wonder who these people have so much time on their hands and money to squander that they can get dressed up and go around looking steampunky? Government employees are the only possible answer I can come up with.





Also published on Medium.