Simon in Seattle: 5 Product Management Lessons From My Summer at Amazon

The following blog post was written by Mike Alcazaren, MBA Class of 2019

This summer I interned as a senior product manager on the Amazon Devices team. My summer project was to launch a new product feature for Amazon Dash Buttons. I had the opportunity to fully own the product launch, which included the financial modeling, marketing research, operations, and customer experience.

Love the office pups!

Love the office pups!

This experience was a ton of fun. I learned a lot and got a taste of what it’s like to be a product manager. After taking some time to reflect on my summer, I came up with five pieces of advice for those planning to intern at Amazon and/or interested in a career in product management.

Amazon’s culture is defined through the 14 Leadership Principles, so I’ve mapped each piece of advice to a leadership principle.

1. Find Comfort in Ambiguity. (Take Ownership)
No one has solved your specific project before. You’ll be given a lot of responsibility and you’ll need to learn fast. You own the success of your project and will need to ask the right questions to get the information you need. I spoke with 84 different people at Amazon to be sure I thoroughly understood the problem I was given.

2. Be Scrappy. (Bias for Action/Frugality)
Always ask yourself:

  • “What’s the value of the information I need to gather?” (Thanks, Professor Lovett!)
  • “Can I make a decision with less?”
  • “What data do I actually need?”
Cookies were a huge hit during user research.

Cookies were a huge hit during user research.

Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and design a prototype. A design-focused mindset is crucial for any product manager. I performed a 54-person user research test with prototypes that used old devices and paper to simulate an unboxing experience for the customer. I didn’t have budget to go externally, but was able to negotiate for budget for gift cards and cookies to entice employees to participate.

3. Write Early, Write Often. (Deliver Results)
Amazon uses a narrative-based approach to presentation, where your idea is fully captured within a six-page document and–surprise!–it shouldn’t be an unfinished document at your midpoint review. A product manager’s document is typically called a “Press Release and Frequently Asked Questions,” or PRFAQ. The approach to writing this document is called “working backwards,” meaning you start with the customer and work backwards to solve the customer challenge. (Check out this Medium article for more information on working backwards and PRFAQs.) You should aim to have your PRFAQ as close to final as possible at the halfway point.

It can be difficult to get your document in front of people for review. Find a support team that can give you feedback, such as alumni, fellow interns, or friends. One of my goals this summer was to write as concisely as possible. My mantra became, “Clarity of Writing = Clarity of Thought.” Remember to review, review, review!

4. Be Coach-able. (Earn Trust)
When you get feedback, listen. Most people want you to be better and improve. But don’t wait to get this feedback—seek input from people earlier, rather than later.

Photo of Mike with his Amazon colleagues.

Smart Home Intern Team 2018!

5. Have Fun! (Learn & Be Curious)
Take time to enjoy Seattle and the Pacific Northwest! Make sure to meet your fellow interns and enjoy a few happy hours. Your team has a ton of experience that you can leverage to finish your project.

Without the analytical skillset I acquired during my first year at Simon, I wouldn’t have been able to solve this ambiguous project, which ultimately resulted in an offer to join Amazon full-time as a senior product manager.

Thank you to those who supported me this summer: the Simon Admissions Office, Simon’s Career Management Center, my Simon Class of 2019 classmates–particularly those who would meet on their own time to talk all things product management–and my family and friends. I wouldn’t have had a successful internship without your help!

Worn out pair of shoes

These poor guys barely made it to the finish line.

My Summer in Seattle by the Numbers
Loving data the way that I do, I can’t resist adding in some fun data points from this summer:
233: Restaurants and sites visited in the Pacific Northwest
84: Amazonians I spoke with to complete my summer project
54: Amazonians that completed my user research
1,198,321 & 511: Steps and miles walked (respectively) during my internship
1: Totally worn-through pair of shoes

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