Amazon engineers sound off on colleague’s resignation as COVID-19 response sparks debate

(GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Two Amazon engineers penned LinkedIn posts this week in reaction to a colleague’s resignation, engaging in an ongoing internal and external debate over how Amazon is handling the coronavirus pandemic.
Amazon VP Tim Bray left the company on May 1 in response to the firing of several employee activists who criticized Amazon’s response to the crisis. In a blog post , Bray explained his decision to walk away from “over a million (pre-tax) dollars, not to mention the best job I’ve ever had” because “remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised.”
Tim Bray. (Photo by Bryan Jones , via Flickr , Creative Commons 2.0 ) In response, Amazon VP Brad Porter defended his employer, citing exhaustive new safety policies and innovations the company is developing to keep workers safe. Prior to Bray’s resignation, he and Porter belonged to an elite group of about 20 “distinguished engineers” inside Amazon.
Porter objected to the claims in Bray’s departing manifesto in a LinkedIn post published Tuesday:
I believe a strong case can be made that Amazon has responded more nimbly to this crisis than any other company in the world. New government-mandated protocols are implemented within hours. My organization invented an ability to use AI to review social distancing compliance and deployed it in 4 days, allowing us to pin point opportunities for improvement and work with the leaders in those areas to fix them. We focused our supply chain capabilities on temperature checks and face masks that were initially hard to procure. We have thermal cameras in hundreds of buildings. We redesigned our processes for everything from how to unload trucks to how to pack, sort and load packages so that they could be done by one person at least 6’ apart from their nearest neighbor. Amazon is the first major employer to begin rolling out employee testing. These are just a small sampling of the over 150 process changes we have made.
Anton Okmyanskiy, a principal engineer at Amazon Web Services, offered more mixed feelings about Bray’s departure:
As a society, we have perfected capitalism to the point of a crazy prosperity gap. Amazon is the shining beacon of the productivity and consumer benefits it can deliver. But capitalism is also about effective use of resources including human ones and has no checks and balances against runaway power imbalances. We need to self impose them on ourselves. Amazon should stay ahead of anger-driven regulatory enforcement by becoming a leader on social justice issues.
Last month, Amazon fired user experience designers Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, outspoken leaders of the activist group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. They spent more than a year pressuring their employer to enact stronger sustainability policies before turning their attention to the COVID-19 outbreaks at Amazon...