GeekWire Podcast: The shared orbits of Microsoft and Amazon, and the tech industry’s future in space

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Plenty of well-known tech leaders have jumped from Microsoft to Amazon over the years. So what does it say about the evolution of the companies that one of Amazon’s most senior executives is now working at Microsoft?

Former Amazon Web Services leader Charlie Bell’s new gig at Microsoft is our first topic on this week’s GeekWire Podcast, now that he has been cleared to start in his role, leading a newly formed Microsoft cybersecurity engineering organization.

Our guest commentator is a different Charlie with experience at both companies.

Charlie Kindel worked for many years as a Microsoft general manager in areas including its server and mobile businesses, before jumping into the world of startups and ending up at Amazon, where he led mobile payments and built the Alexa Smart Home organization. After working as chief product and technology officer at home automation company SnapOne, previously Control4, he’s now an independent advisor and consultant to space and satellite startups.

Charlie Kindel.

Bell’s move reflects the evolution of Microsoft’s culture, Kindel says.

“If he had done this 10 years ago, my answer would be completely different, because there’s no way he would be happy, there’s no way he would feel like he could have the ability to impact Microsoft’s culture in a positive way relative to the way Amazon is run,” he says. “But the reality is, Microsoft has changed a lot in that timeframe.”

Kindel shares his perspective on Microsoft’s evolution, and compares the cultures of both companies with his own examples from different points in their histories.

About commercial space exploration, he says it’s imperative for big tech companies to be working on their own space initiatives now to maintain their relevance in the future. He also addresses skepticism about the value of space ventures at a time when there are so many big problems to solve at home.

“The benefits that we are already seeing from investment in space directly correlate to helping Earth, and helping problems on the planet,” he says.

Listen above, and subscribe to GeekWire in any podcast app.

Stories covered on this week’s show:

With GeekWire’s Todd Bishop and John Cook. Theme music by Daniel L.K. Caldwell. See geekwire.com/podcast for more episodes and links to subscribe.

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Seattle mayoral debate: Both candidates want higher taxes but disagree on who should pay them

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Bruce Harrell, left, and Lorena Gonzalez, right, take part Thursday, Oct. 14 in the first of two debates in Seattle scheduled before the November election for the office of Mayor. (AP Photo /Ted S. Warren, Pool)

In the first live Seattle mayoral debate of the election season, the two candidates — current council president Lorena Gonzalez and former council president Bruce Harrell — agreed on little except this: that tax increases are needed help the city fund additional services.

But who pays those taxes — including large employers such as Amazon — remained a point of contention.

Asked if Amazon, the city’s biggest employer, should do more to mitigate concerns about its effect on soaring housing prices and infrastructure, Harrell said the online retail giant should “pay their fair share of taxes.” He then vowed to hold the company “accountable.”

But when pressed for taxing specifics, Harrell pivoted and talked about addressing the lack of a Washington state income tax. “We will look at that tax structure and revise it,” he said.

Lorena Gonzalez. (AP Photo / Ted S. Warren, Pool)

Gonzalez, by contrast, pointed her finger directly at Amazon’s coffers. “It is critically important for us to make sure we have a mayor who is serious about requiring all large profitable corporations (to) pay their fair share.”

She added: “Let’s be real about this. I’m the only candidate on this stage who means it.”

Both candidates in 2018 initially voted to approve the so-called Amazon head tax, only to later switch their votes to repeal it.

Harrell’s road to a state income tax would be a steep one. Currently, Washington court decisions have generally held that the state constitution’s sharp limits on income taxes make a statewide, non-uniform income tax difficult without a constitutional change. (A 2019 court decision on a failed Seattle income tax might have opened the door slightly, however.)

Bruce Harrell. (AP Photo / Ted S. Warren, Pool)

Harrell said corporations based in Seattle should match their corporate goals with city’s civic needs.

“They have to align their corporate social responsibility goals with that of the city,” he said. “That would be affordable housing. That would be homelessness.”

Harrell mentioned Amazon’s market capitalization of more than $1.5 trillion.

“When you look at the wealth that these large corporations have, they have to not only pay their fair share of taxes, they have to be aligned with many of the issues that they caused,” he said.

At the last week’s GeekWire Summit, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy described the worsening relationship with Seattle’s political leaders.

“I think our relationship with Seattle had ups and downs, frankly,” Jassy said. “I think the first 20ish years (was) pretty collaborative. Wdecided to build a downtown campus. (The city) was very supportive and solicitous.”

But then five years ago, the mood changed, Jassy continued.

“The City Council has become less enamored with business or with Amazon,” he said. “It’s just been rougher.” Jassy added that Amazon increasingly is looking to nearby Bellevue for its expansion goals.

At the debate, Gonzalez indicated she’s not particularly worried about Amazon withdrawing from Seattle. Pointing to Amazon’s announced plans to hire 12,500 corporate and tech workers in Seattle, the former civil rights attorney said Amazon isn’t going anywhere.

“(Amazon’s) workers and their future workers want to live and work in this city,” she said.

Watch the full debate here.

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Amazon opening new Fresh grocery location in North Seattle plaza; another planned south of city

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A view of a new Amazon Fresh store under construction in North Seattle along Aurora Avenue North at North 130th Street. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

An Amazon Fresh grocery store will anchor a refresh of a sprawling shopping plaza along heavily traveled Aurora Avenue North in North Seattle.

Signage is in place at the store which is still under construction at 13025 Aurora Ave. N., near the corner of North 130th Street in the Bitter Lake area of Seattle. Amazon told GeekWire Wednesday that it has not confirmed an opening date yet but that it is currently hiring for the location.

The tech giant has 18 Fresh stores open to date, including two relatively new locations in the Seattle region. A store opened in the Factoria area of Bellevue, Wash., in June and another opened in Seattle’s Central District in August.

The Amazon Fresh stores are part of Amazon’s fast-growing brick-and-mortar grocery expansion across the country, following its $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017, as it tries to take a bigger bite of the $750 billion U.S. grocery industry. The company is also building out its network of Amazon Go convenience stores, and still operates the Amazon Fresh delivery service.

According to the real estate firm Kidder Mathews, Amazon is also planning a new store south of Seattle in Federal Way, Wash., at 1928 S. Commons. Plans show that 766,705-square-foot mall is currently anchored by Target, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Century Theaters and Kohl’s. An employee who answered the phone Wednesday at Dick’s said the word in the plaza is that Amazon is coming in, but no signage has appeared yet.

Amazon did not comment on the Federal Way location.

Workers are seen inside an Amazon Fresh store under construction in North Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Construction workers were busy moving in and out of the North Seattle location Wednesday morning. Plans identify the grocery space as 35,715 square feet. Spaces of 15,000 and 8,800 square feet on either side of the store are still available. The 9.98-acre Aurora Shopping Center is already home to a Planet Fitness location, Starbucks, Burger King, Key Bank, Aurora Donuts and more.

The closet grocery competition is across busy Highway 99, where a Sprouts Farmers Market and Asian Family Market sit in a plaza next to a Hobby Lobby.

Costco is also reportedly looking to open a location along Aurora Avenue North, just a bit north of Amazon near North 135th Street in an old Sam’s Club location. The big box chain has one other Seattle location, in SoDo.

Amazon said wages at its new store start at $16.90 per hour, with comprehensive benefits and a hiring bonus of $1,000.

Signage along Aurora Avenue North for a new Amazon Fresh store. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

The company did not share any additional information, including whether the store would feature its cashierless “Just Walk Out” technology which started in Amazon Go convenience stores and has spread to some Fresh locations. The technology, which enables shoppers to grab items and leave the store without standing in a checkout line, is being used in the new Bellevue store but not in the Central District location.

Amazon is also bringing Just Walk Out to two Whole Foods stores starting next year and the technology will be used in four food and beverage stores inside the new Climate Pledge Arena, where the Seattle Kraken play their first home NHL game next week.

Amazon opened the first Fresh store in Woodland Hills, Calif., last year. It currently has locations in California, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C. and said Wednesday that two new stores are confirmed for New Jersey, three more in Illinois and three more in California.

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Small businesses try to survive around Amazon in Seattle as company shifts remote work policy again

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Sayed Salem, left, and Nasima Akhter in front of their food truck Spice on Curve in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood on Tuesday. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

While Amazon’s latest shift in its return-to-office policy is likely welcome news for Seattle-based employees who have grown accustomed to remote work, Sayed Salem is suffering.

Sitting in his food truck Spice on Curve, serving authentic Indian cuisine in the heart of Amazonia on Tuesday, Salem said he’s down to about 40 customers a day. Two years ago he was serving 250 to 300 people on a workday.

“How can we survive?” he asked.

Amazon said Monday that instead of bringing employees back to the office en masse in early January it will instead leave the decisions to individual team leaders, with no hard-and-fast expectation on the number of days that those corporate employees work in the office.

The tech giant’s remote work policy affects more than just its 50,000 corporate and tech employees in Seattle — it has repercussions for the food truck, florist, bike shop, burger joint, dog treat store, coffee spot and other small shops that rely on the company’s workforce to stay in business.

An “SLU & YOU” sign in front of one of Amazon’s headquarters towers in Seattle. The South Lake Union neighborhood is still there, but many small businesses would like the “you” to return in the form of thousands of tech workers. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Salem and his wife of 35 years, Nasima Akhter, have been running Spice on Curve for seven years. Two weeks ago, their second truck was stolen from the lot where they park it. It was recovered, with $10,000 in damage.

Salem’s legs hurt when he has to stand for 15 or 16 hours, and he said it’s been next to impossible to find help. Before the pandemic he used to pay $12 an hour. Paying much more would add to the struggle he is already facing in increased costs for ingredients and loss of business.

“As a small business … We are not Amazon. How can we pay $25 an hour? It is better to die,” he said, adding that whenever he talks to customers, he’s found that they want to come back to the office.

“But the big boss, they just extend it, because they’ve got a new way — work from home,” he said. “They’re making money, but what about the thousands of businesses actually dependent on Amazon?”

A dog gets a biscuit from a Banana Stand worker she clearly recognizes outside an Amazon office building in South Lake Union. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

At lunch hour, the streets around South Lake Union were definitely quieter than the usual bustling scene that has always attracted food trucks. But there were at least some people on the street and in nearby restaurants, unlike during the hardest months of the health crisis. One Amazon worker grabbing a box of hot food was a regular at Salem’s truck. The latest shift in Amazon’s official policy wasn’t impacting his daily routine.

“I definitely like working in the office. It’s more separation from personal life,” said the worker, adding that he prefers working with his team in person.

Amazon’s latest remote work policy change underscores the uncertainty created by the ongoing spread of COVID-19, including the surge in the highly contagious Delta variant in recent months. Previously, Amazon set a “baseline” of three days a week in the office, and two days working remotely, as part of its preference for an “office-centric” culture.

The company was shooting for a September return to the office, and then pushed the date to Jan. 3, before Monday’s move.

Other companies have also been pushing back their plans to bring employees back to the office. Microsoft, the region’s other tech giant, is leaving its return date open-ended for the time being.

‘For the sake of the neighborhood’

An empty common area on Tuesday next to the Spheres and Amazon’s Day 1 tower, left. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Like the food truck operator, the Downtown Seattle Association is worried about small businesses, too.

Data from the organization says more than 500 street-level business locations have permanently closed throughout downtown since January 2020.

“It’s clear that many workers want to return to spending their work day in dynamic, urban neighborhoods like downtown Seattle where they have access to arts and culture, sports and entertainment and a great food scene,” DSA President and CEO Jon Scholes said in a statement.

In a third quarter commercial real estate report, the firm Kidder Mathews said retail in the downtown core is “still dependent on the thousands of office workers who frequent the vertical buildings.”

Offsetting the closures a bit, DSA said nearly 300 new street-level locations downtown opened since January 2020.

The Seattle Barkery is one of them.

The small shop which sells pet toys and treats, including the Bacon Pupcake, used to operate exclusively from trucks in Seattle. It opened its first brick-and-mortar shop in April 2020 — just in time for the pandemic. The location at the base of an Amazon tower seemed like the perfect place for what is normally a neighborhood overrun with dogs that are allowed in the workplace.

A sign board shouts to the missing masses outside Wild Ginger restaurant. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

On Tuesday, one human customer and one dog were in the shop. Owner Dawn Ford told GeekWire that Amazon’s shifting policies are like a “dangled carrot” as she begs, perhaps like one of her four-legged customers, for workers to return.

“The neighborhood is busy, but it’s not Amazon busy,” Ford said. “We established ourselves in the neighborhood and pandemic puppies were plentiful and quite a blessing to us. But our initial sales goals are probably about 50% there, so we of course have been waiting for Amazon to go back to work.”

Ford rents her space from Amazon and she said while plenty of people don’t love the company, “they’ve been nothing but generous to us.” The Barkery is in its 19th month of rent release, which Ford called “extremely wonderful.”

“These buildings are brand new and gorgeous, we were really hoping that they would be occupied,” Ford said, adding that she appreciates that some workers have found convenience and comfort in working remotely.

“If it’s a choice, I think that’s great, but I hope for small business sake and the sake of the neighborhood, I hope the choice is that people choose to go back to work soon,” she said.

The bustle between Amazon’s many office buildings is still missing as many thousands of workers remain remote. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Amsterdam-based VanMoof saw an initial jump in electric bicycle orders when it first launched a pop-up and then opened a retail shop below Amazon’s re:Invent tower. I even used one of the bikes to win GeekWire’s multimodal transportation “Great Race II” from the Spheres to West Seattle back in July.

The shop’s location on the Amazon campus is noteworthy because employees who pay $89 a month to lease a bike for a year through a special VanMoof program can get reimbursed through the tech giant’s bicycle commuter benefit.

Whether it’s the arrival of less bike-worthy weather or a lack of foot traffic passing by the shop or pandemic-related supply issues, business could be better, said assistant manager Kusha Akbarpour. If employees “were driving to and from work, it would help,” he added, presumably because those employees would be so annoyed sitting in Seattle’s once soul-crushing traffic that they’d want to switch to an e-bike alternative.

Inside South Lake Union Bouquet on the Amazon headquarters campus. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

At South Lake Union Bouquet, across from the first Amazon Go convenience store, Lindsey Long was working behind the counter Tuesday and said it seems like business has been steadily picking up.

“Sending flowers is about all you can do remotely,” Long said with a laugh. She also said more people seem to be buying houseplants — remote workers? — and looking for advice on what types of plants are easy to keep alive.

The florist also has a location in the Columbia City neighborhood and opened in the Denny Triangle in 2019. During the height of the pandemic it was a “ghost town down here,” Long said.

Shake Shack, in the shadow of Amazon’s headquarters towers in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

At Shake Shack on Westlake Avenue the usual line of Amazonians was missing on Tuesday. The New York-based burger joint opened in October 2018 and has been steadily busy ever since, with a line often out the door.

A worker at the walk-up window for online orders said business remains good thanks to those who live in the neighborhood or visit on weekends. She said they do “a ton of DoorDash and Grubhub orders.”

A sudden rush of customers at Monorail Espresso, across Westlake Avenue from Amazon. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Monorail Espresso is the stuff of coffee legend in Seattle, founded in 1980 as the “world’s first espresso cart.” With a small location now on Westlake Avenue across from Amazon’s towers, coffee is still a solid business in the city — but the pandemic and remote work took its best shot.

“We were hurting hard, but we survived,” said a barista named Millie who was serving drinks to a steady line of mid-afternoon customers, many wearing Amazon badges. “You doing your usual?” she asked one gentleman.

PREVIOUSLY: Remote work already changing Seattle permanently, tech worker survey indicates

Things got especially busy when a dozen or so men suddenly lined up in front of the shop’s takeout window for drinks. Asked by GeekWire if they were from out of town, they laughed and asked if it was obvious.

The group of real estate investors, representing different companies from Chicago and New York, was in town to see how Seattle’s commercial and residential scenes were faring in the wake of the pandemic. “To see which cities feel less dead,” was how one man put the group’s comparison of U.S. markets.

And to see, more or less, whether it makes sense to invest or not, another said, as some in the group craned their necks at the office and apartment towers rising above the tiny coffee shop.

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Microsoft and Amazon reach truce allowing former AWS executive Charlie Bell to start in new role

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Charlie Bell (LinkedIn Photo)

Microsoft and Amazon reached an agreement that clears the way for former Amazon Web Services executive Charlie Bell to start his new job leading a newly formed cybersecurity engineering organization inside the Redmond tech company.

The breakthrough ends a standoff that lasted several weeks, avoiding a court fight over the terms of Bell’s non-compete agreement with Amazon.

“After constructive discussions with Amazon, Charlie Bell started his new role on October 11, focused on advancing cybersecurity capabilities that will benefit the tech sector and the broader economy,” said Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of communications, responding to an inquiry from GeekWire on Monday.

We’ve contacted Amazon for comment on the situation.

Bell, a member of Amazon’s senior leadership team and a longtime linchpin of the company’s cloud business, left the Seattle company in August after more than 23 years. That news was followed two weeks later by reports that he had taken what was then an unspecified Microsoft role.

Microsoft confirmed later in September that it hired Bell to lead a new Security, Compliance, Identity, and Management group that brings together many of its existing teams in those areas as part of a broader initiative. In a memo to employees at the time, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said Bell would “assume his job duties once a resolution is reached with his former employer.”

At the time, Microsoft cited its own efforts to reach similar resolutions with Amazon when Microsoft executives jumped ship for Amazon in the past. Amazon has been more aggressive in enforcing non-compete agreements in recent years, taking some former executives to court when they left to join rivals such as Google.

Bell had been considered a candidate to replace Andy Jassy as CEO of AWS after Jassy was named Amazon CEO. However, the top AWS role went to Adam Selipsky, the former CEO of Tableau Software in Seattle, who rejoined Amazon to lead the cloud business.

Non-compete agreements, which have been rendered virtually unenforceable in California, are still allowed in Washington state. However, under a state law passed in 2019, they can’t be applied to employees who make less than $100,000, and they can’t cover a period of more than 18 months, among other restrictions.

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Amazon will leave remote work decisions to individual team leaders in new policy twist

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Amazon CEO Andy Jassy speaks at the GeekWire Summit on Oct. 5, 2021. In a new memo, he says the company will delegate remote work decisions to individual team leaders. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

Amazon no longer plans to bring corporate employees back to the office en masse in early January but will instead leave the decisions to individual team leaders at the director level, CEO Andy Jassy told employees Monday morning in an internal email.

This means there won’t be a companywide expectation on the number of days that corporate employees work in the office. Previously, Amazon set a “baseline” of three days a week in the office, and two days working remotely, as part of its preference for an “office-centric” culture.

Amazon’s new approach signals greater flexibility.

“We expect that there will be teams that continue working mostly remotely, others that will work some combination of remotely and in the office, and still others that will decide customers are best served having the team work mostly in the office,” Jassy wrote. “We’re intentionally not prescribing how many days or which days—this is for Directors to determine with their senior leaders and teams.”

One caveat: “At this stage, we want most of our people close enough to their core team that they can easily travel to the office for a meeting within a day’s notice,” Jassy wrote.

But this also comes with an exception: Amazon will let corporate employees work fully remote up to four weeks per year from any location in their country of employment, if they can do so effectively, Jassy wrote.

The change underscores the uncertainty created by the ongoing spread of COVID-19, including the surge in the highly contagious Delta variant in recent months.

Some companies have been pushing back their plans to bring employees back to the office. Microsoft, the region’s other tech giant, is leaving its return date open-ended for the time being. A study by the Redmond-based company showed that remote work has reduced communication among different Microsoft business groups.

These policy decisions are closely watched by other tech companies in setting their own policies, and by business owners and community leaders in the neighborhoods where large tech companies are based. Amazon’s shift away from the January return plan could create additional uncertainty for restaurants and other retailers in and around its large campus in Seattle’s South Lake Union and Denny Triangle neighborhoods, as well as nearby Bellevue, where Amazon has a growing presence.

An Amazon Prime delivery van and the original Amazon Go store at the base of the company’s Day 1 headquarters tower in downtown Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

During an interview at the GeekWire Summit last week, Jassy addressed Amazon’s rocky relationship with the Seattle City Council, expressing hope for improvement but saying the company considers the broader Puget Sound region its “HQ1” headquarters now.

Amazon’s decision to delegate the decision to individual team leaders also illustrates the challenge of setting a companywide policy for the hundreds of thousands of corporate employees who are part of Amazon’s 1.3-million person workforce.

In his message, Jassy wrote that the company’s leadership team has met several times on the issue and agreed generally on three things: “First, none of us know the definitive answers to these questions, especially long term. Second, at a company of our size, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for how every team works best. And third, we’re going to be in a stage of experimenting, learning, and adjusting for a while as we emerge from this pandemic.”

He added, “All of this led us to change course a bit.”

Jassy noted that Amazon will be in a mode of “experimenting, learning, and adjusting for a while,” making it clear that the specifics aren’t set in stone. He said employees can expect to hear from their team leaders about their specific policies by early January, which was previously the timeframe for the larger return to the office.

He also recognized and thanked the vast number of Amazon workers who aren’t able to work remotely, including those in its fulfillment and transportation divisions.

Here is Jassy’s message to employees in full:

Subject: Updated guidance on where we work

Dear Amazonians,

I want to update you on how we’re continuing to evolve our thinking on where we work.

First, it’s worth reminding ourselves how challenging and unprecedented these past 20 months have been. We’ve never been through something like this before, and hope we never encounter it again. I’m appreciative and proud of how customer-focused and mission-driven the collective teams have been. It hasn’t been easy and not everything has gone perfectly, but the impact you’ve had on the lives of consumers, sellers, developers, enterprises, creators, and brands in helping them cope with this discontinuity has been remarkable.

As we start to think about the future, we’ve all been asking questions like, “When are we really going back to the office, what will that really be like, how will I allocate my time between the office and home, how will others do it, do we need to be working in person together every day to collaborate and invent best, and how do we build connections and culture best?” We’ve shared a couple of updates on this topic, first thinking we’d be back in the office in September 2021, and then by January 2022, with the suggestion that we should all try to be in the office at least three days a week. This guidance prompted questions, like, “Who decides which days, does the team need to be in the same days, are there certain functions or teams that can work more effectively at home vs the office (and vice versa),” and many more. We met several times as a leadership team to discuss these questions, and generally agreed on three things.

First, none of us know the definitive answers to these questions, especially long term. Second, at a company of our size, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for how every team works best. And third, we’re going to be in a stage of experimenting, learning, and adjusting for a while as we emerge from this pandemic. All of this led us to change course a bit.

For our corporate roles, instead of specifying that people work a baseline of three days a week in the office, we’re going to leave this decision up to individual teams. This decision will be made team by team at the Director level. We expect that there will be teams that continue working mostly remotely, others that will work some combination of remotely and in the office, and still others that will decide customers are best served having the team work mostly in the office. We’re intentionally not prescribing how many days or which days—this is for Directors to determine with their senior leaders and teams. The decisions should be guided by what will be most effective for our customers; and not surprisingly, we will all continue to be evaluated by how we deliver for customers, regardless of where the work is performed.

At this stage, we want most of our people close enough to their core team that they can easily travel to the office for a meeting within a day’s notice. We also know that many people have found the ability to work remotely from a different location for a few weeks at a time inspiring and reenergizing. We want to support this flexibility and will continue to offer those corporate employees, who can work effectively away from the office, the option to work up to four weeks per year fully remote from any location within your country of employment.

As almost all of you are hearing about this change for the first time, and will likely be eager to learn what your team’s plan is moving forward, I’d ask you to be patient with your leaders as it’ll likely take them a few weeks to develop and communicate their plan. We’re anticipating that you’ll hear from your leaders about these specific plans before January 3, which is the date we set previously for people to start returning to the office at least three days a week.

I also want to recognize our colleagues in Amazon’s fulfillment and transportation divisions whose roles aren’t as flexible as most of our corporate roles. The work of these teams remains critical to communities around the world (and to the company’s success), and the world has relied on them to deliver products to their doorsteps since the very beginning of the pandemic. There are other types of roles as well, such as those working in our AWS datacenters, physical stores, and those designing, developing, and testing new devices, who don’t have the flexibility to work remotely. I just want to thank these teammates for their passion, commitment, and continued dedication. It’s highly appreciated.

As mentioned earlier, these are unusual times and we’re all learning together what we believe is the best way to work together to make customers’ lives easier and better every day. And with it being so early in our mission, with lots of invention and change in front of us, you can bet that we will continue to adjust as we keep learning what makes most sense for our customers and teams.

Thank you for all your continued hard work.

-Andy

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GeekWire Podcast: Andy Jassy on Amazon’s future; Yoky Matsuoka on Google and Apple; Ciara on music and business creativity

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Read Time:1 Minute, 28 Second
Engineer and entrepreneur Yoky Matsuoka, entertainer and entrepreneur Ciara, and new Amazon CEO Andy Jassy at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle this week. (Kevin Lisota and Dan DeLong Photos)

This week on the GeekWire Podcast, we’re sharing a few highlights from the GeekWire Summit, our annual business and technology conference, which we held this week for an audience in Seattle and online.

For online access to the full video of every GeekWire Summit 2021 session, purchase a ticket at geekwire.com/summit to watch at your convenience.

On this week’s show:

Computer scientist and entrepreneur Yoky Matsuoka talks about her journey from academia to Silicon Valley, and compares and contrasts her experiences at Apple and Google. Matsuoka is leading an independent Panasonic subsidiary called Yohana that recently launched a personal assistant subscription service.

Related: Robotics pioneer Yoky Matsuoka on the human touch in her new personal assistant venture Yohana

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy addresses questions about the company’s impact on the world and responsibilities beyond serving customers. The GeekWire Summit appearance was Jassy’s first live on-stage interview since succeeding founder Jeff Bezos as Amazon CEO — leading one of the world’s most influential companies at a pivotal moment in its history.

Related: Amazon CEO: Relationship with Seattle City Council has become ‘rougher,’ but hope remains

Grammy-award winning entertainer and entrepreneur Ciara discusses creativity and independence in music and business. She talks about the moment of insight that accompanied her hit song “Level Up,” which became an ethos that translates into her work in music, business, fashion, and more.

Related: GeekWire Summit 2021 recap: Leaders and luminaries share insights at our annual conference

Audio editing and production by Curt Milton; Theme music by Daniel L.K. Caldwell.

More: GeekWire Summit 2021

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Twitch got e-vandalized overnight with photos of Jeff Bezos amid fallout from data breach

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(Bigstock Photo).

If you were using the web version of Twitch early Friday morning, you might’ve gotten the chance to see it get redecorated with a picture of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ face.

For several hours, an extreme close-up of Bezos’ eyes became the new background image for many if not all of the video game-related category pages on Twitch, a livestreaming-focused subsidiary of Amazon. The change has since been reverted. Twitch has yet to offer any comment on the subject, and at time of writing, no one has stepped forward to claim responsibility for changing the image.

The image, which appears to be taken from an old viral photo of Bezos that roughly resembles the original “PogChamp” emote on Twitch, comes two days after Twitch publicly acknowledged what it’s officially calling a “security incident,” where an unknown quantity of Twitch’s internal data was leaked online.

According to Twitch’s official blog, the leak was made possible by “an error in a Twitch server configuration change that was subsequently accessed by a malicious third party.”

Twitch does not currently believe that users’ login credentials were exposed in the leak, and it reportedly never stored full credit card numbers on-site. However, it did take the step early Thursday morning of resetting all its users’ stream keys, which is a unique password available via the official Twitch dashboard that’s required before a streamer can start broadcasting.

If you haven’t used your Twitch channel in a while, your stream key has been reset. To find the new one, visit Settings -> Stream in your Twitch creator dashboard. (Twitch screenshot)

The initial leak was originally posted on the 4chan message board as a 125GB torrent that was claimed to be data taken straight from Twitch, including information on future projects, payment structures for top Twitch broadcasters, and even the site’s source code. The poster’s motivation was reportedly to “foster more disruption and competition in the online video streaming space.”

Twitch has not offered a statement on how much of the data is legitimate, aside from confirming that there actually was a security breach.

The “PogBezos” (“JeffChamp?”) e-vandalism has yet to be conclusively connected to the 4chan leak, but it’d be a strange coincidence if it wasn’t. Most of the social media conversation on Wednesday was focused around picking apart just how much Twitch is paying its top broadcasting talent, but if Twitch’s source code did leak, the entire site’s security is potentially at risk.

Twitch was started in 2011 as a gaming-focused spin-off from the seminal streaming website Justin.tv. It was subsequently acquired by Amazon in 2014 for $970 million, and over the last few years, has become the single largest platform for online broadcasting.

While the livestreaming field is bigger than a lot of people realize, with several dozen platforms operating in the space, Twitch commands roughly six times the audience share of every other platform combined. That commanding lead has led to a lot of unwelcome attention for Twitch, however, including new legislation, multiple DMCA strikes from the American music industry, and now the occasional would-be hacktivist.

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Why Amazon didn’t give up on games: Andy Jassy on ‘spectacular failures’ and long-term vision

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Amazon CEO Andy Jassy at the 2021 GeekWire Summit on Tuesday in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

Amazon has long viewed failure as a natural part of innovation, and the early success of the company’s New World online PC roleplaying game is a testament to the mantra, considering the earlier fate of its first-person shooter Crucible.

But why is the company so determined to succeed in games? Andy Jassy, the new Amazon CEO, shed some light on that question at the GeekWire Summit this week.

“In the case of games, we have a belief that that could end up being the largest category in entertainment over a long period of time,” he said, referring to the share of the games sector in the overall entertainment industry. “Just look at what’s happening in games and how social they’ve become.”

Previously: Amazon CEO: Relationship with Seattle City Council has become ‘rougher,’ but hope remains

Jassy added, “We’ve been at it for several years, and it was pretty different from what we’d done before as a company. So it took us time to build the right talent, the right teams and the right studios, and to build some resonance with the way we were thinking about the customer experience with gamers.”

It’s important to understand, going in, that hit-driven entertainment businesses like movies and games will produce both big successes and big failures, he said.

“If you’re not willing to withstand the failures, including the spectacular failures, then you shouldn’t be in that business,” he said. “We want to invest. And we’re thinking about games as a very long-term investment for us.”

He acknowledged that Crucible failed “in a very public way,” resulting in some difficult lessons, leading the company to pull the plug within weeks of the release. He referred to a Bloomberg story about Crucible in January that said the company could make “just about anything — except a good video game.”

“That team took a lot of criticism,” he said. “And to their credit, they continued. They had multiple games going at the same time. You could argue we haven’t had enough games in production, because if it’s a hit-run business, it takes a few before you find a hit, or several. But they didn’t lose their resolve.”

“We always had a lot of optimism for this game, New World,” he said. “Customers really liked it; it tested really well. We learned from the Crucible experiment. … We had to think about where the bar was for fit-and-finish a little bit differently than maybe we thought. And so we took extra time to try and make sure that we got the game right.”

Launched last week, New World has about 2 million active players daily, peaking at more than 913,000 concurrent users on Steam, putting it among the most successful games in the platform’s history, by that measure.

It has also been racking up big numbers on Amazon’s Twitch streaming platform, where it ranks as the most-streamed game since its launch.

In that way, it’s a bright spot in an otherwise rough week for Amazon on the Twitch front. The security breach emerged after the GeekWire Summit interview this week.

Big picture, Jassy called New World an important business lesson.

“If you’re going to invest in something over a long period of time, that you believe is important and can change the company, you have to be strategically patient and tactically impatient. You have to be willing to have failures along the way,” he said. “I really am excited for that team. They have worked really hard and really hung in there, and it’s exciting that they have a hit.”

Full video of the session with Andy Jassy and other GeekWire Summit speakers is available on-demand to paid attendees. You can still register as a virtual attendee here.

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GeekWire Summit 2021 recap: Leaders and luminaries share insights at our annual conference

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From top left, clockwise: Climate change panel; Amazon CEO Andy Jassy; Yohana founder Yoky Matsuoka; crowd at the GeekWire Summit; Microsoft EVP Christopher Young; music superstar and entrepreneur Ciara; and the Future of Work panel. (GeekWire Photos)

It was really nice to be back.

The GeekWire Summit returned to Seattle and took a page out of our shared reality, going hybrid this week with an in-person and virtual audience for two days of fireside chats, power talks and panel discussions centered around technology, innovation, science, civic issues and more.

At Block 41 in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, the Seattle community gathered to hear from speakers including Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, former Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff, entertainer and entrepreneur Ciara, robotics pioneer Yoky Matsuoka and many others. Attendees also had a chance to mingle and network at our 10th annual GeekWire Summit.

“What happens here matters everywhere,” is GeekWire’s mantra, and that certainly rang true over the past couple days on the Summit stage.

Keep scrolling for more images and links to session recaps which have been published so far — stay tuned for more coverage later this week. Read all our full Summit coverage here, as well as stories from Business InsiderBloomberg, CNBC, and Puget Sound Business Journal reporters.

Video of all sessions will be viewable to registered GeekWire Summit attendees on-demand. Go here to register to view.

A big shout-out to Summit presenting sponsor Bank of America. We’d also like to thank our gold sponsors: Wave BusinessALLtechEY, Martin Selig Real EstateMicrosoftPacaso and Slalom. Also, thanks to silver sponsors: bcraWilson Sonsini, Ziply Fiber, MotionForge and Genpact.

Fireside Chat: Spencer Rascoff, angel investor & former CEO of Zillow Group

(GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

“My thesis is that social has become so big, so ubiquitous and so horizontal, that it’s unbundling into these verticals.” Session recap here.

Fireside Chat: Yoky Matsuoka, founder & CEO of Yohana

(GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

“I’m not trying to lessen humans. I’m actually trying to enhance the experience with technology.” Session recap here.

Power Talk: Kendall Tyson, vice president of strategy & business intelligence at Seattle Kraken

(GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

“We’re bringing together ticket purchases to hockey games, ticket purchases to concerts, food and beverage data, retail data and membership data across all of the people who come to Climate Pledge Arena — and not just our fans. We take that information, and we pull it into a database, and we’re creating Customer 360 profiles.” Session recap here.

Fireside Chat: Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon

(GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

“We don’t think of HQ1 being Seattle any longer. We really think of it as Puget Sound. We have a lot of people in Seattle, but we also have a lot of people in Bellevue and it is where most of our growth will end up being.” Session recap here.

Power Talk: Kate Starbird, faculty director at the Center for an Informed Public

(GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

Fireside Chat: Ciara, Grammy award-winning Singer/Songwriter, Entrepreneur & Philanthropist

(GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Sponsored Lunch Talk: Dave Uhler, director of research & development at Slalom

(GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Power Talk: Neil King, professor at The University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design

(GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

“Ultimately I think computational protein design, in combination with technologies both old and new, is going to allow us to make vaccines that are safer and more effective against targets that have historically been really difficult.” Session recap here.

Fireside Chat: Chris Young, executive vice president of business development, strategy and ventures at Microsoft

(GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Panel: How to Save the Planet: Innovative Ways to Stop Climate Change

(GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

From left: Brandon Middaugh, Director of the Climate Innovation Fund at Microsoft; Kevin Klustner, Executive Director of the Center for Advanced Materials & Clean Energy Technology at the University of Washington; Emeka Anyanwu, Energy Innovation & Resources Officer at Seattle City Light; and GeekWire reporter Lisa Stiffler. 

Panel: Cybersecurity, Ransomware and the Threats of a Connected World

(GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

From left: Alex Gounares, CEO of Polyverse and former chief technology officer for Microsoft’s online division; Raja Mukerji, co-founder of ExtraHop; Rama Arumugam, IT manager at Plymouth; Vanessa Pegueros, venture partner at Flying Fish Partners and former Chief Information Security Officer at DocuSign and Expedia. 

Panel: The Future of How and Where We Work

(GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

From left: Dan Spaulding, Chief People Officer at Zillow Group; Archana Singh, Chief People Officer at Expedia Group; and Christine Gregoire, CEO of Challenge Seattle & former Governor of Washington State.

Scenes from the Opening Party and more

(GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
(GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
(GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)
(GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)
(GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
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