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What is your review of Zappos?

by Nerorz

I’ve been at Zappos for almost 4 years now and in 2 different offices. I started in Las Vegas in July 2008 and moved to the San Francisco office when that opened up in 2011. I think the experience of working at Zappos differs from department to department greatly. My experience has been in the development department, but I’ve made a lot of friends elsewhere in the company and I can try to relay that experience to the best of my knowledge and abilities. Anyway, enough qualifiers and whatnot, let’s hop into this.

The interview process at Zappos was very different from everywhere else I interviewed. It’s a long process with several rounds of interviews. There’s one interview round that’s called a Core Values interview. The entire purpose of this interview is to determine whether you fit with the culture. Zappos really does take hiring the right people very seriously.

The office in Las Vegas is exactly how you’ve seen it on YouTube, TV, in pictures, in articles, etc. It’s often loud, there’s stuff EVERYWHERE. Not useful stuff, just random stuff everywhere. We have so much random stuff everywhere that we have to label our trash or the cleaning people won’t know what’s okay to clean up or what they need to leave behind. As long as you’re not offending anyone, you can usually decorate your area however you see fit. I’ve see forts, garages, jungles, bowling alleys, and soccer fields created in peoples work areas.

A common question is “how does anyone ever get any work done?” The truth is that it’s an ongoing debate in the tech department how to deal with the conflict of programmers needing to be able to concentrate and programmers needing to blow off steam and have a nerf gun battle. Most people adapt and learn how to tune out everything that’s unwanted when then need to sprint on a project. You really never know when a parade is going to come through and throw things at you (side note, things that have been thrown at me in a Zappos parade: candy, men’s underwear, women’s underwear, nerf darts) or when Finance or CLT is going to stage an all-out nerf gun assault with blaring music and fog machines.

Some of the more Google-y things at the Las Vegas office are showers, a coffee shop, and a cafeteria. We also have several services come by the office relatively often such a tailors, laundry services, tax consultants, etc. We’ll also do blood drive, charity BBQs, and things like that relatively often as well.

The SF office is different. We have more functional space (most walls are covered in whiteboard paint) and less stuff lying around. There’s only 12 of us, so we just have groceries delivered instead of having a cafeteria. The SF office does maintain a lot of the weirdness and culture from Las Vegas, though.

When people ask “does it live up to the hype?” I usually translate that in my head to “does Zappos follow its Core Values” and “does Zappos deliver happiness to its employees?” Let’s explore that a bit.

If you read through the Core Values, you may find yourself nodding in agreement with each one. Individually, each Core Value makes sense. Here they are:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

They are all great sentiments and I believe in each and every one of them as an employee, but they are also somewhat subjective and up for interpretation.

Before I launch into some of the nuances of the Core Values, I want to talk about Core Value #5 Pursue Growth and Learning. Zappos wants to teach its employees. Everyone is willing to teach and help. The company invests a lot in teaching and it shows. I wouldn’t be half the developer I am today if it weren’t for the people I’ve learned from at Zappos and the culture that encouraged them to teach me.

I think one of the greatest tensions in the Zappos culture is between Core Value #6 Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication and Core Value #7 Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit. Most people at Zappos really do think of their co-workers as friends and the company as a family. The intertwining of work, friendship and family is very powerful and creates a place that is fun to work at and establishes a lot of trust that boosts productivity. But blurring the line between work and personal life means that people more readily become emotionally attached to work and the work environment. That make it hard to be truly open and honest about someone else’s work. Providing direct, candid feedback is hard at Zappos because people are so close and passionate about their work and the distinction between work and personal life is so blurry. That’s not to say that you can’t give people feedback, one just has to be a bit more careful about it.

Many of these tensions exist in the Core Values. #9 Be Passionate and Determined becomes tense with #10 Be Humble. If you’re passionate about something and are really determined to have your idea heard and action taken on it, you may come across as not so humble about it.

These tensions mean that no one is pursuing a single Core Value to a fault, but instead is pursuing all of the Core Values in balance. This is good, but it can also be difficult to navigate at times. I think the important thing to note about the Core Values is that despite the inherent tensions in them, everyone is the company is guided by them and is aspiring to live and work by them and by that measure, I think Zappos wholly succeeds in “living up to the hype.”

Does Zappos deliver happiness, though? Does Tony deliver happiness? This one is much easier to answer. When Amazon acquired Zappos, the top Zappos executives were offered huge acquisition bonuses. They turned them down. Instead, each employee was given a bonus of 40% of their salary. That’s not something Zappos had to do, but it’s quite firmly the type of thing Zappos does do.

I was once at a bar with some Zappos people and Tony was there. My group of friends didn’t talk to him, but he knew we were there and that we were Zappos employees. At the end of the night, he came by as he as leaving and said hello and goodbye. We continued drinking for a bit and then decided to head out. We asked for the tab and the waitress went to go get it. She came back shortly after and said that it had been taken care of. Tony had paid for it and left without telling us he had done so. He does that type of thing all the time.

This type of generosity and giving is infused into the Zappos culture and it really does come straight from the top. As Robert Richman mentions, everyone smiles, holds open doors, etc. and I think a lot of that is because people take their cues from Tony and the rest of the leadership who do the same thing. Day-to-day this translates to employees feeling like they’re being taken care of. When the organization can, it will do right by its employees and it has demonstrated that time and time again. So, yes, the company really does try to deliver happiness as well.

Working at Zappos, I feel, is the best corporate job a person can have. Like any organization, there are problems, but the overall experience is fun, helpful, and rewarding. It has completely changed how I will approach my career and the types of companies I want to work for and create.

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