Good for him!
Hopefully this will add some publicity to Amazon's ongoing poor treatment of their workforce, and maybe Bray will use some of his newfound free time to help the workers unionize.
Tim Bray, a co-author of the original specifications for XML, has ended his time as a VP and distinguished engineer at Amazon Web Services in outspoken fashion, quitting in dismay at the treatment of Amazon's warehouse workers. Full of praise for Amazon's cloudy arm, AWS, and wringing his hands over the loss of "the best job I …
"Good morning and welcome to your Amazon interview. Now before we start; have you ever been a member of the communist party, a trade union, a climate change group, an activist of any kind, or feel any concern or empathy for others?"
I would love to put a joke icon up there but that would be the joke.
My Girlfriend worked for them for ~6mo doing remote (at home) customer support, and it was the most heinous experience I could imagine anyone going through before I told her to quit for her own good. I stopped using all Amazon products for years, until I realized I couldn't fight the machine to actually get things.
I have friends that work in aws, I have been invited to work there being a network guy, and have summarily rejected ever working for them in any capacity. AWS might be nice with blinders, but the other retail side is as evil as any retail chain still.
I feel crappy every time I buy something there, and try to limit that.
What puzzles me is that Amazon in selling a lot of things that aren't books. Actually I've found that I could buy with better deals directly from the publisher. The publisher has also actual brick and mortar shops where you can get the books or use them to pick the books online. Only "problem" with getting books in the brick and mortar shop is that the clerk is a good seller. I buy books online an then I buy another one in the bookshop.
> In case you hadn't noticed, Amazon is not a bookseller and hasn't been for a *long* time.
To some extent, it never has been. I remember years ago when they made a thumping loss on book sales - as I suspect they still do, because they can afford to put dedicated sellers out of business despite their bit of pocket-money support for real bookshops recently. In spite of selling books (and more lately everything under the sun) being their perceived purpose to Joe Public, they never really expected to make a penny selling any physical product, with the real focus on services and technology licensing.
I wish El Reg would stop repeating this lie:
"Amazon boss, and frightfully wealthy person, Jeff Bezos committed $10bn for dealing with the impact of climate change in February 2020."
He didn't. He transferred $10bn into the Bezos Earth Fund, which - under US rules - is allowed to lobby the government, invest the money wherever it wants, return a profit for it's investors, and allows tax writeoffs for Jeff. He is not putting $10bn into dealing with climate change - he's hiding it from the tax man, while making it generate even more money for him.
The whole thing is a combination of tax dodge, alternative way to lobby the government, and an alternative income stream for Bezos - all while he can claim he's trying to save the planet, while literally doing the opposite. All while continuing to exploit his workers and contribute as little taxes as possible in every single geographic area that Amazon trades in.
Is it his job to save the planet then?
I thought he was a distributor of retail goods?
I have no idea who these people are, who think going to work is being an "activist".
Do your political work at home, keep work for work activities. Seems a simple enough system to increase your chances of being retained as an employee.
Are you by any a chance a minister in the Bojo's cabinet? If not, you should apply. You appear to have all the necessary qualities:
- You don't give a shit about people other than yourself
- You like telling people what to
- You have zero conception of what it is like to be someone else
- You believe people in shitty, menial, low-paid jobs deserve to be there
- You don't understand that some people have zero choice in where they work
- You don't realise that many people have no control over their working environment and conditions
- You think it is their fault if they are forced to expose themselves to danger at work
- You think helping others less fortunate than you is a waste of time
- You believe having a social conscience is stupid
- You don't know what a social conscience is
- You don't realise that many workers are utterly powerless and terrified of losing their god-awful shitty job because their family will starve
"'I have no idea who these people are, who think going to work is being an 'activist'"......hmmmmm. Where to start? Well firstly 'these people' are nice people. You don't know them because they think you're a dick and avoid you. Around the water cooler: "Bollocks it's that bell end, the one that writes that crazy incel blog. What's his name? Uncle Ben, or something? Anyway let's scarper!"
Secondly, that's just stupid and a false dichotomy. People who care don't go to work and think "what shall I do today then? Work or activate my inner activist?"
And then there's:
"Do your political work at home, keep work for work activities. Seems a simple enough system to increase your chances of being retained as an employee."
Firstly, no. No I won't. You like telling others what to do and this is why I never speak to you in the kitchen when the kettle's boiling. Secondly that wouldn't be the case if you worked for me and many others. You can care about others and have a conscience without being a militant trade unionist or a full blown blue-haired social justice warrior who thinks words 'are' violence.
And the best bit - I think the irony might be lost on you Uncle Ben, but you seem particularly keen on being retained by your employer. So do countless other people, many of whom will starve, lose their home, their healthcare if that happens. Not everyone lives in the first world you know. Again many of these have no voice, or influence, or power, they work in dangerous conditions and have no-one to speak to employers on their behalf. Well apart from people like the hero who is Tim Bray. What a guy Tim! It's so rare that the powerful speak up for and make sacrifices for those less fortunate.
The world would be a hell hole if we were all like Uncle Ben, like the gusset of Donald Trump underpants after a mutton vindaloo and 36 holes in a Florida heatwave. On the other hand, we would be a lot better place with more Tim Brays.
He sounds like a right-wing American to me.
You know, the ones who think that all of Europe is socialist, and unless you devote yourself 100% to the corporations, you're some kind of commie. Benefits are for the lazy. etc.
There are many "I will be a millionaire one day" people like this, the real millionaires laugh at the fact they can scare them into being loyal slaves.
> Is it his job to save the planet then?
Actually, yes. Given that he is the boss of Amazon, he has to ensure that Amazon remains viable. Remaining viable means NOT rendering the planet uninfuckinghabitable.
Unlivable planet = no people.
No people = no customers for Amazon.
So, basically, yes it is his fucking job to save the planet
XML has valid uses, but unfortunately, at the top of its hype curve it was pushed as the data representation solution for everything. Frequently leading to 10K of XML boilerplate wrapping 1 byte of actual information... Nowadays JSON tends to be used instead, which makes far more sense for most purposes.
"the myriad vulnerabilities that result from folks getting it wrong"
The advantage of XML is that it stands a good chance of telling you that it's wrong. Having been on the receiving end of XML that the sender had got wrong I appreciate the advantage of that. What's more the same mistakes were repeated every 6 months or so as the last lot of developers at the client end had their visas expire and were replaced by a new lot of alleged graduates.
JSON tends to be used instead, which makes far more sense
Right up to the point you want to validate the random sequence of characters claiming to be data. Both XML and ASN.1 are unnecessarily cumbersome, but they do solve a problem that the old Unix standby of parsing an ASCII string and hoping for the best does not.
But, back on topic. I don't actually know how senior the regular VPs are in Amazon. Back when I worked for a US bank there were seemingly millions of them with ludicrous titles which led to one being known as "Worldwide Reg". Nevertheless, congratulations to Bray on at least getting some news focus on the issue. For how long is another matter - looks like the Guardian's report has already been taken down.
Article still here
Sorry, I posted the redirection target URL. The removed page was a comment piece headed "I was a vice-president at Amazon. I quit because of its toxic company culture":
You can find a cached version via Google.
Right up to the point you want to validate the random sequence of characters claiming to be data.
Sorry but I have to disagree here. The syntax of JSON is far simpler than XML or ASN.1, so a coder is more likely to get it right, and anyway there are JSON parsing libraries for almost any programming language you care to name ( I have never had to write a JSON parser because of this). These either turn the "random sequence of characters" into a nice data structure, or return an error.
The one situation where processing JSON is inconvenient is a shell script, but why on Earth would you want to do that? Just use Perl or Python instead.
Sorry but I have to disagree here. The syntax of JSON is far simpler than XML or ASN.1, so a coder is more likely to get it right
The point is that it is possible to validate XML data as correct, using the document and its internally referenced DTD/ Schema. This is very different from simply saying that the document is well formed syntactically, which is, as you say, mostly straightforward.
There are solutions for validating JSON, but they are all applied after the fact and so XML does that the advantage of being better in this aspect.
I tend to use JSON for most stuff, and would generally reach for one of the binary formats (eg Avro) when a better type system is needed, but XML is still a good choice for things.
JSON is fine for what it is, but its not great.
There are well documented issues in the spec and how its implemented. For example, its straightforward to write a JSON doc, parse into memory and immediately output and see the resulting document be structurally different to the source. You don't get that with XML, Avro etc.
You could say "well, what doesn't matter", and you'd be right, until it does matter, at which point you're screwed.
Over the years I've found that validation against a schema doesn't really help that much in practice, it's another complex pile of stuff to parse with more bugs waiting to bite your ass. Using as simple-to-parse format as possible (to minimize the valid permutations of input), writing unit tests and integration tests to go with it has proven to be more effective the long haul than adding yet more attack surface to the input handling code.
XML is good - especially when you validate against a schema - being able to perform such validation is a huge advantage compared to JSON.
Plus you can do a ,lot of great things to transform XML data using XSL.
Only drawback is that its bulky, but when getting it from a server its easy to set things up so its compressed when your client requests the data.
"Plus you can do a ,lot of great things to transform XML data using XSL."
Yeah, that's cool and all, until you find that the folks who wrote the transforms can't actually maintain them because it's "too hard" after they've spent years adding cruft and not writing any tests to validate their changes.
Disclosure: I have been savaged repeatedly by rabid XSLTs.
"Right up to the point you want to validate the random sequence of characters claiming to be data. Both XML and ASN.1 are unnecessarily cumbersome, but they do solve a problem that the old Unix standby of parsing an ASCII string and hoping for the best does not."
And you don't have to reinvent anything to do that. The libraries are all there waiting to be used.
My first reaction on encountering XML was that I wished it'd been available years ago.
XML has been surpassed by more efficient data formats these days, but it brought a platform independent data interchange format to the world maximising interoperability between systems when all the big players were pushing their own chronic proprietary formats. What have you given the world?
I did not put in any downvotes anywhere, but the article made Tim sound like a political agitator who just wants to stir up trouble.
Most of us hate Amazon for treating their workers like crap, but in this instance I felt Amazon did the right thing. Political activism has no place in the workplace. Bullying your co-workers into "action" is not nice.
"Our workers need to be paid a decent salary" - fine.
"Your company should save the koala bear and put an end to nude beaches everywhere" - not fine.
Companies impact all aspects of our individual lives and the environment we live in - but very few of them actually take responsibility for that. Furthermore there are plenty of disincentives to price the downsides in - as the 2009 crash illustrated so vividly. Hell, it took over 40 years of activists to kicking up a fuss to get DDT usage under some kind of control (note: it still isn't actually banned outright), and there's a some evidence that we're facing a similar problem again with Neonicotinoids.
I'm all for people having a roof over their heads and a comfortable life - and making money to facilitate that - but I'm also for folks taking responsibility, honestly considering the downsides to society and the planet as a whole, and moderating their activities accordingly...
TL;DR version: Narrowly focussing on the money is simply not sufficient to run a society or a planet.
Not really sure why you're so anti-Koala preservation - did one bite you in the nuts on a nudist beach ?
Not really sure why you're so anti-Koala preservation - did one bite you in the nuts on a nudist beach ?
I love koala bears, but I do not encourage pro-koala activism at my workplace. Nor do I mind swimming in the nude, but again: No activism at the workplace please.
According to the article he wanted to strong-arm his employer into taking "climate action". That has nothing to do with standing up for the little man. Just your average run-of-the-mill grandstanding.
"According to the article he wanted to strong-arm his employer into taking "climate action"."
I think that's a legit call when you take into account that Amazon is heavily into the Data Center business in the form of AWS - in addition to box shifting lots of shiny luxury items to the masses.
AWS runs on a huge amount of plant that is continually refreshed and burns a lot of juice. Furthermore AWS tends to run I/O intensive applications on Virtual Machines - which tend to impose a heavy penalty for I/O - thus increasing the amount of energy to run those I/O intensive apps.
To be fair while DDT is not nice stuff for humans it practically eliminated typus and there was an extermination program running to kill mosquitoes via DDT practically everywhere but southern Africa that appears to have succeeded wildly as the areas that didn't run extermination programs for mozzies are pretty much the only places to still have a malaria problem.
The number of lives saved through DDT use is going to be hugely in favour of DDT compared to the relative handful of people who are killed by it. We got shot of DDT because we had something better and the cost differential got to the point that the risks of DDT use weren't worth the price difference between DDT and a more expensive pesticide.
The same is true of everything, things with huge benefits and relatively small disadvantages get displaced when something better comes along, not because people shout loudly about the relatively small disadvantages.
Which doesn't excuse Amazon not providing a safe environment for their staff one jot.
The "small disadvantages" of DDT that you glossed over include it killing ff a lot more than mosquitoes and persisting in the environment (and accumulating in larger organisms) over a long period of time. IIRC it takes 30-40 years to breakdown... Quite a few people see those as huge disadvantages - not least the folks who want their crops pollinated...
The article made Tim sound like a political agitator who just wants to stir up trouble.
I don't believe it does; that seems more what you think.
Would he have risen to the rank of VP if he had exhibited such a trait? I don't think so.
And, if he was wanting to stir up trouble, he would have done that far better than merely taking a principled stance by resigning from a company he can no longer support.
> I am generally curious [ ... ]
They are Amazon fanbois - i.e. Amazon employees who have been brainwashed into the cult of the Amazon Leadership Principles. A.k.a. Incoherent Ramblings Of A Sociopathic Megalomaniac.
If you ever wanted to know anything about working at Amazon - in any capacity - and its culture, you don't need to read anything beyond Bezos' Leadership Principles.
There is, however, one upside to Amazon's toxic workplace culture: they make Oracle look like a really nice company to work for.
Good for Tim, first off. If you have a conscience and it no longer jives with what happens at your job and it's bugging you, you have two choices: change your conscience or change your job. He's chosen the latter.
I've heard of (and read about) horror stories at Amazon, and also of exceptionally positive experiences. Whether that's a (in)compatibility with the internal culture (bro culture/dick culture/whatever) is another question. Those working in warehouses take the jobs because they need them, not necessarily because that's what they enjoy (but again, we can't paint everyone with the same broad brush), and there will always be an element of human society that takes pleasure in being cruel to others (see the Stanford Prison Experiment if you want to know more) whilst claiming to only be doing their job, and it wouldn't surprise me if that's what is broadly happening in those environments. As for good experiences, compared to some other jobs out in the world, corporate/engineering jobs can be fun and challenging, and you can to a degree ignore what's happening around you or elsewhere in the business. But even in engineering you'll find complete asshats and nice people, and in some instances, the former can make your life hell despite you enjoying what you do.
You'll find this anywhere. It's just that Amazon is one of those places that are huge, touch many people's lives, and hence end up in the press. Google has similar issues, Microsoft has similar issues, software engineering companies and hardware engineering companies have similar issues.
It is good when someone relatively senior (like a VP, although 'vice' anything and 'president' anything is liberally sprinkled across the world of software in the US) stands up and says "Enough is enough, I'm done with this" and walks out. Will Amazon listen? Your guess is as good as mine... I'd venture to guess his job is being filled as we speak by promoting someone. Things go on as before.
Those arguing that political activism doesn't belong at work are right to a degree. Social activism on the other hand should be there, especially when your employer has a vast influence over a vast number of consumers across the planet. That's what defines social and corporate responsibility.
"You'll find this anywhere. It's just that Amazon is one of those places that are huge, touch many people's lives, and hence end up in the press. Google has similar issues, Microsoft has similar issues, software engineering companies and hardware engineering companies have similar issues."
Not...really. Google, maybe, if we consider all the folks they contract out their nasty grunt work (Youtube content moderation...grrk) to. But not really Microsoft, or any random given "software engineering company". They don't really have huge, poorly-treated groups of manual workers in anything like the way Amazon does, because they don't sell huge quantities of physical products.
All companies have their own issues, of course, but I don't think you're right to say that they all have similar issues to Amazon's.
Im not sure why El Reg has conflated these 2 stories.
Political activism (for me) shouldn't be a workplace sport.
Workplace conditions on the other hand I am cool with, but if Amazon are in line with government guidance/law - what's the beef?
(they are either are, or aren't complying)
Social activism. Or what the leftie/progressive view is? Who gets to agree who is right or wrong?
Leave those decisions for the ballot box, and let your employer do its business.
""Political activism (for me) shouldn't be a workplace sport."
Uh huh. Political activism at work is necessary because the majority of employers do not have an altruistic approach to employment, work conditions or even basic standards of common decency. There are exceptions but they are notable because they are exceptions. Things that I suspect that you take for granted today as part of your working life were hard fought for and involved political activism.
I have seen a huge change in working conditions over my working life. When I started work the local employers were a cotton factory and an asbestos factory. Both employers knew that workers (and people who lived in the area) were dying in large numbers because of their activities. It took political action within the factories and in parliament to force the employers to change working practices to make the factories safe. Yet, according to you, this should not have happened. I saw the same happen at almost every large employer in the UK. Modern car factories are hugely different from the ones of my youth, for example. Why should workers be forced to work in vile conditions just because the law permits it? How do you think the law came to be changed? Gangs of employers besieging Parliament to demand legislation to make them improve conditions?
Here's another employer wrong that could only be put right by political activism in the workplace.
In that particular case, yes, although it's well documented that Ford had infiltrated the union in order to undermine it.
The bigger picture is that if employers treated their employees well there would be no need to organise for better working conditions, and trade unions wouldn't exist.
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