A Summer at Amazon: Navigating the Jungle and Owning the Results

By Jacob Pastor, Class of 2019

By Jacob Pastor, Class of 2019

I spent this summer as a product manager at Amazon working on sponsored products – those ads that show up as “Sponsored products related to this item” when you search for something. I loved my team and found the experience to be both challenging and rewarding.

Amazon’s product management internships follow a project-based format. Each intern is given a project at the start of the summer that spans the 12-week internship and is their responsibility to own and present. While other projects were more well-defined, mine started out somewhat vague. Of course, a large part of the role of product manager involves ownership and while plenty of people were willing to help me, it was ultimately up to me to refine the scope of my project, set deadlines, recruit others to help, and get buy-in from relevant stakeholders. The internship required a great deal of self-motivation, and as someone coming from an economic consulting background, it was a big change to have almost no micromanagement.

My project, starting out broad, had to do with investigating the composition of sponsored products ads in terms of substitutes and complements. For example, if you’re looking at a product page for a TV, Amazon could show you ads for a similar TV (a substitute product) or a TV wall mount (a complement product). My project focused on finding opportunities to improve the ad composition of these substitute and complement product ads. I worked with my manager to refine the scope of my project, and eventually settled on some more concrete questions to answer. Amazon has a highly data-driven culture, and an important skill at the firm is to be able to take a broad topic and crystallize it into a set of measurable questions whose answers can be supported by data.

The internship culminated in a final presentation which, in typical Amazon format, involved pages rather than PowerPoint slides. People read my project paper for the first 30 minutes of the meeting and then proceeded to discuss, with me and others in the room, the implications of my project. Having a wide range of stakeholders makes reaching consensus difficult, but I had spent my final weeks going over my ideas with different teams, which helped immensely during this final presentation.

What I enjoyed most about the internship was the opportunity to solve challenging problems, the freedom to identify and investigate these problems as I saw fit, and the support of incredibly intelligent colleagues while doing so. Through this, the lack of day-to-day instructions from my manager, the difficulty in getting different stakeholders to reach consensus, and the relatively short amount of time I had to learn about such a complex business remained challenging. For me, though, the pros heavily outweighed the cons at Amazon.