I just went through a letter to Amazon Executives from Kivin Varghese. It’s quite long at 29 pages. You may read it here.

Here’s a summary:

  • Kindle team wrote buggy software and Kivin’s manager, Munira, didn’t listen to anything about improvements. Personally, you can get an idea of her incompetency from the fact that she didn’t give priority to fixing delay of 5+ seconds on an ad.
  • Kivin tried multiple times to bring this to her attention.
  • JEFF BLACKBURN, THE SVP OF THE GROUP AND DIRECT REPORT OF JEFF BEZOS” points out the delay. Munira still says it is hard to fix. When Kivin has a plan already.
  • Kivin talks to higher authorities. Munira’s starts criticizing him after this.
  • Kivin asks HR for transfer. HR is friend of Munira, tells her.
  • He’s put into a training program that stops transfers for 12 months.
  • Kivin figures out a bug in ad program that causes an advertiser to overspend. Basically, $10 gets credited to thousands of people who didn’t even see ad!
  • Kivin wants to be transparent. Munira asks to spin this as good news.
  • Kivin refuses, tries everything, gets fired with 2 week severence package and 18 month non compete clause.
  • Kivin sues. Now is the best part: Turns out Munira had falsified her education. Her resume said she had Bachelors and Masters from Stanford. Number of actual degrees she has from Stanford: 0.

Apart from the dramatic tale, the key lesson is something I found in Hacker News dicsussion:

Here’s the topmost comment as of now by devX101:

Looks like Kivin was surprised when HR told his manager that he requested to be transferred. His manager then used this information against him, by putting him into a ‘performance improvement program’ which blocks transfers to any other group for some period of time.Let me let Kivin and any one else working for a company in on a little secret. HR is not your friend. HR is not there to protect you and your career. HR is there to protect the company AGAINST you.

To the extent that your goals and the company’s do not conflict, HR can be helpful. (Need some help with your health insurance or your 401k? HR is awesome!)

But if you’re going to HR about an issue that could be damaging to the company, HR will gladly listen to you sharing confidential information while quietly working with the leadership to build a case against you or protect themselves. If you’re caught in a situation that could potentially lead to a legal dispute with the company (serious conflict with mgmt as seen here, discrimination, etc), make sure you document EVERYTHING, put as much in writing/email as possible and tread carefully before sharing too much info with HR. They won’t be in your corner when shit hits the fan.

Seems like good carrier advice to me. Next time you plan to go to HR, remember all this.