Coffee With Shayne Leong

Change-maker: Shayne Leong

Coffee of Choice: A macchiato.. a true macchiato

Age: 25

Hometown: Honolulu, Hawaiʻi

Current Location: South Lake Union in Seattle, WA

Education: Moanalua High School; B.S. in Business and Economics from University of Oregon in Eugene, OR

Career: He currently works at Amazon as a Program Manager in Corporate Gift Card Operations.


What do you do as a Program Manager at Amazon?
There’s a long answer to that.  But the short answer is – I look for inefficiencies and improve them.

What does a day in the life of Shayne look like? Living in Seattle and working at Amazon?
Actually, I think they’re two complete opposites.  My home life is the same every day – I do nothing.  I sit on the couch every day and I’m okay with that.  Watch some Netflix, cook some food.  But at Amazon, in my day to day job, there’s a huge variety of what I do every day.  I work on so many different things pretty much at any time that my job duties vary pretty widely.

Can you give a few examples?
Right now, I’m tasked with improving printer efficiency and cost savings.  Increasing the speed at which we print gift cards – physical gift cards. I’m working on automation so that we can scale in the long term. That’s one example.

How did you start working at Amazon?
Honestly, I went to Amazon.com, scrolled to the bottom, clicked on careers, and applied.  That’s where I started.  I interviewed and eventally got a job in Movies and TV where I worked with Warner Brothers, HBO, BBC, and Cinedigm on driving their business in Amazon.

Do you like working in a big and growing company in Seattle?
I think what makes Amazon unique as a huge company is they still think in the mindset of a start up or a small company.  We’re always encouraged to innovate. Always encouraged to think outside of the box and work fast, where as big companies may not think the same way.  So yes, Amazon is a big company. And yes, Amazon has a lot of resources but we still operate in a small business function.  I really like where I am.  Amazon is always inventing new things and that’s kind of what makes it interesting.

What is the Amazon culture like?
Small mindset in a big business environment.  We’re always incentivized to think big about opportunities, think really long-term, and move fast on those opportunites when we have the chance to do so.  I think the culture is really inventive, very scrappy, and fast-paced. That’s kind of what I really like about it.

How do you feel about being from the small islands of Hawaiʻi and working for this big company in a large growing city?  Was it hard to adjust?
At first, it is.  I think Hawaiʻi has a different mindset than the mainland.

Did it help you that you grew up with that Hawaiʻi mindset? Do you think it helped you to stand out?
I would say not really.  That’s the truth.  I had to go away from the Hawaiʻi mindset to succeed at Amazon.

How so?
For me, it was a difference in how we operate.  In Hawaiʻi, it’s all about seniority – don’t speak unless your elders ask you. Don’t speak up, basically. Or, don’t rock the boat.  Where at Amazon, you’re kind of recommended to do that.  If you have a good idea, bring it up.  Share why you think it’s a good idea.  Always do what you think is right and do it fast.  Don’t wait for permission.  Which is kind of a different mindset than Hawaiʻi.  For me, it was kind of a 180.  I liked it and I think in the long term it will serve me well because I’ll always know what Hawaiʻi is like.

Do you think you’ll move back to Hawaiʻi?
Maybe in the longer term.  Short term, I still think there’s a lot of opportunities for me in Seattle.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
That’s a good question.  Hopefully, I’m doing something of similar scope to what I’m doing now but maybe on a bigger level.  I do like solving problems and I do like identifying places where we can build new solutions.  So, hopefully I’m doing something similar.

Do you think that more young millenials in Hawaiʻi should move to the mainland to work?
I think there are a lot of opportunities on the mainland.  You can do a lot of really cool things for a lot of different kinds of companies – big or small. I think, if it’s right for you to move somewhere new and learn completely on the fly, I think it’s a cool way to grow as a person and gain experience.

Do you think they can get that experience in Hawaiʻi?
It depends on the person.  It really does.  I don’t think there’s a right or wrong thing to do.  For me, it’s the right choice but for someone else it might not be.  For me, the experience of living on my own in a giant city with a few million people is just cool.  It’s good life experience.  You probably felt the same way when you lived in Oregon, right?

Yes!  But, the short time I lived in Seattle was more of a learning experience.  I was on my own.

You lose the safety barrier.

Which I loved, that’s why I want to move back.  I love no safety barrier.  

How important is a resume?
I think it gets you in the front door.  All you need is to be able to show up.  Then, you can show off anything you want.

What are the most important things you need on a resume?
I think numbers are good.  You know, showing your true contributions to the business is always good.  Anything exciting – showing you’re well rounded in different areas.  Telling a story with your resume.  If that story is “Hey, I can be a good Program Manager, here’s my story to show it,” then making sure that your points align with a program manager.

Any helpful tips on taking your resume to the next level?
Again, I think number one is telling a story.  So each point should tell a story – what you did, how you did it, and the result of that.  Always show what you did to impact the business.  That’s what employers look for. They look for someone who can come in and change things.

Does design matter in a resume?
I think context matters. So, if you’re at a company that’s more traditional, then maybe not. If you’re at a company that you’re trying to apply for a creative role, maybe then it matters more.

Can design hurt a resume?
If it’s bad.  If it’s unreadable – yes.  I think if you’re in reasonable boundaries, I don’t think it hurts. It makes you stand out.

Do you have any helpful tips on getting your resume to the right people?
Even before the resume.  Because whenever you start applying, hiring managers are going to get like 20 of the same resume.  Even getting to a point before that, maybe take out hiring manager out for coffee and just having  a quick coffee chat.  That’s kind of a two way interview at first.  It’s, “Am I even interested in this role anymore?,” and “Are you even interested in me?”  I think that’s more important than the resume.

So, an informational interview.  What’s the best way for someone to get an informational interview?
Check the job website to see if there’s an email that you can reach out to.  If not, using a connection or LinkedIn or anything similar to that – friends that work in the same industry. That’s always a good in as well.  People are always willing to help.  I don’t think I had a time when someone said, “No, I don’t want to help you.,” or “No, I don’t want to talk to you.

What piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to work at some place like Amazon?
Just keep trying.  There’s going to be a ton of people applying for the same job but everyone has something unique that they bring to the table and eventually it’s going to work out.  You’re eventually going to find something that you’re going to fit perfectly into whatever role you’re looking for.  Or you may not, but you try again.

What is something valueable that you’ve learned working at Amazon for the past 3 years?
There’s a lot.  I think number one is learning how to interpret data, creating my own stories from data, and using data to make decisions.  I think that’s valuable no matter where you go.  Number two is learning how to work fast and how to work efficiently.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever recieved?
Focus on the inputs.  When you focus on the inputs, the outputs will follow.  So that’s something I learned during my time in Amazon and it’s something I think about all the time now. Whether it’s working or even just in life.  For me, that’s kind of my goal.

Who is your biggest inspiration?
I don’t know if I have a good answer for that.  I don’t have a single person that’s super inspirational that I devote my life to.  For me, it’s kind of cliche but working with smart people either at Amazon or seeing different people when I read books or on YouTube.  There’s always someone interesting to find.  I think there’s a lot of people to gain small insights from and collect that into your own personality.

What are some things people should do when visiting Seattle?
If you like coffee, find a good coffee shop that’s not Starbucks probably. (As you hold your Starbucks.)  Try the food. I think Seattle is pretty diverse in food so there’s a lot of good restaurants you can eat anywhere.  Definitely brunch.  Just walk around the city really.  A lot of cool things to see, people watch.

What’s your favorite coffee shop?
Probably Seattle Coffee Works is one of my favorites.  It’s near Pike’s Place.  Really good place to get any kind of coffee there.

I’ll have to try that the next time I visit!