We've got a great in-depth blog post by Zappos intern Shelby Stilson for you, detailing the ins and outs of what's it's like to work at Zappos. If you missed our live Google Hangout with them last month, check out the recording here for inside deets on internships and company culture at Zappos.
Downtown Las Vegas
Disclaimer: I’m a born and bred Las Vegas native (we’re a very rare breed). However, this corroborates my testimony that Downtown Las Vegas is really changing, for the better. Downtown is… unique. This isn’t the Strip you know, this is the “original” Strip where you can still find neon signs and twinkling lights everywhere you look. You can see the age of the city and the buildings, but the best part is getting to see how downtown is changing. You feel the young, exciting vibe and you see change all around you. It’s a very exciting time to be downtown. Check out more here.
There’s a reason the Zappos office landed as number one on Forbes 10 Cool Offices list. It’s chaotic, personal, messy, loud, fun, eccentric, and random. Your first impression may be “Wait. When do people get things done?”. It’s an adult playground with free vending machines, free food, a mini golf course, many ping pong tables, massage chairs, and more than a few conference rooms turned into giant ball pits. The office is a living, breathing part of the culture at Zappos and I guarantee you’ll walk away impressed.
The two day interview experience was like nothing I had experienced before. It would be hard not to be intimidated as you stand in the same room with 30-40 of your peers who all attend the most prestigious schools from across the country. The next 48 hours will be a mix of making friends, but also keeping your distance as you know they’re your competition (just pretend you’re in the Hunger Games). My best advice is very generic and I’m sure you’ll roll your eyes… but just be yourself. The Zappos culture extends beyond how well you do in a technical interview. Our greatest resource is our employees. So don’t be afraid to boast about your nerdisms or your hatred for the Star Wars prequels. (If you enjoyed the Phantom Menace then keep it to yourself).
Now comes my least favorite part of my internship experience. The waiting. You will likely stress, worry, and doubt yourself following your interview. Remind yourself that you did all you could and if your were truly yourself then there’s nothing to worry about.
Subsidized housing? What?!
You walk through the gate and enter into a courtyard filled with lawn chairs, tables, a BBQ, and a sweet bocci ball court right in the middle. You start to realize this isn’t your typical approved company housing. You head to the apartment office and are greeted by your two new moms. (Yes Zappos internships come with new parents). But these aren’t normal moms. These are Zappos moms. Oozing with culture, assistance, wisdom, guidance, friendship, and coolness.
After your first week of on-boarding you will branch off from the rest of the interns and you will all go to different departments, different floors, even slightly different buildings. This is what you would feel like after you put on the sorting hat. Your team has become your own personal Gryffindor/Slytherin/Ravenclaw tower (Hufflepuff was purposely excluded). These new team members are your best resources throughout your intern experience. You will learn so much from each and every one of them, and by the end hopefully you will be good friends.
The First Project
This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. You will finally get your own Zappos project. You will do something that matters. Hopefully it will be challenging, and you may doubt yourself many times, but by the end of it you’ll gain new skills and be more confident in your abilities. During my internship I worked on internal interview software. Which was nice because I figured if I ever had to interview for a full time position I should get it… since I wrote the software.
When you’re so focused on getting a full time position and/or learning real world knowledge you might overlook one of the greatest benefits of a Zappos internship. Gaining new friends. Not just among fellow interns but among your team, among people you meet in the line at the bistro, among people you meet who work downtown. You will also discover that each of your new friends have many different things to teach you. Your Zappos internship will help you grow in your work and gain new skills, but your Zappos friends will help you grow as a person.
Okay this all sounds great, but I don’t want an internship to make friends and family, I want an internship to gain and improve my skills so I can be prepared for a job. I hear you. Trust me, you will learn many new things. For some it may come as a shock. You may have this expectation of endless parties and messing around and then you start to realize that every person works very hard at what they do. Everyone takes on huge responsibilities. Will you have a fun summer? Absolutely. Will you work your ass off? Absolutely. This is still a “job”. You aren’t the average intern. You won’t have to fetch coffee. You will be expected to get things done. You won’t have a manager that puts pressure on you. You’re a big boy/girl and we expect you to get it done without pressure. “With great fun and culture, comes great responsibility” … or something like that.
I mentioned the housing above, but it needs another section to fully do it justice. Don’t underestimate the advantage of living with other interns from every department. You can learn much from each other. Every night of summer a group of us would sit around a fire and discuss life, theories, work, gossip, and so many other things. We would talk for hours, many times into the early morning of the next day. Many of the best lessons I learned during my internship were from my fellow interns. Over the course of the summer my co-workers became my closest friends.
It’s not all parties and team-outings. There will be challenges. You may be asked to do things you have never done before and have no idea where to start. This is good. This is why the culture of Zappos stresses teamwork. No matter how intimating it may be, just ask the person that sits next to you, ask your manager, ask another intern. You will learn many things from self-study during your internship, but your greatest insights will come from the people you work with. Try not to let pride get in the way of asking for help. Don’t forget that the purpose of your internship is to learn and prepare for life in the workforce.
Work != Life || Work == Life
I believe that many people purposely try to keep work out of their lives, and conversely try to keep their lives out of their work. This is not a bad things, and in many cases it is probably a very effective technique. But you will realize Zappos is not a typical work environment. The same principles do not apply here. I often found that work would find it’s way into my personal life and that my personal life would often leak into my work. The more the line blurred the more effective I felt at my job. Not only did my work ethic improve but my work was effecting my life in a positive way. I was proud of what I was doing and that made me generally happier in all aspects of life.
One of the pillars of Zappos culture is community. This was demonstrated to us as interns when we got to participate in a Karma Adventure. Every intern and many Zappos employees all went down to a local charity called ThreeSquare (threesquare.org). There we made prepackaged food packs for starving families in the valley. For hours we worked together to create many pallets worth of food packs. Not once did I hear a complaint or even see a frown. We all had a blast together helping others and growing as a team. It has been shown to me time and time again that Zappos truly cares for the community. It’s a staple of our culture and it’s one of the many things that makes us special.
In order to build a positive team and family spirit each team takes a certain amount of time to go out together to bond and get to know each other. This can be as simple as a team lunch, as extravagant as a trip to a theme park in another state, or somewhere in between like go-carting or zip-lining. These trips are meant to be fun, but they’re also extremely effective at bringing teams closer together. Team outings have always helped me to get even closer to my teammates. I know their likes and dislikes, their family members, and I know I can beat almost all of them at a go-cart race. Zappos actually gives teams time and resources to get to know each other, and the more we get to know each other the more effective we are as a team and as a company.
That Was a Fun Dam Trip
So I’ve talked about the team outings, but what about the intern outings? You may have heard or seen the pictures of all the fun things you’ll get to do. Maybe you’ll have a pool party, or go hiking in the mountains or over red rocks. You’ll be given the opportunity to not only see all the great things that Las Vegas has to offer, but you’ll also get the chance to bond with your teammates and fellow interns. One trip in particular seems to stick out with everyone. The trip to Lake Mead by Hoover Dam (see what I did there?). I believe that this is everyone’s favorite trip not only because you get to swim and hang out on the lake all day, but because it’s towards the end of the internship when everyone has become the best of friends. On the lake trip you don’t feel like you’re at work. You don’t even feel like you’re at a work function. You are simply hanging out at the lake with your closest friends. Your work and personal life has blurred, and you realize you like it.
Remembering Why You’re Here
Las Vegas has a reputation. What you do here will stay here. I would encourage you to experience the city. Go down to the strip, even go to a club if you feel so inclined. Just don’t forget why you’re here. Zappos chose you because they saw something special in you. Try not to come to work hungover or falling asleep at your desk. Friday and Saturday night though… don’t hold back.
Every morning I have a cup of coffee and a banana/strawberry yoplait yogurt. These things are provided to me for free. I don’t pay for them. I’m grateful everyday that these things are provided to me, but I do remember a time when the coffee pot was empty and our fridge hadn’t been restocked with yogurt in a few days… I’m embarrassed to say that I was a little upset. Obviously someone had used the last of the coffee and decided their time was too precious to fill it back up, obviously they noticed how much yogurt I was eating and now the dairy gods are punishing me…. Except neither of these things are true. Luckily I was able to reel myself back to reality. Sometimes all the great things Zappos does can get to your head. You consider yourself entitled to that yogurt and coffee every morning. Just remember core value #10, be humble. Be grateful for what you have. Zappos gives so much. Don’t forget to give back.
You may or may not have heard of the “Cult” of Zappos. Our culture is so strong and unique that some have likened it to a cult led by Tony himself. It’s hard to accurately convey the Zappos culture in words. It’s something that really needs to be experienced. What I would like to convey is that our culture is not centered around a particular culture. Everyone doesn’t have to like the same weird things or all share the same vision. Zappos culture is very similar to a family culture. You may have a weird brother/sister that does crazy things that you can’t explain. You may be the black sheep in your own family, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are still part of the family. Zappos culture is a family. It is one where you can be yourself without fearing backlash or judgement. It’s a culture where everyone opens the door for everyone else. When you become a part of Zappos you become a member of the family.
Super Cloud & Holacracy
So what’s up with this cloud throwing up a rainbow on the Zappos building? Super Cloud is a term you’ll hear often in almost every department. Holacracy is something you’ll not only hear but participate in. Both of these things embody how ready and willing Zappos is to embrace and drive change. It’s a very exciting time to be a part of the Zappos family. It has all the benefits of a startup and a big business at the same time.
Do I love working at Zappos? That’s a difficult question to answer. I don’t like the wording of the question. Sometimes I struggle with calling what I do “work”. I enjoy coming to “work” everyday. I don’t enjoy seeing my co-workers, I enjoy seeing my friends. Zappos broke all of my preconceptions of what work would be like. I’m allowed to be myself. I don’t stress about my job. I can be truly excited about the future of the company I work for. If you become a member of the Zappos family I hope you will feel the same passion I do. I hope that one day you too will stop saying “Zappos” and will start saying “we” or “us”.