Career Q&A with Eric Hass, Analytics Leader at Amazon (#3)

I recently kicked off a series of Career Q&As with successful leaders. The goal is to provide insightful lessons and practical advice you can leverage to further your career. The next interview is with Eric Hass, an Analytics Leader at Amazon. I love his advice on taking action without asking permission, avoiding the law of averages, and habits for managing stress.

Eric Hass is an Analytics leader at Amazon. He’s spent the past 10+ years in a mix of data and business roles, from leading teams to launch new products to driving growth in mature $100M+ businesses. He’s currently leading a cross-functional team (data science, software engineering, product management) to solve personalization and optimization challenges on Fire TV and Fire Tablets.

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What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”?

One of the challenges to get the internship / job you want early in your career is that you may not have relevant experience for it. It’s a chicken and egg problem. This problem can also manifest itself later in your career if you want to change functions/industry, etc. My approach has been to find an opportunity to just start doing what I want to do before seeking a new job. A few years ago, I decided I wanted to transition from product/business management into data science and tech leadership, but I didn’t have a formal educational background in the area. I took on a project in my current role to develop a machine learning based product plan and did some self-study to learn the basics. I was able to leverage that experience to get an individual contributor role working closely with one of the most senior data scientists at Amazon. I focused on learning as much as I could in that role, and after a year was given the opportunity to lead a cross-functional team over science, engineering, and product management…So, my advice is to not wait for anyone to give you permission to do what you want to do. Just find opportunities to start doing it, and doors will open.

If you could go back in time to when you were entering the workforce and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be? 

I would have prioritized getting educated in data science and computer science while in school. Being able to work with and lead engineers enables you to create value for customers at great scale, even if you don’t end up becoming a scientist or engineer yourself. I’ve learned a lot of this on the job and self-study, but I wish I would have prioritized it earlier.

What habit or practice helps you manage stress? (the more specific you can be, the better)

I focus on three things: 1) Sleep, 2) Exercise, and 3) Boundaries and focus.

Sleep – Through trial and error, I found that I get more accomplished by getting a full 8 hours of sleep, than by sleeping less and having reduced energy and mental capacity throughout the day. I know others who seem to be productive sleeping much less, but a lot of research is coming out on the short and long term benefits of sleeping a full 8 hours. The Circadian Code by Sachin Panda was eye-opening for me.  I recently attended a presentation by a sleep doctor about the topics in this book and was fascinated.

A few things have really improved the quality of my sleep. 1) Time-restricted eating – I try not to eat after 6-7pm. 2) I try not to do any difficult thinking after 7pm (or else it’s hard to turn my brain off). 3) I try to maintain mostly the same bedtime / wakeup times 7 days a week.

Exercise – I used to tell myself that I didn’t have time to exercise regularly. However, I’ve found that it’s the best investment of my time that I make in a day. Last year, I re-worked my schedule so that I could exercise every morning and have felt more energized throughout the day to be at my best.

Boundaries and focus – I try to be disciplined about when I’m working / not working and don’t check work email after I leave work (except on rare occasions). When I’m at work, I do my best to block off time every day to work on high impact projects without distractions.

*This is still a work in progress for me and I’m always experimenting with ideas to reduce stress and boost my productivity. I’d love to hear any practices that have worked for others!

What’s a book that has influenced your career or life, and why?

7 Habits of Highly Successful People and How to Win Friends and Influence People were foundational for me. I think that by following the principles in these books you can be fairly successful in almost anything.

What are the bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

I think there is a tendency to focus too much on averages when making schooling/career decisions.  Common guidance I see is to pursue opportunities where the averages are favorable. What is the average starting salary of someone graduating from this program? What does the average career look like for someone in this industry? What is a typical career path in this company? However, this line of thinking misses the fact that there are often huge distributions of outcomes, and it doesn’t consider the opportunities you may have to be on the extreme positive end of the spectrum or how you could customize your experience. 

What makes this challenging is that understanding what your true opportunity looks like requires that you have several exploratory conversations with people in the school/industry/company you are considering to see what’s possible, do some soul searching on what you would want your path to look like, and then do some critical thinking to assess how realistic it is and what alternative options you might have if it doesn’t work out as you hoped. 

This was very real for me when I was deciding whether to get an MBA. I wanted to get an MBA, but the ROI wasn’t making sense when I was looking at averages in terms of future career prospects. However, after dozens of exploratory conversations, I developed a specific path of where I wanted to take my career, and the numbers totally changed. It ended up being a great decision for me. Since then, I’ve gone through this exploration exercise at least once every few years. 

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