Road to Amazon

28-year-old Tamuna Papava is writing her story in Amazon. When she talks about her childhood, you easily understand that she has an interesting and unique story to tell.

At the age of 4, she was already in the first grade. She traveled to the US at the age of 15 when she participated in the FLEX program, where she studied in an American school for 1 year. When she successfully graduated from Georgian-American University (GAU), she won the Fulbright program, got a fully-funded scholarship and enrolled in Georgetown University, to pursue her Masters in Business Administration. Soon, representatives of Amazon visited her university – this is the first time she encountered them.

©️ Ana Boko

Let’s start from the very beginning, before Amazon, you worked for the consulting company TBSC Consulting, but in order to grasp your story, we need to understand your educational journey. What was your main motivation when you first entered the labor market?

My mother worked at the „School of Tomorrow“ while my older sister was studying there. My kindergarten was also within the same building so I often sneaked out to see my mum. One day, the school’s administration, half-jokingly offered my mother to enroll me in the first grade. I did not take that offer with humor so, at the age of 4, I was already in the first grade. In the end, I graduated at the age of 15.

Then was the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program, which I believe is crucial for every student. Imagine going to the US at the age of 15, leaving everyone and everything behind, entering a completely foreign environment. When you have the experience of living independently at a young age, you learn to look at things in a lighter way. FLEX has changed me – I became freer. One year later, I came back to Georgia, graduated from GAU with a degree in business administration as 1/3 of my generation. When I was a final year student, TBSC Consulting announced an opening for FLEX graduates. I turned 20 during the day of the interview.

TBSC for me was the business world school. Consulting is, I believe, a very interesting job as it is not routine. I worked there for 4.5 years – it played a crucial role in personal and professional development; When you have experience in working in consulting in your CV, it says a lot about you. Potential employers believe, for example, that you can work and analyze problems you were not aware of the previous day. During this period, when you have to find solutions for other businesses, eventually you want to sit on the other side of the table and make decisions yourself. That is why I continued my studies.

When you decided to continue your studies, what was your priority, why did you chose Georgetown University and how challenging was the admissions process?

When I decided to continue my studies, Fulbright added two contestants in the business administration section. Education was financed by “Bank of Georgia” and I was chosen as one of the students. The process was challenging – all the necessary applications, interviews in the university and etc. In the end, I got into Georgetown University. In general, MBA is expensive and represents a big investment, I was lucky and got a fully-funded scholarship. I began my studies in August 2015 and in September, Amazon’s representatives came to visit the university.

This was your first communication with Amazon, right? Tell us about your first steps in the world’s leading company.

I was very much interested so I attended Amazon’s presentation at the University. The representatives emphasized that they did not need to know our five-year plans, but only wanted to know what we planned in the present day and how we would find our path at Amazon. I am exactly that type of person – I always envy people who plan their futures ahead and walk towards their goals. I know what I want one year from now and I will do everything to achieve it, however, I have no idea what I want in 5 years time.

Once I sent my application, I got an interview. I was very unhappy with myself after the first interview. It is a tendency – I am always unhappy with myself yet the employers tend to like me. Passing from the first stage to the second stage took 4 months and I was extremely worried during this time. My coursemates who had sent their application all had experience in tech companies and electronic communications – I was an employee of a consulting company from Georgia. The waiting period was hard because I thought I was losing the opportunity that I wanted so much. Apparently, my experience was relevant for them and in 2016, I started my internship in Amazon Logistics as a Senior Product Manager. I moved from Washington to Seattle, which is a completely different environment. When you walk in Seattle, you have the feeling that everyone around you is free.

I love mountains and there are very interesting places around me so this place is an ideal environment for me. Since I talked about nature, I will tell you about my hobby: I love hiking, especially in the mountains and especially in Georgia. I like to be disconnected for a few days with no phone. For the first time, I experienced it at the lake “Tobavarchkhili” in Georgia. It felt like I was in another world and the city’s realities were left behind. In 2017 I went to Mount Kilimanjaro and Machu Picchu. I intend to go to the mountains more often.

I want to see many places in Georgia. The next will be Climbing Mt. Kazbek (Mkinvartsveri). Due to my love for mountains and speed, I love skiing too. Even more extreme hobbies are the parachute jump, the so-called “Banji” – jumping from the bridge, etc. The parachute jump left an indelible impression – I remember the feeling of distinctive happiness after landing on the ground. I will absolutely try it again. Living in Seattle assisted me in being close to nature.

©️ Ana Boko

It is interesting to learn more about Amazon’s internships. How long does the internship last? What is necessary to successfully complete the internship and get a job offer?

At Amazon, interns are not looked at as inexperienced. Although interns are beginners, they do not avoid giving them difficult tasks. My co-worker said that she/ he loves the approach Amazon takes. Interns can work on problems that even employees cannot solve and if he/she does not find a solution in 12 weeks, he/she might be requested to leave. This is true if in 12 weeks you cannot prove that you deserve a place there, it’s over!

As I said, I interned at the Amazon Logistics department. When I first heard logistics, I did not like it – it did not sound interesting. Then I realized that logistics is what Amazon does best. The company is successful because the parcel gets delivered on time, very quickly and precisely. In the logistics department, you constantly look for new approaches that do not exist on the market yet. From distance, it looks like in Amazon the working process is sorted, that everyone knows what to do, in reality, it is the opposite – we constantly face new challenges, no one knows how to face these challenges, but everyone is smart to find solutions.

Does this cause chaos?

It may sound paradoxical but at some point the work environment becomes chaotic. I still remember the last day of my internship – where I sat and where my boss sat when they offered me a job. It was a very emotional moment for me – I ran to the terrace to call my sister and tell her the great news. I started working as an employee in June 2017, as a Senior Product Manager in Customer Service Management, where I stayed until July 2018.

Where are you now?

Since September 2018, I work in Amazon’s London office, in Amazon Devices Department as a Senior Program Manager. Amazon produces electronic devices, which are sold both on the web and in stores. My department works in sales with various stores. My responsibilities, as written in my contract, includes providing the successful launch of new products in the network. I moved to London because of US Visa requirements, I needed to leave and yet I wanted to stay in Amazon so I started looking for options – I had an offer from the Dubai office however I decided to join the London office.

©️ Ana Boko

Once you become a full-time employee, does this create additional barriers, how difficult is it to adapt to Amazon’s team, how tough and healthy is the competition between employees?

Once you become of part of the Amazon team, you see that it does not matter how you ended up there – what matters is that you are there. I studied in Tbilisi while my co-worker graduated from Georgetown, the co-worker comes from a privileged background, we had different paths in life and yet here, we are all equal. In this company, you only see smart and professional people around so a very human question pops up “what am I doing here?” but the more accomplished you are, the more humble you become. Working at Amazon is the best way to learn from the people that surround you. There is no need for unhealthy competition in this company – everyone has enough things to do, the most important part is for you to work well on your tasks.

Your experience at Amazon will be very interesting for our readers. What advice and recommendation can you give specifically to women, who want to work in this industry?

I believe motivation is key – this is not new, but if you really want something, then everything turns out okay for you. Of course, this does not mean that everything will be 100% how you wanted it to be, but I do believe that motivation is key to success. In general, I think that it is important not to see each other from gender perspectives but to see each other as professionals. Despite the fact that I am a feminist, I can argue on gender issues, emotionally express my views, yet when it comes to making decisions at work, I am a professional. Women, girls, we should always remember that sex has nothing to do with it – we need to prove that we can work hard and that gender has nothing to do with it. We need to prove that we do our jobs well and that’s it! I always try to support girls, give them advice and I am impatiently waiting for the day when this topic is no longer an issue, but I do realize that we have a long road ahead.

Finally, where do you see yourself in the future?

One of the main goals include coming back to Georgia. Living far from your country and from the people you love – why should this continue routine for too long? For some time, you compromise for professional or life experiences, but I believe that at some point, I will find the opportunity to come back. I really want to teach – where, how and when – I do not know, but I get a lot of energy from the teaching process and from the people – I get the fulfilling sense that I am doing something very good.