Amazon.com Inc.

The New Job Skill a Top Amazon Executive, Bezos Confidante, Learned After Leaving

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  • Jeff Wilke, who helped Jeff Bezos build Amazon, stepped away earlier this year.
  • In a recent interview with dot.LA, the former Amazon executive said one of the first tasks he set himself after leaving was to learn the coding language Python.
  • According to careers platform LinkedIn, two Python courses rank among LinkedIn Learning's 20 most popular courses.

Jeff Wilke, a veteran Amazon executive and top lieutenant to Jeff Bezos, stepped away from the company in March. But he is keeping busy, learning new skills — including a key one for the infrastructure of the internet economy and technology-dominated market that now values Amazon at over $1.6 trillion.

As Amazon's elite executive ranks change — in addition to Wilke's departure, Bezos surprised many by announcing he would be stepping down, and Andy Jassy, the chief executive of Amazon Web Services, was named successor to Bezos — the software engineers behind the C-suite power players go on doing what they do every day, and that attracted Wilke's curiosity once he had a little more time free up for intellectual exploration.

In a recent interview with dot.LA, Wilke said that since leaving the company he hasn't been spending time on the golf course. The first thing he did was study computer coding language. "I spent the first two weeks learning to code in Python, which I thought would be a really good way to stay connected to the engineers that build Amazon every day and upgrade my skills since I hadn't written code in modern languages."

The former Amazon executive is not the only person learning or brushing up on their coding skills. According to careers platform LinkedIn, two Python courses ranked among LinkedIn Learning's 20 most popular courses in 2020.

Codecademy, the leading online learning technology education platform saw over five million new sign-ups, according to CEO Zach Sims. "That's a 125% increase from the previous year," Sims said.

The platform already has tens of millions of users in nearly every country on Earth and is free to everyone.

Sims said Python is popular because the language is versatile and can underpin an array of applications. Instagram, Uber, Spotify and Dropbox were all built on top of the coding language. Dropbox, the file-sharing app, brought in Guido van Rossum, the creator of Python, to help create a sustainable engineering culture (he retired from the company in 2019).  

Why learning Python is key to the internet economy

Sims said the Python language is a "great beginner language for anyone and everyone," and whether you're interested in learning more about data analytics or back-end development, Python is great place to start. As technology keeps advancing, more companies have to evolve to meet the demands of consumers and Python is among the languages that helps connect the back-end of the servers and web to the front-face of the internet economy that consumers experience.

Amazon, IBM and Google are among the major tech companies that have partnerships with Codecademy, but Sims said that from companies like Walmart to GM, coding is now fundamental.

Zach Sims of Codecademy.
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Zach Sims of Codecademy.

"Walmart is no longer just a retailer. They're becoming an e-commerce giant. Every business is a tech company and every employee needs to be ready for that," he said.

Studying Python was a "reminder to me of how coding compounds creativity and invention," Wilke said in the interview with dot.LA.

Coding is changing the way executives in major sectors of the market thinks about employee mindset. Take Wall Street. Martin Chavez, the former Goldman Sachs CFO and CIO, told CNBC @Work last October that we shouldn't rush to turn everyone into a coder, but it is important for employees to understand how coding and algorithms are changing the way we work.

"Not everyone needs to be a coder," Chavez said. "The idea of coding is valuable and wonderful, but the idea everyone should learn to code? ... I don't know, but everyone does need to have an algorithmic data, problem-solving mindset. That is a baseline skill for every professional in the workplace, no matter what the role is," the former Goldman Sachs top executive said at last October's CNBC @Work virtual event.

Traders, salespeople and data scientists need to understand each other rather than talk past each other, a problem that was occurring at Goldman as algos became more common. And "that applies in any business," Chavez said. "If you have one group of people telling another group, 'please build this software for me,' it doesn't work very well. You're talking different languages and talking past each other," he said.

Recent usage statistics from LinkedIn showcase the rising importance of this job market "upskilling" as more organizations embrace coding. The number of non-engineers taking beginner-level programming courses on LinkedIn Learning grew 568% year over year through August 2020, and the most recent data on the popularity of Python is consistent with that trend, according to a LinkedIn spokeswoman.

"Python can be applied in numerous ways. From building a website, to become a data analyst or building financial models or understanding marketing analytics. It can only help employees," said Sims.

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