Saturday, October 10, 2009

My 100 days back at the Mother of All E-Business

Time sure flies when you are having fun! Why: just today I realized it's approximately 100 days since I (re)started at Amazon!
This realization was based on having had to reset my password last week; and cycle between mandatory password change is 3 months.

I guess 3 months is still within loose definition of the Honeymoon, i.e. initial period of positive view on one's (still) new employer, team and surroundings. Nonetheless I am positively surprised how positive I feel about about things I work on and people I work with. It obviously helps that the company is doing well (as well as could be expected given macro-economic situation); but that doesn't quite compare to joy for high caliber of people that make things run, and that I have pleasure to work with. Especially so for my team: this is only the second time in my whole career (of 14 years) when I feel I am surrounded by people who know more about whole many things than I do; including core technical skills (for curious, the first time was in mid-to-late 90s, back in Helsinki). And the beauty of this all is that we are also working on somewhat cutting edge systems; not merely with regards to scale of operational things ( I generally don't care how many servers you waste CPU time on, or how many gigabytes of disk space they have -- that's sort of cool when you are starting your career, but you quickly [should] get over it), but rather with regards to complexity of the problem domain and resulting (mostly) essential complexity of solutions to solve problems. We are solving not only very big but also very hard problems. And that takes time; slowly, piece by piece new things get built, big beast of complexity starved to death. Fortunately Amazon has (and groks) something that is not very common in enterprise world: patience and long-term view; focus on things that matter, and perseverence to see through what you need and decide to do. Now that the team has worked on longer term plan for multiple years, results are accumulating, and that's the most exciting thing overall.

Anyway: I am very content with what I am doing now (hi there Sachin! can I get my raise now?). Enough said about that. No one likes people who brag about their marital bliss, luck in lottery, or amount of money, fame and chicks open source activities bring about. :-)

But one final thought on subject of work life, compared to my open source night time hacking: situation has always been such that the two are very loosely (if at all) connected. At first this seemed unfortunate, but over time I have come to appreciate this distinction: if the two were interlinked, wouldn't it just mean I spent both my work day and chunk of free time for work? And would it not also be putting all eggs in single basket? So perhaps there is something here similar to the rule of "never start a business with a friend (or relative)" (if business goes sour, you will be neither business partner nor friends; and even without that, there's enough tension to rip apart friendship): it may be good to keep open source "hobby" arms-length separate from paid-for development work. Much like work life is often best kept distinct from family life -- not totally apart of course; friends from work will be friends outside work too; and sometimes one world temporarily plunges into the other -- but at least asynchronous, transiently co-habiting temporal spectrum, but mostly not (ha! I never thought I'd write such a long sentence outside of tech specs...)

ps. If there's anyone with solid programming skills, background in NLP (or closely related areas), wish to solve actual real-life important problems and need or desire to get a (new) job, shoot me an email. We are still hiring. Stuff will be sold over the Internet, and facts need to extracted to support this lucractive business!

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