Today, in the Invent Like An Owner Podcast, Dave speaks with Dwayne Bowman and Ruben Ortega. They discuss the birth of Bowtega Box (image below), maintaining the balance between adding new features and continuous upscaling and customer support, and redesigning and refining Amazon’s Search functionality.
Ruben is the former director of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and CTO of A9.com (Amazon’s innovative search subsidiary), and was responsible for its early scaling and technical success. He also participated in designing infrastructure that could dynamically scale from hundreds to thousands of transactions per second. Dwayne, a former software engineer at Apple, was Amazon’s former Director of Engineering and took part in redesigning Amazon’s Search engine.
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- Visit Woodlawn School
- Ruben Ortega’s LinkedIn
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Memorable Quotes from the Interview, with a focus on the problems faced by entrepreneurs:"Hire people who can spend most of the day thinking about the problems and great ways to solve them. You need folks who can quickly cobble together something that works and then perfect it as time goes on." — Dwayne Bowman Click To Tweet "Amazon's Bowtega Search Results were a beautiful thing, because we took customer input and used it to make the customer experience better every day; you don’t get much better than that." — Dwayne Bowman Click To Tweet "How you recruit your team is critical. Referral networks are good, but they need checks, to offset their biases. Having a Bar Raiser on an interview loop, dedicated to mitigating that bias, is critical." — Ruben Ortega Click To Tweet
Fun Photos and Memorabilia
The t-shirt below includes ‘secret project launch’ which was Bowtega!
More Photos from Ruben’s Collection
What to Listen For:
- 00:00 Intro
- 01:48 How Amazon’s Bowtega Box came to be
- 07:26 Making it easier for customers to navigate such as browse tree for relevant searches
- 09:10 Why was the alphabetical algorithm the only option in 1996-1997?
- 11:17 Sales jumped significantly when Bowtega Box was launched
- 13:32 Fixing Amazon’s Search feature for better user experience
- 18:18 Building a catalog for a new book consumed a lot of time
- 21:00 Balancing new features versus scaling and support
- 23:53 Preventing downtime while Search updates are ongoing
- 26:22 Hire people who take the problem and solve it
- 28:06 Without A/B Testing, take the right signal for the next step
- 30:49 Where did the Bowtega name originate?
- 31:56 What was Amazon like in 1997 – 1998?
- 33:33 The Bar Raiser team
- 36:29 Amazon’s Search team set the bar for hiring engineers
- 38:12 How did the product mix change search complexity?
- 41:30 Amazon’s first word-based ad product
- 44:05 Expanding the accessibility of Search in e-commerce
Ben Slivka says
“Bar Raisers” was a thing at Amazon when I arrived in 9/1999.
Sean Harding says
Minor detail, but I could have sworn Jesse Robbins joined later? I came in 1999, and my first job was in S/NOC. I think Jesse joined a couple years later, unless he was there before me and left before I showed up. I believe Mike George was leading the department back then, but it was already pretty decent-sized. I still remember my first on-call shift, being paged because the “SLAM lines were down” in one of the DCs, and I didn’t even know what a SLAM line was. Trial by fire….
Dave Schappell says
Yeah, it looks like he joined in 2001