Today, in the Invent Like An Owner Podcast, Dave speaks with Eric Benson to discuss his myriad early software engineering projects at a time when Amazon was rapidly growing as a company. He implemented Book Matcher (which didn’t last long) and the Similarities feature, and later built the original version of Weblabs that helped test which Amazon features were optimal. Eric also mentored many of the new software engineers, and later worked to port Amazon from Digital Unix to Linux (along with Bob Vadnais, and others).
Eric Benson joined Amazon in 1996 as the 5th software engineer. He is currently a Software Consultant at United States Digital Service (USDS), a government agency composed of a group of technologists from diverse backgrounds working across the federal government to transform critical services for the people.
This episode is sponsored by Rebellion Defense. Rebellion was born to put the power of cutting-edge software and AI/ML into the hands of those who protect and defend the US, the UK and our allies in this software-centric national security era.
Memorable Quotes from the Interview, discussing helpful topics for entrepreneurs then and now:"Bob Vadnais and I spent the entire year 2000 making sure Amazon’s software worked on both Digital Unix and Linux. It was like running on a treadmill to keep things running." — Eric Benson (@eb00) Click To Tweet "We didn’t have any products we could buy to solve those problems. Most companies go through this Build vs. Buy decision. There weren’t any products to purchase to scale websites at the time." — Eric Benson (@eb00) Click To Tweet
Fun Photos and Memorabilia
What to Listen For:
- 00:00 Intro
- 02:39 Amazon’s multi-day outage in 1997
- 05:15 Back then there was no backup server, just one customer database
- 07:09 Joining Amazon in 1996
- 10:00 Improving the website software was one of the first tasks
- 12:52 Book Matcher: people get recommendations after posting a rating
- 15:36 Developing the Similarities feature
- 24:10 Instant Recommendations
- 25:31 Promoting unusual items to show up in recommendations
- 27:00 Building v1 of Weblabs
- 34:16 People get burned out when there’s too much information
- 37:34 CatSubst is putting marks in the HTML file to notify the software it serves
- 39:44 Experimenting between showing 3 and 5 similar items
- 41:09 Is every new feature slowing down the site?
- 42:54 The biggest problem with CatSubst
- 45:11 The hardware cost per unit was very high
- 49:21 Hardships of the engineering team while using Linux
- 53:27 Rufus the Dog and several site launches
- 57:26 Helping new engineers with language and coding
- 01:01:13 Software engineering at Amazon was too advanced for packaged software solutions from 3rd parties
- 01:04:05 From a small business to becoming a huge company