December first made it a year here at Amazon Vancouver’s engineering castle in the sky. I’m working with good people in a cool office on interesting stuff. It’s at the white-hot center of server-side computing but surprisingly unsurprising.

Making vs talking · It turns out that building and shipping nontrivial software is a lot harder work than evangelizing it and writing about it. I come home awfully damn tired some days.

I’m less engaged in the Internet conversation and miss that some, but I’ve tasted more of that joy than almost anyone. And then the actual stuff I’m working on — making AWS more useful while keeping it reliable — is so blindingly obvious that it doesn’t really need evangelizing.

Yeah, computing is moving to a utility model. Yeah, you can do all sorts of things in a public cloud that are too hard or too expensive in your own computer room. Yeah, the public-cloud operators are going to provide way better uptime, security, and distribution than you can build yourself. And yeah, there was a Tuesday in last week.

Behind the scenes · Keeping all the world’s infrastructure on the air is a ton of work. Every day you have to balance risk reduction with shipping features. Bearing cloud growth rates in mind, 2018’s load could be 5× or 10× today’s. Thus we better be treating any current infrastructure creaks as Job Zero, and screw the shiny new.

But the high-tech biz has been all shiny-new all the time. Me, I think being reliable and available and fast in exchange for a monthly usage-based bill is the shiniest, new or not. Which is why I’ll never be a product manager.

What I do · I have a grandiose title and nobody can really tell me what to do, except for there are a million reasonable requests for help I really shouldn’t turn down, each an opportunity to feel bad about things fallen by the wayside. Fortunately I learned to ignore triage guilt a couple decades ago.

I get a few hours here and there to code, and thus a funny story: Sometimes my code-review requests came back with polite WTF’s about things that look like amateurish ignorance of obvious best practices. Finally someone asked why I was ostentatiously ignoring the common wisdom. So I shared the awful truth that in my lengthy career I had never previously written a single line of server-side Java. The silence that fell on the email thread was palpable.

But hey, at the end of the day, the server-side is all about message-exchange patterns and payload design and buying scale with sublinear algorithms, and I do know some stuff about that stuff.

So unless something goes terribly wrong in the next few weeks, some T.Bray code will soon be at work at scale, facilitating the Cloudification of online properties you spend time with.

How I feel · Corporately, I’m a burnout. I’ve co-founded two startups and worked for Sun and Google; most would see that as a trip through the Good Bits Of Capitalism. Still, I’m not a believer.

It’s stimulating to work for Amazon, which is approximately the most interesting company in the world by a factor of two. First, the pursuit of retail ubiquity; I won’t say at all costs, but with cheerful disregard for certain ratios thought important in the (detestable) finance biz. Second, the wholesale replacement of on-premise computing with Cloudstuff.

But at the end of the day, it’s a job, which is to say a financial transaction. My employer rewards me fairly, making a bet that what I help build will pay off for them. In exchange, I’ll work hard to help build things that do that.

But will I actually care? Enough to sacrifice family time or personal time or cottage-life time? Well, sometimes; when I’m convinced the work will touch people’s lives — especially my software-tribe peers’ — in a good way.

My whole career’s been blessed by luck. This feels like more. Don’t think I’m not grateful.

Anniversary resolution · Today, I tried switching my commute from bike-train-walk to bike-all-the-way. It’s refreshing, and just as quick; but we’ll see how my legs feel hold up.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Takashi Shitamichi (Dec 09 2015, at 01:15)

Congrats on your keeping an interesting work at AWS for an year. Compared to past years, we don't see what you are doing --- it's just what I regret...


From: Gavin B. (Dec 09 2015, at 02:59)

Back to Believing in the Truth.

and keeping things understandable

As Wagensberg puts it

Scientific method that uses:

(1) reality,

(2) observation (of that reality), and

(3) understanding (of that observation of that reality).

requires that:

(1) reality is observable,

(2) observation is understandable, and

(3) understanding is falsifiable.


From: Nicholas Sushkin (Dec 09 2015, at 08:53)

I'd like to hear more how cloud is more secure. How can a cloud provider convince customer they are not looking at the customer's data.


From: Larry Reid (Dec 09 2015, at 17:36)

Congratulations on making it an all-bike commute to work! It's the only way to go.


From: dr2chase (Dec 09 2015, at 18:05)

How far is your commute? That makes most of the difference for biking. 10 miles by bike (ending in 2-3 miles of vileness) was really too far. 6 with minimal middle vileness or 7 with none is really quite nice for me. (Yesterday I drove to work for the first time ever, versus 182 days of biking and a few WFH -- driving sucks, and walking a few blocks from a parking garage is a lot colder than biking).


From: dr2chase (Dec 09 2015, at 19:22)

PS, regarding knee and other stressed-part management, I use gears. If things feel a little iffy, I knock it down a gear, it almost always gets better, sometimes self-healing in the space of a ride.

Note that on the one hand I am 55 and weigh plenty, on the other hand I have been doing this (commuting to work, thousands of miles per year on a bike) for 9 years, so I've had a little time to dial in my calibration on aches and pains.


From: Dennis Caldwell (Dec 11 2015, at 20:39)

Keep up the good fight, Van Morrison continues to inspire me so capitalism and art are not at odds. I wish you well on the cycle to work option.


From: Roland Tanglao (Dec 12 2015, at 16:35)

Congrats on bicycling to work the whole way! I believe you used to do this years ago so it's great to see you starting this again! If you ever get tired or need more time occasionally consider using an electric bicycle once or twice a week like I do!


From: Neil Jensen (Dec 15 2015, at 13:28)

Interesting post that resonates with me in all kinds of ways. We're about the same age, both live in Vancouver (our paths crossed over a decade ago, but I doubt you'd remember), and have been doing technology and startups for decades.

Through happenstance I've taken a slightly different road in my current incarnation; COO at a startup that is not in tech, but utilizes tech extensively. All sorts of things are good about it, including the chance to have an overall view of the business, the ability to see how technology plays out in terms of how our users actually work with it daily, and the chance to still do some coding using technologies I find interesting (currently Haskell).

All that being said, there are times I look wistfully at the 'real' tech scene and wonder what it would be like to go back there... thanks for sharing some insight in to the realities.


From: PeterL (Dec 26 2015, at 20:46)

The legs hold up just fine if you don't push too hard, especially at the beginning of the ride. The most useful accessories on a bike are *full* fenders and panniers.


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