The early days

Had dinner with Brian and Julie tonight. Helped Brian set up his DVD player with his fancy new Sony tube TV. I love watching people light up when they first experience a sweet home theater setup. Maybe I'm just a home theater snob, but part of it is I just believe that if you're watching high quality film or TV, you should experience it the way it was meant to be seen. Would you rather see the Mona Lisa in person or look at a small replica in a book?
Afterwards, we went over Brian's archive of "classic" e-mails from his history at Amazon. We just sat around laughing our a$$es off at some of the crazy hijinks that occurred over the years, some of the classic personalities we've worked with. The early days of Amazon were all about extremes. Everything was outrageous. These days life at Amazon is like traveling on an ocean liner on steady ocean waters. In the early days we were in a raft made of wood tied together with twine, barely holding together against the onslaught of 40 foot waves of a massive white squall. I'll always be glad I was there for those first several years.
One thing about a company as it grows larger--it is difficult to retain pieces of the company culture uniformly across all the employees. This year, for the first time, I ran into a non-trivial number of employees who seemed to want to shirk the annual tour of duty in the distribution centers. Since I've been held back this year to work on a special project, I'm not sure I can vent without seeming like a hypocrite, but I have to bite my tongue hard when I see how some people justify not volunteering to help out, or listen to excuses that some people come up with not to have to go. Some people gloat over not having to go. It kills me.
In part because I remember when in our early days people would work all day and then head to the DCs and work all night, catch an hour or two of sleep, then do it again the next day. I remember in the early early days when I saw one executive work the DCs for 36 hours straight, until he could barely stand. You'd see everyone in the company in the Seattle DC, fired up to make it all work. I think the type of people who try their best to hide from DC duty, and it is a small minority, are like poison to the company spirit. It's tough for me to stomach, especially because some of the people are actually really nice.
Not that it isn't hard work. But I can't think of any other retail company that doesn't ask the same of its employees at holiday season. In the same way that sports bring out a person's real personality, this annual holiday retail call for volunteers is a litmus test of character.
Ugh, I'm being preachy. Let me flip it and salute my peers who are away at the DCs, who volunteered because they wanted to help, who left without a complaint, and are working hard to get everyone's holiday shipments out on time. Folks like Bill, who I knew would be a great hire for Amazon because the first two holiday seasons at Amazon, he worked in Fernley and then Seattle and busted his butt. And folks like Jason, who try to keep the early Amazon spirit alive by rallying folks to meet our volunteer needs. There's a long list of folks, and I'm really proud to work at the same company with them. They're the types of people, if you started your own company, you'd hire first, because they would step up and accept the responsibilities of ownership.