Scruffy. Chaotic. Exciting. That was Amazon in early 1997.
Amazon's offices were on 2nd Avenue in Seattle, near Pike's Place Market, a couple floors of a run-down brick structure called the Columbia Building. Those with a window in the front enjoyed a view of the local methadone clinic and a bizarre wig shop. You couldn't quite see the strip clubs; they skulked out of view a couple blocks away.
Now, I didn't have a window in the front, of course. That would be a bit much for the rookie, some wide-eyed student fresh out of grad school.
I had the kitchen. Space always was at a premium at Amazon, and that time was no different. My first day, I was led into my office, a card table set up in the back corner of the kitchen with a PC sitting on it.
The kitchen office was actually quite a bit of fun. I knew few at Amazon, and most people were too heads down for idle chit-chat. But they did want tea and coffee off the counter a few feet from my face. I set up a candy jar -- mmm, free candy -- and tried my best to suck knowledge out of anyone who passed by too closely.
My first assignment was to start learning the code base. Open a shell, fire up emacs, and start reading the code. I spent a few days tracing through the dispatches for different URLs, tracking how good ol' obidos -- the large CGI program that powered the website -- handled different queries, the home page, book detail pages, search, shopping cart, and the order pipeline. To this day, most URLs at Amazon still contain /exec/obidos.
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