Friday, January 15, 2010

Once Upon a Dot Com

I was at Barnes & Noble last week.

Actually, I was at Barnes & Noble five times last week.  It’s my happy place.

Anyway, I was looking for a book on iPhone App development.  I browsed through half a dozen or so, picked the one I liked best, and checked the price.  I was not pleased.  On a whim, I checked the Barnes & Noble Store app on my own handy-dandy iPhone.  That's how I discovered the book was eight bucks cheaper from B&N online, shipping included.

*Sigh* Of course.  They have to do that to compete with Amazon.  Amazon, Amazon, Amazon.  Some days it seems like everything comes back to Amazon.  Well, it’s not as though they didn’t warn me...

The year: 1999.  Everybody’s got a job.  Everybody’s got stock options for their job.  Everybody’s got options, period.

I’m practically a veteran after only two-and-a-half years at my consulting firm, but I’m burned out on ninety-hour work-weeks and hundred-percent travel.  I’m lonely.  I’m also dead certain I can make more money.

A company called flies me to Seattle to interview for a developer position.  Amazon is THE dot com.  It’s THE dot com when every business wants to be a dot com and every one actually says “dot com”.

Its stock price is famously overvalued.

The recruiter who meets me is named John.  He’s wearing a T-shirt that helpfully informs me a life with Amazon is what I need to “Make Friends. Make Money. Make History.”

I roll my eyes while his back is turned.

My technical interviews go well, but they can tell my heart isn’t in it.  John wants to know my concerns.  I tell him I have a new house on half an acre back in Ohio.  “Oh, you’ll never have that here in Seattle,” he says.  I tell him I’m worried the stock options won’t be worth anything by the time they vest.  He’s visibly offended.  I tell him I’m a little sad about moving away from all my friends.  He wonders if I can handle the stress.  He tells me that Amazon dot com is so very important that if a problem arises on Friday and it takes until Tuesday to fix it, no one goes home until Tuesday.  I try to tell him I’ve spent two years doing really important stuff under a lot of pressure, but he seems to think I don’t understand the definition of the word.

I’m still in Seattle the next day when he calls.  “We’ve decided not to go ahead with you.”

“Yes,” I say, “I agree that’s best. Thanks so much for-“

“I don’t think you understand what you’re giving up here!  This is where everything is happening,” he says, “this is the future!”

I try to keep my tone even.  “John, with all due respect, if you aren’t going to extend an offer, what difference does it make?”

He’s quiet for a moment.  “I just can’t understand why you would want to go back to Ohio.”

I don’t tell him I’ve decided to accept the offer from Microsoft.

Anyhoo, I put the iPhone book back on the shelf.  I decided to order it when I got home, then forgot, and then decided I didn’t really need it after all.


  1. I've heard amazon are really hard on their staff. What's it like to work for Microsoft?

  2. I sort of doubt Amazon is any harder on their staff than any other tech-centered company, but if they are I'm sorry to hear it.

    Microsoft was great in its way, at least until the glamour wore off, but not so great that I didn't eventually resign there too. The nice thing is that the benefits of working there go with you, very much like a posh school tie.

    In retrospect, Amazon might have been an interesting way into the publishing world, but that wasn't my goal back then. They could never have given me the tech world advantages that Microsoft did, which is why Microsoft was the obvious choice for me.

    Ironically, while at Microsoft I did some work with... Barnes & Noble.

  3. I was very curious why you chose the B&N Nook when so many have the Amazon kindle. Was it your experience with them that shaped your choice?

  4. LOL, Jennifer! No, of course not. I harbor no ill feelings toward Amazon based on my personal experience; the story above is my homage to them. They were right after all; they changed everything (for better and worse). I was too young and snotty to see it, and they were right not to hire someone who didn't believe in the vision.

    I choose the nook because I spend a lot of time at Barnes & Noble, and at the time I ordered it they told me it would provide unlimited access to books (beyond just the sample chapter) while in store, just like you have unlimited access to browse physical books in the store. Unfortunately, this is not the case. So the nook is probably going back.