Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sleep already Manoj!


In the last five weeks since my return from India, I feel like I have worked more than I did during the five months prior to my vacation. Each passing day brings with it a new challenge, a new hack is put in place, an old hack is reused, heads are scratched to find ways to not break existing users, and the entire team is getting progressively tired. There is still a lot to do, and though the next few weeks will be hell, there is light at the end of the tunnel. A few of the key moving pieces have fallen into place this past week, and if we meet our development targets for this week, we will be in even better shape to make our deadline. Aah, the week after we release is going to be a well-earned break from the madness. At Amazon though, such reprieves from a harried schedule are short (too short some would argue) - I don't underestimate my boss's ability to assign me to another under-staffed, high-visibility, high-risk task that needed to be done yesterday. I guess being busy is a virtue and a blessing in this economy.

It has been a little more than 17 months since I joined Amazon; forever the observer, here are some differences I have noticed between working at Microsoft and Amazon:

- Amazon adheres strictly to its dictum of "Frugality drives Innovation". The philosophy is so pervasive here that it has seemed to have an effect on people's behavioral patterns - they switch off lights, use CFL bulbs, are environmentally conscious and avoid waste wherever possible. Compare this to Microsoft where a casual walk through a corridor will reveal at least one office with multiple incandescent lamps glowing bright. Problem is, the line between frugality and inconvenience is a very thin one, and is often drawn wrong. For instance, getting a parking spot at Amazon requires jumping through so many hoops that I wonder whether the administrative overhead involved in reimbursing people for parking saves Amazon any money!

- The number of "friends" I have made at work can be counted on my fingers. Maybe it's where I am in life, maybe it's the people here, but I haven't formed a group of Amazonians I can hang out with after-hours. Most folks here go home to their other-half, go to the opera or the symphony or the theatre, usually have their activities planned weeks in advance... Such a sea change from my life on the East-side; gone are the days when we did things on the spur of the moment.

- Most Amazonians I have interacted with live on the West Side.

- The lack of a gym, like the Pro Club, affiliated with Amazon is a glaring omission from the benefits package. I miss The Pro - without it, I don't have social hour any more :(

- The average age of an Amazonian seems to be older than a Microsoftie's.

- After a certain amount of time passes, the politics and in-fighting is the same everywhere.

- I actually miss the Microsoft cafeterias. The soda - not so much, and the Starbucks coffee machines - not at all!

On to other things now. A few months ago, one of my closest friends left Seattle, a departure that left a gaping void in my life. You don't realize how dependent you have grown on a person until they are no longer around - even the most basic activity becomes more fun when you have someone to share it with. The abject loneliness struck me like a bolt of lightning during the first weeks upon my return from Bombay. I was sunk; my closest friends were more than a simple phone call away - some were married, others had left for new cities in new countries...

As I struggled to cope with the sudden changes in my surroundings, I got my first lucky break - a connection with a person I've known, if only in passing, since I was 16. Kapil and Prachie had moved to the Seattle area, their son Adi in tow, sometime this summer. New to the town, Kapil was looking for the same things as the weathered Seattle-local in me was: a person to trust, to play tennis with, to share stories from Bombay with. You know, reminisce about the good times, thereby making the present even more livable. Not a week has gone by since my return that we haven't hung out, and I haven't returned home the last two weekends because it's hard to tear myself away from Adi, the warmth of their home, and Prachie's bland-but-flavorful cooking. Unbeknown to them, these three are the accidental heroes of my recovery from the depths I had sunk to. I no longer feel alone here - I have people that care for me. It's one thing to feign positivity and happiness; the comfort of knowing that I have people has helped me find inner peace and happiness. Armed I feel, to take on the next challenge that comes my way.

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