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About Me
Hands on leader, developer, architect specializing in the design and delivery of distributed systems in lean, agile environments with an emphasis in continuous improvement across people, process and technology. Speaker and published author with 18 years' experience leading the delivery of large and/or complex, high-impact distributed solutions in Retail, Intelligent Transportation, and Gaming & Hospitality.

I'm currently a Principal Engineer at Amazon, within the North America Consumer organization leading our global listings strategy that enable bulk and non-bulk listing experiences for our WW Selling Partners via apps, devices and APIs.

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Note: All postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the views of my employer.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Joining Amazon

In 1999, I started my career in software development as kind of an accident. Just out of the Army I was hired by First USA Bank (now JP Morgan Chase) to answer phones for their burgeoning customer service center in Austin, TX. The job paid $10.40 an hour, providing additional income to help cover what little the very generous GI Bill didn’t. Together, it was enough to cover full tuition at St. Edward’s University, rent for a one bedroom apartment and live and eat pretty comfortably for being 24.

About 3 months into my job as a Customer Service Representative, I was selected for a “special project”. These typically ran from anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple months and were an opportunity to get off the phones for a bit and learn the business while doing fairly clerical work for busy managers. In this case, I had lucked out with an opportunity to work for the Operations Manager for the Austin site who had the then very progressive idea of putting his Ops manual in HTML so that his team could easily refer to it without having to flip through a big three ring binder. Through this process, I taught myself basic HTML and CSS and got really good with MS Word and Power Point. Thanks to him and a little bit of chutzpah on my part, I never answered another customer service call again.

This project ignited a passion for writing code that JP Morgan Chase would continue to very generously fulfill for over four years. I learned VBA, Access Forms and graduated to Classic ASP (thank you Scott Mitchell) and SQL Server 7. I was doing BI (dynamic, hand coded reports using ASP 3.0) before the term existed for the credit card operations business which at the time was pretty innovative. So much so, that we had teams from American Express and Bank of America visit our team to learn how we were doing it. I also dabbled in DNA and COM+ while at the bank but thankfully realized that .NET was the path forward and got pretty good at full stack web development with ASP.NET. I built one of the company’s first intranet portals for the auto and home lending operations group on ASP.NET 1.1.

From there, I moved on to DriveTime where I learned enterprise mobility, EAI and SOA working on a major fleet management system we built on Windows Mobile 5, .NET 2.0 and BizTalk Server from the ground up. I learned enough to become dangerous with BizTalk Sever 2004 from Todd Sussman (who we hired as a BizTalk consultant-Todd had just moved from Israel to join Neudesic) and Brian Loesgen’s “BizTalk Unleashed” book (pretty much the BizTalk bible at the time, maybe still). Within no time, my team and I were doing messaging and eventing work and designing orchestrations that talked to RPG programs running on the IBM iSeries as well as consuming C++ modules exposed as Web Services in a fleet management package called Maximus. I would soon scrap all of the ASMX and .NET Remoting services we’d written in favor of Indigo/WCF. Thanks to Juval Lowy’s incomparable books on the subject and patient mentoring, I got pretty good with WCF forming a bias for WCF and WF for messaging and workflow that I’d pretty much keep thereafter.

By 2006 I was very deep in integration technologies and was regularly speaking at local user groups and code camps. Shortly after joining ESS (now IHS) as an Architect and PM later that year, I published my first paid article focused on EAI with BizTalk. I further honed my WCF skills by implementing automation and workflow features for ESS’ Essential Suite product. The company had an amazing work-life balance which allowed me to get more involved in the community but consequently resulted in some restlessness that invariably led me to follow Todd Sussman to Neudesic where I joined the Connected Systems Development (CSD) practice (I would end up running this practice as General Manager for over 3 years). Shortly after joining the company, I was awarded my first Microsoft MVP award in October 2007 as a Connected Systems Developer thanks to Tim Heuer who was kind enough to nominate me, Rod Paddock for giving me the visibility that being published provides, and ESS which had provided me with the flexibility to build some community capital over those 10 months. That was 8 years ago and I’ve been fortunate to somehow get renewed every year since.

This internal and external alignment of focus has been highly synergistic to my career and Neudesic has provided a level of opportunity and exposure I would never have otherwise had. During my nearly eight years with the firm I’ve had the opportunity to work very closely with Microsoft and dozens and dozens of clients across multiple industries both as an in-the-trenches consultant as well as a strategic advisor. I’ve published several articles and whitepapers, published my first book, spoken at various events and conferences across the country and, most notably delivered numerous custom development and integration projects largely in the intelligent transportation and hospitality and gaming space.

Some of the external work I’m most proud of includes delivering dramatic improvements to processing time for enrollments on PrePass.com from an average of 7 to 10 days to under 48 hours;  reducing the costs of operating perimeter security for commercial trucking companies by leveraging in-vehicle RFID technology to automate gate operation; providing Angelinos with an automated parking solution that simplifies their daily work commute by helping to determine if they should drive or take public transportation; enabling marketing, entertainment and Food & Beverage leaders to promote on-property amenities including events, retail and dining offers directly to players on slot machines resulting in The Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino making history as the first property to open with the ability to deliver real-time offers and fulfillment to players during a live gaming session; and most recently helping Turning Stone Resort & Casino become smarter than ever when it comes to understanding their guest’s preferences and proactively anticipating their guest needs.

Internally, I had the opportunity to implement a number of processes, frameworks and solutions I’m very proud of as well (I think its Martin Fowler that once said that focusing internally can sometimes be as or more rewarding than external work). I implemented the Engineering Excellence program which provides standards and guidance for addressing the development aspects of an agile team like continuous integration and delivery and rolled out 3 releases of content and guidance serving as Editor in Chief. I also led the creation of standardized technical marketing enablement assets as Group Program Manager leading a team of highly capable Capability PMs who delivered strategy maps, decks and other content. I owned and led the GTM for one of the first Neudesic solutions, Real Time Experience (RTX) which culminates almost 7 years of knowledge, experience, IP and assets delivering real-time messaging solutions for the hospitality and gaming industry and have taken a handful of customers live. This year, I incubated the Internet of Things (IoT) practice, working very closely with our internal teams and super smart people at Microsoft like Clemens Vasters and Dan Rasanova on the engineering side of things as well as key folks in the Microsoft business and field teams to become a key go-to partner for Microsoft IoT.

This is really just a small glimpse of the amazing time I’ve had at Neudesic. A big part of what makes Neudesic an amazing company is the people. Everyone always says that working at Neudesic exposes you to some of the smartest people in the industry and it is absolutely true. I’ve learned so much during my time at this great company but the accomplishment I treasure the most is the relationships and friendships I’ve made through the years, a list too long to put here but you all know who you are. That said, I could not end this post without thanking Mickey Williams, my boss, mentor and friend who championed me early on and made my time at Neudesic that much more impactful, fun and rewarding.

So as you can probably sense, while I never worked directly for Microsoft, working for Neudesic is about as close as you can get… I’ve served the Microsoft field team as a Virtual Technical Solutions Specialist for most of my Neudesic career and in addition to being an MVP have been an advisor to Microsoft engineering and business groups as a member of various advisory groups along with serving as a member of the Microsoft Partner Advisory Council for the last three years.

Clearly, this is a career that Microsoft built. Microsoft has been very, very good to me for the last 14+ years. But change is inevitable.

A New Chapter

There are a number of things that attracted me to Amazon.

In addition to being a very happy, satisfied Amazon.com customer for over a decade, for a distributed systems guy, a company who’s CEO effectively mandates SOA as the lingua franca for all teams internally is pretty cool. In addition, in doing a ton of research and speaking with good friends that work at Amazon, Amazon is very big on ownership and entrepreneurism, is highly customer obsessed, big on accountability, autonomy and greatly encourages big ideas to name just a few of their leadership principles that really resonate with me.

So while joining a brand I respect and use every day, seems to have values strongly aligned with my own while providing for great engineering challenges made it easier, one thing really sealed it for me…

I’ve had the opportunity to join engineering teams for other big companies like Microsoft in the past, but one thing that always got in the way was relocation. Sure, there are field roles out there but I’ve never been one to be motivated by a sales influence quota/scorecard.

I like Seattle, but almost ten years ago my wife and I decided that Phoenix is home until the kids are out of high school and that’s a promise not to be broken. So, Amazon’s distributed engineering team model is a highly differentiating factor. In fact, other than planning meetings in Seattle and some potential trips to Detroit (another Amazon dev center), I will be home more than I’ve been in nearly a decade (though admittedly losing A-List and Silver status and my wife’s SWA companion pass will be tough to give up!).

In terms of role, I will be working in the Marketplace business which has a dev center right here in Tempe (it’s actually less than a mile from my old office). The Marketplace business is a key part of Amazon.com’s price, availability and selection strategy and is one of the largest revenue producers in the company. I will be leading a team of Software Development Engineers (SDEs) focused on the distributed platform that powers the 3rd party seller experience on Amazon.com. This includes the experience you or I might have adding a widget for sale in Seller Central to big sellers uploading hundreds and thousands of transactions. And though it might be amusing to see how a Microsoft nerd adjusts to Linux, Java, Oracle and AWS, I am super excited to be doing something completely new and learning a brand new business and technical domain at a scale that I’ve likely never worked on before!

As for community, I fully intend to continue to blog, write and speak. I may change up the technology focus a bit (and my cadence may slow as I ramp up at Amazon) but my passion for community, software development, teaching and mentoring will always remain.

posted @ Monday, March 23, 2015 2:53 PM | Feedback (1) | Filed Under [ Amazon ]

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