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At Amazon we work every day to raise the bar on ourselves, for our customers. It’s been that way since we were a small start-up facing an uncertain future. In engineering, that meant we needed to put our customers first and find ways to do more for them, faster, without the resources of much larger companies. At times the challenges seemed daunting, but one thing I learned early in my career is that “necessity is the mother of invention.”

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I’m very proud of what the people I’ve worked with at Amazon have been able to accomplish over the last 21+ years. Their creative energy first solved the problem of how to continually change technology operating at massive scale using decentralized service teams, and to do so reliably.

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In 1998, I led the infrastructure teams for Amazon.com. Though we’d pioneered in e-commerce, Amazon was in a footrace as the space exploded. Far larger companies had awakened and realized the potential of disruption to their existing businesses and, more importantly, customers were expressing an unlimited desire for new capabilities from Amazon. Everything from more relevant product recommendations to self-service order management to new product categories like electronics and toys. The customer pressure to innovate was growing quickly and we were making constant changes to a system that essentially was the company. As we approached the holiday season, worried about the risk involved in changing so much during our peak days, I asked my boss (our CIO) when we’d slow the rate of change down to ensure reliability. This was before anyone had heard of continuous delivery. He looked at me and just said, “We’re going to keep making changes right through our peak days. We have to be good at moving fast.” Well, we did that and it went well. This was my first lesson in Amazon’s refusal to accept a tyranny of the “or” and brought home how important speed of innovation is.

I’m very proud of what the people I’ve worked with at Amazon have been able to accomplish over the last 21+ years. Their creative energy first solved the problem of how to continually change technology operating at massive scale using decentralized service teams, and to do so reliably. Then, at the turn of the century, we began supporting other companies through API-driven “seller” services. We took this a step further with Amazon Web Services (AWS), where our teams have gone on to invent a set of services that support almost anything a company would want to do with computing technology, rapidly iterating on and improving these services over the last 13 years. These services changed the game in technology, enabling everyone to innovate at much greater speed.

I’ve been working with technology long enough to know that there’s something very special going on at Amazon. I am honored to be part of it. Our customers see these unusual results too, and they are often curious about the way we do things. “How does Amazon build?” is one of the most frequent questions customers ask me.

At Amazon, we do many things each day to be better for customers than we were the day before – to operate better, innovate faster, and reduce customers’ costs. We call these our “peculiar ways.” We know that we need to be willing to do things differently from others, and that sometimes the way we do things will seem odd, or at least hard to understand. For example, we’re wedded to the idea of using “single-threaded teams” to accomplish things for customers. While many companies functionalize their organizations (so that one group does Operations and another group does Engineering), we believe that a customer-focused organization model where all the functions live under one roof and are focused on a single customer need, gets the best results. We also know that there might be a “better way” than the one we’ve chosen, and so we humbly remain open to feedback and discussion. The documents we write to make decisions begin with “tenets,” which are the axioms the author believes every reader will agree to and upon which the decisions will be made. The text that introduces the tenets always ends with “unless you know better ones,” to invite criticism and adjustment.

There’s no question the world will be a better place if everyone can innovate more quickly and efficiently. And if stuff just works better. For that reason, I’m excited that we are sharing what we’ve learned with you in The Amazon Builders’ Library. Like any library, this collection will grow over time. And, like any library, you might read things you disagree with, or you might see a better way to do them. Please don’t hesitate to give us feedback.

Build on!

-Charlie Bell